Checking Chicago’s War on Drugs

by  Editor-in-Chief

Relocated and current Chicago public housing residents as well as their private market neighbors in poverty-stricken areas want to know what the city police force is doing about their safety. They also want to know what the federal government has been doing to stop the flow of illegal drugs and weapons from ending up in their communities

Unspent Billions and Incomplete Housing Projects
According to data provided to RJ from the Chicago Housing Authority via e-mail in early April, 3,838 residents relocated with housing vouchers under the CHA’s $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation between Oct. 1, 1999 and Sept. 30, 2005. A large number have relocated into other high poverty areas in predominantly African American communities ridden with drug and gang activity. 431 relocated to Englewood, 258 moved into the South Shore area, 212 into apartments in the Roseland community, and 211 relocated to the Greater Grand Crossing area.

The CHA currently contracts the Chicago Police Department to provide “above baseline” services to its residents and relocatees at a rate of $16 million annually. The housing agency first contracted with the police in 2000 after dismantling the CHA’s own police force. In March 2004, Mayor Richard M. Daley and the police superintendent announced the deployment of 120 additional police officers in crime “hot spot areas” across the city that included CHA sites, RJ reported in their November/December issue that year.

Despite the increased police deployment, a spur of murders in the summer of 2005 in the 6th Ward, and continued illicit narcotic activity in the 5th Ward, remained at the top of the list of those two wards’ alderpersons’ concerns earlier this year. In “Deadly Moves II,” which appeared in the February/March 2006 issue of RJ, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) and Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6) both claimed their wards still had dire need of more police resources.

In March of this year, residents of the Englewood community, which is shared by six aldermen and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1), marched and rallied against the gun violence and illegal drug activity after the shooting deaths of two young girls in March.

“This drug market created a climate of fear and intimidation and spurred much of the gang-related violence we saw in the area,” Englewood Police Commander Joseph Patterson proclaimed at a gathering of ministers, community leaders and police officials shortly after the shooting death of 14-year-old Starkesia Reed and 10-year-old Siretha White. Reed, the unintended victim of gang violence, died instantly from a gunshot wound to the head after a stray bullet penetrated her front window in the 6700 block of South Honore Street while she was waiting to go to school.

The mother of 14-year-old gang shooting victim Starkesia Reed listens to the prayers and speeches made by protesters who stopped by her house to pay their respects for her loss in March. Photo by Mary C. Johns

Eight days later and a few blocks away, White, another unintended victim, was struck dead from a stray bullet fired by a gang member that entered the front window of her aunt’s apartment in the 2000 block of West 70th Place while she attended her own surprise birthday party.

Violence related to gangs and drugs claimed other casualties as well. To feel safer in Englewood, a 12-year-old boy stole his father’s 9 mm Ruger handgun to protect himself, according to a news report in early May. Instead, the youth ended up accidentally shooting his 7-year-old sister to death with the illegal weapon. Besides the current violence in Englewood and other areas where residents have relocated under the CHA Plan for Transformation, there has also been a string of overdose deaths from tainted heroin around the city, including in close proximity to CHA sites.

On August, the Chicago Police Department’s Heroin Task Force, arrested and charged a West Side drug dealer of “drug-induced homicide” after linking him to a fatal overdose involving the synthetic drug Fentanyl,” according to CPD’s Aug. 24th press release.

The aunt of 10-year-old gang shooting victim Siretha White listens to encouragement of Englewood area protesters and others shortly after the death of her niece in March. Photo by Mary C. Johns

The overdosed victim, 17-year-old Joseph Krecker, who was found dead in his vehicle on the Northwest Side, was the son of Franklin Park Police Chief Jack Krecker. Police Chief Franklin was instrumental in helping the CPD Heroin Task Force “identify the location where his son obtained the drugs,” and CPD were also “aided by acquaintances of the victim and other high school – and college – aged students from the Northwest Suburbs,” the press released stated.

“Corey Crump, 35, of the 1700 block of North Austin Avenue, is the first drug dealer to face a homicide charge in connection with Fentanyl-laced heroin since the task force was formed in April to address the outbreak of overdose fatalities,” according to that same CPD document.

On June 20, more than 400 law enforcement officers from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals and the Chicago Police raided the 800-unit CHA Dearborn Homes public housing development. They arrested 47 members of a street gang who were later charged with “conspiracy to possess and distribute heroin, crack cocaine, marijuana and Fentanyl from 1999 to the present,” according to a June 23 Chicago Police press release. Those charged allegedly “sold heroin 24 hours a day, seven days a week, generating a total of $20,000 to $25,000 a day, with shifts of workers, including some as young as 13.”

The Chicago Police reported in January that members of another street gang allegedly sold “crack cocaine and white heroin&24 hours a day, seven days a week, generating an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 in daily revenues” inside the lobbies of several of the 16 mid-rise CHA Dearborn Homes buildings.

In February, the police reported the outbreak of the tainted heroin circulating around that same public housing site located along the State Street Corridor. The following month, police reported 10 fatalities near that CHA site. The overdose victims ranged from 17 to 73 years old, lived outside Chicago in communities as far away as LaSalle, Channahon, and Braidwood, Illinois, and traveled to the city to get the drugs, according to the April data from the police.

