By Timothy Mclaughlin
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago's holiday weekend was marred by bouts of gunfire and a dozen killings, continuing a yearlong surge in violence in the third largest U.S. city that has pushed the number of murders to a nearly two-decade high.
Police blamed gang conflicts for much of the violence.
From Dec. 23 through Dec. 26, there were 44 shooting incidents in the city of 2.7 million and 12 people were killed, according to the Chicago Police Department. The number of murders in Chicago stands at 754 for the year.
The murder rate is the highest since 1997, when 761 people were killed.
"These were deliberate and planned shootings by one gang against another," Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at news conference on Monday. "They were targeted knowing fully well that individuals would be at the homes of family and friends celebrating the holiday."
Ninety-percent of those fatally wounded during the weekend had gang affiliation, criminal history and were pre-identified by technology used by the police department to recognize people who might be involved in gun violence, Johnson said.
Johnson, who was appointed as the city's top police officer in March, has railed this year against the light sentences handed down to repeat gun offenders, saying they have emboldened shooters who do not fear the repercussions.
At an event for business and civic leaders earlier this month, Johnson said gang members believe the judicial system in Cook County, which includes Chicago, is a joke.
Johnson also has spoken out against what he has described as a national narrative that portrays police officers in a negative manner.
His own department, which is under a federal civil rights investigation, is working to rebuild trust in the city after a string of high-profile incidents that lead to his predecessor being ousted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Bill Trott)