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A Deadly Year for the City of Compton

An all-too-familiar sight in Compton: Candles, a suit, an open book and a blood-stained sidewalk mark the spot where a drive-by shooting victim died.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR
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An all-too-familiar sight in Compton: Candles, a suit, an open book and a blood-stained sidewalk mark the spot where a drive-by shooting victim died.

In recent years, hip-hop music and "gangsta" films have thrust the south Los Angeles city of Compton into the national consciousness. But now, the community is on its way to earning a new designation: America's murder capital.

Homicides have skyrocketed in the city compared to 2004. City leaders, police and the clergy are joining with local residents in an effort to quell the violence.

Gang violence is the chief suspect. The city covers only 10 square miles, but in that space are at least 8,000 known gang members and scores of recently paroled ex-cons.

This summer, Compton's reality is catching up to its thuggish image. The city is on the verge of displacing New Orleans as the city with America's highest per-capita murder rate.

Compton has responded with a crackdown on gangs, street prostitution and local drug houses. The 72 Los Angeles County deputies enforcing the law in the city are hitting the streets with brand-new equipment, including military-style semiautomatic weapons.

But others say firepower isn't enough, and they are attacking the root causes of violence: black vs. Latino racism, broken one-parent families and a sense that no one seems to care.

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