Stop murders by making street gang membership a jailable crime
SW News Herald, DVN, The Regional, The Reporter Oct. 6, 2016
By Ray Hanania
While we are all shocked by the escalating violence and murders in Chicago and to a lesser extent its neighboring suburbs, most of us don’t really experience it directly. We see it on TV and in the newspapers.
So I decided to help us understand the real problem, asking people who live in street gang infested neighborhoods plagued by violence and killings to share what it is really like.
After reading the responses, I’ve come to the conclusion street gangs are the problem. They are behind the majority of shootings and murders. We need to give the Police the power not only to respond to street gang violence, but they need to be able to aggressively crack down hard on it.
Most street gang members are known to the public and the police — even if parents of these murderous thugs are afraid to acknowledge the truth about their own children.
What parent wants to acknowledge their child is a member of a violent street gang who may one day murder someone, or, be murdered by a rival gang?
My solution is to strip the street gangs and active members of all legal protections. They don’t deserve it. We need a Patriot Act for street gangs. We use the Patriot Act now to confront terrorism. How are street gangs not like terrorists?
When I made this suggestion on my Facebook page, so many of my 4,500 “friends” claimed that denying legal protections to street gang members is unconstitutional and wrong.
Really? Tell that to parents who lost children to street gang violence. Kids shot and killed while sitting in their homes, or while walking home from school in the middle of the day.
After reading the responses I received from people who live in areas of violence in Chicago and the suburbs, I realize street gang killers, regardless of their age or the causes for delinquency, don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.
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If we can stop one more street gang member from killing another innocent child, then stripping those gangs of legal protection is the least we can do to take back the streets, our schools and our neighborhoods.
Adopt a law that makes street gang membership or association with street gangs a criminal felony subject to automatic and mandatory incarceration.
Let these street gang members prove they don’t deserve to be jailed, whether they have committed a crime or not.
Reading some of the responses I received sickened me, and made me realize we must do something to save our communities, neighborhoods where murder has become a common, day-to-day occurrence.
One woman related how she and her family live in utter fear on the Southwest Side. She doesn’t let her children out of the house after 6 pm.
“I am afraid of the street gangs,” she told me, asking that she not be identified. “I am afraid because street gangs are not afraid. Just complaining could get us hurt.”
Hearing gunfire near her home in the middle of the night is not unusual. “The violence is everywhere. You just get used to it,” she sighed.
That’s just one story. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll share more stories with you in this column. And I hope they make you as sick of street gang violence as it makes me sick. I hope they convince you that street gangs are not just an aberration in society. They are a disease. We must wipe them out. Zero tolerance.
Why should the police wait until they can prove a known street gang member committed an act of violence? When police see a street gang member walking down the street, why shouldn’t they be able to arrest them and throw them in jail? Many are only caught after they murder someone. Most of the time, they don’t get caught. In the meantime, they may have helped take the lives of dozens of innocent people, children, seniors, adults or your friends.
Make street gang membership a crime punishable by immediate incarceration. That’s the only way we will save lives and prevent more deaths.
The people I heard from are screaming for help. We need to help.
(Next week, I’ll share more stories from crime-plagued neighborhoods describing what life is really like behind the headlines of increasing murder rates.)
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)