Kass: Police patrolling social media to curb gang violence

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Murders happen in the real world, where the club bashes a real human being's head, or a solid bullet pierces real flesh.

Like that of Endia Martin, the 14-year-old shot in the back in my old neighborhood on the South Side.

But what's odd, maybe a sign of our times, is that Endia's slaying, like those of so many other young victims in Chicago, didn't begin in the real world.

It began in the virtual world, in what was once quaintly called cyberspace, where abstract gathering places have names like Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and others.

And now the Chicago Police Department — like its colleagues in New York — has detailed officers to watch those virtual playgrounds, where gangsters get together and boast about who got capped, who fell and who should die.

The NYPD has been doing this work formally for several years, by posting fake social media profiles as bait for gangbangers to follow.

Chicago police sources say the department has followed suit with a new unit to deal with gangs and cyberspace. Publicly, officials would not go so far as calling it a "unit," opting instead to describe it as a crime-fighting tactic that is being expanded.

"For gang members, social media is the new graffiti," said Adam Collins, spokesman for Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy. "It's a way to communicate, to intimidate, to sound off, to taunt other gangs or to boost their own reputation."

Though McCarthy's office wouldn't call its new effort a unit, Collins confirmed that several officers had been tasked to the job. He declined to offer details on how they gather cyber intelligence on street gangs.

"Obviously, we don't discuss the specifics of our methodologies," Collins said.

But cops who work with the new unit — or group — say they're impressed with the information they're receiving.

On social media, insults and challenges are posted for the world to see, or at least for those who know where to look. The insults increase, others get involved, and some bring guns.

That's what allegedly happened before Endia's slaying: trash talk on Facebook over a boy. And then a gun came out.

Perhaps an even more brazen example involved Gakirah Barnes, 17, who devoted much of her time to social media, posing with guns and threatening rival gang factions. Barnes was shot to death at 64th and Eberhart on April 11.

She was associated with a gang called Tookaville, a group from Woodlawn affiliated with the Gangster Disciples that was named after a slain member. The shooter has not yet been arrested.

Barnes sent out thousands of aggressive tweets under the name TyquanAssassin. Many were threats, and others were demands for vengeance.

She wrote this one, rather prophetically, hours before the bullets pierced her body:

"u Nobody until Somebody kill u dats jst real."

We talked about Chicago police's social media initiative with veteran cops who asked not to be identified. They called it a "unit" even if the brass wouldn't.

"As soon as we get a shooting, we'll shoot (them) an email and they'll tell us everything they have on that area, that gang, what the banter is on Facebook," said a detective.

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