Gang Violence Contributes to Chicago Crime Surge

Both law enforcement and gang members say the outbreak of violence stems from a breakdown in gang structure. 

Posted: 06/13/2012 02:45 PM EDT

Chicago police are working overtime trying to stop the city’s recent increase in violence blamed on out-of-control street gangs that claimed the lives of eight people and wounded 40 others in just one weekend.

In response, the city’s police department is bulking up its presence and plans to pay its officers overtime for working during their regularly scheduled days off beginning this weekend, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Among those killed last weekend was 16-year-old African-American Joseph Briggs, who was shot on his front porch. He was killed Saturday night during a particularly bloody stretch in which nearly 20 people were shot.

Despite the hue and cry and obvious casualties, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy recently said overall crime has decreased in the city and lamented the negative attention the city has received after last weekend’s violence.

“Would anybody believe me if I told you that murders in the city were down 17 percent in the last month? Probably not, right?,” McCarthy said Tuesday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Would anybody believe me if I told you that shootings are down in the last two months, 10 weeks? Would anybody believe if I told you that we had less shootings on Memorial Day this year than we did last year? Probably not.”

The violence, it seems, stems from an increase in gang activity law enforcement and gang members alike have said is the result of a breakdown in organization.

"In the past the gangs were very organized from the top down," said Sgt. Matthew Little of the Chicago Police Department's gang enforcement unit, according to the Associated Press.

While the breakup of gangs sounds like it would be welcomed, it seems that taking the “organized” out of organized crime has created bigger problems for everyone.

"There is no one to control this, so it has become haywire," Devon Tims, a member of the Chicago Vice Lords, told AP. The gang boasts nearly 70,000 members.

Despite the decidedly unorganized state of Chicago’s gangs, a new state law signed into effect Wednesday allows streets gangs to be prosecuted as criminal enterprises and hands out stiffer penalties for single crimes that can be connected to a larger group. While the new rule is likely to assist law enforcement with the swift prosecution and conviction of gang members, some critics say the law may cast too wide a net.

“The fear is that politically elected people can use it politically,’’ said State Sen. Kwame Raoul, according to AP. Raoul also noted low-level gang members could get charged with harsher crimes.

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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)