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August 26th, 2009
08:28 PM ET

CNN Special Report: Chicago's Deadly Streets

What's behind the epidemic of teen killings in Chicago? CNN's Don Lemon and Senior Producer Annika Young went there to find out. They met with drug dealers blamed for much of the violence, listened to the heartbroken parents who have lost sons and daughters in the crossfire, and spoke to the community activists trying to end the bloodshed that has earned one Chicago neighborhood the nickname "Killer Town." In this special report: An unflinching look at a deeply troubling problem mirrored in communities across America, and proposed solutions that will require commitment, time, money and boundless energy.

Filed under: Chicago's Deadly Streets • Don Lemon
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. rich sottilaro

    Were are all the citizens fed up with all this gun violence?? You should send the NRA a thank you card....because they and all the gun toting yahoos are behind this crap!! We need President Obama to put an end to assault weapons in the country!! I guess the wild west still lives in the good ole USA. We are the laughing stock of the rest of the world. The greatest country on the planet and we have gun violence to mega proportions!! Unbelievable!! We need to fight back against the few deciding for the majority. That is what this country has come to!!


    August 26, 2009 at 10:01 pm |
  2. Mike Posey

    In my younger days, I'm 62, I was a heroin addict. I have been "clean and sober" now for nearly 25 years. I spent many years in several prisons for violent crimes, drug related, this is back in the 60's and 70's. Drugs fueled most of the problems on the streets. Nearly every town to, I was a traveling dope fiend, making it to all 48 states, at one point or another....My partner and I were travelling armed robbers, using the money from the robberies to buy more dope. We were violent, and served nearly two decades in different penal systems around the country....I got "clean" off heroin while serving time in prison in Mexico, at the infamous La Mesa Prison, just outside Tiajuana, in 1985. I have not used or drank since then. Drugs are the fuel for most of the fires on every street in every city in America, large, or small...The South, lately is the hub of it...Atlanta is a major hub for distribution. I served time in Georgia, not long, but it was a long time ago. I was the one of very FEW Hispanic inmates in the system in Georgia, 3 decades ago. My mother, deceased, was a Latina. There are many Mexican inmates in the Georgia system these days I understand. Much killing is happening I understand from news reports, in your city. Florida, and other southern states are meeting with the same problem.

    Drugs are the reason just about every crime is committed. I'm sure the per centage is in the 90's. It's a plague that has been a part of our culture since early in the 20th century, even the 19th century, when most drugs weren't illegal.. Much legislation has been passed to control drugs in this country in the last 100 years. All drugs now are illegal. But they have proliferated, along with the violence that has always been attached to the use, distribution, and possession of those substances.....I remember in "the day" when every single inmate in any jail was there for a drug-related crime. It hasn't changed much in my lifetime, much of my young adulthood spent in jail, and prison in five states.

    The "cure"? There isn't a "cure". A drug addict will ALWAYS find a way to get, and use drugs. I go to a 12-step program Narcotics Anonymous, have for 23 years regularly...That program, the only one that actually works with any success, has a success rate of less then 3%. Drugs are seductive and their use is nearly impossible to stop for a lifetime. Since I was 39, and was freed from prison in Mexico, I've been to over 10,000 meetings of NA. I see for myself the nearly impossible task that anyone faces trying to leave drugs behind. I've succeeded for longer then all but two "regulars" in the East County of San Diego. There are thousands of members of NA in my neighborhood. Nearly none get and stay clean for long. We have many programs in this town aimed at this task. McAlister Institute, the "Drug Court" program since 1996. NA has been around since 1956....The success rate of all the "rehab" hospitals and programs and there are many, is less then 1%, by statistic....These programs charge over 1,000 dollars a day, usually for 30 days to "clean" up addicts. Virtually all of the "graduates" use again, shortly after the rehabilitation is done....Drug Court is a program started by a SUperior Court judge in San Diego years ago. That judge is now the San Diego County District Attorney, a woman named Bonnie Dumanis. The concept was to place first offense drug addicts in an 18-month closely monitored program. If they completed the program, without using during the 18 months, their felony conviction would be dropped, and expunged from their record. The program has failed miserably, I worked one day for it back when it first started. I spoke in 1996 to the first 20 members of the "class of '96" in Judge Dumanis' courtroom. All relapsed within the first few months of the program. I told Judge Dumanis her program was flawed, and quit working for it.....I had 11 years of clean time back then. The other "counselor" they used had about 90 days "clean". It's still that way. The blind leading the blind as it were. The program makes the addicts go to NA meetings, and have an attendance slip, "nudge from the judge" signed by the meeting secretary, to prove attendance at the meetings. They are randomly 'piss tested" by probation officers. Probation officers require no warrant to demand a test, anytime, anywhere. They have to work, or go to school. The rate of success of this rather stringent program is less then 2%, keeping the participants clean even for the 18 months of the program. 98% still use, and most go to prison to serve their suspended sentence. When they get out, they use again.

