The World Knows About Sandy Hook. But The Murders In This Neighborhood? Not So Much.

Maz Ali

Even after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Congress dropped the ball by not passing a bill to help keep guns from falling into the wrong hands. Hell, even the overwhelming majority of NRA members (74%) support no-brainer solutions like comprehensive background checks for the purchase of firearms. I wonder if the political hacks who blocked the bill would see things differently if they lived in places like this.

See 9:04 for a priest’s take on why all of us, including suburban soccer moms, should pay closer attention to this issue. And if you really need poster children to drive the message home, jump to 9:57 and 12:02.

SEGMENT TRANSCRIPT (8:04 - 14:29):

Chicago's gun laws are actually fairly strict, but they don't extend into the suburbs, where most of the city's guns come from. Police superintendent Garry McCarthy held a press conference in January to show off some of the 300 suburban guns his officers had confiscated since the beginning of the year.

This is representative of the firearms that we're taking off the street every single day, and in the last week, 120 firearms.

What is it about Chicago that puts it so far ahead of the other cities?

The ease by which guns are obtained. You can walk into any gun shop in Illinois, buy ten nine-millimeters, and walk out the door, and there's only one recorded transaction on those firearms. And we don't know where those guns go. They hit the streets in enormous numbers. To me, that's just crazy.

The priest who was at the police press conference this morning was Reverend Michael Pfleger. He runs this church, St. Sabinas, the biggest Catholic church in Englewood. He's also a major social activist. He's been here since the '70s working with gang members and the police, trying to solve the violence.

The proliferation of guns, and the love affair with guns in this society is bizarre. Guns have become the first-line offense on the street in society today. Most of the brothers out on the street don't want to shoot, don't want to use a gun to be able to survive, to go back and forth to their home. We have to deal with guns. We have to. We've ignored violence in America. We've turned our back on it because it's been primarily black and brown children. Sandy Hook wakes up America. Why? Because now the soccer mom sees Sandy Hook, the horrific tragedy it was, and identifies with those children. I'm trying to figure out, how do we make the soccer mom identify with the black child or the brown child in Lawndale, Englewood, Little Village, Pilsen. How do we make America identify with our children again, wherever they're at?

One local child the national media did identify with was Hadiya Pendleton.

She was 15 years old. She was a majorette. Just three weeks ago, she was here in Washington with her classmates performing for her country at my inauguration.

On Jan. 29 of this year, Hadiya and her friends were in a park after school when two gunmen ran up and began firing into their crowd. Hadiya and two of the others were hit as everybody tried to scramble for safety. Hadiya died.

I wish we could see her beautiful smile again.

She will always be with us.

Hadiya's death became the centerpiece of Obama's push this year for increased gun control, which Congress overwhelmingly voted down.

A minority in the United States Senate has decided it wasn't worth it. So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.

We lose, in Chicago, more black kids than soldiers in Iraq. That's how dangerous it is for our kids now living in an environment where their safety is put at peril.

State Senator Jacqueline Collins has been in office since 2002. Her district includes some of the south side's most violent neighborhoods.

There are consequences, I believe, to failed economic and political policies that most communities of color in Chicago are facing. High unemployment, 23% or more, failing schools, we have the closing of mental facilities, the foreclosure crisis. So certain communities seem to be targeted.

Not only has the south side lost the majority of its schools, clinics, and public housing, they don't even have a hospital to treat all the gunshot wounds that happen here, which is doubly fucked because there are three hospitals in the neighborhood, all of which used to treat gunshot wounds, but stopped because it was costing them too much money. These closures are a major contributing factor to the south side's death rate, as in the case of Damian Turner, who was hit by a stray bullet and died during a 30-minute ambulance ride uptown. Damian's sister, Candice, has been trying to draw attention to the situation ever since her brother's death.

The nearest hospital with a trauma center is Northwestern Hospital.

And that's way up in -- that's almost on the north side.

Yeah. That's where they took my brother, Damian Turner. They're on bypass.

What is bypass?

Bypass is if you get injured, the ambulance won't bring you to their hospital if they're on bypass. He died on his way to the hospital because he had to be taken so far.

To raise awareness of his death and the crucial lack of health resources on the south side, his friends and local activists staged a die-in at the University of Chicago's new $700 million medical center.

