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Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 1999 /2 Mar-Cheshvan 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Even Capone would
be disgusted --
AL CAPONE, were he alive, most likely would be sickened by what is going on in Chicago today -- and probably would ask how we ever became so immoral.

Frank Nitti would be ashamed of us -- unable to understand how a city could sink to this level.

Eliot Ness? He would be the most disgusted of all. If he and the Untouchables could accomplish what they accomplished--if they could have rid Chicago of Capone and Nitti and the murderous gangsters of that era -- then what in the name of everything decent is wrong with us today? What Ness endeavored was difficult. This should be much easier.

Yet we seemingly don't know what to do.

Capone and Nitti and their gangs may have been completely without redeeming qualities -- but they didn't go out onto the streets of Chicago to shoot children. They didn't slaughter little boys and girls. Even they were better than that.

Which is why Chicago in the days of Capone was a safer and more humane place than Chicago right now.

Do you scoff at that? Do you say it is an exaggeration?


The only way you can say that is if you are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood where your money buys you a layer of security. But if you have any doubts -- if you deny that the gangs on Chicago's streets today are much more dangerous and out of control than the gangs of Capone's and Nitti's day--then make your case to the families of these children:

- Five-year-old Blake Born, who was walking home from kindergarten with an aunt last week when he was shot in the right leg near his school. "Gangs were shooting it out," said Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas. And one of their bullets hit a 5-year-old child.

- Eight-year-old Paulette Peake, who was shot to death while she was buying candy on the South Side. Cook County prosecutors said that one gang member was shooting at another. Paulette--who had made her elementary school honor roll two years in a row--turned around when she heard the commotion. A bullet hit her in the chest. Chicago Police Sgt. Mike Kummethn said that the gunshots in the girl's neighborhood were "on a daily basis."

- Five-year-old Jose Patino, who was out riding his bicycle when, apparently caught in the crossfire of rival gangs, he was shot in the back. Police said that a bullet from one of the gang members' guns passed through the child's lower back and grazed his bladder before it came out the front of his stomach. His father picked the screaming little boy off the street; the child survived, scarred and torn up and wary.

- Eleven-year-old Jeanette Crump, who was killed as she played outside her house. Police said that gang members were firing at each other; Jeanette ran, but her father told reporters that when he caught up with her, "She was patting her chest, laying down against the wall, saying, `Daddy, Daddy.' " She died at Sacred Heart Hospital from a gunshot wound to her chest.

- Three-year-old German Morales, who was playing outside his apartment with his 11-year-old sister when, according to police, gang members flashed signs at each other and started firing. His mother ran to the fallen child: "The only thing he said to me was, `Ma,' and he took his last breath."

- Seven-year-old Ismael Guzman Jr., who was standing in his front yard and holding his grandmother's hand when, prosecutors said, members of two gangs began shooting. One of their bullets hit the child in the head. He died in Cook County Hospital.

Capone's men never did anything on this level; Nitti's gangsters made certain that they hurt other gangsters, not children. The gang members of the Capone era might not have cared about much--but they were never this low.

And the question is: Why do we allow this to continue? Capone, Nitti and their men relied on paying people off, setting up intricate organizations, arranging to be protected. Sometimes the public was indifferent to their criminality. Yet those gangs eventually fell.

But the gangs that now are killing Chicago's children, while far less sophisticated or organized, seem to grow ever more brazen. So where is the outrage? What do we tell the fearful children who sense that they are on their own?

What excuse do we have to allow this to continue for even one more day? Capone and Nitti and Eliot Ness were long ago; this is right now, and it is unacceptable, and what are we -- City Hall, the police, the adult citizens of Chicago -- supposed to tell the children when they ask why we can't help them?

That we aren't strong enough?

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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