Pilsen applauds gang arrests

Chicago Sun-Times,  Aug 23, 2000  by FRANK MAIN


It was welcome news to leaders in Pilsen that the first arrests under Chicago's anti-loitering ordinance were made in their neighborhood at 18th and South Throop.

The corner is ground zero in a turf war between the Ambrose and La Raza street gangs, Sylvia Stamatoglou, principal of Perez School, said Tuesday. They intimidate children and parents walking to the school a block away, she said.

Some of her former students have died in gang shootings, Stamatoglou said. She said she attended a heart-breaking funeral for one of them last summer.

"I support this program," said Stamatoglou, adding that she asked police to target several gang hangouts in the neighborhood.

Three gang members were arrested Friday at 1801 S. Throop after allegedly ignoring officers' orders to stay "out of sight or sound" for three hours.

Police Supt. Terry Hillard has made the block one of 86 "hot spots" throughout the city where officers trained in enforcing the ordinance may order suspected gang members and drug dealers to disperse.

Police started enforcing the ordinance Thursday. Between Thursday and Monday night, police issued 14 dispersal orders. In addition to those arrested at 18th and Throop, four men were arrested in the 2800 block of North Leavitt on Monday night. No hot spots have been designated in the Central police district downtown or the Jefferson Park district on the Northwest Side.

Sister R. Cuaya of Holy Trinity Croatian Church at 1838 S. Throop said she hopes the ordinance will protect parishioners on their way to church. Gunfire regularly crackles outside the church, Cuaya said, pointing out that Ezequiel Coria, 38, died in his brother Jose's arms on March 12 at 18th and Throop. He was an innocent victim caught in gang crossfire, police said.

Cuaya said the ordinance may make the block safer, but she does not view it as a cure-all. "They will just move to another block," she said.

Cuaya said the church tries to keep children off the streets through a program named for Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in El Salvador in 1980. Special attention is given to children at risk of gang recruitment.

The City Council passed the anti-loitering ordinance in February after the U.S. Supreme Court gave the city a "road map" to follow in drafting it. The high court found a previous ordinance unconstitutionally vague.

Gang and tactical officers have gone through four-hour training sessions and beat officers will receive training in enforcing the ordinance next month, Hillard said. The department will not release a list of hot spots, which will be reviewed for changes every three months, he said.

"If we decide to publish it, the gang bangers will move to the next block," Hillard said.

The American Civil Liberties Union thinks the department should publicize the hot spots and remains concerned that police will order innocent people off the streets, spokesman Ed Yohnka said.

Police should also issue written dispersal orders, instead of verbal ones, so there's proof a person had been warned before an arrest, Yohnka said. "Without that specificity, there continues to be a problem of discretionary enforcement," he said.