August 25, 1999
Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW-Chicago reports on efforts to limit gang activity in a Chicago suburb.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: During the day, Cicero, Illinois, a blue collar suburb of almost 70,000 residents just west of Chicago, looks peaceful enough with its rows of neat bungalows. But as the daylight dims, it's a different story; with sirens blazing, Cicero police race to another gang-related shooting. An 18-year-old hit in a drive-by shooting while riding a bicycle down a main Cicero street had stumbled into a nearby restaurant and collapsed. Adam Rodriguez, the 23rd gang-related shooting victim of the year, was critically injured but survived.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE, Town President: They shot him all through here.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Cicero town president Betty Loren-Maltese was one of the first on the scene. She questioned police detective Jerry Schlatta.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE: So this has to be the Sin City Boys and the Latin Angels. Jerry, how many times do you think you arrested this kid?
JERRY CHLADA, Police Detective: Numerous times in the last few years, hanging around with gangs and nonsense.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE: Are you surprised by this?
JERRY CHLADA: No, not at all. You play around with guns, you're going to get killed.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE: See, this will lead probably to another death, another shooting for retaliation. I mean this has got to stop.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: To try and stop the violence, Cicero passed the country's first gang-eviction law. The highly controversial ordinance bans active gang members from town. If they don't leave and remain active gang members, they're subject to a $500-a-day fine. Though its constitutionality has been questioned, the ordinance has the support of many Cicero residents, like Mary Ann Burnett, who felt the night's violence had struck too close to home.
|A community's reaction|
MARY ANN BURNETT, Resident: That could have been my daughter that was bad... could have been badly hurt because they were just there ten minutes prior to the shooting. And I had just went in the house to eat my dinner and I saw and heard... well, I heard gun shots from my kitchen, and I stood up and I saw a silverish gray caravan-like vehicle speed away. And then I heard that Adam was shot.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: You think this gang-free ordinance is important to Cicero?
MARY ANN BURNETT: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. It was nice once. It can be nice again if people just care and just keep running them off.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Some cities like San Jose and Los Angeles, have passed anti-gang ordinances, asking for injunctions against gang members' behavior. But no other municipality has tried to banish gang members from their town.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE: I think, because the gangs have become more dangerous, more families are affected by it, and I think people all over are just fed up. And the sad thing is it's not only in Cicero; it's across the whole United States.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Cicero has experience with gangsters. In the 1920's, Al Capone based his bootlegging operation in Cicero after getting kicked out of Chicago. But this April, town residents passed a referendum calling for Cicero to become a gang-free zone. Town trustees followed up with a controversial ordinance. Town Attorney Barry Pechter.
BARRY PECHTER, Town Attorney: The town president came to me and stated that she had the belief that people that were involved in criminal activity, gang members that were being involved in criminal activity, did not have the right to live within the town of Cicero, or should not have the right. At first everyone said, "that's just ridiculous." And slowly but surely, even the attorneys, the tide has seemed to change. What looked to be impossible to them in the beginning, now all of a sudden everybody seems to be stepping back a little and saying, "not only is it good public debate. It could work."
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It would work by having the superintendent of police first identify and then subpoena a suspected gang member. In a civil hearing, the city would then have to prove that the person was in a gang and currently involved in gang-related criminal activity. If the city proved its case, the person would then have a choice: Leave town, pay a $500-a-day fine or quit the gang. Gang members are already feeling the heat. These Sin City gang members say several gang members they know have already left town. So what would these three do?
GANG MEMBER: I'll drop, then.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: You'd get out of the gang? And you would pay $500?
GANG MEMBER: If I had the money, but not every day.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: And you would leave town?
GANG MEMBER: Yeah, but I'd still come back around.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb a little north of Cicero, Political Science Professor Evan McKenzie says their town's gang prevention and intervention programs have worked well and are much more effective than banishment.
EVAN McKENZIE, University of Illinois-Chicago: When young people decide to enter a gang lifestyle, is this type of a program the best way to keep them from doing that? And I just think it's completely wrong- headed to take a segment of your society, your own community, the people who live in your town who went to your schools, who walk in your streets and play in your parks, your kids, and then argue that they are the enemy and that they have to be banished from the community.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Cicero does have some successful gang-intervention programs. Seniors Victor Borrego and Oscar Suarez both credit the program at their high school in Cicero with keeping them in school and out of gang activity.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What do you think of the gang ordinance?
