U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Chicago Democrat, continued their joint efforts to address gang violence and economic depression in Chicago with a Thursday tour of Englewood, a South Side neighborhood in Rush's district that's among the city's most dangerous.
"Chicago has a serious violence problem and we are united in our efforts to solve it," Kirk and Rush said in a joint statement. "While we may not agree on every idea, we both know that any law enforcement strategy needs effective community-based programs and economic growth plans to succeed. We are united in our efforts to save lives and stop the violence, and we will continue to work together until we succeed."
Despite general accord on the need for more jobs and economic investment in the area, the congressional colleagues admitted they still don't see eye-to-eye on they key issue of gangs.
Kirk has made no secret of his desire to "crush" some of the city's most violent street gangs, such as the Gangers Disciples. DNAinfo Chicago reports Thursday, Kirk called the gang a "cancer that won't go away."
Rush, however, told the Sun-Times the idea of the Gangster Disciples as an organized group is a "myth" and a "figment of Kirk's imagination."
"We have armed cliques fighting one another, there's no super structure mega-gang Al Capone outfit that exists in Chicago," Rush said.
Darryl Smith, a neighborhood resident and member of the Englewood Political Task Force told DNAinfo he agreed with Rush that Kirk's notion of the Gangster Disciples was out of date.
"Gangs do not exist anymore, especially the Gangster Disciples," Smith said. "You have a bunch of cliques running around here causing problems, but the police has labeled them as a gang."
Kirk nevertheless stood by his statements.
"Despite what Congressman Rush may think, gangs do exist in Chicago. At least that's what police intel tells me," Kirk said. "One thing I do know after talking with residents is that the Gangster Disciples do not have any support in the African-American community."
After Kirk proposed rounding up 18,000 of the Gangster Disciples to beat back Chicago's staggering homicide rate in May, Rush blasted the mass arrest idea as an "upper-middle-class, elitist white boy solution to a problem [Kirk] knows nothing about."
The have since reconciled and vowed to tackle the problem shoulder-to-shoulder, despite their disagreements.
"I'm glad that Mark is here," Rush told the Sun-Times. "We have a Republican senator here in Englewood that experienced it firsthand."
Kirk and Rush spoke to families who had lost loved ones to gun violence, and Kirk said the tour helped him understand that the crime and unemployment problems were "worse than I thought."
"It was pretty shocking, what I saw. A lot of despair," Kirk said after the tour.
Both men called for a bipartisan effort to bring resources into the Englewood neighborhood to promote economic investment, create jobs for youth and fight crime.