    A drug addict is a person "whose entire life is engaged in the getting and using of drugs" according to something we read before every single meeting of NA. And most do just that. I go to meetings where my 24 years "clean" is more then EVERYONE in the meeting, combined. I share with them the fallacy of drug use, my own rather vicious experiences in the "drug world", which includes armed robbery, assault, weapons possession, and violent situations in prison. It makes little difference. A drug addict is a drug addict for LIFE. I am still an addict, even nearly a quarter century since I used a drug. I KNOW that. And that's the problem; nobody wants to ADMIT the problem. The courts have this idea that a drug addict can be "cured" as do most rehabs. It's not true. No drug addict is ever completely "cured". I know I'm not, and keep that thought in the forefront of my daily life. I am married, do pretty well. I have a nice car, a nice home, have money, even in these days and times. I wrote a book about my experiences, 117 pages published in 1994, "Reflections On The Wall". It is still available used, occasionally on Amazon. You might Google my name, it used to say "author of book on prison experiences". The book was used, and still is by programs around this town. It sold well, was published by a local publisher. Not self-published, I got a contract from ICAN Press in Chula Vista California, now out of business. I tried and explain what goes on in prison, and what brought me there. It was a series of short essays, chronicling a young adult life spent "chasing the bag".

    Now that I look back on those "thrilling days of yesteryear" I realize that those years are NOW. Only much more violent and pervasive. In San Diego, I live in an eastern suburb, the traffic is enormous. The border patrol seizes thousands of pounds of pot, speed, black tar heroin, and the ingredients to make speed at the border, from San Diego to Texas, daily. With all the planes, computers, and high-tech stuff they have now, which did not exist in my day, the flow of drugs is unabated. They get a very small per centage of the drugs that come across. They confiscate tons of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, daily between the San Diego/Mexico border, and the East County, out near Campo. Almost daily local news has a new seizure of drugs to talk about....I realize that for that one seizure, ten got through, mostly to go down I-10 to Atlanta, and then up the East Coast, and many other points.

    Used to be a "dope fiend" down South was harshly treated by the justice system. I know, I did time in three southern prison systems over the years. Now, the courts are clogged with cases of possession with intent to distribute, murders committed, robberies, and burglaries. All drug fueled. It's like the "wild west" down south. Many of the people caught now are Mexican nationals, or Mexican-Americans. The prison system in Georgia now has hundreds, if not thousands of Hispanics in it....when I was there, I was the ONLY Hispanic in the entire prison. That's telling in its very reality.

    Our country has been at "war" with drugs since Ronald Reagan. Remember Nancy Reagan's "say no to drugs" campaign? Very few people say "no" to drugs, even with the near certainty you will be caught, or killed if engaged in drug business. Drug "czars" Bill Bennett comes to mind had little real effect on the problem, in the 80's and 90's. Even President Obama admits to using drugs recreationally back in his youth. We all know about Bill Clinton, "I didn't inhale", and the facts about George Bush's "party animal" life at Yale the stuff of legends. When the President of this country admits to drug use, it says pretty much everything I've said.....Bush, Clinton, were born about the time I was, the mid-40's. Obama was born in the 60's. We've had alcoholic Presidents. Grant, and some other notables, FDR was known to throw a "few back". But just lately have Presidents admitted they used drugs. This is the evolution of the drug problem.

    In the early parts of the 20th century, Congress outlawed cocaine, which used to be an ingredient in Coca-Cola. "Coke" meant just that for a long time. Opium was introduced in the 1800's, by Chinese workers hired to build the railroads. Marijuana, or "hemp" was used to make ropes for ships a century ago. Take a piece of "rope" smoke it, it was better then the "tot" of rum sailors were rationed in the day. So this problem is old, and will get older.

    As far as a solution? To be quite frank there isn't an effective solution. Legalizing drugs is NOT the answer. We have medical marijuana stores in San Diego. Many people use the drug for pain relief, or to relieve the sickness caused by chemo-therapy. A simple prescription from your Doctor, and you can buy high-grade domestic pot right from a store. The illegal marijuana seized at the San Ysidro border crossing still is in the tons. "Speed" meth-amphetamine is rampant. They call the little town of El Cajon, a suburb east of San Diego the "meth capital of the world". "Tweakers" are everywhere. I know hundreds of them, some trying to get clean, and others who are not trying. This drug kills. Cocaine, particularly "crack", the solid form, which is smoked is a plague in the "hood" down in South East San Diego. Prescription pain meds, Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, are dispensed by doctors. The prescription pills are the new wave, amongst the high school set. They get them, usually right from the medicine cabinet. Mom and Dad get them for various aches and pains, the kids take them. Common story at NA meetings. They have a 12-step program called Pills Anonymous even. Just for people hooked on prescription narcotics. I've been to those meetings, as part of my effort to educate people on the totality and surety of death with continued use. Very few succeed for long. Drugs have a nearly mythical seductive power, much more powerful then alcohol. I attend AA as well, as I had a huge problem with alcohol as well. I'm sober, now over 22 years in that program. Back in my early AA days, few identified themselves at "open" meetings as "alcoholic/addict". Now, nearly everyone in an AA meeting is of such a persuasion. "Closed" meetings are for alcoholics only. There are few of these in the over 1,000 meetings daily in San Diego County. Drugs are a part of nearly everyone's story these days.

