Violence, gangs scar Chicago community in 2012

It was February, the middle of lunch hour on a busy South Side street. The gunman approached his victim in a White Castle parking lot, shot him in the head, then fled down an alley.
Associated Press
Dec 31, 2012

 

The next month, one block away, also on West 79th Street: Two men in hooded sweatshirts opened fire at the Bishop Golden convenience store. They killed one young man and wounded five others, including a nephew of basketball superstar Dwyane Wade. The shooters got away in a silver SUV.

In July, a Saturday night, two men were walking on 79th when they were approached by a man who killed one and injured the other. This shooting resulted in a quick arrest; police had a witness, and a security camera caught the shooting.

These three violent snapshots of a single Chicago street are not exceptional. It's been a bloody year in the nation's third-largest city.

A spike in murders and shootings — much of it gang-related — shocked Chicagoans, spurred new crime-fighting strategies and left indelible images: Mayor Rahm Emanuel voicing outrage about gang crossfire that killed a 7-year-old named Heaven selling candy in her front yard. Panicked mourners scrambling as shots ring out on the church steps at a funeral for a reputed gang leader. Girls wearing red high school basketball uniforms, filing by the casket of a 16-year-old teammate shot on her porch.

A handful of neighborhoods were especially hard hit, among them Auburn-Gresham; the police district's 43 homicides (as of Dec. 21) ranked highest in the city, and represent an increase of about 20 percent over 2011. The outbreak, fueled partly by feuds among rival factions of Chicago's largest gang, the Gangster Disciples, rippled along 79th street, the main commercial drag. That single corridor offers a window into the wider mayhem that claimed lives, shattered families and left authorities scrambling for answers.

The scars aren't obvious, at first. Drive down West 79th and there's Salaam, a pristine white building of Islamic design, and The Final Call, the restaurant and newspaper operated by the Nation of Islam. Leo Catholic High School for young men. A health clinic. A beauty supply store. Around the corners, neat brick bungalows and block club signs warning: "No Littering. No Loitering. No Loud Music."

Look closer, though, and there are signs of distress and fear: Boarded-up storefronts. Heavy security gates on barber shops and food marts. Thick partitions separating cash registers from customers at the Jamaican jerk and fish joints. Police cars watching kids board city buses at the end of the school day.

Go a few blocks south of 79th to a food market where a sign bears a hand-scrawled message: "R.I.P. We Love You Eli," honoring a clerk killed in November in an apparent robbery. Or a block north to the front lawn of St. Sabina church where photos were added this year to a glass-enclosed memorial for young victims of deadly violence over the years.

Then go back to a corner of 79th, across the street and down the block from where two killings occurred, both gang-related.

There, in an empty lot, a wooden cross stands tall in the winter night. Painted in red is a plea:

"STOP SHOOTING."

___

THE TOLL: Chicago's murder count reached the 500 mark in 2012, compared with 435 in 2011. More than 2,400 shootings occurred (as of Dec. 21), an 11 percent increase over last year at the same time. Gang-related arrests are about 7,000 higher than in 2011.

___

Gang violence isn't new, but it became a major theme in the Chicago narrative this year.

Maybe it was because of the audacity of gang members posting YouTube videos in which they flashed wads of cash and guns. The sight of police brandishing automatic weapons, standing watch outside gang funerals. The sting of one more smiling young face on a funeral program. Or dramatic headlines in spring and summer, such as: "13 people shot in Chicago in 30-minute period."

It was alarming enough for President Barack Obama to mention it during the campaign, noting murders near his South Side home. Then, addressing gun violence in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, he cited Chicago again.

As grim as it is, Chicago's murder rate was almost double in the early 1990s — averaging around 900 — before violent crime began dropping in cities across America. This year's increase, though, is a sharp contrast to New York, where homicides fell 21 percent from 2011, as of early December.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says while murders and shootings are up, overall crime citywide is down 10 percent. He says crime strategies — some just put into place this year — are working, but they take time.

"The city didn't get in this shape overnight," he says. "I think that we're doing ourselves a disservice by advertising a Vietnam-type body count. I've got to tell you when I speak to people ... they generally say, 'You know what? We don't even hear that anymore. It's white noise.'... The fascination unfortunately seems to be in the media and it's become a national obsession."

McCarthy also notes the pace of homicides has slowed sharply since early 2012. Murders skyrocketed 66 percent during an unusually warm March. "We got it down to 20 percent" — in fact, the final tally was 15 percent — "which isn't good, but it's progress," he says. "I refuse to declare failure from progress."

Up to 80 percent of Chicago's murders and shootings are gang-related, according to police. By one estimate, the city has almost 70,000 gang members. A police audit last spring identified 59 gangs and 625 factions; most are on the South and West sides.

