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Updated 03/26/12 – 9:09 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Police have arrested dozens of members of two street gangs and seized millions of dollars in cash and illegal drugs as part of a major crackdown on gangs in the wake of rising violence to start the year.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy called the crackdown on West Side drug sales “just the beginning” of their efforts to take back Chicago neighborhoods from gang bangers.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports it was a small victory in the city’s war on gangs, but brought welcome good news after a stretch of deadly violence seemed to undermine the mayor’s claims that things are getting better.
“The gang bangers, and the gang members, and the gangs do not run this city. We do,” Emanuel said at a Monday afternoon news conference announcing that dozens of gang members from major street gangs were arrested in operations aimed at shutting down two open-air drug markets on the West Side.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports
As WBBM Newsradio’s Nancy Harty reports, standing on a West Side playground, McCarthy said police will not only take control of corners and keep them from going back to the drug dealers’ hands, but also conduct what he calls gang audits.
The purpose, McCarthy said, is “to identify the members and the factions, and the conflicts that are happening on the ground today, so that when an event occurs, the first officer on the scene is looking toward the next event, to prevent the next event from occurring.”
Undercover video taken by police shows alleged drug sales on the West Side, before the crackdown. Authorities said the sales occurred in the open; both at night, and in plain daylight.
In all, police said 50 alleged drug dealers were charged. Most have been arrested, as authorities try to stem the violence connected with drug dealing.
Monday night, one of the corners that had been targeted by police was virtually empty.
With the exception of a few youngsters flashing signs and entering a liquor store they had no business being in, the corner of Laramie Avenue and Adams street was deserted Monday afternoon.
It was a far cry from what it looked like just a few days ago when police cracked down on the open-air drug market that was operating there.
“This was their main spot,” Austin neighborhood resident Isiah Griffin said of the gang bangers who sold drugs at Laramie and Adams. “It was too many of them out here every day. Every day, you could walk down the street and they asking you ‘Do you wanna buy drugs?’”
Police videotaped undercover drug buys at that corner, before closing in to make dozens of arrests at Laramie and Adams and a second open-air drug market on the West Side. Authorities confiscated millions of dollars in cash and drugs.
But this, they said, was just the first step.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said, “We can’t continue to do the same thing and expect a different result.”
Ervin, who walked the streets of the Austin neighborhood Monday, stressed that ridding the corners of drug dealers isn’t enough.
“Our strategy (is) to take drug-infested corners from the gangs, and to hold those corners, squeezing those drug markets and violence out,” McCarthy said.
One innocent victim of the city’s gang violence was 6-year-old Aliyah Shell, who was killed earlier this month while sitting with her mother on their front porch, when gang members targeted someone at the house.
“That’s a tear at our city. We are better than what happened to that young girl,” the mayor said.
Emanuel tried to comfort Shell’s family over the weekend.
“What do you say to a mother, when the most innocent thing they’re doing is holding a kid on the porch?” Emanuel said. “What would you like to say?”
But based on the chart of those arrested, the implication that police took down two major street gangs might have been misleading. Many of the suspects arrested were charged with simple possession, and none of the suspects matched the Chicago Crime Commission’s roster of leaders of the two gangs targeted by police.
However, McCarthy had a different view of the arrests.
“The idea is to fight this like a ground war, and you take it spot by spot by spot,” McCarthy said.
The huge gathering of police, elected officials, and community activists Monday afternoon on the West Side projected an image of solidarity. Rev. Ira Acree later said such a show of solidarity was critical, if the crackdown announced Monday was to have long-lasting impact.
“What we don’t want, we don’t want an occupying force,” he said. “The reality is we don’t need oversaturation of police. The greatest solution is when communities step up and the stakeholders show a vested interest.”
Austin neighborhood residents looked at the suddenly drug-free corner of Laramie and Adams as a beachhead in the war against gang violence.
“If they can get this corner, they can get the next corner, and the next block, all the way down to Central Avenue,” Kenneth Mendenhall said. “It makes me feel more at ease, it makes the community feel more at ease and it makes the parents and the kids going to the various schools throughout the community more at ease.”
Emanuel said, as part of its strategy to reduce violence, the city will spend $8 million to give more kids summer jobs, in the hopes of keeping them from joining gangs or becoming their victims.