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Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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The cancer has spread.

The question now is where it will go next.

Thursday’s fatal shooting of a local high school student — near a Champaign school — is the latest evidence of an intractable problem.

All the pleading and hand-wringing by local ministers, educators, public officials and law officers has had zero effect on curtailing a continuing war between members of rival gangs. The pattern of retaliation and counter-retaliation continues without regard to time of day and location.

A school bus hit by gunfire. Shots fired outside Centennial High School. Innocent bystanders killed and wounded. A real shootout at the Country Fair Shopping Center.

Thursday’s incident was the most outrageous yet — masked gunmen opened fire on Jonathon McPhearson as he stood in the 1500 block of West Kirby Avenue near International Prep Academy.

Where all the players fit in this drama remains to be seen. Is it a gang thing? Hard feelings among individuals? Regardless of motivation, how they think is crystal clear — they don’t.

Conversations with police officers who have spoken to these young people reveal little emotional reaction to suggestions that they’ll end up in prison or dead if they don’t change their ways.

Whatever, seems to be the response. That may be a pose of feigned indifference. But their actions say otherwise.

These kids — a category in which many of them fit — are impulsive, short-term thinkers. The long-term future to them is next week. What’s worse is that they see no future to lose.

They’re seduced by infantile fantasies as gun-wielding bad dudes and the glamour of a gangster lifestyle that ends with their rivals in a casket. It’s memorialized on toxic social-media sites that lend faux substance to their nihilistic dreams.

As a consequence, they shoot themselves by accident and others on purpose.

So what’s the solution? Aye, there’s the rub.

After several years of this mayhem, does anyone seriously think this shooting spree is going to stop on its own, that these shooters will suddenly wake up to the reality that they’re going nowhere fast?

Don’t hold your breath. Long-term problems don’t lend themselves to short-term solutions.

That leaves beleaguered police and prosecutors to do what they can to identify and remove from society those who threaten public safety.

Police. Remember them? They’re the ones frequently vilified as the problem by the hopelessly naive.

Champaign-Urbana is stuck with a sickening status quo, one act of mindless violence after another in an intermittent war waged by those who have nothing to lose except lives they do not value.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

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