This is private property. This is private property.

No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.

Most of the people that come in with gunshot wounds are uninsured, so it became more of a bottom-line issue. But how do you put a price tag on a life?

Left to fend for themselves in an urban desert, many younger kids in Chicago see gangs as the only form of structure left in their communities, and have so internalized their situation they proudly declare their city Chiraq, and themselves soldiers or savages. And who could blame them? They do live in a war zone. The south side of Chicago is basically a failed state within the borders of the U.S.

We've turned our backs and abandoned the jungle that is out on the street.

This is my wall of fame. All the guys and women that I lost.

Who's at the bottom of the wall?

That's my son. That's my son, Montrell.

These are disenfranchised communities, and it's not just a month occurrence, or a year occurrence. This is decades of a lack of resources flowing into these communities.

There has been a conscious decision to let some communities fall apart, as long as it's contained, that it doesn't seep over. But guess what, America? It's seeping over. Drugs did, violence is, and now poverty is, because what used to be the middle class is now poor. Wake up.

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Don't nobody want to talk no more. It's so easy to get a gun out here. Everybody's ready to shoot it out.

This week on VICE, gangs and gun violence have turned Chicago into a war zone.

We use the handguns in Chicago. We get up on you, baby. That's why we call this Chiraq.

Then we hunt oil pirates in Nigeria.

So right behind me are three illegal oil refineries.

The world is changing. Now no one knows where it's going, but we'll be there uncovering the news, culture, and politics. We expose the absurdity of the modern condition.

This scene isn't really kosher by American standards.

I've never seen anything like this before. It looks like hell on earth.

I was interviewing suicide bombers and they were kids.

This is the world from our eyes. This is the world of VICE.

Hi. I'm Shane Smith and we're here in the VICE offices in Brooklyn, New York. For our first story tonight, we go to Chicago. For the last two decades, most major cities in America have seen a dramatic drop in violent crimes, the exception to the rule being Chicago, where gang violence is out of control. In 2012 alone, over 440 school-age children were shot, making it one of the deadliest places in the country for young people. In fact, things have gotten so bad that many locals have renamed their hometown Chiraq.

Chicago's in bad shape.

Bullets flew on the city's south side last night.

Dozens of people have been shot.

There have been calls to deploy the National Guard.

Police attribute most of these murders to Chicago's 100,000 gang members belonging to an insanely large and confusing assortment of gangs, sub-gangs, factions, and cliques, all of whose territory can vary from one city block to the next.

[inaudible 02:22-02:24]

Our most dangerous spot, guys, is these vehicles, so we've got to be careful. Right here, where you see the memorial on the right, that is a spot where a murder happened. It just so happened the other night. My officers got shot at right there, right across the street.

Right out of the station, we started getting calls, most involving guns.

A 16-year-old brother was just threatening the family with a gun. [inaudible 02:49-02:53]

Looks like a 380 Lorcin. Guy's under arrest. He's in the car.

He's like 14.

Fourteen years old?

Yeah, something like that.

Despite the deputy chief's insistence that we were out on a good night, the calls kept coming in.

We've been having a lot of shootings over here. We had a murder here we're working on, too. It's just what we do on a daily basis.

This is a map here of the 7th district, Englewood. What this map portrays is, anything colored is a gang. In the city, we have 59 gangs, over 625 factions. We've got New Breeds, we've got Black P. Stones, Conservative Vice Lords, Mickey Cobras.

Is there anywhere on this map that isn't under gang control?

There's sections of the district where they're not fighting, but what gang would be there is governed by the color.

I look at this map and this scares the living shit out of me, to be honest.

As the night got busy for the cops, we hopped out to see how it was going in one of the south side's most notorious neighborhoods, the Village.

This is the Village?

Land of the New Breeds, man.

How far does the Village extend? Like, how far can you go to each side?

Halsted Avenue to motherfucking Ashland Avenue.

Alright, what happens across Ashland? Do you guys--

Don't cross that gun line, boss.

Don't cross the gun line.

Are any of you guys armed? Is that a rude question?

Yeah, that's a terrible question.

Oh, OK, I'm sorry. How hard is it to get a gun?

Not that hard. You can get a gun anywhere. It's the hood.

Your granny probably got one of them motherfuckers upstairs.

