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Chicago Gangs Pressure Young Boys

Chicago Defender, News Feature, Kathy Chaney Posted: Jul 11, 2008

Editors note: *Mothers name changed and childrens name withheld to protect privacy.

One day he's getting beat up. The next day he's getting free snacks and a few dollars. Then he's getting his bike taken. This is all within a one-week span.

It's a repeated ruse by a few members of a gang to make a 10-year-old boy one of their own.

Before the school year ended last month for the summer break, Jackie Stewart's* greatest concern was meeting her sons each day after school to help them dodge shoot-outs between rival gangs as they made their way to their Englewood home a few blocks away.

But now, instead of worrying about gunfire gripping her children, Stewart is faced with constant run-ins with a gang that is determined to recruit her son who stands nearly four feet tall.

Last week, Stewart and her sonsages 10 and 7were met with a note stuck to their apartment door.
"It said, 'Stay out of our business.' The only thing that could mean is for me to let my son go," she said at a recent community forum.

Stewart snatched the message down before her sons got a chance to see it. A few hours after she found the note, someone started knocking on her windows.

The 50-year-old mother has lived in Englewood for the last seven years and hadn't had a problem with gangs in the area until her son became "ripe" for gang recruitment.

He is at a tender age and is learning at a slower pace than the kids his age. The gangs want kids like that, she said.

"Every time they see him, they ask him if he wants some money. I tell him not to accept the money. They try to buy him candy and little snacks. They would try to send him to the store so he could buy them some stuff, then they would give him about three or four dollars for doing it," Stewart said.
"It starts with little things like that, and before you know it, it will escalate to bigger things. Next, they will try to have him hold their drugs for them or even a pistol," she said.

Her 10 year old cuts grass and picks up trash on the block to earn money, but the gangs see him and take his money. The boy is terrified, and his younger brother runs home to tell the mother. The brothers are now scared to play outside, and Stewart has a hard time sleeping at night.

"One day I took them out on the block so they could ride their bike. As soon as they got to the corner, about a half block from where we live, one of the gang members was waiting on him. I went down there, and he said, 'Old lady, you ain't gonna do nothing about it. We want him, and we will get him. You might as well let us have him,'" Stewart said.

She told the gangbangers, whom she said looked about 15 years old, that the gangs could not have her son.

The mother said the gang is getting bolder each day, and she's at her wits end. She, along with her son, often feel they have no choice but to surrender to the gang's pressure.

"I'm just this short from letting him get into the gang. Help me. I'm trying to save my kids!" Stewart said through a crying and trembling voice, illustrating with her fingers that she was about an inch away from caving in to the gang's demands.

Stewart said she has gone to the police but has received minimal help. She then told her older sons about it, but she doesn't want the situation handled the way they want to handle it.

The mother of seven, with the two younger ones living with her, said she lost her two older boys to gang life. They are now in their 30s.

"I don't want to lose my younger boys to gangs, and their brothers don't want that for them either," Stewart said.

Police said Stewart and other parents who are experiencing gang recruitment must report the incidents every time.

The summer is high recruitment time for gangs. Children are getting out for summer vacation, leaving them accessible to gangbangers. They are often outside playing with their friends and don't have the school to run into if they are approached, police said.

If a child is getting beaten, police say parents must file an assault or battery report. If they are getting threatened, police must be called. For the parents who are fearful that police attention at their home will escalate gang problems for them, they should come directly to the police station, said a Chicago police officer in the Englewood District who prefers his name be withheld. The officer plans to reach out personally to the mother. Another way to band together is for the community to organize block clubs and take their neighborhoods back, the police officer said.

"They cannot be afraid to take the streets back. But they have to reach out. They should come to the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategies office so we could help them craft a plan," he said.

Tio Hardiman of CeaseFire, an anti-violence organization, said Stewart's son is experiencing a classic recruitment process.

"They entice them with what seems to be harmless stuffthe candy and little extra money. Then the young boy ends up being a send-off man. He will be holding guns and dope and develop an arrest record. It's crazy," said Hardiman, the director of gang mediation services for the organization.

Hardiman said CeaseFire will work with Stewart and go into the community to talk directly to the gang. Stewart said she just wants her and her sons to be left alone. She wants them to be able to go outside and play without being harassed.

"I live this everyday. I just want it to stop. The gangs can't have my sons," she said.

Kathy Chaney can be reached via e-mail at kchaney@chicagodefender.com.

Related Articles:

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Evictions, Car Seizures Part of L.A. Gang Crackdown

Compton Braves Uptick in Violence, Residents Speak Out

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