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Editorial: Gang-bangers endanger all who are around them

Judy Young (r) mother Jonylah Watkins family friends set up memorial for her 6 month old daughter Jonylah Watkins who

Judy Young (r), the mother of Jonylah Watkins, and family and friends set up a memorial for her 6 month old daughter, Jonylah Watkins, who had been shot multiple times yesterday and passed away this morning. Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times

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Updated: April 14, 2013 6:33AM



A hot stove is a danger to a child.

A gun on a coffee table is a danger to a child.

A car with the windows rolled up in a parking lot on a hot day is a danger to a child.

And now, allow us to add, a father who is a career-criminal gang-banger is a danger to a child.

Why is 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins dead today?

The brutal truth may well be that she is dead because her father was a gang member with a long record. Everywhere he went he may have been a target, and anybody with him — even the infant daughter whose diaper he was changing — was in danger, too.

It is time we treated such reprehensible behavior — child endangerment by gangbanging — like the crime it is. It should weigh more in state child welfare assessments. It should be as much grounds for criminal charges, such as neglect or manslaughter, as leaving a child next to a burning stove.

Today, Jonathan Watkins is the grieving father. He will cry real tears over his baby’s coffin. Of this we have no doubt.

But excuse us if we are unmoved by his pain. Forgive us if we reserve our tears for Jonylah alone, a baby with a twinkle in her eye. Pardon us for wondering why in God’s name a child so pure was entrusted to a man who appears to be so dangerously irresponsible.

The facts are still coming out, but the Chicago Police have reason to believe the man who shot Jonylah on Monday was retaliating against her father in a gang feud. Watkins was changing his daughter’s diaper in a minivan at the time. He was shot and lived. She was shot and died.

Watkins, 30, has been arrested 34 times and convicted five times. One conviction, in 2008, was for the aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. He has been going down the wrong road for years.

We understand the limits of what society can do. The state Department of Children and Family Services has done a yeoman’s job in recent years of keeping more children in their family homes, which is almost always better for a child than foster care. If DCFS now mindlessly plucked every child from a home where Daddy belongs to a gang, there’d be no end to it.

For sound legal and practical reasons, the police and DCFS also pay less attention to gang affiliation than to actual criminal behavior. But at the very least, the police and DCFS could work together more closely in investigations in which the fate of a child hangs in the balance.

Too often, experts says, the police in Chicago, as in most big cities, use their discretion as to whether to notify DCFS when, for example, raiding a gang-banger’s home for guns or a meth lab. A better way would be for the police to notify DCFS routinely when there is a child in the home so that an expert assessment can be made as to whether the child should be removed, at least temporarily, for his or her own safety.

Chicago should look to Los Angeles, where since 2004 specially trained social workers actually accompany police officers on raids. While the helicopters swirl above a home and the police conduct searches, the social workers look after the children. Called MART — the Multi-Agency Response Team — it may be the only such program in the country.

Would any of this have saved the life of Jonylah Watkins? We can’t begin to say.

But we know this: A gang-banger in the family — father, brother, sister or uncle — creates as much risk of harm as a loaded gun on a coffee table.

Our laws and child welfare policies should reflect that frightening truth.



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