When they come out, they come out.

It doesn't even matter. You could like, have our cameras.

It could be like this. If they come out, they come out.

We went for our second ride-along of the night to see the Village kids' turf for ourselves, which amounts to all of about two city blocks.

Shooting that shit on house arrest. Real shit. Al Capone and all them was doing worse than us. They was blowing up buildings, blowing up motherfucking clubs and doing massacres.

They had machine guns.

Exactly. We use the handguns in Chicago, just to point that out, while they try to ban assault rifles. We don't use assault rifles in Chicago, we get up on you, baby.

Extended clips, though, are popular.

Yeah, because we like to eat the body up. That's why we call this Chiraq. Because we live like them. They die for theirs, we die for ours.

We in the hood are having real wars like the army. You feel me? We're having shootouts. My mother running out of the projects, screaming my name while 100 bullets coming my way. So I can get shot trying to look back and tell her to get out of the way. But she was coming for her baby, you know what I'm saying, so rest in peace, you know.

If the rest of America got safer over the '90s, how did the gang problem here get even worse? What turned Chicago's gang map into this pizza pie of tiny war zones? Throughout the 2000s, Chicago demolished its inner-city projects in hopes of breaking up the gangs which more or less ruled them, and relocated the residents throughout town.

From 22nd street all the way down to 53rd was all the project buildings, so you had all the gangs and all the buildings. And when they tore those buildings down, those people went to the different neighborhoods.

While this was an overdue necessity due to the abhorrent living conditions and nearly sovereign gang control within, it had unintended consequences. We talked to some former gang members from the neighborhood who asked that we hide their identities. So we did.

A lot of those guys never been outside of those buildings, but when you tear them down and then you give them section eight and tell them, hey, we got to see you out to the suburbs that you're not even used to, with people are telling you, they're from the projects and not welcoming them.

That's kind of where the violence comes from. Everybody is fighting over the actual neighborhood now. You come to a neighborhood. It wasn't your neighborhood, but now you're living there, so you've got to fight the people that have been there and that's where a lot of the violence is coming from.

I'm, like, amazed by how many guns there are nowadays. Was that always the case in Chicago, or has that started--

Well, guns ain't really been plentiful like that. It probably was two motherfucking guns out of 45 of them. We were brought up to beat your motherfucking ass. We weren't brought up to shoot motherfuckers and shit. We were decent with our hands.

But kids now, they're scared to lose.

Yeah. Exactly.

So they'd rather bring a gun to the table and just murder everything.

The youth is just fucked, man. Their mentality is, they don't care. Period. Point-blank.

Ain't nobody fighting no more. Ain't nobody feel like talking it out no more. The way we defend ourselves nowadays is like, everybody is ready to shoot. Yeah. Shoot it out.

We met these kids walking through rival gang territory, where they could be shot for simply showing their face. This, despite the fact that they were three blocks away from their own homes, walking with their mom.

You just got to watch the way you walk, like, say, if there was 30 boys down there and there was just me and him by ourselves, and we walk down there they'll probably run across the street and ask us where we live. If we get shot at here, we're going to want to retaliate, because if they shoot one of our friends, now it's war. If somebody approached me, I probably got to pop them before they pop me. That's how it is out here, because don't nobody want to talk no more, it's so easy to get a gun out here.

Chicago's gun laws are actually fairly strict, but they don't extend into the suburbs, where most of the city's guns come from. Police superintendent Garry McCarthy held a press conference in January to show off some of the 300 suburban guns his officers had confiscated since the beginning of the year.

This is representative of the firearms that we're taking off the street every single day, and in the last week, 120 firearms.

What is it about Chicago that puts it so far ahead of the other cities?

The ease by which guns are obtained. You can walk into any gun shop in Illinois, buy ten nine-millimeters, and walk out the door, and there's only one recorded transaction on those firearms. And we don't know where those guns go. They hit the streets in enormous numbers. To me, that's just crazy.

The priest who was at the police press conference this morning was Reverend Michael Pfleger. He runs this church, St. Sabinas, the biggest Catholic church in Englewood. He's also a major social activist. He's been here since the '70s working with gang members and the police, trying to solve the violence.

