Not too long ago, Chicago’s bloody gang warfare was restricted to small, concealable handguns.
The first time 14-year-old Brisa Ramirez remembers hearing rifle fire was when a man was shot dead on a Sunday afternoon outside a Catholic church around the corner from her home in Back of the Yards.
She raises her voice to imitate the sharp, metallic bursts. Ta. Ta. Ta. Ta. Ta. It was a foreign sound even in this neighborhood accustomed to gunfire.
“It wasn’t like a normal (shooting). … It was like something more terrible,” Brisa says. “A noise that you can’t really explain.”
She and others in Davis Square Park took cover against concrete steps across the street from Seward Elementary School, where Brisa had just graduated from eighth grade.
The shooting was one of at least 33 in Back of the Yards and Brighton Park over the past nine months that police believe are tied to semi-automatic rifles as several gangs boost their firepower. At least 46 people have been shot in the attacks, 13 fatally.
Police say this is the only area of the city where rifles styled after AR-15s and AK-47s are regularly used, a menacing new development in the gang fights.
It’s unclear how many of the high-powered rifles are on the street, but police suspect they are being passed around by members of four Hispanic gangs in the Deering police district, which covers parts of the South and Southwest sides.
Two of the gangs — La Raza near 47th and Loomis streets and the Almighty Saints near 45th and Wood streets — have been fighting for decades. But the conflict has expanded to the Satan Disciples and Gangster Two-Sixes in neighboring Brighton Park, where violence is less frequent.
So far, the use of rifles in shootings have been restricted to two adjoining neighborhoods, Back of the Yards and Brighton Park, and among four gangs. Police don’t know why they have suddenly escalated to using rifles. While military-style rifles are easier to aim, can carry more ammunition, and punch through intermediate cover better than handguns, they’re also a lot louder and harder to conceal.
The article goes on to mention that rifles made a brief appearance in another gang conflict a decade ago, before disappearing from the scene just as quickly as they had entered.