By Lynn Sweet and Frank Main
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is highly critical of a proposal by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) for mass arrests of 18,000 Gangster Disciples, telling the Sun-Times on Wednesday that Kirk's approach is "headline grabbing" and an "upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about."
One of Kirk's top priorities is targeting gangs; he has been meeting with law enforcement officials to devise a plan to execute the mass arrests.
Rush's comments came as Kirk and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) huddled Wednesday with Zachary Fardon, the nominee for U.S. attorney in Chicago, and urged him to keep fighting public corruption and to redouble the battle against street gangs.
The senators asked Fardon, who is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in the coming months, to put the pressure on Chicago's largest gang, the Gangster Disciples.
Kirk said at a press conference with Durbin at the Union League Club following the Fardon meeting that he will ask the Senate Appropriations Committee for $30 million "to go after gangs like the GDs . . . and pick the biggest and baddest for a federal effort."
"I think it's completely within the capability of the United States government to crush a major urban gang," Kirk said. "Just think of what the greatest generation did here in Chicago, pretty much crushing the Capone organization."
Rush, asked by the Sun-Times to react to Kirk's proposal said in a phone interview: "It's a sensational, headline-grabbing, empty, simplistic, unworkable approach."
If there is $30 million for Congress to spend, better most of it be allocated for "job creation and job training," to address the gang problem, Rush said.
Rush's House district includes communities plagued by gang violence. He said his criticism of Kirk is "not to excuse their activities."
Rush said an arrest sweep "is not going to work. . . . It is not a law and order, lock 'em up solution."
Rush said he would like to talk to Kirk, to "get him to see the bigger picture." He added, "I am really very upset with Mark" and that Kirk's approach was an "upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem he knows nothing about."
Realizing those were very strong words, a short time later Rush issued a follow-up statement to the Sun-Times to put his remarks in context.
Kirk's "current plan does not include the option to create jobs, provide affordable and safe housing, quality health care and improve schools in urban areas, BUT certainly a plan to incarcerate 18,000 black men is elitist. Why is incarceration the sole option instead of rehabilitation which is proven to work and not locking young men up," Rush said in an email.
A Kirk spokesman, told of Rush's comments, said Kirk's "commitment to stopping gang violence in our communities goes back more than a decade. The senator will continue to work with Sen. Durbin, Mayor Emanuel, law enforcement and the entire congressional delegation to keep Illinois families safe."
Finding the money to bankroll the mass arrests will be a major hurdle to clear in Congress, even though Kirk and Durbin are members of the appropriations panel in the Senate.
In the House, there is massive resistance to spending from Tea Party Republicans. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) sits on the House Appropriations Committee and told the Sun-Times, "it is not easy getting money out of the House, worthwhile or not."
Quigley said he appreciates Kirk "going after a plague in Chicago" but believes the focus for federal prosecutors and police should be on "prosecuting the most serious gun traffickers who put weapons in the hands of gang members."
On Tuesday, Kirk, trying to put pieces in place to implement his plan for the mass arrests, met with the Chicago chiefs of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Lynn Sweet reported from Washington D.C.