OSCAR SUAREZ, Student: It's treating us like prisoners because we can't even stand in front of our own house because we're getting harassed by the cops. They stop and say, "what are you doing, how come you're hanging' out here? Don't you have something to do?" And then they search unfortunate for no reason. And even though you ain't a gang member, they're still going to stop and harass you. They don't care. They want to see you out of Cicero.
VICTOR BORREGO, Student: I don't think it's right. I think... I don't know. A lot of people take it like discrimination towards us, Hispanic people.
|Tackling the town's history|
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: In the past 15 years, Cicero has gone from a white ethnic enclave known for its intolerance -- Martin Luther King, Jr. called Cicero the Selma of the North - to one that is nearly 60 percent Latino. Police estimate that 75 percent of gang members are Latino. Some Latinos worry that the real motivation behind the ordinance is to get not only the gangs out of Cicero, but Latinos as well. Maria Valdes, the senior litigator for the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund.
MARIA VALDES, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund: First the ordinance itself is pretty vague in terms of what is a gang member. And because of the vagueness of the language of the ordinance, it gives broad powers to the police and other people to accuse Latino residents of being a gang member and hauling them into the court that Cicero will be setting up. Secondly, we think that it may actually, you know, lead to a targeting of Latino residents in Cicero.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But Loren-Maltese flatly denies that the ordinance targets Latinos.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE: Here we had 88 shootings where 17 resulted in death. And 13 out of the 17 were Hispanic people. So when Hispanics say, you know, that it's targeted at the Hispanic community, if anything, it's going to protect the Hispanic community more because we have Hispanics killing Hispanics.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: In fact, many of the new Latinos in town say the ordinance does make them feel safer.
MARIA LOZA, Resident: I worry because I have a lot of kids and I want to go out in the street in the day or in the evening, and sometimes I listen shooting the guys...
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: You hear shooting?
MARIA LOZA: Yeah, shooting. So better for us because when the gun is out here, it's more better for the...
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: If the guns are gone?
MARIA LOZA: Yeah. Yeah, I like it.
|An unconstitutional ordinance?|
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Despite the neighborhood support, American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Harvey Grossman, says the ordinance is clearly unconstitutional.
HARVEY GROSSMAN, American Civil Liberties Union: We simply do not allow, under our constitutional form of government, for a household and banishment to be put at issue.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What right is that?
HARVEY GROSSMAN: That's a substantive right of due process, one's right to have a household, to maintain a family unit. Under this ordinance, children would be evicted from their households.
BARRY PECHTER: And my argument to that is, after due process is afforded to the individual, that as in criminal laws, that sometimes people must be removed from the town, people must go to jail. We have the ultimate banishment in effect in this country of the death penalty. To live in a civilized society, sometimes you have to enforce the rights of the law-abiding citizen, rather than the rights of the accused.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Loren-Maltese also disagrees with the A.C.L.U., arguing that the ordinance will strengthen, not harm, the family. She says it will give parents a wake-up call, a call she tries to deliver every chance she gets as when this traffic stop turned up a suspected gang member and his parents hurried to the scene.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE: Well, that should be a wake-up call for you. A lot of parents don't know the signals. That should be a wake-up call.
|Feeling safe again in Cicero|
OFFICER: If other gang members come and see him with that evening upside-down and those signals on his belt, they're going to think he is a gang member and they're going to start shooting.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Loren-Maltese, says the ordinance will not run kids like this out of town, but the town has started impounding the cars of suspected gang members.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE: I think this ordinance and the lawsuit is going to make parents responsible. It's a wake-up call for them, too.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: If a parent winds up not being able to deal with a kid, which certainly happens sometimes, then that kid is going to have to leave town.
BETTY LOREN-MALTESE: Well, it's probably better for the family because probably a sibling would be killed in a drive-by. The seven things went through him.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The town president is so adamant about the new ordinance, she says gates will be constructed at the town's border to prevent those who have been expelled from Cicero from ever returning home.