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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2049 GMT (0449 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT