Chicago cops to gangs: Stop the killing — or else

Top aides warn leaders that heat will be intense if violence continues

By Frank Main
The Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO — When Labar "Bro Man" Spann rolled into Garfield Park Conservatory in his wheelchair, he thought he was headed to a routine parole meeting.

Then he saw Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis, other top law enforcement officials and the reputed leaders of several West Side street gangs. The meeting, it turned out, was anything but routine. The lawmen were there to deliver a message.

"They said they would get us if we don't stop the killing," Spann said.

The under-the-public radar gathering -- first reported in Saturday's editions of the Sunday Sun-Times -- was part of the new Chicago Gang Violence Reduction Initiative.

"They did not like the idea at all," Weis said Saturday at an unrelated news conference with Mayor Daley.

"We are focusing on group responsibility," Weis said. "If one of these guys should kill another gang member, we are going to come down on them with all the firepower we have."

Authorities will explore bringing conspiracy cases against gangs that don't heed the warning, Weis said. "I said: 'The word you need to remember is RICO,' " he said, referring to the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. "Go talk to the mafia. They know that word very well."

Officials will move to seize houses and cars of gang members charged under RICO, Weis said. They'll also ramp up parole visits to make their lives miserable.

Weis said some of the gang chiefs were "touched" by the stories of people who spoke about slain family members.

"We had the victims' families telling the message to stop shooting our kids," he said.

The gang leaders were provided with information about jobs, too.

The Aug. 17 meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, was also attended by top officials in the U.S. attorney's office, FBI, Cook County state's attorney's office and other agencies. The focus is on gangs in North Lawndale, but will be expanded if successful, Weis said. The approach has worked in cities such as Boston and Cincinnati, he said.

Responding to questions about the initiative, Daley said: "Ask any parent if you can save one child. It's worth it."

Spann, 31, is a Four Corner Hustlers member who has been a leader of the gang and now uses a wheelchair because he was wounded in a shooting, police say. He's on parole for armed robbery, communicating with a witness and bringing drugs into a penal institution. He said his parole agent strongly suggested he attend the meeting, but didn't say he was going to be meeting with Weis and other officials.

"It was a gimmick," Spann said. "They told us we had to go to a meeting because of our parole."

Spann insisted he's not a gang chief and bristled at the warning by the officials, saying, "They want to lock us up for something we didn't do."

Jettie "Bo Diddley" Williams, a reputed gang leader, also attended the meeting. Williams, a parolee, stood up and said "he will not pay for what other people do," according to Anthony Spann, who took his nephew Labar Spann to the conservatory.

Williams, 50, is listed by the Chicago Crime Commission as a leader of the Traveling Vice Lords. He has been convicted of attempted murder and armed robbery.

"There were five or six leaders of the West Side gangs," Anthony Spann said. "They told them that, 'If one of the Gangster Disciples come up dead by the Four Corner Hustlers, we will come after you.' That don't sound like justice."

Some officials, speaking on the condition they not be identified, wondered if the gang members in the meeting have the power to stop violence. They said young gangsters often don't respect elders such as Williams and Spann anymore.

Older gang members, Anthony Spann said, "don't have total control on the streets no more." He said his nephew isn't active in the gang. But Weis said those invited to the meeting are considered "leaders and not the hangers-on."

Copyright 2010 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

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