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FOX 32’s Mike Flannery examines the causes behind — and possible solutions to — Chicago’s violence problem

Left: Protestors march through Loop call attentihigh number homicides against young people city July 27. | Scott Olson~Getty Images

Left: Protestors march through the Loop to call attention to the high number of homicides against young people in the city on July 27. | Scott Olson~Getty Images

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Updated: September 5, 2013 3:22PM

Chicago’s tide of homicide — after a frightening surge in 2012 — has now receded to about where it was in 2011. But that’s still 2 1/2 times higher than the national murder rate. Violence here continues to chase away jobs and residents. And the University of Chicago Crime Lab estimated that it costs all of us about $2.4 billion a year.

It’s one of the crises that has Chicago at the “Tipping Point.” That’s the title of a special broadcast at 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 11, on FOX 32 News.

I’ll take a close look at the city’s new anti-violence strategies. My colleagues and I will try to answer questions we’ve heard from viewers: Why is so much of the bloodshed taking place in just a few neighborhoods? Why are so many victims (and offenders) young African-Americans? Why exactly does the carnage seem to wax and wane with the weather — terrifying when temps near 90, calmer when it’s cooler? How do drug-dealing street gangs wield power in some communities?

Many sense that the chronic violence in these communities is both cause AND effect of other afflictions: thousands of residents and businesses fleeing; housing foreclosures; low student achievement; relatively high rates of substance abuse; and high unemployment. While metro Chicago’s worst-in-the-Midwest joblessness jumped way up from a year ago to 9.4 percent in the latest report, it’s actually far higher in parts of the South Side and West Side. That’s not an excuse for murderous violence. But it’s certainly one source of the despair so widespread there.

The sense of alienation is deeper than it used to be. While Chicago Police all too frequently find few willing to help them now, I remember that it was very different 40 years ago.

I was a newly hired reporter at The Sun-Times on that Friday afternoon, Sept. 28, 1973. The moment we heard a police officer had been shot at 79th and Colfax, I was on the way. I didn’t know it at the time, but Patrol Officer Edward L. Barron had died instantly of that gunshot to the head. He’d responded to a robbery in progress, during which the offender pistol-whipped two elderly victims with a Luger. It’s the weapon that ended up killing Barron as he attempted to arrest the robber.

By the time I arrived, dozens of cops were searching for the gunman. Many local residents helped, and the suspect was quickly apprehended. He’s still serving a 200-year sentence in a state prison in Danville.

In our research for the upcoming special broadcast, we’ve discovered that kind of cooperation is one key to reducing violence. It’s a big reason that murder in the Rogers Park 24th Police District has fallen an astounding 71 percent since the early 1990s: A dense network of community activists works closely with beat officers.

When author Malcolm Gladwell used the phrase “Tipping Point” as a book title 13 years ago, he said he meant “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” That’s an apt description of the difficult decisions now facing taxpayers and public employees in Chicago and the state of Illinois. After decades of financial mismanagement, there are no easy choices left. There is only unprecedented urgency.

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