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In Chicago, heat and homicide stoke fear and frustration

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However, that hasn't blunted the perception that something is terribly wrong in Chicago, posing a serious test for the new administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Adding to the alarm are statistics like this one: January-to-June murders here were 58 percent higher than the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan during the same period.

The police and city officials say street gangs are responsible for 80 percent of all shootings this year. Chicago recently surpassed Los Angeles – the longtime gang capital of America – in total gang membership and activity, say crime experts.

Just how many gangs operate in the Chicago area is debatable – sources say between 59 and 70, with as many as 150,000 members. But the big street gangs that dominated here in the early 1990s have splintered into as many as 600 factions, according to police. These splinter groups identify with the heritage of the long-established gangs – borrowing their name mainly as a brand – but they tend not to be bound by their rules.

Whereas the historic gang warfare was between monolithic crime organizations that controlled thousands of members each, today's street violence more often stems from personal squabbles and retaliatory conflicts among smaller hybrid groups whose control extends only a few blocks.

"Instead of fighting old enemies, when it was the Hatfields and the McCoys, now it's the McCoys and the McCoys," says Andrew Papachristos, a sociology professor at Yale University who has studied gangs in Chicago. "Gangs are no longer hierarchical. They are now much more elusive and complex."

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