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Kirk gets approval for $18.5 mil to fight ‘gangs of national significance’

Sen. Mark Kirk

Sen. Mark Kirk

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Updated: February 23, 2014 6:38AM

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk — who sparked controversy last year when he called for a roundup of 18,000 Gangster Disciples — said Tuesday he won congressional approval for $18.5 million to fight “gangs of national significance.”

Kirk (R-Illinois) acknowledged Chicago will have to compete with other cities for the funding but said he will lobby the Department of Justice to spend most of the money here.

“It’s not a lock that it all comes to Chicago,” Kirk said at a news conference at the Dirksen federal building in the Loop.

Kirk said he expects the money will doled out in several months. About $8.5 million is earmarked for Project Safe Neighborhoods, which warns parolees they face long sentences if they’re convicted of a gun offense. About $7.5 million will go to the U.S. Marshals Service to hunt fugitives and about $2.5 million to juvenile justice grants, he said.

“We remember the Capone organization was suppressed here in Chicago with the backup of the feds, and we want to do that against the major gangs of Chicago — against the Gangster Disciples,” Kirk said.

The senator raised eyebrows last year when he called for the arrest of 18,000 Gangster Disciples following the slaying of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old majorette who had just performed with her high school band at festivities tied to President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) had called Kirk’s proposal “headline grabbing” and an “upper-middle-class, elitist white-boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about.” In August, Kirk accepted Rush’s invitation to tour Englewood to see the South Side neighborhood’s problems first-hand.

“We had some difficult words between us — I would say tough words that had a partisan tone and have no place in this battle,” Kirk said Tuesday, sitting at a table alongside Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and other local police chiefs.

“This is a really complicated problem,” he said. “Chicago is now No. 1 in gang membership per capita. Six of every 1,000 people in Chicagoland is a member of a criminal gang. There’s no way we can attract a 21st century economy here if we are No. 1 in crime or gangs.”

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