Friday, September 3, 2010

Street gang leaders think they’re being singled out for abuse by law enforcement

Reading the Chicago Sun-Times, I couldn’t help but detect similarities between the rhetoric coming from men who admit they have ties to Chicago street gangs and other people who get in trouble with federal law enforcement officials – most recently our state’s former governor, Rod Blagojevich.

Now before anyone gets all bent out of shape, I am not suggesting that Blagojevich is a thug. I single him out because he's the most recent person in the public's mind to complain that "the Feds" are picking on him.

IT IS JUST that the gang leaders got a writeup in the newspaper for their thoughts about a recent attempt by Chicago Police and federal prosecutors to talk with gang members and let them know of the harsh consequences for violent actions that can be traced back to gang activity.

That meeting on Aug. 17 at the conservatory in Garfield Park (a beautiful place that scares many Chicagoans because of its proximity to neighborhoods with strong gang activity) has caused some politicians (although not Mayor Richard M. Daley) to denounce the police for allegedly “negotiating” with gang leaders.

In my mind, the kind of talk that came out of that meeting doesn’t sound like negotiations more than ultimatums. Indeed, the Sun-Times writeup on Thursday that previewed a press conference held by the gangs to try to gain television attention indicates the gang leaders who were present last month remain upset.

They say they were tricked into attending.

WHAT THEY ALSO had to say was that the Chicago Police don’t understand the present-day structure of streetgangs – preferring to think of things the way they were 30 or 40 years ago.

Those gang leaders (some of whom say they really don’t lead their gangs anymore because no one would listen to them if they did) also claim that the federal government, by making threats of using the RICO statutes designed to take down the Outfit and organized crime is singling out poor, black people who have little say over the levels of violence that are taking place on the streets of Chicago.

The bottom line? The federal government is a bully who doesn’t really comprehend the way things work on a day-to-day basis.

That just sounds so much, to me at least, like the rhetoric we have been getting from Blagojevich – who tells us the federal government is trying to break him when he didn’t do anything that should be considered wrong.

WHICH TO ME makes the gang leader rhetoric a lot of weak-kneed whining.

Not that I can blame them for being concerned. Because the federal government has shown on many occasions that when a U.S. attorney gets it into his head that he wants to use his authority on you, he’s probably going to find something improper.

The threats of incarcerating gang leaders for actions their so-called subordinates have committed, then using those same actions to seize any assets the gang leader family members may have is harsh. It is very mean-spirited.

Then again, it probably will take some borderline draconian action to get through to the gang types in our city that their behavior needs to change.

BECAUSE THE CURRENT problem with gangs is that we have severe enough problems in certain segments of our society that some people wind up fearing the misery they will suffer from not being part of a neighborhood gang more than they do any legal repercussions they would face by being a gang member.

Which is why I really don’t understand the political people, such as many white members of the City Council and Gov. Pat Quinn, who are determined to think of this latest approach as somehow dignifying the existence of the gangs.

As though if we pretend hard enough, the gangs will cease to exist in reality. It sounds to me like the older Cuban exiles who want to pretend that Fidel Castro never really took over the country, and that it is just a matter of time before he leaves and things return to the way they were 60 years ago.

Somehow, I suspect if Blagojevich himself thought anybody would care what he thought on the issue, he too probably would be denouncing the Chicago Police Department and Superintendent Jody Weis for this latest act.

ACTUALLY, I CAN’T help but wonder about one aspect of the gang leader comments that came out on Thursday. They claimed that the old days of strictly-structured gangs is history – the feds in Chicago broke them in recent decades.

Putting people like Larry Hoover and Jeff Fort (founder of the El Rukn gang that would have us think they were merely being good Muslims) away in prison for lengthy terms (the 63-year-old Fort likely will never be free again in his life) broke up the structure to the point where they say there really is no high-ranking leader who can pay for his subordinate’s crimes.

I don’t know how accurate that statement is. But I do find it believable that some young punk kid isn’t all that concerned what an old man like Fort thinks, or what anyone outside of his immediate block thinks.

In fact, I find it the kind of clueless attitude that would result in billing their “press conference” (I had no intention of going) by saying it is about “unconstitutional, guilty before innocent, premeditated arrest and indictment” by the Chicago police.

THEY EVEN GO so far as to accuse Weis (the guy whom some politicians would say is being too weak on this issue) of using “Jon Burge-style tactics” in dealing with them.

It sounds too much like the cheap rhetoric we get from many other people who have their own issues with the law. Which means that the meeting with gang leaders may well have served its intended purpose – it delivered a message that the gangs are being closely watched.

Which is what everybody in our society ought to want.


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