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Marchers take to the streets to fight violence — as ‘most challenging days’ loom

Rev. Michael Pfleger speaks during gathering for mothers who lost their children violence Saint SabinChurch iMay. Sun-Times File Pho| Andrew

Rev. Michael Pfleger speaks during a gathering for mothers who lost their children to violence at Saint Sabina Church iin May. Sun-Times File Photo | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 22, 2013 7:06PM

The Rev. Michael Pfleger expects more than 2,000 people to march with him through the streets of the South Side Friday, kicking off weekly summertime efforts to curb violence.

He also expects lots of other people around the city will be trying to kill each other, often successfully.

Overall murders are down in Chicago. But even police who tout that decline acknowledge the time-tested truth: As the mercury rises, so does the murder rate.

“I’m glad the numbers are down,” Pfleger said, sitting in his office at St. Sabina Catholic Church, near 78th and Racine. “But let’s not start waving the flag of victory when the first day of summer is Friday and school just got out. The days ahead of us are our most challenging days.”

July has been the top month for Chicago murders in all but three of the last 10 years, beaten twice by August and once by September.

The average July in that time period has seen almost 55 murders. The average for all non-July months is 37.7.

The coldest months of the year, December, January and February, also have the lowest murder rates, an average of 31.6 murders per month over the last 10 years. Conversely, the hottest months of the year are the bloodiest, averaging more than 50 murders each.

Robert Tracy is chief of crime control strategies for the Chicago Police Department. He sees this summer as the first real test for the city’s new policing strategies, which focus on rapid response and deployment on gang shootings, as well as saturating high-crime areas with patrol officers.

These plans were in place last year, and have contributed to drops in crime rates, especially murders, Tracy said. But now the department has had the time to fine-tune them.

“I really believe now that we’re a year into it, we’re a lot better at it,” he said.

Roseanna Ander is executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. She said many of the homicides in Chicago boil down to impulsive responses to often minor conflicts by people with easy access to illegal guns. The fact that more people are outside, often late into the night, makes the likelhood of these conflicts greater, she said.

Ander said she thinks the city is on the right track in exploring programs that can help deal with the impulsive, destructive behavior that ramps up in the summer.

“They are trying to be more strategic in how they are spending their resources, looking for programs that work,” she said.

Pfleger, meanwhile, pointed to St. Sabina’s Peace Tournament, a weekly basketball competition that often pits rival gang members against each other on the parish’s basketball courts.

“They come in. They’re rivals on the street, but all of the sudden they play against each other on the courts. They build relationships,” he said. “All of the sudden, these guys aren’t shooting each other any more.”

The real key to success, Pfleger said, is for residents to take control of the summertime streets. He believes presence is a key strategy for everyday people.

“Residents have to occupy their blocks,” he said. “Okay, you can’t change the violence in Chicago. But, damn it, you can do it on Ada. Do it on the block you live on.”

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