    The solution to the drug problem has eluded us as a society for well over a hundred years. It will continue to do so, in my humble, but very educated opinion. I have vast experience in this area. Personal tragedy, many years behind bars, a life of horrible ups, and downs. The sickness of withdrawal from heroin. All those experiences have kept me focused on my recovery for nearly a quarter century. Even with my example, few people stay clean for long. Many die. I've seen literally thousands die over the years, overdosed. I've been there when they breathed their last breath, on a number of occasions. It's never easy, but instills a determination in me to NEVER use drugs again. For me the solution is simply dying tragically young. I've suffered from my past drug use. In 1997 I spent 97 days in the hospital for pancreatitis. I contracted diabetes as a result. In 2001 my kidneys failed. In 2006 I lost my entire lower bowel, have a colostomy now. All well after I quit using and drinking. The damage done to my body is massive. I tell that story to the "newcomers" at NA and AA both. It makes little difference. I'm considered a "veterano", and "old school" dope fiend. I've been "clean" longer then most of the atendees at NA meetings have been ALIVE. They are young, and bulletproof. Partying is the national pastime. They don't see the damage, don't realize the disaster they're visiting on themselves. I do what I can, help people who ask me to guide them through the tough first several months. I've probably helped a hundred addicts along the way, since 1991. One of my first guys is "clean" now 18 years, after serving 11 years in prison, from 1980 to 1991, for killing his own father with a knife, in a drug fueled rage. Those successes are few. This guy now has a family, nice home, and his fence company made a couple million dollars last year. Just one notable success, out of tens of thousands of failures.

    Tougher sentences, the certainty of prison, the money involved in the drug trade is too much to pass up. They confiscate carloads of hundred dollar bills at the Campo checkpoint, daily. Money fuels the process, without a doubt. The literally hundreds of millions, even BILLIONS of dollars involved in that trade is just too good to pass up. A street corner "crack" dealer, with a third grade education can make 500 dollars a day, in cash, every single day. What else can that third grade dropout do? Not a thing, for over 150,000 a year. Many enterprising mid-level dealers make more then President Obama. How do you persuade young people NOT to get involved when the potential to make money is there? Simple answer: you don't. If you made 200 K in a year, wouldn't the risk of a couple years in prison be a "part of doing business" an acceptable risk? Of course it is. And the beat goes on....the cops bust a load, 9 loads get through. That's the percentage. If you're a cartel, a few million in confiscated cocaine is considered "overhead". I can assue you this is the reality of the drug business.

    I guess I paint a bleak picture? It is bleak. The drug problem in this nation is alive and thriving. After all the legislation, new laws, all that technology, the drug types still manage to serve their clients well. I can buy dope in my neighborhood just about anywhere. And this is NOT an unusual situation at all. In little towns anywhere, there is a drug dealer servicing his customers. And there is no shortage of customers. One dies, another takes his place...constant pool of customers. Until we find a way to make it so tough to do business that the risk outweighs the benefit, the drug problem will thrive. As of now, that is NOT the case....It's still "worth it" and as long as that is a fact, we will have a problem. When I came into NA, way back when, an old addict told me: "If they destroyed humanity with a neutron bomb three things would survive...a cockroach, a rat, and a dope fiend." Pretty grim prognostication, I think? But true to this very day....Hope this sheds some light from a certain perspective on the problem, and the total lack of any workable solution. I will continue to do my part to help out, in a small way. But I'm just one man. Thanks for reading this, Mike Posey Lakeside California...

    August 27, 2009 at 8:25 am |
  3. michael armstrong sr.

    Call in the national guard and put the city under national rule if the governer and mayor cant control there city its evedent they cant do there job.

    August 27, 2009 at 9:33 am |
  4. alex


    After seeing this story I determined that this will require drastic changes. These gangs and drug dealers aren't killing eachother they are killing innocent people. I suggest Martial Law or an alternative with similar pressence. If not millitary then law enforcement. After 9/11 there were fire fighters from across the country that volunteered to help.

