CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM/AP) Reputed gang members are the latest to come out against top Chicago police and federal prosecutors' so-called "gang summit" strategy to curb gang violence in the nation's third-largest city.
Chicago police Superintendent Jody Weis is facing mounting criticism for holding the meeting last month, even though several police departments across the country have relied on that approach for decades to help reduce crime.
Weis held a meeting with the reputed leaders of several West Side gangs over the weekend. At the meeting, prosecutors warned that gang members could be charged under federal racketeering laws if killings were traced back to gangs with members attending the meeting.
The Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, RICO for short, provides stiffer penalties for acts performed as part of a criminal organization - such as the Mafia.
But gang members say they were tricked into coming to the meeting, and that it amounted to harassment.
The first news conference Wednesday was being convened by Jim Allen, a self-identified Vice Lords Nation member. Allen is also identified as the "almighty minister" of an organization called Tha Movement. The group's logo features several gang signs in the center surrounded by a circle bearing the message: "Stop the violence. One love."
Some Chicago aldermen, as well as police officers posting on the Second City Cop blog, have blasted Weis' meeting as negotiating with "urban terrorists."
"What are we doing negotiating or having a sit-down with urban terrorists who are killing with guns and drugs on the streets?" Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti said. "Gangs are not to be coddled."
The issue resonates deeply in Chicago, where the number of brazen shootings has escalated this year, even though the overall homicide rate is down. Earlier this year, two state lawmakers asked to send in the National Guard to patrol streets. On Wednesday, two cops were shot and injured while serving a warrant.
Weis said the message was simple: "If you should resort to violence, we'll sharpen our focus on you and really really make your lives uncomfortable. You have the ability to influence people within your sphere. You guys are in the position to stop the killing."
Experts say the tactic of meeting was just part of good police work.
"It's become almost standard practice in police departments around the country," said David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "It's simply saying to people that violence is going to get special attention from law enforcement and that a whole lot of violence, especially in places like Chicago, is driven by gangs."
Still, criticism in Chicago has continued.
"I don't think that's the way to go," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said. He suggested going after guns on the streets.
Fioretti, who is mulling a run for mayor of Chicago, said Weis shouldn't have been there with reputed gangsters.
"He brought them to a table and made them equal," Fioretti said.