Milwaukee struggles with spike in homicides

MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Milwaukee has seen a dramatic surge in murders: 84 so far this year, more than double last year's rate.

In two neighborhoods Thursday night, there were vigils for the latest victims of the city's growing gun violence.

One for 13-year-old Giovanni Cameron, who was shot to death by his 13-year-old cousin on Monday; another for 14-year-old Tariq Akbar, gunned down Friday by a 15-year-old.

They're two of ten people shot and killed in Milwaukee in just the last week.

Tariq's mother Arifah Akbar made a shrine for her youngest son.

"That was my baby boy and ... It is a hard one, really hard one," she told CBS News. "I mean, a lot of people are getting a hold of these guns even kids. It's ridiculous."

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Arifah Akbar
CBS News

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn heard the gunshots that killed Tariq at the Fourth of July fireworks show. Flynn was there with 75 other police officers.

"What goes through my mind is, how in the name of all that is good and holy do I have a 15 year old carrying a semiautomatic pistol of high quality -- and using it with impunity," he told CBS News.

Flynn blames this year's homicide spike on a toxic mix of an overwhelmed juvenile justice system, a large population of teenagers in poverty, and gun laws that allow people to carry concealed weapons, allow guns to be resold without background checks and don't require reporting of stolen guns.

"Right now our offending community recognizes that it's more dangerous to get caught without their gun than with their gun," Flynn explained. "I think we have a critical mass of offenders who've caught on to the weaknesses of the law, and they're certainly taking advantage of it."

The sound of gunfire has become so common in Milwaukee that the police chief says 80 percent of gunshots don't even get reported.

Flynn says his police officers are increasingly being asked to carry a much larger set of responsibilities because of diminishing resources. A lack of parole and probation officers means that police officers have to conduct parole checks; a lack of mental health services means that officers have to pick up that slack.

"We're out there doing everybody else's job plus we're doing anti-crime work," said Flynn. "Society over the past 25 years has delegated its social problems to the criminal justice system and the criminal justice system is insufficient for that task."

Flynn wonders whether we're at a "tipping point," where law enforcement is overwhelmed, rendered ineffective by the sheer volume of young offenders.

One of his biggest frustrations is how the issue is kicked around in the political arena. He believes the lack of coherent dialogue and action only makes matters worse for Americans living in neighborhoods were gun violence is rampant.

"What's most frustrating to me is that most political discussions about these significant events and significant trends is nothing but talking point trash," said Flynn. "I would be forgiven, I think, as a working police officer to say one can feel like the far right doesn't care how many young dead black men I have as long as they are well armed and the far left doesn't care how many young dead black men I have as long as the police have not harassed them. Life is more complicated than that."