Target Gangs, Not Guns
February 1, 2013
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Earlier this week we heard of another tragic argument for hearings on gun violence in Chicago.
While sitting in a Chicago park with a group of volleyball teammates on Tuesday, a 15 year old girl named Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed.
Police said Hadiya, an honor student, was likely caught in the middle of gang turf wars. She was not affiliated with a gang herself.
Chances are, we might not even have heard of this sad event if Hadiya hadn’t performed with her high school band last week as part of President Obama’s inauguration festivities.
We might not have heard about it because, tragically, what happened to this innocent girl in Chicago is much too common.
Chicago has had at least 44 homicides already this year. Three days before Hadiya’s murder, seven people were killed in Chicago within 24 hours, the youngest a 16 year old boy. The mother of one of those shot had already lost her three other children to gun violence.
Last year, 7 year old Heaven Sutton was caught in a shooting and killed as she was selling candy and snow cones on the street outside her home.
In Chicago alone, more than 270 children have been killed since 2007. That’s almost 3 Newtowns per year in Chicago. Just the children.
Nationwide, a quarter of all gang-related killings strike children under the age of 18.
As I reported in this newsletter a few weeks ago, more than 500 people were killed in Chicago last year. That’s more than the number of coalition soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 2012.
In President Obama’s remarks on new gun control legislation in January, he pledged funding for “scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence,” arguing, “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.”
It may come as a surprise to President Obama, but the cause of the “epidemic” in places like Chicago with high gun violence is not a mystery.
Chicago police estimate that roughly 80 percent of homicides in Chicago are gang-related.
Approximately 100,000 gang members roam the streets of that city, spread among a few dozen gangs which engage in near-constant battle. They outnumber police officers 10 to 1.
Although the problem is worst in Chicago, the murder capital of the U.S., gang violence is a growing threat nationwide. The FBI estimated in 2011 that there are roughly 1.4 million active gang members in the U.S., a 40 percent increase from 2009.
They are responsible for “an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions, and much higher in others.”
This carnage is contributing to astonishing murder rates for black Americans especially. Only 13 percent of the U.S. population is black, but this group accounts for half all homicide victims. The homicide victimization rate for black males ages 18-24 is 19 times the national average.
But while gangs affect some populations disproportionately, they in fact show broad ethnic and racial variation.
There are Asian gangs, East African gangs, West African gangs, Caribbean gangs, Latin American gangs, Eastern European gangs, and white supremacist gangs.
Many are highly sophisticated criminal organizations.
Some work closely with Latin American drug cartels.
The FBI National Gang Threat Assessment reports gangs have established “wide-reaching drug networks; assisting in the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and illegal immigrants,” and increasingly engage in “alien smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution” as well as “white-collar crime such as counterfeiting, identity theft, and mortgage fraud.”
Nearly all gang related homicides involve guns — mostly handguns.
The FBI reports that “typically firearms are acquired through illegal purchases; straw purchases via surrogates or middle-men, and thefts from individuals, vehicles, residences and commercial establishments.”
This suggests new gun laws are very unlikely to stop the flow of guns to gangs.
An eye-opening piece in Chicago Magazine last year detailed how local politicians protect and use the city’s gangs as their own personal political armies. The article described how elected officials and candidates for local office appeared before panels of gang representatives to answer the question “What can you give me?”
“The politicians, most eager to please, replied, ‘What do you want?’”
The story describes how the city’s politicians tip off gangs to police raids, help get members out of jail when they’re arrested, get records expunged, actively fight measures like surveillance cameras designed to curb gang activity, and even participate in the gangs’ profitable narcotics business.
This gives you some idea of how serious many Chicago politicians, with all their gun laws, are about stopping the gun violence.
In an interview on Telemundo this week, President Obama was asked about the 15 year old honor student, Hadiya.
The host, Jose Diaz Balart, said, “Back home, specifically in your hometown of Chicago, yesterday 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot dead in a park. She was here in Washington to take part in your inaugural. Chicago has one of the strictest gun control laws, certainly in the state and across the country. Doesn’t this in a way give credence to the NRA’s point that more laws don’t necessarily equate to less gun violence?”
The President, who spent much of his adult life as a politician in Chicago, immediately replied: “Well, the problem is is that a huge proportion of those guns come in from outside Chicago…If you are just creating a bunch of pockets of gun laws without having…a unified, integrated system…it’s gonna be a lot harder for– an individual community, a single community, to protect itself from this kind of gun violence.”
No mention of the gangs that killed Hadiya, that commit 80 percent of homicides in Chicago, that manage some of the nation’s most sophisticated black market networks for drugs, prostitution, human trafficking, and indeed, guns.
How can President Obama, who has seen this calamity and corruption with his own eyes, have the heart to suggest that background checks and a toothless weapons ban have much at all to do with stopping tragedies like Hadiya’s?