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Get Tough on Gangs

By Kevin Stahr
From March 1, 2006 edition of Reporter/Progress
“Viewpoints” section, page 6

We have all heard for years now that gang activity has become so prevalent that no community can be considered immune.

But as police in Clarendon Hills, Westmont, Glen Ellyn and elsewhere investigate recent incidents of spray-painted gang graffiti – and look to police in places like Berwyn for tips in curbing gang-related vandalism and other street crimes – the sad realization sets in that even the smallest and most livable suburbs in affluent DuPage county must deal with the same scourge big cities have battled with for decades.

Gang graffiti is not just ugly in appearance, for its mere presence signals so much more.  It makes us uneasy, as if our familiar neighborhood has taken on a much darker edge that we never knew about.  It marks our neighborhoods as unsafe, and thus mildly scares and deeply saddens us at the same time.

With an outbreak of gang graffiti on both private and public properties in our communities, this is not the time to focus on the social or psychological forces that make gang affiliation attractive.  Rather, we urge police departments in our towns to adopt a strict, zero-tolerance approach to gang activity in general and to so-called “tagging” in particular.  Suburbs like Clarendon Hills have adopted ordinances that require that gang graffiti be removed from private property within days after it appears, and Westmont police have set up ride alongs with officers in Cook County suburbs that have vast experience in dealing with gang problems.

Those kinds of approaches are just what is needed here.  Street gangs have long engaged in turf wars that typically turn violent in short order, so quickly getting rid of graffiti that marks turf or “disrespects” a rival gang should be a clear priority.  Emptying our towns of individual gang members will be much more difficult, of course, but just as important.

Gangs bring a variety of negatives everywhere they are found, ranging from carved-up wooden benches at the train station to drive-by shootings.  Once established, gang violence permeates every aspect of life in a given community; parents can no longer allow their children to just play outside without concern for their safety.

This is not the future any of us who chose to live here ever envisioned.  We didn’t expect Mayberry, but nor did we expect close encounters with members of the Latin Kings or any other band of mindless street thugs.

We urge those in positions of authority in local law enforcement to make gang abatement a top priority now, while the problem still remains relatively small in scope.


Vandalized Memorial May Get Chemical Coating

By Fran Spielman, City Hall Reporter
Chicago Sun Times, 02/26/06

Chicago’s New Vietnam War Memorial may be treated with a chemical coating that makes graffiti removal easier, in response to an episode of vandalism last month.

“That has the names of everyone who was killed in Vietnam from Illinois.  To have anyone graffiti a memorial dedicated to the men and women who died for this country, to me, is as low as you can stoop,” said Ald. Jim Balcer (11th), a decorated Vietnam War veteran who is the City Council’s champion on veterans’ issues.

On Jan. 25, six places on the memorial along the Chicago River between Wabash and State were plastered with tagging symbols scribbled in black shoe polish.

Graffiti Blasters from the Streets and Sanitation Department tried to get it off, but a test “changed the color slightly and made the limestone surface rough,” said Transportation Department spokesman Brian Steele.  Stone restoration and preservation consultants were then called in. 

They came up with a “different chemical formula” that removed the graffiti.  Cleanup costs are still being calculated.  The case was turned over to Chicago Police, but no arrests have been made, officials said.

Memorial cost $4.3 million
“We’re not concerned about it becoming a trend,” Steele said. “But we are looking into some treatments we may be able to use on the limestone that will prevent this from occurring in the future.”

Balcer responded to the vandalism by proposing that the maximum fine for defacing a veterans memorial be increased from $500 to $750.

On Friday, the City Council Police Committee postponed consideration of the ordinance to give veterans and police officials an opportunity to testify in favor of the crackdown.

Located at the river level of Wacker Drive between Wabash and State, the Wabash Plaza that includes the Vietnam War memorial is expected to be the centerpiece of the slow-to-develop riverwalk.

The $4.3 million memorial features a list of all Illinois soldiers killed in Vietnam.  It also includes a water wall, medallions of all the armed forces and service organizations and artwork created by the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum.