In few other cities would a press conference held by current and former gang members capture the attention of dozens of reporters and influential community members, without the interjection of police. But with Chicago’s ubiquitous, historically rooted gang culture and rampant summer violence, people were ready to listen when the conference was staged in Columbus Park. Any non-violent suggestion for a solution should be considered.
In mid-August, Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis called a meeting with gang leaders, giving them the message they would be held responsible for the crimes committed by their underlings. When a crime is tracked to a particular gang, Weis said the police will come down on every member. For example, parolees will be screened for violations, property will be seized and cars with outstanding tickets will be towed.
Gang members had their own message at the Sept. 2 press conference: Weis’ threat was not fair.
Fairness, however, should not be a key word in the discussion. Communities are desperate for change. Yes, the city’s aggressive tactics will inevitably remove some gang members, and yes, such a plan has been shown to reduce homicide rates in other cities. A problem that has swelled for so many decades, however, won’t disintegrate if a few knights are knocked out—it’s the pawns that need the most attention.
The responsibility rests with every member of every community. The majority of gang-related violence happens on the city’s South and West sides, leaving a large part of Chicago seemingly indifferent to the incredible violence. The communities under fire are so depleted, the neighbors so defeated, they can’t create their own defense.
The city has made it clear it is in no financial position to provide alternative jobs, nor can it fund the community programs proven to help quell gang activity or new membership.
It is up to us, as an entire city, to wake up and to stand up; to pull together and provide the materials for solutions that the city and these communities cannot. Chicago, where have our famously big shoulders gone?