CHICAGO — Flags flew at half-staff all across the winter-draped city this week to honor the dead in Newtown, Conn. The massacre was unspeakable, and yet Chicago counts far more murder victims every month — many of them young people — than died in the carnage in Connecticut.
Their deaths usually go unmarked.
Since Jan. 1, Chicago police have recorded 2,364 shooting incidents and 487 homicides, 87 percent of them gun-related. Shootings have increased 12 percent this year and murders are up 19 percent.
Young people are often targets. In the school year that ended in June, 319 Chicago public school students were shot, 24 of them fatally. The total does not include school-age children who had dropped out or were enrolled elsewhere.
In the wake of the Newtown school shootings, as the nation talks anew of guns and the laws that regulate them, President Obama's adopted home town of Chicago is struggling to retake its most violent neighborhoods from the gunmen who shoot with impunity.
A Chicago Tribune editorial Thursday said the national gun debate must carry beyond mass shootings "to focus on cities such as Chicago, which is nearing 500 homicides for the year. It has to focus on why the United States has the highest rate of gun ownership of any industrialized nation and the highest rate of violent crime."
Obama, a former community organizer and Illinois state senator on the city's South Side, noted the persistence of urban violence last week when he cited "a street corner in Chicago" when listing prominent shooting episodes that included Sandy Hook Elementary, a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
He also spoke about gun violence and its costs in 2007 at a South Side church. "Our playgrounds have become battlegrounds," he said. "Our streets have become cemeteries. Our schools have become places to mourn the ones we've lost."