25th Ward fights gangs in wake of local shootings
July 4, 2009

Alderman Danny Solis and residents of the 25th Ward have been marching to bring awareness to Pilsen and Heart of Chicago concerning the problems of youth violence. (Photo by Troy T Heinzeroth)

By Patrick Butler | July 2009

Francisco Lassio, the city services director in Alderman Danny Solis’ 25th Ward office, organized antigang marches on May 4 and May 29 in the wake of several shooting incidents in the Heart of Chicago/Pilsen area. Those marches will be the last for a while, however.

“We’re holding off on the marches,” Lassio said. “People were interested, but we didn’t get the turnout we had hoped for because so many are afraid to come forward” in the area, where Lassio estimates “seven or eight gangs are fighting for control, not so much for drugs but for turf.”

The largest of those gangs, Satan’s Disciples, probably has 1,500 active and “retired” members divided into three branches, one of which congregates around 23rd Street and Oakley Avenue, practically in front of the ward office, Lassio said.

His next move will be to hold an “outreach fair,” probably at Harrison Park, 1824 S. Wood St., where the two marches ended with rallies urging the public to share with police any information they may have on gang activity. “We have people who call our office, but unless they’re willing to tell us where the gang-bangers are at, we have nothing to pass on to the police,” he said.

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Lassio believes an outreach fair at Harrison Park would at least let parents and their teens know there are safe alternatives to gang activity such as boxing, basketball, baseball, and swimming at the park.

He admits that was not always the case.

“We did have issues in the past with gang members hanging out in the park, but the park directors we have there now are able to control that,” Lassio said. “We want people to know there are programs there. A lot of people don’t know that. They don’t have to go to the gangs.”

There have been several shootings in the area in recent months. One was a shooting early this year at 19th Street and Blue Island Avenue that left two men wounded, he said. “I know for a fact [the shooters] were from the suburbs,” Lassio said. “Apparently they came looking for someone from a rival gang here.”

Another was a homicide at 19th and Loomis Street. “The victim belonged to a local gang,” he said. Still another involved shots fired at a school bus at Cermak Road and Leavitt Street, with no injuries reported.

Last Nov. 16, Arthur Tellez, 19, of south Oakley Avenue, was fatally shot in the stomach on the 2200 block of 23rd Place. A month later, a rookie Chicago police officer was shot in the shoulder while looking for shell casings near 18th Street and Washtenaw Avenue, where a 38-year-old man had been shot in the face.

Lassio, a graduate of Cristo Rey High School in Pilsen who majored in criminal justice at Loyola University, estimates there are between 10,000 and 15,000 gang members citywide, some of them multi-generational.

“You’ve got people with fathers, mothers, and uncles in the same gang,” he said. Lassio noted he not only tries to steer at-risk youth to alternatives to gang life, but works with parents of gang members who often did not know about their children’s affiliations until it was too late.

“If your son or daughter starts to cut his or her hair” in an unusual style “and wear the same colors – usually a combination of black and some other color – every day, he or she is in a gang,” Lassio said. “If they’ve drawn strange symbols on everything they can get their hands on, or if they’re coming home high, or their grades start falling, chances are they’re in a gang.”

Gangs not only have a lot more female members these days, but embraced diversity a long time ago. “They’re not racist,” Lassio said. “The historically Hispanic gangs,” like the Latin Kings and Satan’s Disciples, “now have caucasian and black members.”

Parents with questions or concerns can call Lassio at the ward office at (773) 523-4100.

2 Responses »

  1. Gangs seem to have always been a fixture in Pilsen. I recently was reading a first hand account from someone who started a Polish street gang in the area of 19th and Paulina during the 1920s. They were called the 19th Streeters. Even the name is all about territory and turf. Humans are territorial animals.We see that played out everyday in multiple arenas all across the globe. It is played out by the street gangs in our inner-cities as well.

    I applaud the members of the community who are standing up and trying to come up with answers to the problem. I applaud the alderman as well. There are no easy answers to tough problems.

    I knew and greatly respected the alderman way back in the day (mid 70s) when he was involved with trying to better the lives of the youth in the community This was before I dropped of the ledge and became a very violent street gang member and leader. It is easy to get swallowed into the lifestyle, especially when one feels as if his/her options are limited and there is no hope.

    Kids need hope.

    We need not only programs but we need dedicated people who know how to connect with the youth. We also need parents who nurture and guide their children through the hazardous mazes of life.

    I moved to Utah as a fugitive from justice in 1979. I carved out a new and better life here in Utah, and I eventually turned myself in to the authorities.

    I now have a Masters in Social Work.

    Sadly, I grew up with many who did not have the same positive occurrences in their lives as I have been blessed with. I have had far too many acquaintances killed from street gang violence or spiritually maimed by long prison sentences.

    Prison plays a great role in the life-long indoctrination into street gangs. It is understandable how and why that happens.

    The comment about multi-generational gang members is true, sad, and confusing. How can a child have a chance when their parents never evolved past their anti-social self-identification as gang bangers? Most of us grow beyond our self-identity we embraced as a teen,, but some never get past the sense of pride and machismo driven by different perceptions of respect.

    At least from how we may perceive it.

    The granddad gangster sees it differently. It is vital to remember and understand the thought process in order to make sense of it and to create genuine connections with the gang members.

    Everyone needs a sense of belonging. Everyone needs a “tribe” to belong to and to reciprocate the benefits of membership in the “tribe.” There is a bonding that occurs on a the most basic level of survival in prison. For one with a deeply embedded sense of loyalty, it is a family that they belong to and not a street gang. How many of us would give up there family?

    One thing I learned as a gerontologist is that when working with clients with alzheimers, one must place themselves in their mind set or else much will not make sense. It creates avenues where it is possible to understand the actions and thought patterns of the client. This principle be applied to all populations? Basically, it is the adage of walking a mile in someone’s shoes.

    When we can better understand the “why” and “how” then we can have hope for answers for the tough questions such as “What types of interventions are there in this tough situation?” or ” How do we end the cycle of the multi-generational transmissions of the life-style of gang banging?”

    I love my life in the relative safety of Utah. The outdoor opportunities here are incredible.I have a deep, spiritual connection with the desert here.My life was saved by fleeing here. I was basically on death row in Pilsen. It was a matter of short time before I would have been a forgotten statistic.

    I have been blessed.

    But if the alderman, or anyone else, could miraculously provide me a temporary free small space in Pilsen to work out of, and to sleep in (on a cot) I would move back there to add my experiences and energies with the others who are moving towards trying to connect with the new generation of street gang members.

    I would do it for free. I think I can help the community members change the life of at least one youth.

    I would like to be part of that village.


  2. I need a proof reader. Sorry for all the typos. My e-mail is pete @indigenous-xicano.org

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