Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Treat Chicago gangs as terrorists

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
April 24, 2013 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
LZ Granderson says if Americans saw gang violence as the terror it is, they would rally to help Chicago fight it
LZ Granderson says if Americans saw gang violence as the terror it is, they would rally to help Chicago fight it
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: First quarter of 2013 saw 70 murders in Chicago
  • He asks why aren't gangs treated like terrorists? They do damage like terrorists in Boston
  • He says children are unsafe, in terror because they must cross gang territory for school
  • Granderson: Where is the urgency to fight such violence?

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- You know things in Chicago are bad when 70 murders in the first quarter can be seen as a good thing. But context is everything: Last year at this time there had been more than 120 murders, so I guess we should thank God for small favors.

It seems inconceivable that the city President Barack Obama calls home is also the city where his family may be least safe. Just this Monday a 15-year-old boy was found shot dead in a backyard only four blocks from the president's house.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

What's responsible for the bloodshed? Gang violence, as usual. Police estimate that of the 532 murders in 2012 -- nearly 1.5 a day -- about 80 percent were gang related. And yet, despite that rather staggering statistic, the national outcry is muted at best -- nothing, to say the least, like the kind we saw last week in Boston. What is it about the word "gang" that brings out the apathy in us? Would we view Chicago differently if we called the perpetrators something else?

In Chicago, nurses dodge bullets to provide care

I'm not saying the people of Boston do not deserve our sympathy; they do. Nor am I suggesting the apprehension of Boston terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was not essential. But how do we explain our habit of greeting terrorists with 24-hour news coverage and relentless wrath while overlooking the gangs that terrorize our streets daily -- as if terrorism were only an enemy state and not a concept.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The murder numbers may be slightly better in Chicago, but they do not fully communicate the city's state of siege. In February CNN reported that some children living in gang-ridden parts of the city carry guns because, to them, getting caught and serving time for possession of a gun is better than getting caught without one and dying.

Last month, city officials announced the closure of 54 "under-resourced" schools, which will force some kids to walk across warring gang territory to get to school. For example, in the seven blocks between George Manierre Elementary and Jenner Elementary there are three gangs fighting over territory: Black P Stones, Conservative Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples.

Kids and guns: 'These are not isolated tragedies'

If it all sounds scary, it's only because it is.

And if the name attached to all of this violence were al-Qaeda instead of Gangster Disciples; or if instead of "gang violence" the bloodshed were called "terrorism;" or if instead of calling the people spreading fear and mayhem gangs we were to call them what they really are -- terrorists -- the nation would demand more be done.

After all, if children are afraid to walk to school because they might get killed or if residents are afraid to identify perpetrators for fear of retaliation, I think it's safe to say they are being terrorized.

National politics cloud teen's funeral
Gang members face off on the court
Emanuel: We have a gang problem
Father of slain Chicago teen speaks out

What seems like a linguistic shell game is really an exercise in empathy. The thought of elementary school kids walking across areas of a city controlled by three terrorist groups becomes unacceptable to everyone, not just their parents. Hearing that 25 Chicagoans were shot in one weekend becomes a threat to national security, and not just the mayor's problem.

The story of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was caught in the crossfire of a turf war days after performing during the presidential inauguration, was of interest briefly but her story has since faded. She, too, died just a few blocks from the Obama's home. Jonylah Watkins, a 6-month-old girl, was shot in March while sitting on the lap of her father, Jonathan, the intended target and a gang member.

Opinion: Chicago's violence took my dad, friends

Last week, millions watched as an entire city was shut down to look for one guy. Every major news station was covering the pursuit of one guy. We all know the face and relatives of this one guy. And it's all because he is an alleged terrorist. But more American were murdered in the south and west sides of Chicago than there were U.S. servicemen killed in Afghanistan last year, and yet for some reason we don't view those neighborhoods as terrorized.

Last week, Abdella Ahmad Tounisi was arrested at O'Hare Airport because the FBI believed he was on his way to Syria to join a terrorist organization. Tounisi reportedly thought he was in contact with a recruiter for a jihadist militant group, but it was actually an FBI agent. I would love to see the FBI's anti-terrorism resources used in that matter to stop would-be gang members from flooding the streets of the country's third-largest city. Maybe Cornelius German, the boy found dead down the street from Obama's house, would still be alive.

Maybe Pendleton, who was playing in a park with her friends, would still be alive. Maybe Watkins, who was sitting on her father's lap, would have had a chance to live.

Their deaths wouldn't be considered "Chicago's problem" if authorities suspected terrorists were involved. But it's "gang-related," so...

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT