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House sends Quinn bill to toughen prison terms for flash-mob attackers using social media

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SPRINGFIELD-Legislation passed the Illinois House Friday to give longer prison sentences to anyone caught using social media to incite flash-mob attacks and was branded as an answer to a recent rash of mob violence in Chicago.

The idea, carried by Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), cleared the House by a 102-6 vote, with two voting present, after a one-sided but intense debate invoked the January murder of 15-year old Hadiya Pendelton and questioned whether the idea could actually alleviate Chicago's violence problem.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate last month and now awaits approval from Gov. Pat Quinn.

"What is important here is that we don't have the 'OG's' like we used to," Mitchell said, referring to 'original gangster' street criminals often cited in 1990's rap music. "Gangs are different. They are more splintered. They are block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, rather than region-by-region. And they are organizing using Twitter and social media."

Under Mitchell's legislation, anyone using social media or text-messaging and convicted of taking part in mob action, a class 4 felony with a one to three year penalty, could see their prison sentences extended to three to six years. The legislation adds the use of social media to incite mob violence as an aggravating factor a judge may consider at the time of sentencing.

The idea spawned from a series of mob attacks on North Michigan Avenue and sections of River North over the past two years, including a March outburst carried out by roughly 400 people via Facebook and Twitter that led to the arrests of 25 juveniles and three adults.

But one of Mitchell's colleagues, Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago), argued the bill only unfairly targets "a bunch of young people with nothing to do" and merely creates "an overcrowded court docket, an overcrowded jail and an expense that the rest of us taxpayers have to pay."

"Would this bill have stopped the murder of Hadiya Pendleton?" Davis demanded of Mitchell. "The question, sir, is are children's lives as valuable as the merchants on Michigan Avenue...Would this bill stop the murders of black boys and girls on the South and West Sides of Chicago, and if it doesn't do that you should be ashamed of yourself."

With Davis expressing the only opposition, the bi-partisan measure also received support from members outside of Chicago who feared inaction on mob violence would hurt the state's overall economy.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with the budget. It has to do with the state of Illinois' public safety," Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) said. "And when people stop coming to Chicago, shopping on Michigan Avenue, going to the ball games, and tourism stops, you're going to see an even bigger problem in the budget."

Mitchell said his bill would help police temper mob action in the city, even though Davis insisted Chicago already has peace officers to do that.

"What we have to do is make sure that we have teeth in enforcement so that people understand that if they make this step, they take this action to make our communities less safe, that they will end up doing some time," Mitchell said.

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