According to the Chicago Police Department, 85 percent of the city’s gun murders in 2015 can be attributed to gang violence — a statistic that suggests a return to the bad old days while obscuring how profoundly the nature of Chicago’s gang problem has changed in the intervening years. While experts say the Latin Kings, a Hispanic gang, continue to run a large and rigidly organized drug-selling operation on Chicago’s West Side, the majority of Chicago residents who call themselves gang members are members of a different type of group. Rather than sophisticated drug-selling organizations, most of the city’s gangs are smaller, younger, less formally structured cliques that typically lay claim to no more than the city block or two where they live. The violence stems not from rivalries between competing enterprises so much as feuds that flare up with acts of disrespect and become entrenched in a cycle of murderous retaliation.
Many close observers of Chicago’s violence believe that, as well-intentioned as it was, the systematic dismantling of gangs like the Disciples led directly to the violence that is devastating the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods in 2016. Taking out the individuals who ran the city’s drug trade, the theory goes, caused a fracturing of the city’s criminal underworld and produced a vast constellation of new entities that are no less violent, and possibly even more menacing, than their vanquished predecessors.
“Every time they hit these large street gangs, they’d focus on the leadership,” said Lance Williams, an associate professor at Northeastern Illinois University, and the co-author of a book about the rise and fall of the Black P Stone Nation, a gang that was eradicated in the 1980s. “It’s like cutting the head off a snake — you leave the body in disarray and everyone begins to scramble for control over these small little areas. And that’s where you get a lot of the violence, because the order is no longer there.” Williams added: “When you lose the leadership, it turns into chaos… What we’re dealing with now is basically the fallout of gang disorganization.”
From here.The proliferation of small gangs has created a complicated and ever-changing patchwork of new alliances and rivalries, and instilled in many young people — predominantly poor, black men — a sense that they are vulnerable at all times to lethal attacks by members of opposing factions.
It is counterintuitive, but whether you are fighting gangs in Chicago, cartels in Mexico, drug dealers in the Philippines, or Chechen rebels in Russia, taking out the leadership is frequently the worst thing that you can do.
Leaders of big organizations rein in the worst of their subordinate's conduct to limit the incentive of authorities to crack down on them, and more equally important, you can only negotiate a surrender with a group that has a leader strong enough to enforce it (as Putin did with the Chechen rebels in Russia). Kill the leaders and you get a hydra in which violence accompanies the succession and the new leaders don't have the same authority to control their subordinates.
Fictional (and non-fictional) portrayals of anti-terrorist and anti-gang campaigns often portray a defeat of the leader as a great victory, and U.S. military doctrine mostly agrees with that approach. But in this case, the Batman TV series prequel "Gotham" is one of the few exceptions that makes this accurate point on a regular basis, posing difficult moral quandaries for our heroes.
When gang members kill gang members, and most of the time both the perpetrators and the victims in Chicago are poor, young black men, it is hard for police to prosecute cases. Neither the offender's gang nor the victim's gang want police involvement.
It is hard for police to feel much enthusiasm if a gang member who may have murdered someone for another gang is murdered himself, at least until innocent bystanders become targets. Also, political pressure to take action against gangs may be modest when the lion's share of the victims are gang members in neighborhoods riddled with poverty that have even less political power than they do money.
Of course, lots of people can be mistaken for targets by a gang enforcer for offenses as innocent has wearing the wrong colors in the wrong neighborhood. And the more gangs there are, the more subtle displays can be appropriated by one gang or another, which makes these kinds of mistakes even easier for gang enforcers to commit.