U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon called on Chicago’s business leaders to join the fight against gang violence Wednesday as he unveiled a program to intervene in troubled youths’ lives.
Calling the murders of black teens on the South and West sides “a social justice problem,” Fardon asked downtown executives to “own this problem” during a lunchtime speech to the City Club of Chicago.
“It’s my problem, it’s your problem, it’s our problem,” he said.
The speech was Fardon’s most detailed account since his appointment seven months ago of his philosophy for tackling street crime.
Strong on rhetoric — he showed City Club members photos of 13 black children killed in the city so far this year, said 700 under-18s have been murdered here since 2007 and repeated his mantra that “we cannot arrest our way out of this gang problem” — the speech contained little in the way of new initiatives.
But Fardon said a $500,000 Department of Justice grant is funding “Youth Outreach Forums” in the Englewood and Harrison police districts as of last week. The forums are modeled on successful programs for adult parolees and attempt to connect troubled teens with law enforcement, non-profit and social services and “give them alternatives” to the gang lifestyle, Fardon said.
Fardon also urged the business community to offer their time and money to non-profit groups that take on gang violence.
“These are not war zones — these neighborhoods are not separate and discrete from our city, they are our city,” he said.
“I’m asking that each of you think about how you can own this problem.”
Fardon has been under political pressure from Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do more to tackle street violence, but has consistently refused to make it a higher priority than political corruption, for which his office is better known.
On Wednesday he said the fracturing in recent years of hierarchical gang structures and increased incidence of shootings over social media insults and other petty slights made prosecutors’ job harder.
Tackling the issue was “a generational challenge,” he said.