ENGLEWOOD — After touring one of the most violent communities on the South Side, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said he would still like to use federal resources to wipe out a street gang even though U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) said the gang was no longer operational.
"The Gangster Disciples are either too old to be shooting or have relocated somewhere else, but they are no longer the powerful street gang they once were 30 years ago," said Rush, a former Black Panther. "I respect the senator's position, but we have agreed to disagree that the federal government should swoop up 18,000 residents."
Previously, Rush had slammed Kirk for comments he made suggesting federal resources be used to arrest 18,000 Gangster Disciples. On Thursday, Kirk stood by his statement, saying the gang is a "cancer that won't go away."
"I stand by what I said before about the Gangster Disciples. Despite what Congressman Rush may think, gangs do exist in Chicago. At least that's what police intel tells me," Kirk said. "One thing I do know after talking with residents is that the Gangster Disciples do not have any support in the African-American community."
After touring parts of Englewood and meeting with residents, Kirk said he now realized "that the problems [crime and unemployment] are worse than I thought."
Rush and Kirk did agree that more federal money is needed to combat crime and fund programs that will benefit young people and create employment opportunities.
"We need more job, jobs, jobs. More money means more jobs for the community. That's the answer," added Rush.
One resident, Darryl Smith, a member of the Englewood Political Task Force, agreed with Rush that the Gangster Disciples were a thing of the past.
"Gangs do not exist anymore, especially the Gangster Disciples," Smith said. "You have a bunch of cliques running around here causing problems, but the police has labeled them as a gang."
The Chicago Crime Commission stated in its latest report that the Gangster Disciples were "the largest Chicago street gang with at least 10,000 members and with some estimates running as high as 30,000." It estimates as many as 150,000 gang members exist in the city.
The Gangster Disciples claim large swaths of the South Side, including most of Englewood, Roseland and Pullman, according to the Crime Commission.
The gang also operates where the Cabrini-Green public housing development stood on the Near North Side, as well as parts of Edgewater, Rogers Park and Lakeview, south of Wrigley Field.
But the organization is splintered after a series of convictions took its leaders off the streets. The Chicago Police Department has identified at least 250 Gangster Disciple offshoots, the report said.
As Rush and Kirk toured the neighborhood, a man was shot just blocks from a church where they met residents. The man, who was wounded in the buttocks, was shot near Bass Elementary School, 1140 W. 66th St.
Rush said their tour bus drove to Bass after the shooting.
"We were there. I wanted to make sure no children were hurt," Rush said.
Debra Butler was among the 50 residents that participated in a roundtable discussion.
"What I would like to see is more federal dollars for nonprofit organizations trying to provide activities for the kids. Without money these organizations dry up, and kids end up back on the street," Butler said.
Butler, 50, started a foundation in memory of her son, Jeffrey Butler Jr., who was murdered in Englewood in 2011.
Shantell Strong, 39, and Antonio Brown, 37, lost their 14-year-old son, Antonio Davis, to gun violence June 2012.
"He was a freshman at Leo Catholic High School and a good student," Strong said. "I know we cannot bring him back but my hope is that by starting a discussion we can come together as a community and come up with solutions."
Brown said more jobs were needed to reduce crime in Englewood.
"I cannot say it loud enough. We need more jobs so people can take care of their families and not have to result to crime to put food on the table," he said.
Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), whose ward includes portions of Englewood, also met with both lawmakers.
"A lot of people come here from out of town giving speeches, but I am more interested in the end results," Thomas said. "The residents here have made their point loud and clear about what they need in order to become self-sufficient and that's jobs."
Indeed, the lack of jobs was cited several times by residents as the reason for so much poverty and crime in Englewood.
"Without more jobs this community will continue to breed violence," said Teneal Smith, a 35-year-old Chicago Lawn resident. "Younger leadership brings new ways to solve problems. Rush and Kirk are both over 50 and it's time for new leadership to take over."
But regardless if the Gangster Disciples still exist or not, Deanna Woods, 42, said it won't bring back her niece, Seritha White, who was shot dead March 2006 at her 11th birthday party. In her memory, Woods started the Golden Nuggets Leadership, a mentoring organization for girls.
"She was only 11 years old when bullets came flying through the window and hit her. I could care less if it was a gang member or not," said Woods. "None of that matters now because it won't bring her back home where she belongs."