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Ald. Ray Lopez’s candor about gang violence sets powerful example

By  Mary Mitchell  May 11, 2017, 12:57pm CST

It took a lot of courage for Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) to say what he did after gang warfare broke out in his ward, leaving 11 people shot, three fatally, and two police officers wounded.


Speaking at a rally held after the violent attacks, Lopez said publicly what most of us secretly think: “[I’m] thankful today that no innocent lives were lost,” the first-time alderman told the crowd.


Those words didn’t sit well with some residents.


“They’re not animals. They were people. They mattered and you’re talking about them like s—!” a woman yelled.

“That was my family! They mattered.”


Lopez’s candor about the gang violence has made him a target, prompting the Chicago Police Department to provide 24-hour security for him and his family.

This ugly reaction to Lopez’s honest assessment of the violence shows why it has been difficult to stop the gang violence.

Too many people living in the neighborhoods under siege by violence have accepted gangs — which are mostly driven by illegal drug dealing — as an acceptable way of life.

While the shooting deaths of so many young men in this city — most of them African-American and Hispanic — is tragic, a lot of these deaths are not unexpected.

Too many of the victims and the perpetrators were involved in a lifestyle that could only lead to prison or to the cemetery.

Yes, all lives matter.

But all deaths are not honorable.

When Blair Holt was killed 10 years ago while shielding a classmate from gunfire, it was a tragic but honorable death.

On Wednesday, a street sign was placed outside of Julian High School to honor the slain teen.

When a young person dies trying to kill someone else, or is the victim of a retaliatory shooting, it is indeed a sad waste of human potential.

But as Lopez points out, these victims are not innocents.

“[We] have people who are willing to kill indiscriminately to maintain this culture of gang violence and retaliatory warfare in our communities,” he said.

A lot of aldermen tiptoe around this issue, not only because they are afraid for their own safety but also because they are fearful of offending voters.

Frankly, it is a lot easier to rail against brutal police officers than it is to call out the gangbangers living down the block.

Back in the day, gangbangers had respect for the elderly, the preachers and the politicians.

But gang members are getting bolder.

If you get in their way, they know where you live, what kind of car you drive and where you work.

It is a lot safer to keep one’s head down and stay on Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s back.

Some will argue that, as an alderman, he should have shown compassion for the people who had come to mourn their dead.

But you can’t have a rally against violence and totally ignore that the young men who were killed were responsible for that violence.

Lopez has taken a stand that elected officials could and should have been taken a long time ago.

The next time the City Council honors a police officer or firefighter for courage, they should also honor one of their own.

And in case you missed it, see what the CHicago Tribune Editorial Board Said about ALderman Raymond Lopez
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A Chicago alderman finally speaks truth to gang violence

By The Editorial Board  May 09, 2017, 5:00pm

"We need the people who live here to stand up and help us stop what's going on."

— Chicago Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th

There is gang warfare in Brighton Park and Back of the Yards, two Chicago neighborhoods under siege. Shootings and retaliations in the past week have left several dead and many wounded, including two CPD officers injured when their unmarked van was raked by high-powered rifle fire.

Residents of those Southwest Side communities are scared. The city as a whole is frustrated. And one alderman, Raymond Lopez, is angry enough to demand cooperation from the people who live on those blocks, who see the bad guys, maybe know them and could provide information to prevent a shooting or nab a culprit. If they're encouraged to speak up. If they dare.

"If you are hanging out with people who are recruiting 12- and 13-year-olds to join gangs and sell drugs, then you are part of the problem in this community," Lopez told a Tribune reporter. "We need to stop beating around the bush on this, and we need the people who live here to stand up and help us stop what's going on."

What Lopez said was emotional, honest, brave and, most of all, necessary for the community to hear. Because there is no way for Chicago to push back successfully against the scourge of gang violence without the help of neighbors, acquaintances and family members willing to share what they know.

This kind of intervention is not easy for residents to provide and impossible for authorities to demand. There are too many forces lined up against helping, starting with fear of the gangs and mistrust of the police. Residents need their neighbors' support, their city's support, if they are going to help combat Chicago's plague.

The city's aldermen, some of whom represent violence-racked neighborhoods, have the authority and respect to rally support for the fight against Chicago's plague of gang shootings — if they take ownership. But they haven't. We've said for two years, as the city's gun death and injury toll mounted, that members of the Chicago City Council are failing at their opportunity to lead. We've urged them to insist that parents search their dwellings for guns, to organize neighbors to occupy hot intersections, to demand that constituents cooperate with police, to walk door to door with the cops to tell people that if they don't help, nothing changes.

Sure, aldermen are quick to make demands of the overstretched Chicago Police Department, quick to join in legitimate criticism of CPD failings, quick to call for the scalps of the same superintendents they've begged to promote their relatives and friends.

But own this fight? Speak truth to violence? No, too difficult. Timid aldermen don't provoke the gangs and don't demand much from their constituents.

In contrast, here is Lopez, elected to the council in 2015 to represent the 15th ward, which spans Brighton Park and Back of the Yards. He lobbied City Hall to invest leftover property tax rebate money in anti-violence programs and spoke out against a neighborhood grocery and taco stand he said were gang hangouts. The owners "need to be held just as responsible as the gang members and drug dealers" he told the Tribune in late 2016.

Then came the last week in Lopez's ward: Police investigating a gang-related shooting were wounded by members of La Raza. With that gang suddenly under pressure, rivals apparently stepped up activity. An alleged member of the Satan Disciples was found shot to death in the street before dawn Sunday morning. Hours later, at a makeshift street memorial for the deceased, two men armed with rifles stepped from an alley and began firing, killing siblings Michael and Adriana Williams and wounding eight others.

Attending an outdoor gang memorial at a time of elevated violence isn't safe for law-abiding citizens. Lopez sounded disgusted by the violence: "No innocent lives were lost," he declared.

That's his judgment, not ours. But we can't recall hearing any alderman speak so bluntly about gang violence and community responsibility to stop it. Lopez may be insulting a few people. His candor brings risks. Lopez received death threats and now has a security detail. Yet as he told the Tribune, "I was elected to defend my residents and will continue to do so."

Reducing gang violence won't happen overnight. Lopez won't make progress alone. He needs to be joined by many others willing to act, including aldermen and other civic leaders. All of Chicago needs to be part of the fight — including citizens who live on streets the gangbangers think they own.

Remember: We need the people who live here to stand up and help us stop what's going on.

The next time the City Council honors a police officer or firefighter for courage, they should also honor one of their own.

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