Is gang warfare and drug violence going national?
This past Monday saw Chicago reeling from another bloody and violent weekend that left 9 people dead, another 44 wounded by guns, according to the Chicago Tribune. The weekend’s violence even spilled over into the city’s downtown, with three reports of mobs attacking innocent people. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, making the media rounds, urged patience, while admitting the problem of gang violence in Chicago is “not going to be solved overnight.”
Camden’s police chief, Scott Thomson, like Chicago’s law enforcement, linked the upsurge in gun violence to gangs. Camden’s Courier Post reported that Thomson’s department will rely on “sound intelligence” as a resource to tackle the problem. In an email to the newspaper, the police chief insisted: “cold-blooded killings, shootings and retaliation over perceived acts of disrespect must cease.”
However local news newspaper and television stations are keeping daily scores on the dead and injured, as in Camden:
“A fourth man died shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday in the 1200 block of Princess Avenue, just blocks from the Langham Avenue crime scene. In addition, seven men have been wounded by gunfire in the past week.”
Residents may be wondering if gang violence is out of control when pitted against their law enforcement agencies’ manpower and resources, which may also be a concern for local elected officials.
Camden’s mayor, Dana Redd, realized she needed to weigh in as the surges in violence made state, then national, headlines. She told the media last week that, like police chief Thomson, she is “concerned” and the city’s law enforcement officers “are revising their strategies as need be and putting every available boot out there on the ground to try to quell the violence.”
Camden’s number of “boots” was halved last year with the city’s deep cuts into the police force resulting in a 28 percent increase in homicides for 2011, and with gang and gun violence in 2012 continuing to lead the local news.
Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel also announced that he was addressing his city’s headline-making violence; that combating gangs “was a priority.” After a violent Memorial Day weekend and before last weekend’s fatal shooting flare-up, Emanuel announced an anti-gang strategy.
The mayor’s strategy, unveiled with Police Supt. McCarthy, like Camden’s, relies on “intelligence,” specifically: “The efforts to tackle gang violence from the city’s 59 gangs and 625 gang factions specifically emphasize trying to figure out when and where gang retaliations will take place in order to prevent them from happening.” And, according to McCarthy, 75-80 percent of Chicago’s crime crisis is due to “the increase in violent crime attributable to violent street gangs.”
Gang membership in Chicago is estimated to be at least 100,000, making it one of the largest concentrations in the country, NBC Chicago reports. That statistic, along with a record of 203 homicides from January to late May, (an increase of more than 50 percent during the same period last year, as cited by theGrio), set off alarm bells in the state’s capitol. Governor Pat Quinn, comparing the violent escalation by gangs to the Mafia, yesterday signed a RICO-like bill into law. (Under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Acts convicted gang members could face a 30-year prison sentences and fines upwards to $250,000 dollars.)
Gov. Quinn, with the support of city and state officials, puts this new law in place as a deterrent and also as a means of putting away gang leaders. But will the threat of hefty fines and long-term imprisonment stop the surge of violent gang and drug related crimes erupting, which, so far, defy the means of local and state law enforcement divisions?
Gang and drug-related gun battles and killings have gone viral, not only in Camden and Chicago, but in larger and smaller communities across the the country. Newark got a wake-up call in January when its city was ranked among the nation’s highest gang-related murders fueled, like Camden is now, by the drug trade.
Newark police director Samuel DeMaio pinpointed the new crime wave for the Star Ledger:
“It’s not the gang members who are dealing drugs, it’s drug dealers who happen to belong to gangs.”