May 7th, 2009
12:10 PM ET

Blocking the transmission of violence

Editor's Note: Alex Kotlowitz is a journalist, an award-winning nonfiction writer and a writer-in-residence at Medill. His first book, There Are No Children Here, chronicled the lives of two boys living in a Chicago housing project. He has written extensively on violence in Chicago. This article, published in May 2008, describes how one Chicago epidemiologist thinks he has the answer to treating gang violence like an infectious disease. We'll have more on why so many school-aged children are being killed in Chicago tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Alex Kotlowitz
The New York Times

Last summer, Martin Torres was working as a cook in Austin, Tex., when, on the morning of Aug. 23, he received a call from a relative. His 17-year-old nephew, Emilio, had been murdered. According to the police, Emilio was walking down a street on Chicago’s South Side when someone shot him in the chest, possibly the culmination of an ongoing dispute. Like many killings, Emilio’s received just a few sentences in the local newspapers. Torres, who was especially close to his nephew, got on the first Greyhound bus to Chicago. He was grieving and plotting retribution. “I thought, Man, I’m going to take care of business,” he told me recently. “That’s how I live. I was going hunting. This is my own blood, my nephew.”

Torres, who is 38, grew up in a dicey section of Chicago, and even by the standards of his neighborhood he was a rough character. His nickname was Packman, because he was known to always pack a gun. He was first shot when he was 12, in the legs with buckshot by members of a rival gang. He was shot five more times, including once through the jaw, another time in his right shoulder and the last time — seven years ago — in his right thigh, with a .38-caliber bullet that is still lodged there. On his chest, he has tattooed a tombstone with the name “Buff” at its center, a tribute to a friend who was killed on his 18th birthday. Torres was the head of a small Hispanic gang, and though he is no longer active, he still wears two silver studs in his left ear, a sign of his affiliation.


soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Raymond

    Violence is almost always discussed in terms of guns + drugs = violence. Violence needs to be discussed in real human terms such as: preceived threat (real or psychological) +anger=violence/abuse. Guns and drugs adds to the intensity of the violence/abuse. There needs to be more discussion of the real human terms of violence.

    May 7, 2009 at 4:32 pm |
  2. Mike in NYC

    The contagion theory of crime. I guess I should have seen this one coming.

    Just when I thought I had fully grasped the seemingly limitless capacity of the liberal mind to avoid blaming pathological behavior on those responsible, it seems they've topped themselves.

    And what's with this "children" thing? They're teenagers, being killed mainly by other teenagers.

    May 7, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  3. earle,florida

    Weak article with very little substance regarding rehabilitation! A good analogy is that of a Lion's Pride where young are brought up by the lioness,and males only suitable for breeding,and protection! The cubs have limited time honing their survival instincts. Without the pride the lions would ultimately become extinct. These basic laws hold true for all wild animals in the Jungle! Survival of the fittest. PS. The inner cities of America breed hopeless despair ,and contemp with no way out, other than becoming a survivor in a concrete jungle.When your born behind an eightball ,and labelled/stigmatized as trash you must react adversely,...woudn't you?

    May 7, 2009 at 12:48 pm |