- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DENVER (AP) - Denver police and relatives of victims pleaded Wednesday for witnesses to come forward as unsolved killings linked to gang rivalries mount.

Police have attributed 12 deaths so far this year to gang attacks - already above the five-year annual average of eight. Police say gang violence typically increases during the summer.

“We don’t need another summer of violence,” Carlos Mason, whose 17-year-old son Marcus was shot and killed in an apparent gang attack in 2007, said in a public service announcement released Wednesday. “We need to come together. People need to speak up.”

The family says Marcus Mason was not a gang member and might have been killed simply because he was wearing a blue shirt - a color associated with a particular gang - while walking to a restaurant to ask for a job.

No arrests have been made in his death or in any of the 12 killings so far this year.

Mayor Michael B. Hancock, who appeared with Carlos Mason and his wife Josephine Baez at a news conference, said the only thing worse than losing a child was not knowing why.

“Many families are waiting for an answer,” Hancock said.

Police Chief Robert White said criminals count on witnesses being too afraid to come forward. He stressed that tipsters can remain anonymous.

Mike Mills, president of Crime Stoppers in Denver, joined the news conference to say his private group was doubling to $4,000 the reward for tips that lead to arrests in gang violence. Crime Stoppers accepts anonymous tips by phone, cellphone text and online.

The surge in gang violence in recent months prompted city, state and national officials last month to launch an initiative involving heightened surveillance and closer cooperation with groups such as Crime Stoppers and with organizations working to provide young people alternatives to crime.

A study by the National Gang Center, a project of the U.S. Department of Justice, found that gang violence generally accounts for 13 percent of all homicides in the nation. In Denver this year, 12 of the 17 killings have been attributed to gangs, police Chief White said Thursday.

White has said retaliation involving as many as four Denver street gangs began late last year when a shootout at a west Denver bar during a concert left a rapper dead.

Meena Harris, director of the National Gang Center, said it was not unusual for a city where gangs are established to experience periodic upsurges in violence.

Harris praised Denver for taking a comprehensive approach that includes tough law enforcement measures as well as outreach to young people.

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