Chicago is reeling from a lethal outburst of gang violence that has left several youths dead or wounded in recent days.
In the aftermath of the street shootings, senior law-enforcement officials and politicians are searching for new ways to combat juvenile crime. Public discussion and the local news media have been dominated by the violence since Nov. 21, when high school basketball star Benjamin Wilson Jr. died after being shot the previous day.
Six other young people have been slain since then in what police say are teen-gang crimes.
Last Monday, a 13-year-old boy who walked past a gang clash was hit in the abdomen by a stray bullet. He is recovering, but the shooting fueled rumors of a major gang war at the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project. Fearing violence, hundreds of parents kept their children home from school Wednesday and Thursday.
Meanwhile, community leaders, religious leaders and school authorities have called in forums and meetings throughout Chicago for tough countermeasures. Although the city has a curfew barring unaccompanied minors under age 18 from public places from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. on school nights and from 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekends, teen-age killings and gang incidents are frequent in this city of 3 million.
Sixty of the city's 631 homicides in the first 10 months of this year were classified as gang-related by police. For the same period last year, police logged 68 gang-related killings in 609 homicides.
A recent University of Chicago study concluded that street-gang killings are "primarily a Hispanic problem." Juvenile-crime specialists in the police department say Hispanic street gangs are far more territorial than black gangs.
Top aides to Mayor Harold Washington, who has the flu, have huddled with federal, state and local law-enforcement officials to map a counterattack. Although no agreement has emerged, the officials reportedly are contemplating a role for federal investigators who would help fight illegal drugs, weapons trafficking and extortion.
The gang-violence issue has followed the Chicago pattern by becoming a bone of contention between Washington and his opponents on the City Council. Alderman Edward Burke, a former policeman, has criticized the mayor for planning to cut 500 people from the city's 12,000-member police force.
Washington says the cuts are essential because continuing economic troubles have cut tax revenues. The mayor has said greater efficiency in the department will put more cops on the beat.
Burke advocates no job cuts and tough street operations against gangs. Several years ago, under Mayor Jane M. Byrne, city police routinely conducted massive street sweeps and on-the-spot arrests. The practice was barred last year after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit.
Chicago street gangs are found almost exclusively in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods. They have no known connection to organized crime's violence-prone professional hoodlums and mobsters.
A 31-year-old ex-convict was arraigned last week, however, on charges that he murdered an 18-year-old in what police describe as a gang-related killing. And leaders of El Rukn, one of the city's most notorious black gangs, are young adults.