Kadner: Gangs, drugs and guns in Chicago
Why does Chicago have more homicides than New York or Los Angeles?
That was my question when I called the Chicago Crime Commission.
“Well, (on Thursday) we’re holding a news conference that partially addresses that question,” I was told by a spokesman for the commission. “We’re declaring Joaquin Guzman Loera the new Public Enemy No. 1.”
The Chicago Crime Commission has been studying crime in the Windy City since 1919. It was the first to release a Public Enemies List, and Al Capone was its first Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930.
Guzman, known as “el Chapo” in the drug world, is considered the leading narcotics dealer in the U.S. and perhaps the world. He was listed No. 63 by Forbes on its list of the most powerful people in the world and among its list of billionaires.
Art Bilek, vice president of the not-for-profit commission, said Guzman is “among the most violent, ruthless, evil people” he has ever studied.
Bilek and Jack Riley, head of the Chicago division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said almost every illegal drug sold on the streets of Chicago and surrounding suburbs can be traced to Guzman’s Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico.
“I would say that 90 percent of the illegal drugs in this area come from his operation,” Bilek said. “Marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, all of it.
“They’re operating in Chicago, building transportation networks, sales networks using the gangs, warehousing their drugs here and all the money gets shipped down to Mexico.”
Riley said illegal drug sales in the Chicago area amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Worldwide, Guzman’s operation distributes an estimated $65 billion worth of narcotics, he said.
So what does that have to do with more than 500 homicides a year in Chicago?
“We published a book on Chicago street gangs, and we estimate there are more than 100,000 street gang members in the city,” Bilek said.
He said Chicago has more street gangs than any other major city in the country.
“That was caused in part by the destruction of the (large public) housing projects, Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor (Homes),” Bilek said. “When those projects came down, the street gang members were dispersed throughout the neighborhoods and into the suburbs.
“And the gangs fractured. You used to have the Latin Kings fighting the Gangster Disciples for turf, but now you have gangs within the gangs fighting over turf.
“Instead of having gangs with 200, 300 or 400 members with an older leader providing discipline, you have gangs of 10, 15, 25 or 50 members where the warriors are now 12, 13 or 14 years old and there is no discipline.
“They’re literally killing each other to control street corners where they sell their drugs, just like in the days when the mob was fighting over control of bootleg liquor in the Capone era.”
Riley agreed, saying Chicago’s gang problem is different than that of any other major city.
He said a Chicago Strike Force composed of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies is targeting the gangs and Guzman’s distributors — focusing on a choke point where the drug cartel members and local gangs intersect.
Riley said Guzman’s drug network has spread beyond Chicago to the suburbs, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Milwaukee.
Once incarcerated in Mexico, Guzman escaped and now allegedly hides out in the mountains of Mexico.
“This guy is responsible for the murders of thousands of people,” Bilek said. “But that’s not the worst part. He tortures people. He bribes government officials and police officers. He beheads his enemies.”
But what does that have to do with homicides in Chicago?
“If you look at what’s happening here, it’s really all about three things,” Riley said. “Gangs. Guns. Drugs.
“The majority of violence is centered on gang members. They fight over control of the drugs. They buy guns to control their turf. And they get the money to buy their guns by selling drugs.”
Bilek and Riley both favor limits on the amount of ammunition in gun clips.
“These young guys aren’t marksmen,” Riley said. “They don’t go out and practice on a gun range. They spray those bullets around, and that’s how innocent people end up hit.”
Bilek said “children on playgrounds, babies in cribs, pregnant women, grandmothers and grandfathers are all being killed because these guys just spray an area, hoping to hit a target. It has to be stopped.”
But that doesn’t explain why Chicago, which had a total ban on handguns, and Illinois, which is the only state not to have a concealed-carry law, have become so prone to gun violence.
“Well, we don’t have enough police on the streets,” Bilek said. “Chicago needs 1,400 more police officers.”
He said guns come into Chicago from gun shows, from out of state and from straw purchasers, people who are paid to buy guns for criminals.
But all of those options are available elsewhere in the United States.
“All I can tell you is that the Chicago Police Department confiscates more guns than any other in the country,” Bilek said. “Every gang member out there has a gun or two.”
Riley and Bilek are convinced that if Guzman’s drug operations can be curtailed in Chicago, the number of murders will decrease.
“It’s not just gangs, drugs and guns, though,” Bilek said. “People need jobs, children need good schools. But the gun thing has changed. Everybody in this country seems to think they need a gun now.
“When I was a kid, I don’t think I knew anyone who owned a gun. When I was a cop, there might be one member of a gang who owned a gun and he kept it hidden.
“Now, every kid in a gang has a gun. Housewives have guns. I don’t understand it.”
Neither do I.