‘Hit Back Harder’ Is Killing Chicago’s Kids

Trump spent the holiday weekend tweeting about the violence engulfing Chicago—but the tit-for-tat vengeance driving the city’s gangs is not so foreign to the president.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Before he tweeted about CNN and North Korea, President Trump began the long Fourth of July weekend by tweeting about Chicago.

“Crime and killings in Chicago have reached such epidemic proportions that I am sending in Federal help. 1714 shootings in Chicago this year!” he tweeted at 7 a.m. on Friday.

Trump was not the first newly elected president to announce his intent to save Chicago from murder and mayhem. That honor goes to Herbert Hoover, who was just 16 days in office in 1929 when he received a desperate delegation from the city that was then all but ruled by Al Capone.

“They gave chapter and verse for their statement that Chicago was in the hands of the gangsters, that the police and magistrates were completely under their control, that the governor of the state was futile, that the Federal government was the only force by which the city’s ability to govern itself could be restored,” Hoover wrote in his memoirs. “At once, I directed that all the Federal agencies concentrate upon Mr. Capone and his allies.”

As recounted in the movie The Untouchables and the TV series of the same name, Eliot Ness and his fellow feds managed to put Capone in prison for income tax evasion. But the gangster tradition persisted and the largely Italian and Irish gangs were replaced by African-American and Hispanic mega-gangs that numbered in the thousands and were as highly organized and structured as any Mafia crime family.

In the late 1990s, the feds again came to the rescue, now with anti-racketeering statutes that had not been on the books in the Capone era and carried far stiffer penalties than tax evasions. Gang kingpins such as Larry Hoover of the Gangster Disciples and Jeff Fort of the Black P Stone Nation went away for life.

But with the supreme leaders gone, the once mighty organizations splintered into more than 300 factions, or “sets.” The city now faced as many as 130,000 young gun-slinging “shorties” governed by only their own impulses.

Where there had once been Al Capone, there was now a shorty such as L’A Capone, given name Leonard Anderson. He was a reputed member of the 600 faction as well as an up-and-coming rapper. He was killed in 2013, having just turned 17, half of his chocolate frosted birthday cake still on the kitchen table at home.

“Caught Lil LA from 600 We done shot him in his face!” a Young Money member tweeted afterward.

Other tweets and Facebook postings indicated that Capone was gunned down in revenge for killing of 14-year-old Fathead, given name Antonio Davis, of the 051 Young Money faction. The long-standing feud between the two sets had claimed at least nine young lives by 2015.

Such running disputes have accounted for much of the violence that caused Chicago to become known as Chiraq. The continued killing is often chronicled and propelled by back and forth boasts and disses on social media.

“Maaan most of our killings is because of what we post on Facebook and Twitter,” a veteran of the Chiraq gang world who goes by Hotboy Kutthroat told The Daily Beast in a direct message over the weekend. “We take that shit serious.”

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As explained by Kutthroat and numerous other gang members, as well as Chicago cops—who have called the phenomenon cyberbanging—the principle at work should be familiar to anybody who followed the news from Washington last week. It is essentially the same principle cited by deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in explaining President Trump’s assault by tweet on Mika Brzezinski and her MSNBC co-host, Joe Scarborough.

“When the president gets hit, he’s going to hit back harder,” she said.

On hearing the president’s notion of tit-for-tat and then some, Kutthroat told The Daily Beast, “Yeah I feel that, but here it’s just shoot to kill lol.”

Kutthroat will tell you that there is a seemingly unending supply of guns. The Chicago police recovered 8,300 in 2016—up 20 percent from the previous year and more than three times those recovered by cops in much larger New York City—but there are always more guns flowing in and local laws for illegal firearm possession remain too lax. The Cook County courts too often just shrug.

“CPD officers are doing their jobs by recovering illegal guns and putting offenders in jail,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters. “These people oftentimes get out far too soon to commit the same violent crimes over and over.”

Homicides continued at a record level. Trump took notice with a tweet at the end of January of this year. He made an early presidential pledge:

“If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!”

