Recently the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a three-part series (subsequently posted here on PoliceOne) telling the story of a 59-hour period in 2008 when 40 people were shot. According to the Sun-Times, none of the shooters have been convicted of the shootings. The series tells of an epidemic in Chicago, where many people are being shot and very few shooters convicted, because of the “no snitch rule”—that victims and witnesses refuse to come forward. This rule allows criminal gangs to operate in neighborhoods with near impunity because their malevolent presence is either intimidating, or even worse it has altered the value system of the entire neighborhood.
Before I go on, here are a few random to observations for citizens who choose to stay silent in the face of criminality:
1. No criminal can operate openly on a street corner unless the neighborhood tolerates it.
2. No neighborhood is fit for a child to be raised in when criminals are allowed by neighbors to operate freely in that neighborhood.
3. Police are less effective without citizen cooperation.
4. If a community allows criminals to intimidate them into silence, they will eventually will become prisoners of their own fear.
5. With total community backing, the police can send criminals packing.
6. A criminal commits no crimes in a community during the years he is locked away in a prison.
The Police Have NOT Given Up
In spite of incredible obstacles, police have been able to clear approximately 30 percent of the homicides and 18 percent of the less-than-fatal shootings. Civilian reporters might disagree with the word “incredible,” but they have never had to investigate a violent crime in an environment where everyone knows what happened and no one talks — not even the victim.
The Chicago Police Department continue their efforts to make headway in these cases by prosecuting other crimes that shooters commit. At least this way, they can get some jail time. They have also have begun utilizing with success the “Valdez Law,” named after a Chicago Police Officer killed in the line of duty. The law requires stiff penalties for gang members convicted of weapons-related crimes.
The CPD has also been pursuing community policing efforts to establish positive relationships and trust in these neighborhoods.
Three Officers Killed in Three Months
This brazen lawlessness that police officers face daily has now — quite literally — followed them home.
On May 19, Officer Thomas Wortham IV was visiting his father, Thomas Wortham III. Officer Wortham had just returned from his second tour in Iraq, where he served his country as a Lieutenant in the National Guard. After young Thomas finished his visit, he walked out to the brand new motorcycle he had bought for himself after returning from Iraq. Suddenly, men approached from the shadows and one put a gun to Officer Wortham’s head, intent on stealing his motorcycle and possibly committing murder.
The elder Wortham yelled to the man to leave his son alone, and one man ordered the father to go inside and close the door. Officer Wortham decided to use this distraction to draw his weapon and a gun fight ensued. The elder Wortham was also a retired police officer and he armed himself and joined the furious gun battle. One suspect was killed, another seriously wounded. Two others fled the scene but were later captured.
Thomas Wortham III raised a son who wanted to be just like his dad. His proud son followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Chicago police officer. Both Father and son were committed to saving their neighborhood from the violence that threatened everyone in it. In a frantic, dangerous moment they took a stand against that violence which had been visited upon their doorstep. They took that stand together, demonstrating that freedom is not free and not every threat to freedom is foreign.
On July 7, Officer Thor Soderberg of the Chicago Police Department was walking to his car outside the Englewood Police Station when he was suddenly assaulted by a career criminal, Bryant Brewer. Thor resisted the attack, but the suspect was able to wrench Officer Soderberg’s weapon away from him. Brewer shot and killed Thor. Brewer turned shot at an innocent bystander and peppered the façade of the police station with additional shots.
Brewer was confronted by Chicago officers, who showed incredible restraint and professionalism by calling for him to drop the weapon. When Brewer refused, he was shot. After securing Brewer, these officers began life-saving treatment for a man who had just murdered one of their own. Brewer survived and will stand trial for this outrageous attack.
Officer Soderberg was a police trainer committed to law enforcement professionalism. During the summer he was taking part in a youth program designed to curb gang violence. Officer Soderberg’s career performance and the Chicago officers’ apprehension of Brewer prove that honor, courage, and integrity are alive in Chicago.
On July 18, Officer Michael Bailey had arrived home from an overnight shift, and at about 0600, he was cleaning his new car. Bailey had just purchased the vehicle mark his retirement, which was then just one month away. He was in uniform, wearing a windbreaker, when three men approached on foot. Shots were fired and Bailey went down. When Officer Bailey’s son saw, what had happened to his father he armed himself with one of his father’s guns and chased off the killers. Michael Bailey died with his un-holstered gun and bottle of Windex lying by his side. His daughter stood over him crying, “They killed my Daddy.”
Officer Michael Bailey was a man who worked hard, bought a home, raised a family, and served a community. He was a police officer shot down in front of his home one month before retirement—in front of his family. His son did not cower. His son picked up a weapon, fought and drove off his father’s attackers. Courage was apparently a legacy from his father.
On July 27, Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old retired maintenance man who has seen his neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago go “from bad to worse,” walked into a police department and paid $100 for a permit to purchase a handgun. He had battled for years against an ordinance that prevented home owners from possessing a handgun for home protection. He took his highly visible struggle to the United States Supreme Court, which acknowledged his Constitutional right to own a handgun for home protection. His public battle showed that there are citizens who are not afraid to come forward and say, “We are not giving up without a fight.”
There is a quote attributed to Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
It is true that some doing nothing, but the fact is that there are many good men and women doing something. Thor Soderberg, Tom Wortham IV, and Michael Bailey gave their lives, taking a stand against violence. The Officers of the Chicago Police Department hit the streets each day and risk all to make the City of Chicago a nice place to raise a family. The examples of Bailey, Soderberg, and Wortham show they will continue to stand up against the violent criminal.
The citizens of those neighborhoods turning a blind eye to the unchecked violence of ruthless gang bangers must decide if they want their children to thrive in the neighborhoods the community chooses to change for the better, or cower in the neighborhoods the gangs destroy.
One thing is certain. While the citizens of Chicago struggle with these issues, thousands of officers of the Chicago Police Department will strap on their duty belt and pin on their badge each day and hit the means streets of the “Windy City” often beleaguered, ever indomitable.
Stay safe, stay strong, stay positive!