Chicago Residents Caught In Gang Crossfire

Thirteen were shot, including a 3-year-old boy, in Chicago's Cornell Square Park Thursday night. Host Scott Simon talks with Willie Cochran, an alderman who represents part of the neighborhood in which the shootings occurred. He is also a former Chicago police officer.

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Chicago's homicide rate is down about 20 percent this year, but that seemed to count for little when 13 people, including a 3-year-old boy named Deonta Howard was shot Thursday night in Cornell Square Park in the city's Back of the Yards neighborhood. The little boy's been in critical condition. According to reports, gunmen fired from a gray sedan, but as of this morning, no one is in custody in the crime.

Willie B. Cochran is alderman of the 20th Ward and represents part of the neighborhood. He's also a former Chicago police officer. Alderman Cochran, thanks for being with us.

ALDERMAN WILLIE B. COCHRAN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: I know you keep up with police sources. Were some of the people who were shot, the victims members of a gang, as well as the assumed perpetrators?

COCHRAN: We assume that, yes.

SIMON: Do you know which gang?

COCHRAN: Well, there are several gangs in the area. We talk about GDs, we talk about BDs.

SIMON: GDs and the Gangsters Disciples.

COCHRAN: Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples. We have a number of Latin gangs in the area. It's a mixed community, Latino and blacks, but this is all attributed to black on black crime.

SIMON: Alderman, you must know, as former police officer and an alderman, that gang members tend not to go to the police and say I want justice, but does that mean you expect some kind of reprisal?

COCHRAN: Well, we deal with this all the time and we'll continue to deal with this, and yes, we expect to have some kind of retaliation. That is commonplace. But we are doing everything we can to apprehend the offender of this crime because the faster we apprehend this individual, the safer we are as a society.

SIMON: I know you and others have been working hard, there are more officers on the street, more programs in the neighborhood. I think nobody would think there's an easy answer, but what do you see as one or two practical steps that the city, the government or people in the Back of the Yards and other neighborhoods might take in the next few days?

COCHRAN: Well, you know, let me put it like this. When we start talking about crime and we start talking about solutions, the data that we have does not give us practical, consistent, effective solutions that work. We'll do it for medical reasons, we'll take statistics, we'll run experiments, but the crime and violence in our neighborhoods, we haven't got to that point yet.

And so we know that unemployment, lack of education, social conditions and housing, all of those things play a major role, but what are the psychological changes that takes place in a child from zero to five and five to twelve and from thirteen and above that would make them take actions like this. Can we utilize psychological examinations to turn that child around from going through and getting to the point where they would go into a park and execute or try and execute people like this?

We have a lot of work to do. There's a lot of research out there and there's a lot of policy changes that contribute to and can be added to, to address some of these issues out here.

SIMON: I know I asked you for a couple practical steps that can be taken and it sounds like you're telling people we have to be in this for the long haul.

COCHRAN: Of course we do. There are some short-term solutions. Lock the bad guy up. I'm a law enforcement officer. I believe that when you are off to the left and you can't come back, and you do things like this, we need to take swift and decisive actions on you. Others, there are long-term programs and there are mid-range programs for those that can be helped at a certain age.

But our babies are the long-term investment. The mid-range are those who want to get an education and contribute. The short term is to put the bad guy away.

SIMON: Alderman Willie Cochran of Chicago's 20th Ward. Thanks so much for being with us.

COCHRAN: Thank you for having me.


SIMON: You're listening to NPR News.

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