Gang attacks test new Chicago mayor's crime-fighting tactics

16:23, June 10, 2011      

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By Lynette Holloway

In a test of his crime fighting mettle, newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has employed scores of police officers to stop roving gangs of youths who have been terrorizing the premier shopping district in the nation's third largest city.

Emanuel told reporters that a series of attacks that began in late May could harm the city's reputation. He said he supports acting police Superintendent Garry McCarthy's decision to redeploy officers to the Near North Side Police District, which boasts the Magnificent Mile shopping area.

Charles Butler, a conservative African American radio talk show host on WIND-AM and an expert on Chicago urban affairs, told Xinhua on Thursday that the spotlight is on Emanuel. That's as he tries to live up to his campaign promise to fight crime in a city wracked by gang violence.

So far, Emanuel's plan highlights the city's historical racial fissures, Butler said.

"Let's put this in the proper context," Butler said. "You can expend police energy on the North Side because of retailers on the Magnificent Mile, but you can't expend the same energy on the South Side, an all-black community where there are people who call themselves urban terrorists who say they are in the community to do one thing and that is to terrorize people.

"That sends a loud message to the city at large. The flash mobs haven't killed anybody. The real terror is the kids on the South Side," Butler said.

Indeed, the city is on edge. Just before a weekly fireworks display Wednesday evening, a police helicopter with high-beam lights flew over Navy Pier, a popular tourist attraction on the shores of Lake Michigan. The search moved north to the Oak Street and North Avenue beaches.

Problems surfaced during the Memorial Day weekend after police closed the North Avenue beach over concerns about crowding and heat exhaustion. Subsequent news reports, however, said the closure was the result of concerns about violence.

At least 52 people were shot, seven fatally, during last year's Memorial Day weekend. Police at the time attributed the shootings to gang violence.

The problem was so bad that some elected officials and community leaders called for the National Guard to police areas of the South Side, where most of the violence occurred.

This year, however, the spate of violence moved north and continued after the holiday. Things came to a head on Saturday when a man was attacked on the near north side of Chicago by about 20 youths, ranging in age from 16 to 20.

"One of the subjects threw a baseball at the victim's face and knocked him to the ground," a police report said. The assailants tried to steal the man's cell phone but were forced to leave after he put up a fight.

About an hour later, a separate group of youths attacked another man. His cellphone and iPad were stolen, reports show.

Emanuel told reporters that he wants all of the youths involved in the crimes brought to justice. He said the full force of the law enforcement community will deal with the situation, adding that he was pleased with McCarthy's response.

Just days after the attacks, the police department announced the arrests of more than 20 suspects.

"I hope they keep up the pressure," said Vernell Madkins, a longtime doorman on the near north side of Chicago. "A lot of these kids need jobs. The city has a high unemployment rate and these youth are going where they can take money - the Magnificent Mile. It's just terrible but urban youth are being hit hard by the recession. It's no excuse but people are desperate."

The crime spate came just as the city boasted an overall reduction in its crime rate for the month of May, according to preliminary police statistics released Sunday.

The police department reported that total crime was down 5.9 percent in May compared to the same time last year. One of the more prevalent drops was for homicides, which were down 16.3 percent. Through the end of May, there were 27 fewer homicides than during the same time last year.

Still, Chicago is keeping an eye on crime-fighting measures throughout the city, especially on the South Side, considered one of the most crime-ridden communities in the country.

"We are eager to see how the new administration fights crime in all parts of the city," Butler said.

Source: Xinhua
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