The proliferation of guns, and the love affair with guns in this society is bizarre. Guns have become the first-line offense on the street in society today. Most of the brothers out on the street don't want to shoot, don't want to use a gun to be able to survive, to go back and forth to their home. We have to deal with guns. We have to. We've ignored violence in America. We've turned our back on it because it's been primarily black and brown children. Sandy Hook wakes up America. Why? Because now the soccer mom sees Sandy Hook, the horrific tragedy it was, and identifies with those children. I'm trying to figure out, how do we make the soccer mom identify with the black child or the brown child in Lawndale, Englewood, Little Village, Pilsen. How do we make America identify with our children again, wherever they're at?

One local child the national media did identify with was Hadiya Pendleton.

She was 15 years old. She was a majorette. Just three weeks ago, she was here in Washington with her classmates performing for her country at my inauguration.

On Jan. 29 of this year, Hadiya and her friends were in a park after school when two gunmen ran up and began firing into their crowd. Hadiya and two of the others were hit as everybody tried to scramble for safety. Hadiya died.

I wish we could see her beautiful smile again.

She will always be with us.

Hadiya's death became the centerpiece of Obama's push this year for increased gun control, which Congress overwhelmingly voted down.

A minority in the United States Senate has decided it wasn't worth it. So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.

We lose, in Chicago, more black kids than soldiers in Iraq. That's how dangerous it is for our kids now living in an environment where their safety is put at peril.

State Senator Jacqueline Collins has been in office since 2002. Her district includes some of the south side's most violent neighborhoods.

There are consequences, I believe, to failed economic and political policies that most communities of color in Chicago are facing. High unemployment, 23% or more, failing schools, we have the closing of mental facilities, the foreclosure crisis. So certain communities seem to be targeted.

Not only has the south side lost the majority of its schools, clinics, and public housing, they don't even have a hospital to treat all the gunshot wounds that happen here, which is doubly fucked because there are three hospitals in the neighborhood, all of which used to treat gunshot wounds, but stopped because it was costing them too much money. These closures are a major contributing factor to the south side's death rate, as in the case of Damian Turner, who was hit by a stray bullet and died during a 30-minute ambulance ride uptown. Damian's sister, Candice, has been trying to draw attention to the situation ever since her brother's death.

The nearest hospital with a trauma center is Northwestern Hospital.

And that's way up in -- that's almost on the north side.

Yeah. That's where they took my brother, Damian Turner. They're on bypass.

What is bypass?

Bypass is if you get injured, the ambulance won't bring you to their hospital if they're on bypass. He died on his way to the hospital because he had to be taken so far.

To raise awareness of his death and the crucial lack of health resources on the south side, his friends and local activists staged a die-in at the University of Chicago's new $700 million medical center.

This is private property. This is private property.

No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.

Most of the people that come in with gunshot wounds are uninsured, so it became more of a bottom-line issue. But how do you put a price tag on a life?

Left to fend for themselves in an urban desert, many younger kids in Chicago see gangs as the only form of structure left in their communities, and have so internalized their situation they proudly declare their city Chiraq, and themselves soldiers or savages. And who could blame them? They do live in a war zone. The south side of Chicago is basically a failed state within the borders of the U.S.

We've turned our backs and abandoned the jungle that is out on the street.

This is my wall of fame. All the guys and women that I lost.

Who's at the bottom of the wall?

That's my son. That's my son, Montrell.

These are disenfranchised communities, and it's not just a month occurrence, or a year occurrence. This is decades of a lack of resources flowing into these communities.

There has been a conscious decision to let some communities fall apart, as long as it's contained, that it doesn't seep over. But guess what, America? It's seeping over. Drugs did, violence is, and now poverty is, because what used to be the middle class is now poor. Wake up.

Nigeria is one of the largest oil producing countries in the world. In fact, it's America's fourth-largest supplier of oil. In total, they export over 780 million barrels a year. But they also have a massive problem with oil spills. Last year alone, there were 194 spills in the Niger Delta. And over the last 50 years, more than ten million barrels of oil have polluted the region. That's approximately one Exxon Valdez spill every year. Now it seems like everyone is blaming everybody else. The locals are blaming the oil companies, and the oil companies are blaming pirates. So we sent Suroosh Alvi to find out, A, why there are so many spills, and B, exactly who is responsible.

