Gangs: Television Coverage, Violence, and the new RICO law

Isn’t the definition of insanity repeating the same actions and expecting different results?  If so, then the Chicago media sure is insane.

Check my reasoning:

  • Every year, following a spike in violence, the media goes crazy with coverage demanding action to stop these crimes from happening again.
  • They also demonize, rightly and wrongly, street gangs as enemy number one, on top of demands that there be an immediate response from the criminal justice system to go to war against those committing the violence.
  • This disgusting media attention forces politicians and criminal justice officials to run for cover and make a plan to bring the violence to an end that is somehow different than the plans that have been presented over the previous years.
  • The pols and officials then hold a major news conference telling the public about their new groundbreaking plan, which is even newer and more groundbreaking than last year’s.
  • The media then reports – for the remainder of the summer and early fall – on meaningless comparisons between a weekend this year compared to last year, or a short time period of a few weeks compared to last year at the same time.  Of course, they either applaud the pols and officials, or rip them depending on the level of violence.
  • Finally, Mother Nature does her thing and everyone gets to calm down and rest up to play their parts in the same insane opera at the same channel and time next year.

Chuck GoudieAmong the many serious ramifications that come from this insane opera being played out every year is that it leads to arrests of youth that would and should not otherwise get in to the system for minor infractions like pot possession.  If this is the youth’s first insertion into the system, the ramifications of this arrest cannot be undersold.  In fact, this single arrest quite often starts a series of dominoes that removes so many opportunities from the youth that they have few choices in the job market but to seek employment in the alternative markets  There is little doubt that the kids on the corner slinging rock and pot are there at least in part because of the fact that this opera has been playing repeatedly for 50 years.  Sadly no new jobs come to these communities as a part of this opera.

Media Coverage:

If there is one TV personality in Chicago that you can count on to provide us with totally hyperbolic reporting filled with incorrect uses of crime statistics, it is Chuck Goudie.  At least once a summer, Goudie provides a doozie that is just complete nonsense or totally hysterical.  True to form, he does not disappoint with his latest report.  I will analyze some of his assertions and his use of data to see if we can shed some light on this incredible reporting.

Chuck Goudie’s news segment titled “Intelligence Report: Data helps explain city’s high murder rate”.

“Murders are up so far this year in 24 Chicago neighborhoods. The increases have resulted in 216 people killed compared to 158 on this day last year.”

Now this could mean a lot or a little. If for the first four months of the year my community had 1 murder last year and this year there are 3, then that is not really a huge increase numerically.  Also, maybe all 3 are from the same incident and it was domestic related and there wasn’t much the police could do because there were no warning signs. Now, maybe murders went up from 1 to 10 and they were all in street violence incidents.  This could be very serious.  I would never know from this report.   See, it is all about context; notice Goudie gives you none of that.  Also, with no winter this past year I am sure we should have expected more murder to occur in the early part of this year.

“According to police data, Chicago murders in which victims were shot are at a 20-year high as gang leaders find it easier get their hands on illegal handguns, and then order underlings to do the dirty work.”

This sounds scary because of that whole 20-year high but do we really care what the weapon of choice is?  I mean, if stabbings were the main cause of murder and they were at a 20-year high should I be less or more concerned about the number of murders?  Also, I am not really sure the leaders are not getting arrested.  I thought for the last several years the CPD has been conducting the street corner conspiracy busts that get the leaders?  Have they not really been able to get the leaders?  Has the media been lying to us about how successful the busts have been?  One of the competing theories has to do with the consequences of getting the leaders and leaving the uncontrolled youth on the street….we will get to that later.

Press on Conspiracy Busts:

“The department’s been focusing on targeting gang hierarchies, which have been dismantled over an extended period of time,” she said. “[That’s] causing gangs to now operate in smaller crews that compete against each other for narcotic turf, which leads to deadly violence”.  – CPD Spokesperson Monique Bond, Aug 6, 2008, via Chicago Tribune

“Nearly 90 percent of all murder offenders have a criminal history and so do the majority of Chicago murder victims.”

Ok, but I am not sure this tells me anything new.  It sounds important, but I am not sure what a community member is supposed to do with this information.  In fact, what good does this stat do anyone?

