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Praise cop’s off-beat approach to gangs

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Updated: April 2, 2011 5:11PM

American writer James Baldwin said this about taking action, “To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger.”

Reaction to Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis’ decision to meet with gang leaders brought anger, praise and speculation. His meeting with honchos of Chicago street gangs, where he reportedly warned them of the potential consequence of continued bedlam, sparked controversy.

I don’t know Weis, but I sense that the only people who detest the notion of sitting down with coldblooded thugs more than he are families members of those victimized by gangs.

Our inner cities are susceptible to the scourge of gang activity, and while poverty and despair are never an excuse for violence, they contribute greatly to gang recruitment.

High-ranking Aurora police officers candidly weighed in on the issue of Weis’ approach.

“I understand the outrage that some feel about Supt. Weis’ meeting with gang leaders,” said Aurora Police Commander Joe Groom. “However, Chicago has not enjoyed the same reduction in violent crime that Aurora and other communities have. Gangs are the most serious domestic plague on our society, and Supt. Weis has told the world that he will be accountable for reducing gang violence in Chicago. So, rather than decrying his initiative, I say we hold Supt. Weis to his promise. If he succeeds, we should applaud him and the men and women of the CPD.”

Commander Kristen Ziman echoed these sentiments.

“Supt. Weis’ decision to meet with gang leaders is just another tool in the arsenal to combat crime,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, we can scratch it off the list of methods that failed. I believe the problem is that we don’t try new tactics because we are afraid to fail and afraid of the criticism from the community.

“My position is that we should be bold enough to try new things and bold enough to fail and start again if it doesn’t work.”

Imagine for a moment, if law enforcement officials did nothing and let the carnage continue unchecked.

What I find odd is that some of the so-called leaders who march, chant and hold candlelight vigils, demanding an end to the violence, often criticize others who are working to stop the bloodbath.

I’ll tread carefully here and try not to come off as insensitive, but it seems to me that their action is politically or selfishly motivated. Frankly, some appear more interested in advancing their agenda and celebrity than getting behind serious-minded efforts to end the killing.

There, I said it.

For example, a few months ago when Chicago Democrats John Fritchey and LaShawn Ford boldly proposed activating Illinois National Guard troops, their proposal was met with charges of racism. Well, the plan was never implemented and the killing went on. Among the 2010 summertime death count are three of Chicago’s finest.

They decried using federal troops and now misrepresent and criticize Weis’ meeting with gang leaders. Truth is, the hoodlums were summoned and warned that RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, would be used to bring them down.

If anything, residents of Chicago and all who live in the collar counties should stand and cheer.

Tracey Lynch-Strozier, an Aurora native, said this about Weis’ methods: “Many who criticize Weis’ approach have not lost children to gang violence. I support as many lines of attack as necessary to curtail the violence. To my way of thinking, Weis’ approach is not radical.”

My journalistic instinct tells me that a handful of people are using the media to prop themselves up as spokespersons for the masses. Truth is, they do little more than give lip service to the problem, as is seen by the pathetic effect they have had on deterring the violence.

Yet little if any consideration is given to another group that is frequently overlooked by the media and overshadowed by the sideshow created by loudmouths.

Their angst from losing a loved one to the madness, though less conspicuous, is no less painful. Yet they differ because they’re open to methods like predictive policing and using National Guard troops, or whatever it takes to prevent the death of another child. If it means sitting down with gang leaders, they’ll bring the chairs.

Former federal prosecutor Ron Safer’s expertise in Criminal Enterprise law is nationally recognized. Safer’s latest commentary on the issue of facing down gang leaders is arguably as provocative as Weis’ meeting with the Chicago gang leaders.

When Safer says, “Let’s applaud those who think creatively about solving gang violence. … And let’s save our disgust for those who watch passively as children are gunned down,” he strikes a nerve.

I told Safer that one of his well-known courtroom victories had tragically affected the life of someone whom I grew up with on Chicago’s South Side.

Fifteen years ago, Safer rocked Chicago’s gang culture when he successfully prosecuted chieftains of the notorious Gangster Disciples. Sadly, a decorated Chicago police officer and rising star in the department’s gang crimes unit, my childhood friend, was among those convicted.

People who live in a state of terror realize that severing the tentacles of gang violence will require innovative strategies. When Chicago’s top cop goes off script and audaciously takes action against the individuals who are terrorizing inner-city streets, he should be commended, not denounced.

Anthony Stanford is a freelance writer living in Aurora. He can be contacted at or on Facebook.

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