Hundreds of lawmen mobilized for crackdown on New Breed street gang

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

For the first time in years, it's safe for kids to play in one Chicago neighborhood. Dozens of alleged gang members are off the streets thanks to a major undercover drug operation.

Tuesday, the FBI and Chicago police targeted an area called the Square. It's in the Lawndale neighborhood and is bordered by 19th Street on the north, Keeler on the west, Cermak on the south and Pulaski on the east.

The feds code-named it 'Operation Impunity. But the impunity that lasted there for years is finally over, with dozens behind bars. Many longtime residents are applauding the raid, but also asking why it had to take so long.

Children felt free to Double Dutch and play basketball again Tuesday night. Children filled the streets and sidewalks a stone's throw from a fortress-like complex knows as the Square.

But just listen to the stories they are telling about the drug raid there early Tuesday morning.

"They came in with guns and said open the door or we're going to kick it down and I was scared, so I opened the door," said Dave Roddy, 6th grader.

Hundreds of FBI agents and Chicago police swept through the complex, rounding up nearly 50 members of a street gang which operated a huge drug business out of the Square.

"The amount of drugs being sold every day, was at least $15,000 per day, which extrapolates to $100 a week or $5 million a year," said Patrick Fitzgerald, US attorney.

The two-year-long investigation involved undercover officers posing as dirty cops. Federal and local authorities worked together, confiscating heroin, crack and cash -- as well as many guns.

The Square is less than a block away from Mason Elementary School. School officials and parents say they have been complaining for years about the activity near Mason.

"I don't understand why it took so long for what happened today to happen, because the children are our future," said Andre Slater, Lawndale resident.

"It's a good thing, a good thing, a very good thing, because now you have taken a bad element away. You bite the head off the snake," said Carnell Carey, Lawndale resident.

But at least one mother claims many who were arrested are innocent, including her son.

"They took a lot of innocent teenagers and grown folks out of here for no reason at all, and that's not right," Jackson said, Lawndale resident.

At least 47 people are in custody. Their first court appearance is Wednesday morning. If convicted of the federal drug charges, they face at least 10 years behind bars and up to a maximum of life in prison.

Police are still looking for another nine gang members.

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