Former, current Chicago gang members criticize so-called ‘gang summit’ held by police chief

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chicago gang members criticize ‘gang summit’

CHICAGO — Several current and ex-gang members lashed out at Chicago’s police chief on Thursday, calling his so-called “gang summit” initiative to crack down on crime a wasted effort that will have little effect on the streets of the county’s third largest city.

The gang members called a news conference outside a park district building, and complained to assembled TV cameras about the ultimatum police Superintendent Jody Weis gave them at a recent meeting — that if gangs resort to violence, police will go after their leaders. They had their own message to police: You’re not playing fair.

“Is it possible for one person to micromanage a group,” Vice Lords gang member Jim Allen told reporters, wearing a black baseball cap with the words, “Mess with the Best, Die like the Rest.” ”We will not be responsible for anyone’s actions but our own.”

Weis is facing mounting criticism for holding the unpublicized Aug. 17 meeting with reputed gang leaders, even though several police departments across the country have relied on similar approaches for decades to help reduce crime.

Some reputed members of gangs like the Four Corner Hustlers and the Traveling Vice Lords said they were surprised to see Weis there after being told by their parole officers to show up. Many were visibly angry, with some even leaving the meeting, which was first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The police chief has defended the initiative with the support of Mayor Richard M. Daley and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who likened the tactic to his office holding parolee forums to warn people leaving prison that they’ll be watched.

Weis told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his message was simple: “If you should resort to violence, we’ll sharpen our focus on you and really, really make your lives uncomfortable. You have the ability to influence people within your sphere. You guys are in the position to stop the killing.”

But at Thursday’s unlikely media event, activist Mark Carter criticized Daley and the police department, asking how gang leaders could be asked to take responsibility for their subordinates when city government leaders don’t take responsibility for alleged misdeeds by their employees.

“Is the mayor going to be held accountable for the corruption that takes place under his watch,” he said at the news conference. “And the biggest gang in the city of Chicago is the Chicago police department.”

Thursday’s media event was attended by some participants who described themselves as current gang members, though others said they left gangs and are now community activists devoted to stopping violent crime.

Activist Wallace Bradley said the recent emphasis on gang leaders by police is misplaced, and instead, the focus of resources should be on saving those who want to improve their lives.

“Those of us assembled here, we go out and speak to 10 people and say, ‘Don’t do this,’” Bradley said. “If there are two who say they won’t listen, we thank God for the eight who do.”


Associated Press Writer Sophia Tareen contributed to this report.

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