Oil companies have been drilling in the Niger Delta for half a century, sometimes resulting in devastating economic and environmental effects on local communities. For years, Elder Friday Akpan, a successful fish farmer and local community leader, has been fighting Shell in court at The Hague.

This is one of the 47 fish ponds I excavated and properly managed. But the oil spill caused by Shell's facility has polluted it, which causes all the fish to die. And I had been reporting the spill to them. They did not answer me anything. It is there and then I said, I am now pushed to the wall. Why do you come to kill me? I have nothing to live with again, and you have pushed me into indebtedness.

So he did something that had never been done before, and sued Royal Dutch Shell in their own country. And this past January, after a five-year-long court battle, the verdict came in. The court ruled in Elder Friday's favor and determined that Shell was liable for the count of not better protecting the pipeline from oil theft and vandalism, which ultimately led to the spills.

Were you surprised that the verdict came in your favor?

I was not surprised, but others were surprised, hearing a black or Niger Delta man took Shell to court at The Hague and won the case.

Hallelujah.

It's easy to get caught up in Elder Friday's victory. But in reality, it's a small win in a large war. Since oil was first discovered in Nigeria in 1956, over 500 spill-related lawsuits have been filed in Nigerian courts, and only a handful have received compensation. We wanted to find out what Shell had to say about these environmental disasters that they call operational spills.

Frankly, if you look at what I would consider to be operational spills, it's a very, very tiny proportion. The worst pollution is common from sabotage spills from illegal refineries and crude oil theft.

So what he's claiming is that most spills are caused by pirates. Guys who illegally hack into the Shell pipeline, steal the crude oil, refine it into gasoline somewhere in the jungles of the Niger Delta, and sell it across west Africa. Shell estimates that it loses between 55 and 60 million barrels of oil every year due to oil piracy, costing them $7 billion a year. We wanted to learn more about these pirates, so we went out on patrol with the guys that hunt them.

We are getting on board. Not too far away, where we have a lot of arrested vessels there.

These guys are the JTF, the Joint Military Taskforce that patrols the delta here in Nigeria.

They are very intelligent guys and they plan their operations very, very well. So we have to be extra smart to be able to catch them.

The JTF have their work cut out for them, patrolling an area roughly the size of Ohio, consisting mostly of mangrove swamps, dense jungles, and very little infrastructure. Every day they're arresting people. They keep grabbing people. Then the next day, there's, like, new refineries and new oil thieves. Along the river, we saw half-sunken ships that had been attacked and destroyed in previous raids. We were also taken on board a recently captured ship.

So when were these barges captured and seized? Was it a recent operation?

Yeah, yeah. Some, they still have content product there, illegally refined oil.

Because of these spills, the World Health Organization estimates that the drinking water in the Niger Delta has 900 times as much benzene as is deemed safe to consume.

We've been cruising through an oil spill for about 20 minutes now. We were cruising along when I looked to my right and saw all the dead trees. The problem here in the Niger Delta is that they're not really cleaning up these oil spills.

We never found the pirates or the refineries that we were looking for with the JTF, so we went out on our own.

We're going to go spend a couple nights with a community here deep in the Niger Delta. We wanted to find out how these people are stealing oil, how they're refining it, and why they're doing it.

After a long ride up the river, we arrived in town. Not surprisingly, a town known to have oil thieves wasn't exactly thrilled to see a group of foreigners with cameras. Right away, we were ushered into a town hall meeting, where the debate at hand was whether or not we should be allowed to stay. We had to plead our case to the people.

Thank you, Chairman, for inviting us to your community. We are very excited to come see this part of Nigeria, the Niger Delta. We feel that the story of your people is very important and it's our job to tell it to the world.

We finally got their blessing to film, and decided to check out the town. The first thing I noticed was the impoverished conditions that people were living in. In rural areas like this, one in five children dies before the age of five.

As we're walking, you can see, like, just power lines everywhere that don't work. There's the river. They do everything in it. They bathe in it. They wash their clothes in it. But they're getting sick from it as well.

We spend every year, close to $250 million directly or indirectly on community development projects. But if you look at the scale of the developmental needs in the delta, only government can really plug that hole.

It's hard to know how the $250 million is spent, or if government neglect is to blame, but it's clear that very little money reaches the villages. The Nigerian government did not respond to our request for an interview, but we spoke with the chief of the oil-producing town who gave us his view of the issues.

