Contrary to the views of Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, cracking down wholesale on the worst of gangs and utilization of Illinois’ new RICO law is not an “an excellent part of the solution” to a low-crime, gang-free city. These strategies will continue to fail just as her efforts to FIGHT drug abuse and drug trafficking failed as the former head of the Cook County state’s attorney’s Narcotics Prosecution Bureau.
No personal criticism intended, it’s just that fighting gangs, violence and drugs with these strategies is like fighting a virus with an antibiotic when the virus is immune to antibiotics. RICO and drug prosecutions can cause gangs and persons pain, individually and as a group, but cannot stop the forever-breeding, systemic virus fed by drug prohibition.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is not a new idea or crime-fighting tool. Federal prosecutors have had use of the tool since 1970 when it was enacted, the same year that the U.S. Congress enacted the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute (CCE), the later used against Gangster Disciple Larry Hoover. Like Illinois’ RICO statute, the federal RICO statute and CCE (“The Kingpin Statute”) are aimed at criminal enterprises like the mafia, alias “the mob” or “organized crime.”
RICO penalties are draconian and under RICO statutes authorities don’t even have to prove the targeted defendants actually were the ones who “did it,” not unlike the legal concept known as vicarious liability, where one person can be made responsible for the actions of another, like making an employer liable for the wrong committed by his employee. RICO laws and targeting “the worst gangs” is not the answer.
The answer to gangs, violence and drugs is unchanged and is as simple as ending the Al Capone era of gangs and violence – the answer is end substance prohibition. Taking the profit out of the drug business by legalizing substances remains the essential tool in the fight to dismantle gangs, reduce gun violence, reclaim youth, and control dangerous drugs.
Lauding RICO laws or targeting 18,000 gang members for arrest like Sen. Mark Kirk recently proposed will increase incarceration and foolishly drain more public resources for prisons and jails while accomplishing nothing of our common goal to restore neighborhoods, prevent violence, save our kids and control drugs.
Lastly, the state’s attorney needs to realize that we need fewer Cook County indictments and felony convictions; and more misdemeanor charges, convictions and jail time, thereby avoiding time-consuming defendant-discovery rights, and re-prioritizing violent crime rather than “drug crimes,” consensus business transactions between willing adults. These two suggestions will substantially fix our broken “drug war” and criminal justice system, and reprioritize the prosecution of violent crime.
-James E. Gierach is a former Cook County assistant state’s attorney and former candidate for the office in 1992, calling for drug policy reform and the re-prioritization of violent crime as opposed to drug crime.