Gangs vs. Chicago police: an open feud over blame for street violence
Gang representatives in Chicago held a press conference Thursday to explain why gangs cannot be held solely responsible for stopping street violence, which has escalated this summer.
The number of police officers shot in Chicago is escalating, most recently two wounded early Wednesday, and gang leaders here say they are being unfairly blamed for the escalating violence that has rocked the city this year.Skip to next paragraph
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In an unusual move, gang representatives held a press conference Thursday on the city's far West Side to tell their side of the story – in the face of law-enforcement threats to come after them via a federal statute that targets organized crime. Their point: They can't put a stop all street violence, and Chicago police themselves have a lot to answer for in their own behavior.
Street violence “is not always organized. It’s spontaneous,” community activist Wallace Bradley, a former member of the notorious Gangster Disciple gang, told the Sun-Times Thursday.
The press conference follows on the heels of an explosive weekend report from the Chicago Sun-Times about an Aug. 17 secret meeting between local gang leaders and federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies – including Police Superintendent Jody Weis. At the meeting, authorities reportedly said that if one more gang member shoots another, they would prosecute the gangs' members and leaders – not just the assailants – under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act. Gang members were also told to expect more parole visits and traffic stops in their neighborhoods, according to the newspaper's report.
The revelation about the meeting has touched off a ferocious debate over how best to address the rising violence and the gang problem in Chicago. Mayor Richard M. Daley has defended the summit. But many local alderman criticize the approach. It's an "admission" that Chicago police "can't control the streets," said Alderman Bob Fioretti. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said a more sound approach is better enforcement of assault weapon bans.
So far this summer, three police officers have been killed, and two were wounded early Wednesday while executing a search warrant for weapons. Chicago’s homicide rate is among the highest in the nation.
Buttressing the gang representatives' views, some who study gangs say that Chicago's have become much more decentralized than they used to be – and that the former tightly controlled hierarchies have devolved into loosely affiliated splinter groups battling over local turf.