    I would think that there would be some police officers from across the country that would volunteer to clean this up especially members of swat teams that do not see a lot of action. Not to mention because these gangs and drug dealers are killing innocent people often by mistake I imagine they are not good shots.

    Back to the millitary idea I think having new recruits who have not been in a live combat situation and are getting ready to deploy should get sent to killer town for live combat real scenario urban warfare. I think it would be pretty safe for the soldiers given the training they receive and equipment they are provided.

    I am not a law enforcement officer or in the millitary I'm just a legally armed civilian that is willing to volunteer to go to killer town and patrol the streets if I'm provided some training a class 3 weapon and a vest.

    August 27, 2009 at 10:45 am |
  5. Steve

    Every since our scandal plagued mayor appointed an FBI agent as the police superintendent, in an effort to show the International Olympic Committee that we have a terrorism expert at the helm.....the crime in this city has exploded threw the roof. We have more open air drug markets than ever and that is what is fueling the violence. Until the citizens of this city vote out this mayor whose only concern is bringing the Olympics to the most dangerous city in North America no one is safe. Don, if you ever come back to Chicago to do a follow up on this violence contact me I've got something to say. We do know each other.

    August 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm |
  6. Laura

    I admire and appreciate they way you have tackled a very difficult issue, investigated it with heart, and thoroughly examined all aspects of it. Awesome in depth coverage!

    August 29, 2009 at 3:27 am |
  7. Dawn Seattle

    Today I weeped as if it had been me as well as An-Jenette Albert who buried a son. Don Lemmon thank you for keeping this issue in front of our faces. You did not start with this savage beating, you have been staying awake nights trying to figure this out. I am awake with you, itis 2:40 a.m. in Seattle and I a working on communication and organizing strategies to address our own gun violence. My own dear friend Dr. Sullivan has buried a kid just like Derrion, Aaron was shot in the back of his head with an assault weapon. In this case it was not drugs or gangs, but the availability of this lethal weapon. So we are using our grief to get Washington State to ban assault weapons. When asked will this solve the problem, the immediate answer is no but it is a small step in an opposite direction than the way we have been traveling. We are turning this ship we know as youth violence. It took years of neglect, denial, schools failing kids, adults ignoring signs, a drug economy on the backs of those least able to support this devil on our backs. It took billions of dollars to create this environment and fear expressed by Ms. Albert.

    So in the midst of all of this, we are inspired by the recent documentary filming of the women of Liberia. They did not have a strategy for ending the violence they had experienced for 14 years, they just knew that enough was enough. The film Pray the Devil Back to Hell is worth viewing. I know and the women organizing in Seattle know this, if women of Liberia can organize, pray and put determination to remove guns from the hands of their sons and heal their drug induced demise as humans. They prevailed and so can we.

    So today I weeped and I may weep again tomorrow but in the interim, I will be up each night in the still of the early hours, doing what I can to be a hand on deck and helping to turn this ship.

    God bless you young Don Lemon and never stop keeping this issue in the faces of all Americans. This is an American issue not just an African American issue: Gun manufacturers, Teacher Unions who fight to keep teachers who fail to teach in classrooms, Police Chiefs who gave up long ago, Hospitals who receive cash payments for stitching up victims and turning their heads, Mayors who fail to lead, parents who do not parent can not parent, grandparents who raised parents who can not parent, those who made it and thought we could save our children, community organizations who were funded to to address issues and knew they couldn't but took or children's money anyway. And a President who for 8 years turned a blind eye to the terrorism that would have a mother tell the world, I am afraid to leave my home.

    October 5, 2009 at 6:08 am |
  8. alex

    in my oppinion I don't believe "assault weapons" are to blame for this problem. I'm not here to change anyones mind, I just want to clarify "assault weapons" basically fully automatic weapons are not legally owned by civillians in the u.s. The lift of the assault weapon bans did not legalize fully automatic weapons. Fully automatic weapons can be legally owned by civillians if they are approved by the ATF, local law enforcement and pay a fee.

    I don't think leagally owned propperly used firearms in the hands of people who are allowed to have guns are to blame for this. My sister was killed by a drunk driver, driving on a suspended license. In no way shape or form I'm I blaming Ford motor company or suggesting we ban cars or make it illegal to own cars. That sob got behind the wheel of a car illegally and operated it illegally regardless of it being legal or not just like these thugs will operate firearms illegally regardless of laws or bans. If the maximum speed limit is 70 mph how come every car can achieve speeds over 100 mph. At least with legally owned firearms are not manufactured and handed out with a selective fire option. Unlike cars where you choose to floor it without having to perform illegal modifications.

    October 5, 2009 at 11:13 am |
  9. kelly

    Young people from around the world come to Newport Beach to join
    our clean and sober community to go to school.

    October 17, 2009 at 10:13 pm |