Our people are suffering. Most of the fish we have in the river have been damaged as a result of the rampant pollution. Shell is supposed to develop our area. Nothing has been done. We are the host community, producing 235,000 barrels daily to the federal government and Shell.

It's a very oil rich community.

Very oil rich community.

How many do you have here?

We have 21 operating oil wells, but nothing else has been done for our community.

If what he's saying is true, you can understand the people's frustration and resentment towards the oil companies. In fact, something was supposed to be done for the communities, but after decades of seeing minimal profit from the oil wells, a band of militant Nigerians fought back, sabotaging the pipelines and kidnapping the oil workers. The uprising was settled when Shell and the government paid off the rebels to lay down their weapons. But the local residents of the oil producing communities saw none of this money. At this point, it started to make a lot more sense why oil piracy had been exploding in the region.

It's called a Nigerian Swag. He's got a machete, been working all morning.

The locals told us that if we wanted to find the pirates, we'd have to go even further down the river.

I got you. I got you. [inaudible 23:03]

Holy shit. So right behind me are three illegal oil refineries.

It was an unbelievable sight. It's hard to imagine that very deep in the jungle is a camp where people refine crude oil into gasoline with their bare hands.

We were finally approaching the refinery where after the oil thieves hack into the pipeline somewhere out on the delta, they fill boats with the stolen crude oil and bring it to places like this along the river.

So it really smells like oil right now.

[inaudible 23:55-23:57]

This poor guy on the side of the riverbed, refining oil by himself, and it's just like coming down into the river. There's oil everywhere. It's surreal.

Mr. Roland was our local guide through this makeshift refinery.

Easy, easy. Just take it easy. You don't just go anywhere.

I'm going to stick with you, buddy.

It looked like hell on earth. Streams of gas and oil floating into the river and massive fires burning everywhere.

OK, so, Mr. Roland, can you explain what this gentleman is doing?

In those drums is crude oil and the vapor comes through the pipes into this structure, condenses the vapor that drops as kerosene. This is where the fuel that is petrol, kerosene, diesel comes out.

Everything. This guy can do everything.

Yeah, they all will come out from here.

These guys make between $60 to $70 a day doing this. It isn't a fortune, but it's a far cry from the $1 a day the majority of Nigerians survive on.

It's crude. It's rudimentary, but they're succeeding in doing what they need to do.

Yes.

It just doesn't meet certain safety standards.

What is this? What am I standing in?

This is the waste, the leftover, which is tar. It is a mushy environment.

The best way to describe it a mushy environment of waste.

In order to get the chambers to heat up enough to vaporize, they dump crude oil directly onto the fire.

Control your fire.

It's so hot that's it's pushed me back and I almost fell back into the tar.

Well they smoke too much now. Be at a safe distance. This vapor might catch fire.

OK.

So stay away.

This could catch fire?

Yeah. Let's stay at a distance.

Yes, sir. Mr. Roland is making me a bit nervous. I mean, frankly, I'm a little nervous right now.

When this thing catches fire, the whole area is engulfed. All of us will be running helter skelter here. I have an oil well right on my land, but I don't know how many barrels of oil per day is drilled from my own soil. If an oil well is found on your land in America, you become a millionaire or billionaire, isn't it? But the reverse is the case. You become a very poor man. You don't have anywhere to farm.

You look at this young man that is passing. What he does here feeds his family. That is a basic fact.

And all the oil companies, they had to make promises of investment into development. So, did they not do anything?

Nothing. That is why you see these things happening.

Yeah.

How much animosity is there towards the oil companies?

Very much. Very much. That was why our boys took up arms against the oil companies.

And how stable is the peace right now?

It is just like we are on a keg of gunpowder. Anything can happen. It's just a ticking time bomb.

Whole mountains of ice are just falling into the sea.

We're in for trouble.

Indeed.

This is where the Soviets tested all their weapons. So this is the epicenter of a nuclear bomb.

Over the last six months we've had 9000 IUDs.

That's an IUD?

Once you get someone in, they can never leave.

Even police place helicopters don't dare fly over here, because two years ago, one was shot down by an anti-aircraft gun. Fun place to live.

Let's get out of here.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

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