Gangs Turn Chicago Streets Into a Battlefield

Chicago has about 100,000 gang members; 34 students have been killed this year.

Oct. 8, 2009 — -- At 5 a.m at a secret location in Chicago, heavily armed U.S. Marshals and local police locked in on a target.

"He is a gang member," said U.S. Marshal Ed Farrell. "Pretty much everything they do is through fear and violence. That's how they control neighborhoods, that's how they control their criminal activity."

It was a busy morning. Five arrests in two hours. All those arrested were wanted for drug dealing, and all were gang members.

"We have the biggest gang problem in the country. There are more gang members per citizen in Chicago than anywhere else in the country," Farrell said.

The FBI works closely with Chicago authorities to try and dismantle gang leadership. The gangs have morphed from social organizations into full-fledged criminal enterprises.

In an undercover surveillance video, a female gang member was seen selling drugs in broad daylight -- and her 4-year-old daughter was also on the video clutching the drugs. The mother was a member of the New Breed gang that controlled a one-block area that included eight buildings.

"The gang did $80,000 worth of sales per day," said Thomas Trautman, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI Chicago Division. "There were nine homicides and nine shootings in that one block in 18 months."

Only after authorities took out the gang leadership and arrested 56 gang members from the housing complex was there any normalcy.

But it's a battle for police just to keep pace. At the largest jail in the country, the Cook County Jail, that reality is all too clear.

"We've got approximately 9,000 to 9,500 male inmates. And a good 90 percent of them, probably closer to 95 percent of them, are gang members," said Tom Kinsella, executive director of the Cook County Office of Intelligence.

"They are members of organized crime for strictly one thing -- money. And their drug dealing is where they get 95 percent of their money. It starts with 16-year-old kids dealing on the street, up to 50-year-olds," Kinsella added.

The jail's gang intelligence unit provides police on the street valuable information about the gangs -- details about hierarchy, symbols and weaponry.

Police Struggle to Stop Gang Activity

But authorities are the first to admit that you can't arrest your way out of this problem.

"It's not clear we can break up the gangs. The best we may be able to do is to get them to decrease their violence," said Jens Ludwig, a professor at the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

"The police can't stop the problem alone," said Kinsella. "It is a family problem and a problem with society and it's gotten beyond what police can control."

A conversation with a 25-year-old member of the 4 Corner Hustlers -- who joined at age 12 -- makes the point in a chilling fashion.

Pierre Thomas: "Why did you join?"

Gang Member: "For the money. They had the girls. I liked the lifestyle."

Thomas: "Did you sell drugs?"

Gang Member: "Yes I did. ... My parents were caught up, too."

Thomas: "Have you been shot at?"

Gang Member: "Yes."

Thomas: "Have you shot at people?"

Gang Member: "Yes. ... At the time, it was kill or be killed."

Thomas: "Do you expect to live to be an old man?"

Gang Member: "Nah. I know one day it's going to be my turn."

Thomas: "Do kids in your neighborhood have a choice?"

Gang Member: "You will join. You will join."