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Chicagoans are dumbfounded anti-gang law is struck down

CHICAGO (AP) -- After his home was sprayed with bullets during a gang turf war five years ago, Emmett Moore pleaded with Chicago police to round up the youths who loitered on his block.

Under the city's tough anti-gang law, officers could break up groups of people hanging out in public "with no apparent purpose." But not any more. The Supreme Court struck down the law Thursday, calling it unconstitutionally vague."The constitution is supposed to protect my rights too," said Moore, 74. "What's a more basic right than feeling safe on my property or being able to walk on my street?"

Moore and other supporters of the ordinance said the Supreme Court arrogantly elevated abstract ideals of civil liberty over the practical problems of gang violence in a decision that patronizes those simply looking for safer streets.

"I'll be doggone if the Supreme Court can tell me what's best for my neighborhood," Alderman Ed Smith said. "I can guarantee that each one of the justices lives in ostentatiousness. They have no idea what we live like."

Justice Clarence Thomas, the court's only black member, echoed Smith's sentiments in a furious dissent to the 6-3 ruling. He said the court had "unnecessarily sentenced law-abiding citizens to lives of terror and misery."

"The people who suffer from our lofty pronouncements are people who have seen their neighborhoods literally destroyed by gangs and violence and drugs," he said.

The 1992 ordinance required police to order any group of people standing around to move along if an officer believed at least one of them belonged to a street gang. It led to 45,000 arrests in the three years it was enforced.

There is disagreement over how many street gang members reside in Chicago. City police estimated gang membership might total 10,000, but the court was told federal prosecutors believe the total might be closer to 100,000.

Some Austin residents say there is barely a corner or alley in the neighborhood that is not manned by an intimidating group. Most don't understand the logic of the Supreme Court's decision.