As gang warfare escalates in Chicago, can Facebook be a help?
At least 6 of the 10 homicides in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend are linked to gangs, police say. City officials on Tuesday laid out a strategy that includes tracking known gang members on Facebook and Twitter.
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Ten people were killed and 43 were shot in Chicago between Friday and late Monday. Last year, four people were killed in the city over the same weekend. Seventy percent of the shootings this year are gang-related, involving some of the 600 known gang factions, city officials say.
At a press conference Tuesday in Washington Park on Chicago's problematic South Side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled several initiatives designed to monitor gang activity and to target businesses, such as liquor and convenience stores, known to be locales that are prone to street violence. Some of the new methods had launched in April; since then, the city has identified 30 businesses as problematic and is fast-tracking them with disciplinary actions that could lead to license revocation.
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“We’ve got to get ourselves onto proactive footing," Mayor Emanuel said, singling out liquor stores.
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Chicago’s approach to gangs involves “gang audits,” a system the city's 23 police districts use to monitor gang activity and to accumulate data about gangs. The monitoring includes tracking known gang members via Twitter and Facebook.
Gangland homicides “are not a new problem” in Chicago, said Superintendent McCarthy on Wednesday. He described the initiatives as “a new solution we’re applying to it.”
The homicides that took place over the long weekend are probably retaliatory killings, McCarthy said. At least six of the 10 homicides are linked to gangs, he said.
It’s often difficult to certify whether gun violence is directly related to gang retaliation, although police can draw conclusions on the circumstantial basis of the victim’s history and the neighborhood where the crime occurred, cautions James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston.
“It’s speculation,” Mr. Fox says. “But what we can do is identify neighborhoods where homicides occur as those that tend to be where gangs flourish. Not all these homicides are gang-related, but it’s clear some of them are.”
For example, a killing that starts with a teenage argument over a girlfriend is often categorized, mistakenly, as gang-related because one of the teens happens to be in a gang. Youth homicide is often “in the gray zone when you have a lot of gang-affiliated youth who are having teenage disputes,” says Harold Pollack, a co-director of the University of Chicago crime lab, which analyzes crime data for the police and for research.