where the writers are
'Public Enemy' Title Is A Joke-- But On Chicago...

'Lest it pass unnoticed, the Number One indicator that Chicago government and its local law enforcement have absolutely no idea how to combat the tsunami of killings in the city occurred last week-- fittingly, on the anniversary of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre-- when the city declared a non-resident Mexican cartel "boss" as Public Enemy Number One here.

It was the first time that title has been conferred on any individual since Al Capone wore that mantle. But Scarface Al lived in Chicago; it is doubtful that Joaquín Guzmán Loera --secure in his mountainous fiefdom, down Mexico way-- has ever pondered (or ever will) his reflection in The Millennium Park "Bean" as he munches a slice of deep-dish. These days, with the murder rate the highest in the nation, it is doubtful Guzmán would risk doing so even in full body-armor.

It's true that Guzmán's Sinaloa cartel has a near-monopoly on the illegal drugs that flow into Chicago; it is an unquestioned fact that drug-distribution profits are fueling a turf war among Chicago gangs. One hand feeds the other, and there's an admitted comfort in thinking that declaring one man the responsible party --or the prime target for elimination, should one also think like a Hollywood screenwriter-- provides a viable strategy toward resolution.

It shouldn't.

Annointing Guzmán "Chicago's Public Enemy No. 1" is, rather, an excuse for an oft-demonstrated impotence. The problem is here, not south of the border.

There is no "Mr. Big" running Chicago gangs. The situation in Chicago is analogous to a viral infection, with relatively small, numerous, neighborhood-based independent gangs flooding throughout the city's bloodstream. To be sure, they're cannibalistic, preying on each other as well as predatory on the host itself; but worse, they are mindlessly without restraint, whether self- or supervisory, heedless of the lives of non-combatants who may wander into their crossfire.

And, sad to say, even their motivation to murder is more complex than the mere mercantile: they kill now not just to garner turf and drug profits, but in a nihilistic act of self-affirmation-- particularly for any slight, real or imagined, that might constitute a "diss."

"I kill, therefore I am" is a difficult local motivation to blame on a faraway Mexican cartel leader.

Which brings us back to Guzmán, and last week's news conference.

Short of dispatching an elite team of Chicago Police Department beat-cops to kick-in a Sinaloa door, it is difficult to imagine how a press conference bestowing a long-vacant "title" can have any value, much less any effect.

It doesn't. And it won't.

More than anything else, that is what makes this PR stunt truly terrifying.

-- Earl Merkel