Arresting Tales

Sitting down with Chicago gang leaders: a terrible idea with a long history

I was on the air this morning with WGN's Greg Jarrett talking about the recent meeting between CPD Superintendent Weis and several Chicago street gang leaders.

Since the story broke last weekend, 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti and 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore have expressed anger at the meeting.  Moore described the meeting as "a desperation tactic" and both aldermen used the phrase "urban terrorists" in describing Chicago street gangs.

I told Greg Jarrett that Chicago history offers a few examples of efforts to "deal with" gang leaders as representatives of "the community".  Those efforts never ended well. 

In the late 1960's Jeff Fort, leader of the Blackstone Rangers (later the Almighty Black P-Stone Nation), presented himself as a community leader, someone who government needed to work with in order to reach black youth.  Fort worked with area ministers and managed to con enough people (as evidenced by this 1969 article in The Atlantic that breathlessly asked "Are the Blackstone Rangers a corrupt, exploitive street gang? Or a constructive engine of community black power?") to obtain federal money.  The money was intended for a jobs program.  (Note: in a deja vu-inducing parallel, the Sun Times article about Weis' gang meeting said "The gang leaders were provided with information about jobs, too."  At least the gang leaders who met with Weis weren't also offered grant money, at least that we know of.)

Fort used the money to further his criminal enterprise, and went to federal prison in 1972 for doing so.  Fort's organization morphed into the El-Rukn street gang after Fort's "conversion" to Islam while in prison.  The El-Rukns eventually tried to make a deal with Libya to commit acts of terror in the United States, and Fort is now serving a 75-year sentence in a Federal Supermax prison as a result.

"Urban terrorists", indeed.

There was another wave of misguided efforts to "work with" gangs in the early 1990's.  Some of us remember the heralded "gang truce" of 1992-1993.  That was around the same time that Larry Hoover announced (from prison) that the "GD" in "Gangster Disciple" would instead stand for "Growth and Development".  Gangster Disciples founded an organization called "21st Century VOTE" with the intent of mobilizing thousands of street gang members as a voting bloc and legitimizing street gangs as political organizations.

Plenty of people bought into the scam: Hoover orchestrated a public relations effort to get himself paroled, and college professors spoke on his behalf.  The media gave plenty of coverage to efforts by characters like Wallace "Gator" Bradley, who helped organize a "National Gang Peace Summit" in Chicago in November 1993.  High-profile leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Benjamin Chavis and Rev. Louis Farrakhan attended; Rev. Jackson told the assembled gang members that they represented "the new frontier of the civil rights struggle."

The violence and killing never stopped. 

Mayor Daley, at least for now, is supporting Weis' recent sit-down:

"It's a good concept. You know, sit down with anyone. We'll negotiate after the second world war. We'll negotiate with anyone to have peace. Even during the war. So sit down with anyone. If you save one life, if I can save your son's life, you want me to sit down with them."

Interestingly enough, that's not what Mayor Daley thought about sitting down with gang members back in 1992. A quick search found this archived article from the Sun Times: "Drugs Still Kill Despite Gang Truce, Daley Says".  Here's an excerpt:

The gang leaders demanded a meeting with the mayor, but Daley made it clear Monday that he would not grant them a forum.

"I'm not going to meet with gang leaders in the city of Chicago," the mayor said. "I'll meet with community leaders and elected officials and local school council...

The difference between then and now is that while various "community leaders" and media figures might have argued for the virtues of sitting down with gang leaders, high-ranking Chicago Police Department officials never fell for it.  Until, apparently, now.

 

*You can listen to audio of my appearance on the Greg Jarrett show here.

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9 Comments

Jackie Tithof Steere said:

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Great job on WGN this morning.

Joe the Cop said:

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Thanks Jackie, and thanks for the retweets!

irishpirate said:

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If I were a betting man, which of course I'm not(wink wink), I'd bet Jody Weis will not be Chicago Police Superintendent by the end of September. This September. Apparently Governor Quinn and Patrick Fitzgerald can't distance themselves from Weis fast enough.

Now the problems with the Chicago Police Department will only be addressed when Richard M Daley is no longer "da mare". If Daley were walking down the Beach at his Michigan vacation home and came across a magic police lantern this is what would ensue:

Daley stumbles and steps upon lantern on Grand Beach beach.

The lantern has a Chicago flag on the side and a pair of handcuffs attached to the cork.

Daley removes cork and a Genie who looks suspiciously like a cross between O.W. Wilson and Chief O'Hara from "Batman" pops out.

Speaking slowly with small words and a strong Chicago "axcent" so that Daley will understand, the Genie explains that he is the Chicago Police Genie and has been trapped in this bottle since the 1968 Democratic Convention. CPG, as I shall call him, was lured into the bottle by a comely hippie chick and tossed into Lake Michigan.

In gratitude for releasing him from the bottle CPG, again speaking slowly and using small words, explains to the Mayor that all the Mayor has to do is ask and CPG will show the mayor how to drop the crime rate by half within 5 years.

The Mayor, intrigued by this generous offer asks what CPG would do.

CPG explains that all the mayor has to do is hire an urban police professional like Bratton or Timoney and leave him the hell alone. No clouted promotions. No aldermanic input. Just hire an experienced urban police professional and step the hell away.

