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Gang violence captures drivers in the crossfire on Chicago expressways

January 11, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Gang violence captures drivers in the crossfire on Chicago expressways

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Jonathan Ortiz and fellow members of his rap group, No Nights Off, held a concert in mid-September at Chicago’s House of Blues, which they hoped would launch their young, promising careers.

However, less than two weeks later, 22-year-old Ortiz, who went by the stage name “John Doe,” was shot and killed as he drove on a Chicago highway. Alexis Garcia, his girlfriend, was also shot in the neck.

According to Reuters, the pair were the 38th shooting victims on Chicago expressways in 2016, a record number for a city swarmed by a homicide rate that hasn’t been seen in twenty years.

“It is overwhelming that this is the reality in Chicago, that you can drive on the expressway now and get shot,” said Tanue David, a family support specialist with the group Chicago Survivors, who is working with Ortiz’s family members.

Authorities say that gang violence is frequently spilling over onto the expressways in Chicago, with innocent drivers sometimes getting caught in the crossfire.

The Illinois State Police, which has control over Chicago expressways, attributed gang warfare to the rising number of highway shoot-outs in 2016 that pose “an extreme danger to the motoring public.”

Ortiz was shot on Interstate 290, one of five Chicago expressways where shootings have taken place.

The two victims were attacked on September 29, while Ortiz drove her SUV near his mother’s home.

Ortiz reportedly had no criminal history or gang ties.

REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo FILE PHOTO – Jacqueline Ortiz is comforted as she cries during a vigil for her son John Ortiz, who was shot and killed while driving on the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago

“He was calm, that’s how I knew that God took him fast,” Garcia said about the moments after Ortiz was struck.

Between 2011 and 2012, nine shootings occurred on city expressways, according to state police. That number increased to 16 in 2013 and 19 in 2014. It close to doubled the next year to 37 and rose again in 2016 to 47. Three of the shootings in 2016 were fatal.

The increase in highway shootings came as Chicago was the subject of a surge in violence in 2016 that saw 762 people murdered, a 57% increase from 2015, and is the highest number since 1996.

Chicago authorities blame a variety of factors, including splitting gangs and officers drawing back from confrontation out of concern of increased scrutiny for their actions.

Eddie Johnson, the Chicago Police Superintendent, has vehemently blamed lax regulations for repeat gun offenders. “The people committing these crimes think the consequences are a joke,” he said.

In February 2016, state police began the Chicago Expressway Anti-violence Surge after the seventh expressway shooting.

However, the shooting numbers remained high and arrests were made in only one of last year’s shootings. Uncooperative victims and expansive crime scenes hinder efforts to solve the cases.

Political gridlock is also a factor, said Joe Moon, president of the Illinois Troopers Lodge 41 Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents state troopers.

Disagreement between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who dominate the legislature has kept Illinois without a full working budget since July 2015, which meant no cadet hires in 2015 and 2016, and 2017 remains uncertain as well.

Since the year 2000, the number of sworn officers has steadily declined to just over 1,600 from approximately 2,100, Moon added.

State police said the budget deadlock had no impact on the force’s work.

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