Dear Parents and Educators:
I am pleased to present you with the most recent edition of the state’s attorney’s gang awareness and prevention book. My office has been publishing these books since the early 1990s to educate citizens about the violent gangs that operate here in Will County. The Chicago Tribune once dubbed it “the primary primer on gangs.” It has always been my hope that these books will give readers an understanding of how street gangs function while encouraging them to take the necessary steps to protect their children and help make their neighborhoods safer.
I have found time and time again that the most effective way to deal with social problems is at the grassroots level. We are in a war against gangs and drugs, and I truly believe we will eradicate gangs in Will County by continuing a course of aggressive intervention and prosecution. However, law enforcement cannot succeed in a vacuum. This battle requires that we have a strong sense of family, neighborhood and community. Everyone must join the fight to stop this problem. Parents, teachers, business leaders and government officials must learn the warning signs so they can help stop gang infiltration in its tracks.
The only way to ensure gangs are eradicated is to pull together as a community to foster a strong and genuine sense of self-esteem in our young people. I can tell you without hesitation that a young person whose self esteem is encouraged by positive role models will not join a gang or use illegal drugs. We must recognize, however, that our children are vulnerable to negative influences because they do not have the maturity, education and life experiences necessary to navigate in today’s complex society.
In 1993, I began a grassroots organization called C.E.A.S.E.-F.I.R.E (Character Education Activates Self Esteem – Fostering Individuals Respecting Each Other) to raise funds to implement Character Education in our schools, beginning at age 5. We have continued this effort with the Character Counts initiative. Every dollar we spend on prevention saves us ten to twenty dollars in remedial costs.
When I first took office in December of 1992, street gangs were terrorizing many sections of Will County. Gangs had a stranglehold on many local neighborhoods. Gang shootings had reached unprecedented levels, and citizens were afraid to cooperate with police out of fear of retaliation.
In 1993 I established our first gang unit, and my office worked with local police to target the gang leaders responsible for the violence that was destroying so many lives and wreaking havoc on our neighborhoods. In that first unprecedented gang sweep, we took 47 high-level gang members off our streets. Gang shootings in Joliet alone the following year dropped from a record high of 296 to 180. This aggressive and innovative interdiction, which eliminated all gang shootings for three full months, was featured on Peter Jennings’ World News Tonight.
In our continuing assault on gang violence, the State’s Attorney’s Office and local police joined forces with federal authorities on a number of gang sweeps over the years. In one sweep during the late 1990s, we targeted the Latin Kings; in another, we hit the Gangster Disciples. Both efforts proved successful, disrupting gang activity by taking leaders off the streets with extended federal sentences.
Because of our aggressive actions, gang shootings in recent years have never reached the unprecedented levels of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Still, we continue to see periodic spikes in violence as gang leaders cycle in and out of prison and young members rise into leadership positions.
Law enforcement in Will County is committed to dealing aggressively with gangs. But we cannot fight alone. The entire community has a stake in this battle. We cannot become complacent. We must remain vigilant. We must not surrender any ground in our neighborhoods to street gangs.
We as parents must make it our business to know what our teen-agers are doing and with whom they are associating. Teachers and principals must be vigilant when students flash gang signs or draw gang symbols in our schools. Community leaders must move quickly to eliminate gang graffiti when it appears on private and public property.
I have prepared this book as a tool to instruct our community on the evils of gangs, and most importantly, on how to deal with them. I will continue to make myself and members of my Gang Prosecution Unit available for gang awareness presentations throughout the county. It is my goal to make Will County as safe for our children today as it was during my childhood.
James W. Glasgow
Will County State’s Attorney