At least nine people were killed and another 53 injured as a result of Chicago gun violence over the July Fourth weekend, authorities said.
The violence was so widespread in the nation's third-largest city during the period from late Thursday through Sunday that police were still tallying the dead and wounded on Monday.
A Chicago Police Department (CPD) spokesman said the current count was 50 shooting incidents, with 53 shot and nine dead, bringing the total shot to more than 60.
“You had some people that were literally limping to the ambulance. They weren’t waiting.” Andrew Holmes, an anti-violence activist, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Some reports put the figures higher. The Chicago Tribune reported that 14 people have died and 82 were shot. Police told Al Jazeera that the higher figure could include deaths recorded after Sunday midnight.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said that despite the wave of violence over the weekend, overall shooting deaths were down year-on-year through Sunday, with 185 this year compared with 196 by this time in 2013.
A similar spike in shootings corresponded with Father's Day last summer.
Of those killed July Fourth weekend, the youngest was a 16-year-old boy shot by police after he allegedly pointed a large .44 caliber “Dirty Harry” style weapon at a CPD officer. That gun, McCarthy said, had been stolen from Michigan.
He added that the boy had been missing from his home since June 21. McCarthy described the boy’s parents as being "devastated but not surprised" by the news.
In three of the five shooting incidents involving police, the victims had pointed weapons at officers when they were shot, the Chicago Police Department said in a statement. At least two of those five people have died.
One man was shot and seriously wounded by police after he told them he had a weapon, police said.
Authorities blamed a swarm of firearms infesting in the city as being partly responsibly for the violence.
According to the Sun-Times, almost all of the victims were young black or Hispanic males on the city’s south or west sides — poorer parts of the city starkly separated from better-off neighborhoods in the city’s north. Chicago is one of the most racially segregated cities in the U.S.
While the public debate on gun control and media attention usually focuses on mass shootings, Chicago’s situation highlights more commonplace gun violence that disproportionately affects poor, minority communities.
At a news conference Monday morning, Police Superintendent McCarthy called the violence “unacceptable,” blaming it in part on a “proliferation of firearms.”
The worst of the violence took place early Sunday morning, according to the Chicago Tribune, with four people shot dead in the span of an hour.
McCarthy, who has called for mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes, said that fear of strict punishment for gun possession in New York motivates possessors of guns to cast away their weapons when chased by cops. In Chicago, outlaws fear their comrades more than weapons statutes, making them more likely to engage in gun battles with police.
"There is more of a sanction from their gangs for losing a weapon than there is to get arrested with an illegal firearm," McCarthy said at the press conference Monday. He added that police do not like to use their guns, but are obligated to defend themselves when faced with a deadly threat.
"Something's got to change,” McCarthy said, decrying what he sees as “too many guns and too little punishment.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has also called for tighter controls on firearms, condemned the shootings.
"This violence is unacceptable wherever it occurs in our city and all of us need to take a stand," he said in a statement Monday, adding that solutions must go beyond policing.
Earlier this year, Emanuel announced a “summer safety” plan that called for 300 extra police officers to patrol over the Fourth of July weekend.
Holiday weekends often see an uptick in violence, and multiple shootings were also reported in other cities. Police in Houston said on Monday that four people were shot at a dance early Saturday, including a 16-year-old boy who was critically wounded.
In St. Louis, at least seven people were shot, three of them fatally, according to police.
And in Indiana, an Indianapolis police officer was killed in a late-night shootout on Saturday, in one among multiple shootings reported across the city over the weekend, according to law enforcement.
Al Jazeera and Reuters