Killings of Chicago youth drop dramatically after year-long antigang effort

Killings of Chicago-area youths have dropped nearly 40 percent in the year since an unprecedented $4 million antigang program was instituted. The program came in response to the murder of a Chicago high school basketball star in Novermber 1984.

Gang deaths are down on a citywide basis, ``and that's an encouraging sign,'' says Cmdr. Edward Pleines of the Chicago Police gang crimes unit. ``But it isn't going down to the point where we could say there has been an overall decrease in gang activity.''

Eighty-six youths aged 11 to 20 were slain this year, as of Dec. 26, according to a report in Sunday's Chicago Tribune. That is 53 fewer than the number killed in the same period in 1984, the report said.

Although the tally does not distinguish between gang murders and other killings, it shows a 38 percent decline in youth homicides, compared with a 10 percent drop in killings for all age groups, the Tribune said. Police say the majority of youth slayings in the city are gang-related.

The antigang campaign was sparked by the shooting death of Ben Wilson, 17, a Parade Magazine high school basketball all-star and one of the nation's leading college prospects. He was killed Nov. 20, 1984, near Simeon High School on the South Side during the school lunch hour. Two youths, ages 16 and 17, were convicted of murder in the case in October and were sentenced in November to terms of 30 years and 40 years.

Results of the antigang efforts have been mixed, the newspaper quoted officials as saying, with several hotspots still remaining. Street-corner mediation and outrage by residents have reduced the number of killings in several areas, but the violence has continued unabated in the Cabrini-Green and Henry Horner public housing projects, the Tribune said.

Nonetheless, a sustained effort by parents, police, and church and civic leaders to reclaim Chicago's children and city streets is beginning to pay off, the report said. ``We have seen the formation of a social movement around the issue,'' says Roberto Rivera, director of the Chicago Intervention Network, a city-funded antigang program.

Although it is too soon to judge the effect of tighter security and new laws setting stiff penalties for crimes involving firearms and drugs within 1,000 feet of school property, reports of gang intimidation and recruitment are down, George Sims, director of security for Chicago Public Schools says. The decline follows an increase in 1984, when gang-attributed crimes in the schools jumped to 170 from the 120 incidents recorded in 1983.

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