Gangs using social media to spread violence

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A photo illustration from the new Chicago Crime Commission “Gang Book.”

Chicago gangs are still spray-painting their graffiti on alley walls, train cars and viaducts – but they’re also using their smart phones and computers for “cyber-tagging,” according to the Chicago Crime Commission, which released an updated book on the city’s street gangs Thursday.

They’re provoking their rivals with Internet graffiti and using social media to keep in touch with their associates, according to the commission.

“They’re tagging websites with information that is provocative and incites violence,” said Jody Weis, former Chicago Police superintendent and president of the commission.

“They can talk to their whole gang this fast,” Weis said, snapping his fingers. “They can send a message: Everybody meet at this corner at this time. And everybody’s got it.”

Weis estimated two-thirds of school-related violence is spawned on social-media sites.

“You and I get in an argument on Facebook and the next thing you know I’m shooting your sister or you’re shooting my brother,” he said.

Web chatter is a valuable tool for law enforcement officials to monitor for information on gangs, Weis noted.

“A kid may say he’s never carried a gun and on his Facebook page there’s a picture of him holding an AK-47 or a Glock,” he said.

Authorities can obtain search warrants to go deeper into a suspect’s social media site and build a criminal case, Weis said.

Last year, Chicago Police tracked social media sites to combat mobs of young thugs robbing and assaulting people in the downtown area.

And in New York City, authorities recently announced charges against 43 Hood Starz gang members who allegedly bragged about their crimes on Facebook and Twitter.

The gang allegedly spoke in code about shooting a rival Wave Gang member by saying he was “clapped off the surfboard,” police said. Venturing into Wave Gang territory was called “going to the beach,” according to a story in the New York Times.

The Chicago Crime Commission’s 320-page gang book revealed some gang members’ web conversations about shooting at police officers, mourning slain associates and boasting about drug dealing. One gang member even acknowledged police were watching his social media site.

The book also gave examples about authorities conducting investigations based on gang messages on the Internet.

One case led to the arrest of gang members who threatened a witness in a murder trial. In another case, authorities arrested a man who posed with guns on a website and claimed he was on a “murder mission.”

“You can make some great cases,” Weis said.

The gang book estimates there are more than 68,000 members of 73 street gangs in the Chicago area.

Over the past decade, the corporate structure of many large gangs like the Gangster Disciples began to disintegrate as housing projects were demolished and gang members were scattered throughout Chicago and the suburbs, according to the book.

As a result, juveniles – those most likely to use social media – have gained power on the streets, making law enforcement’s monitoring of their Internet messages even more important, authorities say.

“Social media is now used as part of good police work,” said Leo Schmitz, commander of the Englewood District and the former head of gang enforcement for the Chicago Police Department.

“Now gangs not only mark up the streets with graffiti, they use social media to tell where their gang boundaries are and [boast] about their prowess,” he said. “Right now, it’s beautiful for us.”

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