* A big hat tip to a commenter for pointing me to this NPR story about one of the roots of Chicago’s street violence. John Lippert is an investigative reporter for Bloomberg Markets magazine. Lippert spoke with Steve Inskeep of NPR about how Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, who heads the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, gained a monopoly on heroin sales in Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest…
LIPPERT: And another interesting element of that is that he chose Chicago for exactly the same reason that, you know, Montgomery Ward flourished in Chicago, or Sears flourished in Chicago, because it’s a crossroads of the Midwest. It always has been. It’s a transportation hub.
INSKEEP: What practical effect has that had on the streets of Chicago? What does it matter who the supplier of the heroin is if people are taking it?
LIPPERT: He’s a monopoly supplier now, so it used to be when the mega-gangs had discipline and when they were sending their people down to the border to buy drugs, they had a choice of suppliers. But Guzman himself is saying, okay, here’s what I’m willing to charge for heroin in the city of Chicago. So he’s personally dictating and there’s less of an economic pie because the monopoly supplier is taking off a bigger share and so there’s just more competition.
There’s more pressure. If you want to expand your sales, you have to expand your street corners. You know, you have to physically take street corners, which is a violent act. So the fact that there is less discipline among these gangs and less money for them to make fuels the competition between them and fuels the violence.
* Meanwhile, Wired took a look at how social media is fueling Chicago’s murder rate…
There’s a term sometimes used for a gangbanger who stirs up trouble online: Facebook driller. He rolls out of bed in the morning, rubs his eyes, picks up his phone. Then he gets on Facebook and starts insulting some person he barely knows, someone in a rival crew. It’s so much easier to do online than face-to-face. Soon someone else takes a screenshot of the post and starts passing it around. It’s one thing to get cursed out in front of four or five guys, but online the whole neighborhood can see it—the whole city, even. So the target has to retaliate just to save face. And at that point, the quarrel might be with not just the Facebook driller a few blocks away but also haters 10 miles north or west who responded to the post. What started as a provocation online winds up with someone getting drilled in real life.
Even for an outsider,the online gangosphere isn’t difficult to enter. Sites like TheHoodUp.com and StreetGangs.com host message boards where gangsters openly swap tips and tricks: how much an ounce of weed is worth, how to bribe a cop or judge. Videos from ChiTownBangn and Gang Bang City Ent. look like the thug-life version of Girls Gone Wild, the cameras inspiring kids to act out vicious caricatures of themselves. WorldStarHipHop.com has become a clearinghouse for amateur fight videos, with guys often shouting “Worldstar!” as they record themselves administering beatings or film someone else being pummeled; the site even puts together best-of-the-week fight compilations.
On YouTube, search for the name of any gang or clique, or better yet the name plus “killa” (“Vice Lord Killa,” “Latin Kings Killa”), and you can quickly find yourself on just about any block in gangland America. In these videos, guys proudly proclaim their allegiance into the camera, shouting out tributes to their gang and even announcing their own names and aliases. People in the videos often light up a joint or flash a gun tucked in their waistband while bragging to the camera that they know the police are watching.
* The CPD response…
Gang enforcement officers in Chicago started looking closely at social media sites about three years ago, after learning that high school students were filming fights in the hallways and alcoves of their schools and posting the videos online. Boudreau tells me that they began to hear about fight videos going on YouTube during the day, and then they would often see a related shooting later in the afternoon. In the department’s deployment operations center, the other unit in the force that regularly monitors social media activity, officers first took notice when they read in the newspaper about a West Side gang member who was using the Internet to find out about enemies being released from prison. But “virtual policing” became a priority only after kids aligned with local cliques started calling each other out in rap videos.
Much of this police work is reactive. In the same way that flyers taped to light poles used to announce parties, news of a big gathering is now posted online, and officers move into position based on that intel. Other times guys will say point-blank that they’re going to kill someone. “We’re like, oh sh*t, we better put some police there because this is about to set off,” an officer in deployment operations says. When people brag about a crime they’ve already committed, detectives use that as yet another investigative tool, assuming that online admissions alone won’t hold up in court. (Though in one successful case, a Cincinnati district attorney was able to introduce thousands of pieces of online evidence of suspects appearing beside guns, drugs, and one another to establish a criminal conspiracy.)
But over time, the cops’ approach to social media has become more entrepreneurial. The police in Chicago now actively look for inflammatory comments around specific dates: the anniversary of a homicide, say, or the birthday of a slain gang member, the sorts of events that have often incited renewed rounds of violence. They also use information collected from public sites to add to their knowledge about the hundreds of cliques and sets operating in the city, cataloging the members, affiliations, beefs, and geographic boundaries. […]
In New York City, where the number of homicides is now the lowest since it started keeping crime statistics 50 years ago, the NYPD credits much of its recent success to monitoring online gang activity. The department determined that street-crew members, by and large teenagers, were responsible for a vastly disproportionate share of the violent crimes in the city. And so last year it launched Operation Crew Cut, which is doubling the number of detectives in its gang division to 300, with many of the additional officers focusing specifically on social media sites. The result, authorities say, has been a steep drop in retaliatory violence, as the police have been able to identify clashes and step in before they escalate. “Any tweet might hold the identities of the next potential victim and perpetrator,” NYPD deputy commissioner Paul Browne says.
Go read the whole thing. Hat tip: OneMan.
…Adding… Rep. Ed Sullivan passed legislation way back in 2007 to establish a pilot program for a State Police Internet Gang Crime Unit. From Sully…
I was working with some local law enforcement folks that were seeing a proliferation of gangs using the internet to organize and further their gang operations. Real good legislation that could have made a difference but we could never get funding. The Governor’s people didn’t think it was worthy.
Sullivan then passed a bill to extend the pilot program’s sunset date. But the administration never did anything.