CHICAGO | U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said Monday he continues to push for congressional money and other potential solutions to combat street gang violence, and he even went on a ride-along with police through gang-plagued parts of Chicago.
The Illinois Republican was stung by criticism earlier this year when he called for the arrest of up to 18,000 Gangster Disciple members, which critics said was a blunt, ill-conceived prescription for such a multifaceted problem.
Kirk, who met with law enforcement heads Monday about gang violence, was asked at a news conference afterward if he had backed away from the idea of large-scale arrests.
"No, I have not backed away," he responded, adding that he raised the notion of mass arrests to "shock" and draw attention to the issue. However, he acknowledged it might not be practical to make that many arrests at once.
The state's junior senator also said he is supporting legislation in Washington, D.C., to boost funding devoted to fighting gang-related crime, including by allowing the Department of Justice to hire more prosecutors. Kirk also wants the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to appoint an anti-gang coordinator for Illinois, which Kirk says has the highest number of gang members per capita in the nation.
At Monday's news conference, Kirk disclosed he recently went on a ride-along with police through Chicago's South Side as part of his pledge to more fully understand of the link between gangs and violence.
He used the vernacular of the street to describe how police were called to the scene of a shooting where Kirk said, "One guy got popped."
The victim was a reputed gang member and survived a gunshot wound to his lower body, explained Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy, who accompanied Kirk on the ride-along through the city's South Side.
"It was one of those situations that we run into frequently," McCarthy said at the same news conference. "(The victim) was uncooperative. He didn't tell us what happened." There were no arrests in the case, he said.
Kirk's office declined to provide details about his ride-along, saying only that it happened sometime during the July 4 recess, that Kirk didn't witness the shooting or see the victim when police went to the scene. Multiple messages seeking comment from police spokesman Adam Collins were not returned Monday.
After Kirk's comments in May about arresting up to 18,000 Gangster Disciples, his harshest critic was U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Chicago Democrat. He dismissed Kirk's proposal as a simplistic "white boy" solution to a complex problem.
Kirk said he still planned to tour other areas plagued by gangland violence with Rush himself.
"I've told him to take me to the worst of the worst — the place where politicians fear to go," Kirk said he told Rush.