Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Real Meaning of the Execution-Style Lawndale Murders

It's no ordinary multiple murder. Four men were found shot dead, bound with duct tape, in a residential garage in the Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago's south side in the 6100 block of South Kildare Avenue.  

When we broke that story the night it happened, September 2, we noted that police investigating the scene suspected "Mexican drug cartel" involvement in the killings. (I'll take it further and say today that this may be an indication coming bloody battles between two or more drug cartels right here in Chicago.)

We also reported that this was an execution-style operation. Although not known for certain, the evidence points to the bloody hands of the cartels. The police themselves think so.

That begs a few questions:

1) Has the Chicago Police Department said that they suspect cartel involvement?
2) If CPD has not said so, why not?  
3) If so, why have none of the Chicago media mentioned that in any of their coverage of this sensational crime (as of 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 4)?

Huffington Post noted that "police told the Chicago Sun-Times the slayings appear to be drug-related, and multiple weapons were found at the scene" and "This type of violence is uncommon in the West Lawn neighborhood, police said."
No kidding. As common as shootings and killings are in Chicago, execution-style multiple murders reminiscent of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre are "uncommon" anywhere in the city - for the moment, at least.

Mayor Daley and CPD Supt. Weis love to tell us that Chicago's homicide rate is going down. It's gone down somewhat, but not enough. The Lawndale killings, however, have police privately worried that Mexican drug cartels may be starting to flex their muscle as they begin to move north into cities and states where they've had zero or very little presence. The Mexican cartel has operated primarily in the southwestern U.S. for obvious geographical and cultural reasons.

If the Mexican drug cartel is beginning to stake out serious territory in Chicago (I emphasize "if"), it is very worrisome. The recent case of Edgar Valdez Villarreal (alias "the Barbie") highlights this worry. The Atlanta Constitution Journal (ACJ) reported on August 31, 2010 that Valdez is the "allegedly brutal drug lord who federal authorities said ran a drug operation that brought cocaine by the truckload to Atlanta and sent those trucks back to a Mexican cartel carrying millions of dollars in cash." He was arrested on August 30 by Mexican authorities in a suburb of Mexico City.

ACJ's report is chilling. It said that in Mexico, "Valdez has been blamed for bloody drug and gang turf wars in which rivals were beheaded and hung from bridges." Perhaps even more stunning is the fact that "he's the rare American who has risen through the cartel ranks."

Although the recent Lawndale murders may seem like an isolated case to the casual observer, it should be remembered that there were drugs found at the crime scene. Daley and Weis may be reluctant to say the word "cartel" in referrence to the case because they don't want to acknowledge that the situation is bigger than they can handle. Remember, too, that CPD is shamefully understaffed and can't even keep up with regular street crime, let alone go into battle with the likes of a highly organized, well-funded and brutal Mexican drug cartel.

Worse yet, the Lawndale executions could indicate the beginning of an all-out street war between two competing drug cartels.

Just over a year ago, First Assistant U.S. Atty. Gary Shapiro said that Chicago is an important city for the international drug networks. In a Chicago Tribune report by Jeff Coen on August 20, 2009, Shapiro was quoted as saying that Chicago is "a major distribution hub of narcotics in the U.S." and that "drugs in huge quantities flow directly from Mexico to Chicago." Shapiro was speaking at a briefing in Chicago regarding a set of major indictments against, as Coen wrote, "36 individuals, including three cartel leaders, [who] were charged in eight indictments unsealed in Chicago, and additional defendants .... in New York. The three most significant defendants in the cases are leaders of two feuding cartels, authorities said."

In a related press conference coordinated with the one in Chicago that same day, Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, "said the cases trace tons of cocaine that made their way to Chicago through Mexico 'by plane, by boat, by submarine' before being distributed, 'with hundreds of millions of dollars going in the other direction'."

Hundreds of millions of dollars, just in Chicago. To some that's more than enough incentive to shoot four guys in a garage. These guys make the Gangster Disciples look like nothing more than surly lemonade stand operators. The cartels, to a large extent, are the distributors to the local gangs. The real action, the real money and the real power in the local narcotics game is found with the cartels.

In Mexico, where drug-related violence has kille more than 28,000 people since 2006, the cartels wield more power than the government. Meanwhile, U.S. authorities are working hard to keep Mexican drug cartel violence from spilling across border. On Sept. 2, 2010, CBS News reported that "Gangs have employed warfare tactics previously unseen in Mexico, including car bombs and blockades in front of police stations and army garrisons. Underscoring the point, a shootout later Thursday between soldiers and suspected cartel gunmen in Nuevo Leon state, near Texas, left 25 suspects dead."

The cartels' presence north of the US-Mexican border is growing. NPR reported in March, 2009 that "The Justice Department says the cartels now have operations in at least 230 American cities, up from 50 in 2006. Many of those are smaller, agricultural cities with Hispanic communities — places like Mount Vernon, Wash. Less than an hour from the Canadian border, it's the last place you might expect to encounter the Mexican cartels. But Skagit County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Kading says the cartels are definitely here."

Back to Daley and Weis, who struggle daily to convince you and me that they're in control, not the ordinary street gangs. They are frightened, and rightly so, that the cartels will try to do in Chicago what they have successfully done in our southwest and in so many towns and cities in Mexico. With brutality, financing and technology that even Al Capone could not have dreamed of, the cartels have the potential of unleashing full blown terror on our streets. To acknowledge this publicly would certainly cause heavy political damage to Mayor Daley. To not acknowledge it is a tremendous disservice to the public, who are already frustrated by the insufficient numbers of cops on the streets. Shame on the media, as well, for not asking about cartel involvement in the Lawndale killings, and for not letting us all know what the next phase of Chicago street crime is destined to become. Perhaps they're simply afraid.