© Carlos Javier Ortiz/Polaris Residents in Chicago’s South Side held a peace rally last month
Residents of the mainly black South Side want stop-and-search tactics brought back as gang murders plague President Barack Obama's home city.

The cluster of young men hanging out on the porch of the run-down brick home cast menacing stares at the unknown car as a "spotter", a teen on a bicycle, talked into a mobile phone.

Beneath a tree across the street, burned red candle wax was the last remnant of an impromptu shrine for a 13-year-old boy, Tyquan Tyler, shot dead two weeks earlier by a killer just a few years older than him.

The assailant had run through an alleyway past a boarded-up home, mown down his victim and then disappeared back down the same route into a neighbouring street before the "ATM boys" could respond with their Glock pistols.

In the killing zones of Chicago's predominantly black and poor South Side, turf warfare is no longer waged for control of districts but street to street.

A splintering of traditional gangs into smaller factions - known as crews or cliques - with ever-younger members desperate to prove their tough-guy credentials is fuelling a murder rate that makes swathes of Chicago more lethal than Afghanistan.

Even as violent crime has decreased in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the murder rate soared here by 38 per cent in the first six months of the year. There were 259 murders in that period, with another 18 so far in July.

"This is a block-to-block war here, a different dynasty on every street," said a dreadlocked young man heavily inked in gang tattoos who calls himself "Killer".

"All the black brothers just want to get rich, but we got no jobs and no hope. We want the violence to stop but you ain't safe if you ain't got your pistol with you. Too many friends, too many men are being killed. We don't even cry at funerals no -more. Nobody expects to live past 21 here."

The victims and killers are mainly black males aged between 15 and 35, often with gang affiliations - but not exclusively. A seven-year-old girl, Heaven Sutton, was buried this month after being gunned down at her mother's street sweet store. And last week, two girls aged 12 and 13 were shot and badly-wounded as they walked home from a newly-opened community centre.

There have also been recent gang reprisal attacks along the city centre's "Magnificent Mile", an impressive stretch of skyscrapers and up-market stores, prompting fears that the violence is spreading.

The mayhem, playing out within ambulance siren range of the Chicago home of Barack and Michelle Obama, has not just put a city on edge. It is also unleashing a passionate national debate on policing tactics.

For the upsurge in gang killings has followed a decision by the city's mayor Rahm Emanuel and police chief Garry McCarthy, both new in the job last year, to dismantle specialist anti-gang units and instead switch more officers to the beat.

But many terrorised locals are now pleading for a return to the aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics of the task forces that were long decried by black community leaders.

"Killer" and his friends in the "ATM crew" are only talking after reassurances from Willie Cochran, the city councillor for the Ward 20 district and a well-known figure in the community, who gave The Sunday Telegraph a tour of his district's most-blighted streets.

His constituency has the unenviable distinction of the highest number of murders in the city - 20 so far this year, compared with nine at the same stage in 2011. And he knows that his local popularity only provides a certain degree of protection. "

"We're only stopping here for a couple of minutes, we don't want to get too much attention," he said at one notoriously dangerous street corner, adopting the same sort of safety measures as war correspondents in Baghdad.

In response to the mounting death tally, Mr Cochran recently called a emergency meeting of alarmed residents to discuss the sky-rocketing violence.

They overwhelmingly urged a return to the more aggressive policies of stop-and-frisk (known as stop-and-search in Britain), previously used by elite anti-gang squads that would temporarily flood trouble zones. That surprised many, as those tactics had prompted complaints of harassment, abuse and racial profiling in black and Hispanic communities.

"People are frustrated and they are feeling terrorised and they are desperate for action," said Mr Cochran. "I asked if they wanted a more aggressive force engaging these terrorists on the streets, whether they understood that might cause complaints and whether they are ready to stand by the police. They said that they did, and they were."

Speaking anonymously because she said she was scared of retribution, the grandmother of a South Side murder victim voiced those fears. "We have had enough," she said. "There is too much bloodshed among our young people. The older folks are terrified. We need the police to crack down on them. Responsibly yes, but forcefully."

Other city councillors have been delivering similarly desperate pleas for intervention as violence tears their districts apart. Indeed, Carrie Austin, councillor for the district where the two girls were shot and wounded last week, said that if Chicago police could not handle the crisis, then the National Guard should be sent in.

The debate on police anti-gang tactics is generating national and international attention in the wake of the switch in strategy introduced by Mr McCarthy following his appointment by Mr Emanuel, President Obama's combative former chief-of-staff.

Mr McCarthy disbanded citywide anti-gang task forces, saying that they only managed to tackle gang violence in short bursts; when they left an area the violence returned.

Instead, he and the mayor are focusing greater resources on neighbourhood beat policing and targeting hubs of gang operations.

As part of their new approach, the mayor and police chief launched two new widely-praised initiatives last week. They will target businesses such as off-licences that have gang links and from where guns and drugs are sold. And on Thursday, they started a programme to demolish derelict buildings that are being used as bases for gangs and drug dealers.

The city is also planning to work in tandem with a group called The Interrupters, former gang-members who try to mediate street disputes before they turn violent - although police chiefs remain suspicious that some are still involved in crime and have clashed with them over their refusal to pass on.

The controversy is being followed far from the Windy City. In New York, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor, and Ray Kelly, his police chief, are by contrast sticking to a long-standing policy of tough stop-and-frisk operations in crime-plagued districts, despite complaints by critics that it racially targets blacks and Hispanics.

While there are deep rifts about how to tackle Chicago's gang killings, there is common agreement on several underlying reasons for the surge in violence.

Small ultra-violent breakaway factions with names such as the Insane Crew and Satan's Disciples have proliferated after previous anti-gang initiatives targeted older criminal structures.

These new "crews" found a fertile recruiting ground in neighbourhoods plagued by a vicious cycle of unemployment, broken homes, drug, easily-available guns and, since the 2008 crisis, an explosion of repossessed and abandoned homes.

Even as Chicago's murder rates soar, Mr Emanuel and Mr McCarthy insisted last week that the new approach was starting to bear fruit.

In effect, they asked for more time. Mr Cochran and his residents are, however, pleading for a change in tactics now as the toll of dead and injured mounts weekly.

But the South Side's most famous residents have remained silent about the epidemic of violence. Barack and Michelle Obamas live in the affluent oasis of Hyde Park less than two miles from the street where Tyquan was shot dead.

The First Lady's ties to the district are lifelong - she was born in the heart of Mr Cochran's ward. And Mr Obama's presidential re-election campaign is run out of offices in Magnificent Mile.

Ron Holt is one of many who would like to hear their voices. The police veteran lost his son Blair in 2007 when a "gangbanger" opened fire on a crowded bus in an attempt to kill a rival and the 16-year old was caught by the bullets as he shielded a girl.

"Senator Obama, as he then was, called me after Blair's death to express his condolences and asked if there was anything he could do for us," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

"Well, I think we need the President and Mrs Obama now. This would be a perfect time for them to start a national debate about the impact of gangs and youth violence, just as the First Lady has done on childhood obesity and healthy eating.

"They are Chicagoans and they are South Siders. When will they speak out about the violence that is tearing our communities apart?"