Chicago's gun violence is soaring amid a backdrop of poverty and an embattled police force, with homicides this year on track to hit their highest level since 1997. Vanessa Johnston reports.
It's been a deadly year in Chicago. More than 500 murders so far...putting the city on track to hit its highest level of homicides since 1997. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MOTHER WHO LOST HER 15-YEAR-OLD SON TO GUN VIOLENCE SAYING: "Community, I need your help! They killed my baby out here in this alley! I need somebody, you know something! Please come forward! They took my life!" The spike in violence has city officials and activists scrambling to find solutions. Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin: (SOUNDBITE) (English) COOK COUNTY COMMISSIONER RICHARD BOYKIN SAYING: "This is a war. This is a state of emergency. It is unacceptable. There is too much blood in the streets." Boykin says the root cause is poverty. Just miles from Chicago's gleaming skyscrapers lie some of the city's most violent neighborhoods -- marred by drugs, gangs and easy access to guns. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DERRICK HOUSTON, A RESIDENT OF CHICAGO'S AUSTIN NEIGHBORHOOD, SAYING: "I feel at risk just by coming outside, just by me waking up and putting on my clothes and coming out my front door, I'm at risk." But reducing the risk is proving difficult. Mistrust of police is rampant and a high number of murder cases go unsolved. And Chicago police are - themselves - under federal investigation over use of lethal force. Police Union boss Dean Angelo says the public scrutiny is largely unfair. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DEAN ANGELO, PRESIDENT OF THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE, SAYING: "A lot of the people that are pushing the police to reform or the police accountability don't realize what goes on in some of the, you know, alleys or the inner city neighborhoods of Chicago." And further complicating the job.. With their leaders locked up, the large gangs police once dealt with have disintegrated...leaving hundreds of smaller "cliques" or "crews" roaming the streets. Tio Hardiman of the organization, Violence Interrupters, calls 2016 "the year of the renegade." (SOUNDBITE) (English) TIO HARDIMAN, THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR VIOLENCE INTERRUPTERS, SAYING: "A lot of young guys feel they can just shoot people and harm people and they don't have to answer to nobody, because you don't have these gang leaders anymore and the violence is all over the place." It's a dilemma authorties are trying to address...but with the death toll rising, Chicago appears stuck with its unwanted reputation as America's murder capital.