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CHICAGO (CBS) – Local prosecutors in Illinois now have the power to go after street gangs as criminal organizations, much like the way federal prosecutors often target members of the mob.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed into law the “Street Gang RICO Act,” which gives state’s attorneys in Illinois similar powers to the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
“Street gang leaders, we’re after you,” Quinn said as he signed the legislation at the Thompson Center on Monday, after a weekend during which at least eight people were killed by gun violence, and more than 40 others were wounded.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports
Through late last week, Chicago’s murder rate was up 36 percent compared to the same time period last year. Recent weekends have been especially violent, with at least 22 people shot and at least three people killed each of the last four weekends. The Memorial Day weekend saw 10 murders and more than 40 shootings.
“Very clearly, we’ve been talking about the fact that it’s gang-related violence that’s really been hurting us. And, very clearly, this is a very direct way to deal with the actual issue of gang violence, rather than just dealing with individual acts,” Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said in touting the new law.
The Austin neighborhood, where Quinn lives, historically has been one of the city’s more violent neighborhoods, with more than 170 homicides since 2007.
“It’s a very good neighborhood, and we don’t want gangs disrupting our neighborhood,” Quinn said. “We want to work with our policemen, those who are involved in public safety and law enforcement, to go after and exterminate these gangsters.”
Until now, local prosecutors have only been able to prosecute gang crimes as isolated acts, as previous state laws made it difficult to go after gang leaders for the actions of their members, effectively shielding gang leaders when they don’t get their own hands dirty.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who had lobbied for the “Street Gang RICO” law, said “this bill will allow us to attack gangs in a different way. Instead of just looking at the individual acts of one or two gang members, we’re going to be looking at the entire enterprise, and the entire organization.”
She said the goal is to attack the city’s gang problem by going after “the guys who are calling the shots.”
Alvarez noted that 31 other states in the U.S. have state RICO statutes, so it made sense that Illinois become the 32nd state with such a law.
“We were kind of in the Dark Ages, so I think it’s time for Illinois to get out of the Dark Ages, and do our part, because we’re dealing with the violent street gangs, and the violent cases,” she said.
She also noted that the U.S. Attorney’s office in recent years has been more focused on applying the federal RICO statute to corruption cases than to local gangs.
The new state law takes effect immediately.