Chicago is waging war on gangs, but some say finger pointing oversimplifies gun violence problem

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CHICAGO – In the summer of 2021, with an upsurge in gun violence in Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot and the police department declared war on gangs.

With the support of key city council members, Mayor Lori Lightfoot presented a plan to sue gangs for their assets.

“To be very frank and clear, we are looking for their blood money,” Lightfoot told reporters after announcing an asset seizure plan.

Aldermen examine feasibility of gang confiscation, Chicago Police Department is fighting street organizations, creating another gang database.

In an interview, Ernest Cato, head of the Counterterrorism Bureau, told WGN News that the new gang database will be carefully checked and citizens who are on the list will have the option of being removed. their name.

“We are going to do our best to give these kids – these gang members the help they need, but we have to be clear if they don’t want to accept this help and if they refuse this help, we will seek to discipline, said Cato.

There is no way to know how many active gangs there are in Chicago and how many people are in the organization. The CPD will not release the data it collects for its database and the department will not say how many shootings it is labeled “gang-related.”

Civil rights groups condemned the original CPD gang database as racially discriminatory, and the city’s inspector general found the data riddled with errors.

Chicago’s federal partners are focusing more on gangs. This week, the U.S. prosecutor announced sweeping conspiracy charges against West Side gang members believed to be responsible for 19 murders over the past 20 years.

But Northeastern University professor Lance Williams, an expert on violence, calls the idea of ​​targeting gangs weird.

“What you have today are fragments of these groups that exist from block to block. You talk about the thousands of them that exist all over Chicago city block to block and due to the level of disorganization these groups change on a regular basis. So what a group might be today, it might not be tomorrow, ”said Williams.

Cook County attorney Kim Foxx said her office is tackling gang activity through its Complex Homicide and Gang unit, Financial Crimes unit and Gun Crime Strategies team, but she does not approve of the city’s increased emphasis on gangs.

“I think there’s a pervasive fear of gangs and because of the structures we’re so used to in this town, and whether you’re talking about the Al Capone gang in the 20s and 30s or the GDs of the 80s, there’s a notion about Chicago and gangs that when we see violence there’s a tendency to think that is what it is, ”Foxx said.“ I think we definitely have to. make sure we don’t have those organizations that are bent on creating violence and chaos under control, but we also need to make sure that we address why people join gangs, which happens to our society structures when we have children as young as nine, 10, 11, feeling that there is more comfort and solidarity in a gang structure than they have in their communities.

Street pastor Donovan Price goes to dozens of shootings every weekend. He says the problem isn’t the gangs, it’s the guns.

“Both good and bad children have guns. Both good and bad people have guns because they feel safer with a gun than without a gun knowing the rest of people have guns, ”Price said. “The reason you would shoot someone has become the average step on a shoe, a social media statement, whatever the case.”

And it’s a never-ending cycle.

“We see retaliation and retaliation for retaliation and it continues and now we say ‘well, this is gang war’. In reality, it’s a series of bad tempered moves,” Price added.

Chico Tillmon served 16 years in prison for conspiring to distribute drugs. It is now part of the Urban Labs at the University of Chicago. He too finds the Lightfoot administration’s anti-gang focus scratching his head.

“The problem is more nuanced than just getting rid of gangs. The whole philosophical view that gangs push violence is incorrect, ”Tillmon said. “I believe these are interpersonal conflicts between individuals who lack the skills to be able to resolve them peacefully. I think it happens by living in a state of perpetual trauma where shootings take place on a daily basis. “

Upon release from prison, Tillmon returned to school at age 40 to earn a doctorate. He thinks he got lost in his youth because he didn’t have a mentor.

“A role model is far away, anyone can be your model. But mentoring is someone who can walk you through a process, ”Tillmon said. “The challenge is that I never had a male character in my life for a long period of time. Or had a connection to someone who had a path of success outside of individuals who were athletes, artists or involved in subculture activities.

Raymond Richard, who is called Brother Raymond, spent 25 years in prison for selling drugs, aggravated assault and battery and other offenses. He now sees how easy it was to fall on the street.

“They never told me I would go to jail. They never told me I would be shot. They never told me I was addicted to drugs. They never told me I would end up homeless, ”said Richard.

Today Elder Raymond and Tillmon are working to keep the young boys on the right path.

“I joined a gang when I was 11. I didn’t have a mentor. If I had had a mentor I probably wouldn’t have been to the penitentiary six times, I probably wouldn’t have been left for dead three times, right? Richard said.

Last week, city council approved more than $ 1 billion in investments in affordable housing, violence prevention and help with trade corridors.

But Professor Williams says money alone won’t end the bloodshed.

“I see it primarily as a cultural issue,” he says.

Leaders must consider the human element. Williams advocates for awareness and brutally honest dialogue in black and brown communities.

“It has a lot to do with female domination,” Williams said. “It has a lot to do with being able to effeminate other men who then have to oppose it and because there isn’t much room to use other resources to exercise your power, your authority.” and your control when you have easy access to guns, it’s a way to get your manhood and your dignity.

Williams calls this behavior a toxic form of masculinity.

“I think we need to resolve this issue among a lot of young African American men,” Williams added.

Declaring gun violence a public health crisis, Governor Pritzker pledged to channel $ 250 million to reduce shootings. This and the investments Chicago is making show that the money to fight violence is flowing. But the question remains: will the city change its anti-violence game plan or continue to use a playbook from another era?


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