When members of Southside turf crew Boot Camp first faced RICO (federal racketeering) charges in July 2004, courtroom testimony revealed that police had been under orders from the administration of Mayor Roy Bernardi not to use the G-word in their reports. It was felt then that admitting Syracuse had a gang problem would be bad PR. When Matt Driscoll replaced Bernardi and appointed Dennis DuVal as Police Chief, the ban was lifted, in part attributed to the record 25 homicides in one year. Two-dozen Boot Camp members, taking their name from the hardcore rap band Boot Camp Clik, and flashing a fingers down M-hand sign signifying Midland (Avenue) and murder, were locked up at the time, but their standard was borne by ten- and twelve-year-olds who pimpwalked the streets of the neighborhood chanting, “We’re Boot Camp.”
“Working with the US Attorney’s Office we’ve locked up over 100 gang members just on RICO,” District Attorney William Fitzpatrick observed recently. “But some of those were five-year sentences, and that was eight years ago, so some of those people are back. I don’t know how many times I have to say it, the problem is you can lock up the hundred and if there are 200 waiting to take their place, you’re really not accomplishing anything for the long term. Ultimately you need to address why are there gangs, who are the gang members, what is the common denominator. Although people say I oversimplify, the answers are easy. We have to start teaching family values. I don’t care if it’s a nuclear family, mom and dad, dad and dad, just loving people nurturing children they are responsible for.”
Starting with something new for the summer
“We need to reassess the institutions that we created in the Sixties,” he added. “We really thought that if we created a Welfare State we would improve the lot of the poor. We need job creation and equal opportunity to job creation. And we need to fight racism at every level. We’re not going to be a society that can dole out grant money and member items and pork barrel projects any more. Let’s figure out the right age to get to these kids, and without people on the right or the left having their heads exploding, let’s talk about a government system that deals with true family planning, and deals with some type of stigma attached to multiple illegitimate pregnancies, and doesn’t reward it with more cash, better living space, more frills.