“It’s difficult to watch gang member after gang member, mostly young minority men, convicted, put in prison again and again, while the leaders of the gangs continue to escape arrest and prosecution,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.”

If you talk to gang experts they say one of the problems with the violence on the streets now is that gang leaders have in fact been put away and there is now a splintering of gangs into smaller groups of less controlled youth.  The remaining youth fight amongst themselves and other gangs for control of less stabilized drug markets and higher levels of violence ensue.  I am not sure if that is what is going on here, but I doubt targeting either the leaders or the street hustlers is going to put an end to the gangs.

“As police flooded protest zones, the department also staffed districts citywide with 15 percent more officers than normal.

The result, according to police data we’ve obtained Wednesday night, on those four days of the NATO summit, murders were down 20 percent citywide over a year ago and shootings were down 26 percent.”

Sorry Chuck but these short term comparisons are totally invalid.  There is not an expert in the world worth his or her salt that could tell you why the numbers were different during NATO compared to what every time period you are using as a comparison.  Now, maybe last year during this time period was incredibly violent?  That could account for it but you would never know because you don’t ever look back beyond the lazy comparison.  Also, maybe last year it was really cold during that time period.  Of course it also could be that more people this year stuck around after calling police about a shooting and filled out a report.  We will never know and this is why a short-term comparison you are making is WORTHLESS!

“Legislation headed to the governor’s desk would allow police and prosecutors to charge gang leaders with violent crimes, even if they haven’t pulled the trigger, just as dozens of mob bosses have been put away under federal racketeering laws.”

Wow, this is going to stop the violence.  Well, actually it is going to allow the police and prosecutors to have some high profile arrests and prosecutions they can splash all over the TV; hey I even know a reporter that will be all too happy to help them out with that! But it will make no difference on the street.

CPD Patch & GavelThe reality is nobody outside the CPD really knows how many of the homicides in Chicago this year, or for the last ten years, are truly gang related.  They solve less than 40% of the cases so I am not really sure those within the CPD ever get to the motives of most of the incidents.  For the last 50 years the press has been pushing politicians and criminal justice officials for a criminal justice system response.  For the last 50 years the officials have given the press what they wanted and have very little to no results to show for all of their efforts

Few people will believe that the CPD, for the most part, does little to prevent crime.  This is both the fault of the press and the CPD officials.  For the last 20 years crime has fallen dramatically all over the country, including Chicago.  For the last 20 years the CPD has taken credit for the drop despite the fact that they have known their efforts accounted for only a small amount of that drop.  So, the problem now that crime has spiked a little is that the police now have to take the blame, regardless of the fact that it is not their fault, because they took the credit when it was not theirs to take.

If Chuck wanted to do some impactful reporting on violence he would start covering the absolute abandonment of the communities in question by the Daley administration.  Hey Chuck, why don’t you do a story on the little to no funds that were allocated for economic development in these communities? Hey, TIF dollars are targeted for blighted communities right? I mean they seem to come from these communities, but they don’t seem to end up there.   Why don’t you check in to how much of that money has been spent in these communities?  You could also look into how many charter school students actually live in these communities – and not the gentrified ones with white families – but the actual inner city families of color the Daley administration ignored for 30 years, those would also have to be poor families.  Daley seemed to like the rich people of color, just not the poor.

The answers to the questions I have proposed here have more to do with why Chicago has such a stubborn violence issue than about anything Chuck will report on.  Sadly, there really is not a chance that Chuck is going to cover these issues.  Why?  Because these take effort and it is so much easier to do body bag journalism and scare people while trying to use data to impress them with the depth of his knowledge.

Even thought our violence levels are not skyrocketing like is being reported all over the Chicago press it does not mean we don’t have a stubborn problem with violence that requires a serious discussion and response from our civic leaders.  The problem is with reporting like Chuck’s is that he is so hyperbolic that he creates an environment where serious policy discussions cannot be had.  Chuck will tell you his is trying to drive a civic discussion on the violence sadly though he is drowning out that conversation.

Check in next summer for the 51st return engagement of Chicago’s Insane Opera.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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