Back in November there had been talk of establishing a federal task force to address the violence. The city has in the meantime established “Intelligence Centers” in the two highest crime districts, teaming cops with civilian analysts from the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The centers use information gleaned from the street and surveillance video as well as “shot spotter” technology that can pinpoint the location of gunfire and software designed to predict likely locales and perpetrators of future crimes.

In one district, murder declined by 30 percent and shootings fell by 33 percent. The other district saw an 18 percent drop in murder and 35 percent fewer shootings.

Cops across Chicago began using the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NBIN) to trace shell casings and link guns to other crimes. They submitted more than 11,000 bullets and shell casings that resulted in some 1,500 “hits” tying guns to multiple shootings. One 9 mm pistol was linked to 28 shootings, several of them fatal.

Citywide, the number of shootings declined from 1,935 as of June of last year to 1,703 this year. But the number of homicides was roughly the same, 320 as of this June as opposed to 322 in June of 2016.

“Every time we have one less person shot, that’s a win for us,” a Chicago Police organized crime chief Anthony Riccio said last week. “What we can’t control is the lethality.”

The magnitude of the gunfire, which Trump curiously raised marginally by 11 to 1,714 in his tweet, prompted his vow on Friday to declare he was now indeed sending in the feds.

ATF dispatched 20 additional agents to join 43 already assigned there. The new agents join a similar number of Chicago cops and state troopers in forming a Gun Strike Force targeting repeat violent offenders with an eye toward prosecuting them federally, which can mean heavy time. A spokesman for the Chicago cops praised the sometimes bashed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for being “instrumental in getting this moving along.”

The new strike force was officially unveiled at a press conference on Friday, at the start of the Fourth of July weekend. The team was to be augmented by a NBIN mobile ballistics van that would respond to crime scenes, enabling cops to trace shell casings and bullets within a couple of hours, rather than waiting days.

A reporter asked the head of the strike force, Tim Jones of ATF, if the 20 additional agents were enough.

“Me personally, we could probably use 500 more agents. We just don’t have [them],” he replied.

Jones then spoke much as Eliot Ness had decades ago, when he had just 11 federal agents to fulfill President Hoover’s mandate to “jail Al Capone!”

“We are a small agency, have a small footprint but we like to cast a bigger shadow through our attitude and effort,” Jones now said.

The problem is there is not just one Capone; there are literally thousands. Even with the strike force and the mobile ballistics lab and the an additional 1,000 Chicago cops fielded for the Fourth of July weekend, 60 people were shot, eight fatally, as of early Sunday evening. Twelve were shot on Sunday within the space of four hours, three of them on the same stretch of pavement where two people were killed on Friday.

Among those shot on Saturday was Duriel Lyke, the 28-year-old son of a Cook County judge. The son was hit in the head by a bullet apparently meant for somebody else as he left a funeral for a friend who had been shot to death on June 16. The father, Judge John Lyke, told a reporter from the Chicago Tribune that the scenario was all too familiar.

“I hear cases similar to my son’s on a daily basis,” the elder Lyke was quoted saying.

In the meantime, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked at a press briefing if the carnage in Chicago was at least partly a “gun control problem” that indicates a need for new laws.

“I think that the problem there, pretty clearly, it’s a crime problem,” Sanders replied. “I think that crime is probably driven more by morality than anything else.'”

She was partly right if you speak to Kutthroat and others who know what drives the violence in Chicago. But she could not possibly have been suggesting that the moral failure keeping the guns blazing is the very notion of revenge that guides the president.

In Chiraq, that translates to answer bullets with more bullets.

Trump’s Chicago tweet had been preceded by his attack on “Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe.” He followed it with attacks on what he calls fake news and a video of him body slamming a figure representing CNN.

A reminder that this was not just some rich boy version of a cyberbanger came when Trump tweeted a response to the news that North Korea may have test fired a ballistic missile.

“North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” he tweeted late Sunday night. “Hard to believe that South Korea…and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all.”

Whatever happens in North Korea, the shooting in Chicago will almost certainly continue as guns remain readily available and the little Capones ascribe to the notion shared by our president that the only way to respond to somebody hitting you is to hit them back harder.

A tweet to Kutthroat the other day served as a reminder that along with a desire for revenge, the cyberbangers of Chiraq also share with our president a particular need.

“Attention is the new gold,” Kuttthroat’s pal declared.