Even Gangster Disciples have Constitutional Rights, Senator Kirk

According to Fox 32, Senator Mark Kirk wants to spend tens of millions of dollars and arrest 18,000 people in an effort to bring down the Gangster Disciples. No, really, apparently that’s what he said.  Let’s hope this is one of those instances Politicians making statements that are not intended to be interpreted as fact, because what Kirk is proposing sounds like a dangerous and unconstitutional infringement on Civil Liberties- and it wouldn’t work anyway.

The Bill of Rights guarantees the right of the people to peacefully assemble, which is often interpreted as including freedom of association–your right to be part of a group or a club. Sure, not every meeting between Gangster Disciples is peaceful, but sometimes GDs just hang out, crack a few beers, barbeque, maybe smoke a blunt, like the rest of us. Being a member of even a sometimes violent organization is not necessarily a crime in and of itself, and not all gangs and gang affiliates are involved in violence.

The U.S. Constitution also protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, and guarantees the right to a speedy and fair trial. All this means that the government is not supposed to simply arrest a person for saying they are a Gangster Disciple any more than it should be allowed arrest a person for being a Communist. In order to arrest a GD, that man will have had to committed some sort of crime and there has to be evidence of that crime to hold him. It’s a good thing that’s the law because if it wasn’t any kid who is rumored to be a GD could be locked up forever, even if the kid was really an innocent honor student.

Kirk has only talked of targeting one specific gang, but the GDs certainly aren’t the only gang causing problems in Chicago. Any shooting involving a GD generally involves members of another gang. Taking out the GDs isn’t going to destroy the gang problem citywide…if taking out the GDs is even possible to begin with.

Cook County Jail is among the largest prisons in the U.S. with a daily population of about 9,000 inmates awaiting trial or transfer, with just 3,800 staff to wrangle them.  Conditions at the prison are reportedly poor. Some of the many allegations of abuse of prisoners (some of which are stunningly detailed in Chicago Reader reporter Steve Bogira’s book Room 302)  have met with settlements, including “roughly 80 female plaintiffs” who had been pregnant. Kirk may have “talked to some federal judges” about “handling hundreds of defendants,” but I find it hard to believe that it’s a good idea to try to cram twice the population into an already overcrowded and apparently mismanaged prison.

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, half the kids I went to school with claimed some sort of affiliation to the GDs; they dominated the marijuana trade, their tags could be seen carved into many school desks. Across the city, GD-affiliates are the fathers, brothers, cousins, friends, and neighbors of thousands of people. Their graffiti covers entire blocks. Like it or not, being a GD is a way of life to many in this city, and if you cut some of them down, more will rise up to take their place. Not every single one of those men and boys are Bad Guys who need to be Locked Up. Sure, some of them are, but others just need some guidance, a job, a hobby, a hand up and a way out.

The passion of Senator Kirk (who is, incidentally, recovering from a recent stroke like a champ, and we sincerely wish him good health) for safety on Chicago’s streets is admirable and shared by the people of Chicago, many of whom may well read what he said and jump to their feet shouting, “Yes! Get them all off the street!” He should be cautioned, however, that many good people have inadvertently done wicked things driven by such passions.

In an interview, Senator Kirk brought up that while traveling abroad, Chicagoans sometimes hear “Chicago? Bang Bang!” in reference to Al Capone. He’s right, that is our rep. I had that exact exchange in Amsterdam a few years ago. I replied that in my new neighborhood, we only had gunshots once in awhile.

Senator Kirk would do well to remember how Capone rose to power–through well-meaning legislators (responding to the cry of the people) trying to reduce crime by making alcohol illegal.

The road to true salvation from gang violence is a long, hard one; it involves putting Chicago’s poor first in the tax budget rather than last. Putting more, better trained cops on the street. More jobs and job training. Improving the schools. Encouraging business and lightening the tax burden on the little guy. Killing the black market by legalizing marijuana and debatably other drugs. Encouraging integration in neighborhoods. Perhaps improving regulation of guns (as opposed to returning to the ban, which never worked). Opening mental health centers instead of closing them down. We don’t seem to be on that path.  Even little things like picking up the trash in North Lawndale once in awhile don’t seem to be happening.

I believe Senator Kirk is sincere about stopping gun violence on Chicago’s streets. I think we all are. But putting yet more men of color in prison is not going to help and will ruin the lives of good and even innocent people. America has the most black men in prison in the world, Chicago is a big contributor to that, and it hasn’t done anything to stop the violence–though it did leave many boys without fathers and convicted felons without job skills on the streets. The only way to get those men off the streets for good is to make a serious commitment to uplifting Chicago’s poor.