Chicago Has Internal Battle On Whether To Target Gangs

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

For better or worse, Chicago has become the poster city for violence and lawlessness. While statistics show it’s not actually the most violent city, it’s still got plenty of badness to go around.

And if you live there, do you really care if Saint Louis is more violent? Or do you just want your city to have less of it?

Exactly.

As a result, there’s been discussion on how to deal with the issue and the city thinks they found a solution.

Summer of 2021, with Chicago in the midst of a surge in gun violence, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the police department declared war on gangs.

With support from key members of the City Council, the mayor introduced a plan to sue gangs for their assets.

“To be very blunt and clear, we are going after their blood money,” Lightfoot told reporters after announcing an asset seizing plan.

The aldermen examine the feasibility of gang forfeiture, the Chicago Police Department is taking the fight to street organizations, building another gang database.

In other words, they’ve decided to target gangs directly.

Now, I don’t know that suing gangs will do a lot of good–I’m just not sure how much property they have that you can seize through court action–but the focus is clearly on the right people.

That’s a good thing, and while I’ve criticized Lightfoot a lot, at least here she’s blaming the right people.

However, some are taking issue with it.

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

“What you have today is fragments of those groups that exist from block to block. You’re talking about thousands of them that exist throughout the whole city of Chicago from block to block and because of the level of disorganization those groups change regularly. So what one group might be today, they might not be tomorrow,” Williams said.

So Williams seems to think it’s weird because the groups are too nebulous. I suspect that ties into my concerns about whether these gangs actually own property that can be taken.

However, not everyone is making sensible arguments.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx says her office attacks gang activity through its Complex Homicide and Gang unit, Financial Crimes unit and Gun Crime Strategies team, but she’s not embracing the city’s increased focus on gangs.

“I think there is a pervasive fear of gangs and because of the structures that we have been so accustomed to in this city, and whether you were talking about Al Capone’s gang back in the 20s and 30s or the GDs from the 80s, that there’s a notion about Chicago and gangs that when we see violence there is a tendency to think that’s what it is,” Foxx said. “I think we certainly need to make sure that we don’t have these organizations that are hellbent on creating violence and mayhem under control, but we also have to make sure that we’re addressing why people join gangs, what happens to our social structure when we have kids as young as nine, 10, 11, feeling that there’s more comfort and solidarity in a gang structure than they have in their communities.”

OK, sorry, but Kim Foxx doesn’t get a say in any of it. Even if she’s talking about trying to prevent people from joining gangs in the first place–a position I echo all the time–she still doesn’t get a say.

She’s free to say whatever words she wishes to, but they count for less than zero in this discussion.

I mean, this is a woman who refused to prosecute anyone who took part in a gun battle, including the group that initiated it, citing “mutual combat.” She directly contributed to any future gunfights in the city because people know she’ll let everyone walk. Either that or people will be killed because they’re worried that if they fight back, the attacker will just walk.

So no, she doesn’t get a say on any of this.

Targeting gangs–and contrary to what Foxx says, people don’t think of gangs in Chicago because of Capone but because gangs are carrying out most of the violence–is the smart choice. I may not be too sure of Lightfoot’s focus on how to target them, but she’s at least looking in the right place for a change.

Dec 08, 2021 12:30 PM ET