If there's a War on Gangs, police and public are losing

The police like to call it a war.

The War on Street Gangs.

Gives it a tidy, official title that sends a succinct message to the public: we've put the problem in a package and everything is fine.

The bad guys are contained. You good, law-abiding citizens don't have to worry.

But if it is a war, the police are losing and so are we.

Over the weekend, there were dozens of people shot, wounded and killed in Chicago and the suburbs. Most of them were casualties of the failed War on Street Gangs.

The skirmish that received the most attention around here occurred in Elgin.

Police believe a gang hit squad opened fire on a car heading to a festive family event. Police are confident that the likely target was named Eric Galarza, 30, who investigators say has a history of gang-related misbehavior and other crimes.

When the barrage stopped, police suggest the wrong Eric Galarza was shot.

The fatally wounded family member was Eric Galarza, Jr., who at five years old, was probably a couple years away from being ready for recruitment to the streets. The boy, who was just along for the ride, was shot in the head according to his mother. He died a little while later at the hospital.

Shortly after the deadly assault, seemingly as required as a Miranda warning, police issued the now standard “all is well” statement:

“I don't want the community to think this was a random act, a car driving down the street that was shot up,” said Elgin Police Chief Jeffrey Swoboda. “The nature of the incident leads us to believe that someone was waiting for this car.”

You can't fault the Elgin police chief directly for what happened, any more than Supt. Garry McCarthy is personally to blame for the 25 people shot overnight Friday in Chicago.

But sometime it would be nice to hear a police official, mayor or town president say: “We are losing the war on gangs and drugs. Even though we've spent millions of dollars from you taxpayers on guns, cars, a fine new headquarters and overtime, we couldn't keep a little boy from the line of fire. So even though this wasn't a random act — and you might feel safe — next time the bullets could fly into your car or bedroom and you could be dead.”

Despite Elgin police insistence that the public has no need to fear random shooters, how do they know the gang hit squad wasn't targeting that 5-year old boy? What better way to send a message to Eric Galarza than to kill Eric Jr.?

The fact is, in the uncontrollable world of street gangs, there is no such thing as collateral damage-the military term for innocent victims who end up dead in an attack. Gang shooters are many times the youngest, newest members of the organization. They are handed guns and told to do something as an initiation rite. They don't get sniper training or a manual on taking out enemy combatants and reducing collateral damage.

A 15-year-old was wounded in a gang shooting last month in Elgin. So far this year, there have been more than a dozen gang-related shootings, according to police. The Daily Herald reported yesterday that Chief Swoboda put out some data showing gang violence has been up and down the past few years. Then he summarized by stating: “Gang-motivated crime over the last decade or two has been cut dramatically.”

It is against such a backdrop that police departments justify grants, fresh tax money, fancy street armor, heavy weapons and the other implements necessary to fight “wars.” After all, who is going to begrudge law enforcement from having the things necessary to enforce the law, especially when the War on Gangs is being won?

When a 5-year-old boy is shot in the head and killed, regardless of whether the gunfire was aimed at him, his father or the car they were in, the War on Gangs is being won just as the War on Drugs is being won.

Everything is under control. All is well. Go about your business. Don't give it another thought.

Until the next preschooler takes a bullet and his last words are: “Daddy, I can't breathe.”

Ÿ Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at and followed at