Daley, dumbfounded over the idea of the department being run without clout and by a professional, lets out a loud burp in disgust. Giggling uncontrollably he tosses the bottle into Lake Michigan and tells CPG to hit the road.

CPG is last seen walking northeast in the direction of Detroit where a new Mayor may be open to his ideas.

Simultaneously, across the lake in Chicago, a four year old riding a big wheel is mistakenly gunned down by a gangbanger and two days later "Da Mare" issues a statement blaming "guns" and everyone but himself.

Moshucat said:

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How quickly some people forget. When I chaired one of the sttrongest Court Watch Committes in the city I went face to face with Gator Bradley, reminding him then that he and his gangs had destroyed our community and now you want to fix it? It was to late then but we at least had a handle on it. Now we have no control. It is a personal slap in the face of every citizen that has lost a child, live in fear in their own communities to even watch a news conference like this. I hope the media will not participate in this farce. Thanks Joe for giving some people a short history of where we were and where we will be if we sit down with these thugs. Stay Safe.

Marksallen said:

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Now HOW do we assess the International "Peace" meeting at The White House with President Obama and Hillary Clinton with people who have labled each other as "terrorists" and responsible for thousands of innocent people dying from their clashes -- HOW can they sit face-to-face with thse leaders on an international level but we cannot do the same on a local level??

madeinamerica said:

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The August meeting between the CPD, local victims of gang violence, gang "leaders" and largely respected community/church activists is clearly distinguishable from the 1960's era program that financed Fort's gang organization.

The "activism" around Larry Hoover's release and "transformation" of the GDs into community "activists" is unrelated to the attempted efforts to communicate possible RICO prosecutions that you are criticizing.

Involving key actors in communities terrorized by violence in an effort to exert social pressure on gangs, reinforced with communicated and actionable consequences towards those who enable through passive or active support towards criminal enterprises (The meetings communicated RICO prosecutions), is a strategy that has seen some success elsewhere, most notably Boston.

Published research on the Boston ceasefire effort is available on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service website (http://www.ncjrs.gov/)

The policy goals, strategy, and execution of this strategy are completely distinguishable from the Fort case. The only presumption that actually deserves to be rebutted is that this strategy "legitimates" gang leaders and reinforces their organizations.

From the information available it does not appear to be what occurred at the meeting as it was not structured as a negotiation between parties, but instead a one way communication of policy to collected individuals.

The fact that the media covered particular individuals claiming to represent Chicago gangs as "Tha movement" (www.thamovement1.blogspot.com) less a statement on municipal police as much the splash bias of local media who have never really bothered to engage in journalism.

madeinamerica said:

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The August meeting between the CPD, local victims of gang violence, gang "leaders" and largely respected community/church activists is clearly distinguishable from the 1960's era program that financed Fort's gang organization.

The "activism" around Larry Hoover's release and "transformation" of the GDs into community "activists" is unrelated to the attempted efforts to communicate possible RICO prosecutions that you are criticizing.

Involving key actors in communities terrorized by violence in an effort to exert social pressure on gangs, reinforced with communicated and actionable consequences towards those who enable through passive or active support towards criminal enterprises (The meetings communicated RICO prosecutions), is a strategy that has seen some success elsewhere, most notably Boston.

Published research on the Boston ceasefire effort is available on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service website (http://www.ncjrs.gov/)

The policy goals, strategy, and execution of this strategy are completely distinguishable from the Fort case. The claim made that deserves to be rebutted is that this strategy "legitimates" gang leaders and reinforces their organizations.

From the information available, such a consequence does not appear to have manifested as a result of the meeting as it was not structured as a negotiation between parties, but instead a one way communication of policy to collected individuals.

The fact that the media covered particular individuals claiming to represent Chicago gangs as "Tha movement" (www.thamovement1.blogspot.com) is less a statement on municipal police as much the splash bias of local media who have never really bothered to engage in journalism.

irishpirate said:

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It's after 4am and I'm partaking in some legal drug activity. Alcohol.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say, but it sounds impressive.

The reality is if you want to reduce violence in this nation we need to legalize drugs and treat it like a public health problem. Right now Mexico is on the verge of a civil war and our appetite for illegal drugs is largely fueling it.

I realize that Boston and some other cities have had promising results with somewhat similar strategies. The difference is those cities have competent political and police leadership. Chicago doesn't.

Also what Weis and his merry band of incompetent followers, the current top leadership of the Chicago Police Department, don't seem to realize is that if you take out the gang leaders you are likely only going to increase the violence as others vie for control and profit.

Create a power vacuum and someone will step up to try to take control. Perhaps that person will be named "Hoover". Pardon da pun.

We've created a criminal justice system in this nation where we simultaneously have too many and too few people in prison. It's an enigma wrapped in a Johnsonville Brat and hidden under a Vienna hot dog. At least here in Chicago.

So endeth the alcohol fuled(fueled) lesson.

irishpirate said:

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Calling gangbangers "community leaders" or treating them as such is infuriating.

Here is a story regarding the park across the street from where Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham was murdered earlier this year.

http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/09/residents-reclaim-park-with-overnight-campout.html

Officer Wortham was spending his off duty time trying to clean up and improve the park. That's a leader.

Gang leaders are merely parasites who harm their communities and their "followers".

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