In a press release after the overdosed deaths, Police Superintendent Phillip J. Cline warned the distributors, buyers and users of the illegal drugs about the dire consequences of their actions.

DEA and ATF Report on Crime
The police’s reported efforts to stop criminal activity by gang members and others involved months of monitoring by federal, state and local law enforcements groups working together and officers posing as drug addicts buying heroin. The police department also has placed surveillance cameras with flashing blue lights in crime-ridden neighborhoods around town, including various CHA developments.

But residents in these low-income areas told RJ they see no reduction of gang violence and illicit drug sales in their communities. Many of those at the recent Englewood marches wanted to know what the federal government is doing about the influx of illegal drugs and weapons into their poverty-stricken communities. The Rev. Robin Hood, the leader of a March 17 rally in front of the home where 10-year-old Siretha White was slain, told RJ at the event that the news of the day shouldn’t be about whether the increase in crime in Englewood was due to CHA relocation. Rather, Hood said the focus should be on what the U.S. government was doing about the illegal weapons that are a constant threat to the community.

“It’s more than just the gun violence,” Hood said. “It’s even illegal guns that come into our community, assault rifles. Guns have gotten into children’s hands even before they tore down the CHA. So it’s a bigger picture than that and all we want to focus on today is to keep guns out of our community now. Everybody’s got a right to live in a place. So we’re not going there today. Somebody lived in the projects and came over here. This has been a battleground for over 30 years.”

In early June, RJ spoke with Special Agent Christopher Hoyt from the Chicago-based federal Drug Enforcement Administration about the tainted heroin and the current status with the War on Drugs in the city. As it relates to the heroin and heroin tainted with Fentanyl, Hoyt said the DEA is taking samples of the heroin from the Chicago Police. “We’re analyzing them in our lab in an attempt to identify the source of the Fentanyl,” he said during a May phone interview.

Residents in low-income areas have said they see increases in drug-related activity. However, Hoyt disagreed and said he knows there has been a significant decrease in the illegal drug trafficking because of the large drug busts and court convictions from the DEA investigations.

“Our organization is designed to target the major drug trafficking organizations and dismantle them. I think if you check on a regular basis, you’ll see that the federal government – beyond what the Chicago Police Department does with their arrests and convictions – the federal government, the DEA specifically, we have many cases that are tried in the federal courts. And when the members of those drug organizations are convicted, they get longer sentences. “So we have several cases across the street in the court system right now and we have some ongoing investigations. I don’t have specific numbers for the quantities.” he said.

Hoyt also believes there has been a large reduction in illegal drug trafficking because of the money they seize from smugglers. He also thinks that things will continue to improve.

“We’re hitting them where it hurts the most,” he said. “We’re hitting them in the pocketbook. We target the large bulk quantities and on a regular basis, we’re seizing those quantities from the streets. And we measure a lot of our success on the money that we seize. By taking their money, it shuts down their operation and each year we seize more and more of their assets. So each year, it is harder and harder for them to basically stay in business. “So over a period of time, it’s going to be increasingly more difficult for them to operate because we’ve taken so many of their assets away.”

Additional information from the federal government shows that the drug problem in Chicago remains a large problem. The DEA’s web site states “there were more estimated heroin related emergency department mentions in Chicago during 2002 than in any other U.S. city.” They also list Chicago as being “the major transportation hub and distribution center for illegal drugs throughout the Midwest due to its geographic location and multi-faceted transportation infrastructure. Commercial trucks, passenger vehicles, package delivery services, air packages or couriers, and railways are the most common means traffickers use to transport drugs into Chicago.”

Chicago is also unique among American cities, according the DEA data, in that heroin from all four source areas – South America, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia and Mexico – is available on a consistent basis from year to year. Until recently, they also reported that “virtually all of the white heroin available in the Chicago area was smuggled in by Nigerian/West African criminal groups.”

DEA also reported that “most law enforcement agencies in Illinois cite the violent crime associated with gang-related drug trafficking as the most serious criminal threat to the state. Violent crime associated with street gangs, while declining in some major urban areas, is increasing in suburban and rural areas as these gangs expand their drug markets.” At the retail level, DEA states that “heroin is distributed at numerous open-aired drug markets, predominantly on the West Side of the city, that are controlled by street gangs.”

The U.S. Department of Justice 2006 National Drug Threat Assessment states that “Drug trafficking and drug abuse continue to pose a significant threat to the citizens of the United States and an ever-increasing challenge to law enforcement and drug treatment personnel.

“Mexican drug trafficking organizations and criminal groups are the most influential drug traffickers in the United States, and their influence is increasing. They are the predominant smugglers, transporters and wholesale distributors of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and Mexico-produced heroin in the United States; they are expanding their control over the distribution of these drugs in areas long controlled by Colombian and Dominican criminal groups, including areas of New York and Florida,” according to the Department of Justice report.

The shooting deaths of the two young girls in the Englewood community involved gang members with high-powered guns, “including an AK-47 and a Tech 9,which are illegal to possess or sell in Chicago,” according to a Chicago Police press release from March 17, 2006.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stated in their 2005 annual report that there has been “significant decreases in violent firearms crime over the last several years,” through “the collaborative efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies nationwide.”

RJ called ATF’s Chicago office to find out the situation with their efforts to stop trafficking in illegal firearms. But no one returned RJ’s calls by press time.

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