Misplaced Rhetoric, Misplaced Focus: Why Treating Chicago Gangs as Terrorists Will Not Solve the Problem


Yesterday, CNN columnist LZ Granderson posted a piece on the Opinion column titled “Treat Chicago gangs as terrorists.”


I view this as problematic for a good amount of reasons. While we definitely want to create a sense of urgency in the nation much like there was urgency in the Boston bombings and subsequent manhunt, I believe Granderson’s mechanisms and focus are misplaced. They only address part of the issue.

1. Terrorist rhetoric is already used in some form or fashion, with no preferred “results.”

As I state earlier in my piece “Stop Calling Chicago ‘Chiraq'”, terms like “Chiraq” began as terms that communicated the dire need for change and the urgency of the matter, but quickly became sensationalized, glamorized, and normalized within our society. Now it is a term that, when heard, largely gets a proverbial shrug and a “that’s Chicago for ya,” not a “we need to make change in this city.” And this is rhetoric that directly connects to terrorism.

Secondly, let us not forget that terms like “gangs”, “thugs”, “hoodlums”, the list goes on, have been used for decades and developed its own negative, demonized connotation that Granderson is somewhat seeking, just now it lacks urgency. It now follows a certain phenotype, just as “terrorist” carries: Thug (cue Black/Brown, poor, young male) as to Terrorist (cue Middle Eastern/Arab Muslim). We some of the same effects. We cross the streets when we see them the same way. We tug our children closer. We target them first. We fear them. It’s not like it isn’t already happening because we aren’t using the same term.

2. Terrorist rhetoric is alienating, and that is the LAST thing we need.

Most visible representation of gang violence or just criminal acts in general in communities in Chicago are teenage boys and young men. And they are not like the occasional “terrorist”; it is a massive demographic that is involved here. By alienating them even further, we perpetuate this stereotype of Black/Brown men and boys to a higher degree, instilling more fear in America for this demographic, and justify the same useless acts we have been fighting tirelessly to eliminate (i.e. racial profiling, stop and frisk, etc.). We would like to believe, in a perfect world, that this would not happen, but it already does, and it would not get better.

4. We have seen the horrific effects of such rhetoric on an entire demographic.

When the Boston bombings occurred, I quickly sent a prayer up for the victims and families, but also for my friends in the Muslim community, that they are kept safe from discrimination and violence. Stories arose of men and women being attacked because they looked Arab and Muslim. Heba Abolaban was punched in the shoulder. Abdullah Faruque was beaten outside of an Applebee’s. Valerie Kaur wrote an entire piece about the fear Sikhs and Muslims experienced when the suspects were presumed to be Muslim. It does not pinpoint the perpetrators at all but casts an entire community into hatred in the country’s eyes.

5. If the result Granderson’s seeking is more people off the streets and in the jail cells, it’s already happening.

In 2008, 58% of those incarcerated were African-American and Hispanic. I do not want to make misplaced assumptions, but I presume this number has not decreased since then. Filling our jail cells with them, the major demographics involved in crime in Chicago, is already on the up-and-up. And what is the community doing in response? Organizing against it. Why? Because it is not solving the root problem, but only eliminating the visible residuals.


I do not want to spend this entire post bashing Granderson. I believe he had great intent. We all SHOULD be concerned about the 53 school closings and how that affects children travelling across gang territories or even interaction with rival gang representations in the schools themselves. Let us not forget the horrific death of Derrion Albert in 2009, a product of what happens when you redirect students to rival territories. An entire brawl ensued, leaving Derrion dead after being beat up by a 2×4. And we should ALL be concerned about the Hadiyas and the Jonylahs that tugged at our souls so deeply. But we need to be concerned about every lost life as well, even the ones that “seem” not so promising.

Provoking empathy in the nation for this issue is something I would love to see, and spoke about it extensively in “Stop Calling Chicago ‘Chiraq’,” but I believe there is a difference between empathy within these communities and demographics and empathy from the entire nation. As a Black woman and a Chicagoan, I do not need CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, NONE OF Y’ALL to create a frenzy over what going on in my ‘hood or any other ‘hood in this country for me to care and want to act. The support is appreciated, but not necessary. For my people, I know we are in a crisis because it is in my face every day. It is my reality. And this should go for any person that is connected in some kind of way.

But I know this does not always happen. And I know this definitely does not happen if you do not feel connected and have the privilege to not have to be connected. Someone on Facebook commented, “Why aren’t we told about the hundreds of deaths caused due to gang violence, and why do people seem not to care?” Because you do not DEMAND it. These communities can demand it all they want, but until the country demands to put a spotlight on it, it will not occur. Which is what I see Granderson trying to do. The method is just misplaced.

It is misplaced because it does not fully take into consideration those affected by the violence. We want to see peace, not more war. Creating the image of tyrants ravaging our communities does not solicit any kind of peace. We want to build uplift. We understand that part of the problem is systematic. It is perpetuated through generations. It is more complex than we would like to think. It does not follow the dominant narrative of what America views as terrorist.

We need to be in control. Not media powerhouses. Not the government. We, the communities, need to lead the conversation on how to view this issue. When we look back in history, the greatest advancements toward justice for us occurred when we took a stand and demanded we be viewed in the way we preferred. When we leave it up to mainstream media to write that narrative, we are asking for trouble. I know there are allies out there like Granderson advocating for us, but we have not come fully to that sense of public trust just yet. Turn to your local news branch of a major broadcasting company, and you see it firsthand.

I am not trying to have people believe that just because our communities have become war zones in many ways, that militant action is the best route to go because of how we understand the issue. I’m trying to save my community, not exterminate them, and you cannot say that is not a possibility because: 1) it happens already, and 2) we react in the same way when we label something “terrorist.”


We, the community, never needed national headlines to start the movement before, and we definitely do not need them now. Keyword: start. We have to start first. We have to mobilize, organize, build solidarity. We have to collectively feel the sense of urgency and not be afraid to act. Empathy was never something given to us; we had to demand it on our terms. That process is much better, in my opinion, instead of perpetuating a narrative we have little say over that will probably present a result we did not anticipate or desire.