Gangs in Chicago have a long, dangerous history, some operating with the sophistication and hierarchy of corporations. In the 1980s, the leaders of the El Rukns were convicted of conspiring in a terrorism-for-hire scheme designed to collect millions from the Libyan government. Before the feds took down the leadership of the Gangster Disciples in the 1990s, the group had its own clothing line and political arm.

Nowadays, gangs are less structured and disputes more personal, says Eric Carter, commander of the Gresham district, home to 11 factions of the Gangster Disciples. "It's strictly who can help me make money," he says. "Lines have become blurred and alliances have become very fragile."

Carter says a gang narcotics dispute that started about six years ago is at the root of a lot of violence in his district.

Another change among gangs is the widespread use of YouTube, Facebook and other social media to taunt one another and spread incendiary messages. "One insult thrown on Facebook and Twitter becomes the next potential for a shooting incident on the street," Carter says.

McCarthy, who has consulted with criminologists, has implemented several plans, including an audit that identifies every gang member and establishing a long-term police presence in heavy drug-dealing areas, aimed at drying up business.

In two districts, police also have partnered controversially with CeaseFire Illinois, an anti-violence group that has hired convicted felons, including former gang members, to mediate street conflicts. McCarthy, who has expressed reservations about the organization, is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"It's a work in progress," he says. "It hasn't shown a lot of success yet."

 

Comments

beepx22

#1 in gun control = #1 in violent crime... maybe Pres. Obama can go give a damn about all the
dead kids in his neighborhoods

SamAdams

Not to worry. Nothing printed in this story is true. It's all a ploy. After all, there's strict gun control in Chicago, and we ALL know that gun control solves (or mostly solves) any problems with gun violence!

donutshopguy

Chicago 2,700,000 population and 500 murders in 2012. One murder for every 5,400 people.

Sandusky 25,000 population and 7 murders in 2012. One murder for every 3,600 people.

Where are you safer?

Contango

@ donutshopguy:

Both my spouse and I worked in and around the Loop (Chicago); never saw a shooting in 25 yrs.

I used to sometime walk the neighborhood streets at night in my NW Chicago suburb; never felt unsafe.

The only guy I ever saw shot was a bank robber, laying on the sidewalk bleeding in Cleveland in Playhouse Sq. I viewed the aftermath from our 7th story office window.

I spoke with a couple cops afterward. The guy had a hostage, the cops yelled for the hostage to drop and they shot the guy.

I asked the cops, "Did he buy the farm?" The one cop replied, "No, d*mn it."

It's the black-on-black violence that is the problem in Chicago.

Fromthe419

I lived in Lincoln Park in the late 90's, never felt unsafe. Used to walk at dark all on the time. On the weekends I would eat dinner and walk to the neighborhood pubs, it was a fun time in my life. Darn sure wouldn't walk at night on the south side. I guess it depends on where you live within a big city. I agree the black-on-black violence needs to be addressed in the black community. These young kids are killing themselves, it really is a tragedy.

beepx22

let's look at violent crime over all, armed robbery, felonious assault, battery, rape, non lethal assault, drive by shooting, and murder. then tell me where you're safer. most of the murders this year in sandusky were commit by violent criminals, that had been released, and most of the victims were babies, with no chance of defense.

2cents's picture
2cents

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Lengthy excerpts from other websites.

Bluto

WOW !! You do realize that link is to a blog from someone with no scientific background , or even names of experts from any medical field to support anything he wrote . I sure hope so .

2cents's picture
2cents

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights), Personal information, and Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc..

remotecontrol

There are links to the information throughout the blog to back the authors assertions...or did laziness prevent you from clicking on them?

Bluto

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights) and Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc..

OnlyfoolsAssume

Seven murders is way out of the norm for Sandusky. A ton of murders for Chicago is common place every year. So yes Sandusky is safer.

Fromthe419

I hope you are right, 2013 is 1 hour away and we shall see what the new year brings us

mrjsiah

You cant argue with them their name say it all 2cents of sense. I love how they love to throw links up but the links always leads back to the same thing everything black is bad. And dumnuts still hates everyone and thing about sandusky. Its crazy my newborn is 2 monmths old and she is already hated because of where she is from can you say get over it already. We see you are not a perkins resident but love to kiss their rear .Do what you do but come on. I dont hate you why do you hate me so much its not that serious

Bluto

By "they" don't you mean we ? At that time we were still a British colony . Along with French and Spanish colonies . There was no separate American nation then .

2cents's picture
2cents

Correct, they sailed here in 1635 from England to get away from the same shirt we are creating here in the US today. The rest is history you mnay say!