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The suburb of Melrose Park is one of the safer communities in the western suburbs; however, it is also one of the first Chicago land suburbs to be infiltrated by Chicago based street gangs way back in the 1970s, it also used to be a village that had some pretty severe gang activity in the 1980s and 1990s especially since this community borders Maywood and is near Bellwood. Melrose Park is well known for having a large Italian population and for being the home of the Kiddieland Amusement Park (pictured). The suburb has a range of upper middle classes down to low income classes, and is home to a large Hispanic and Italian population.
Melrose Park gangs are nothing new at all. This dates back to the year 1952 when Italian youths got together to organize greaser gangs to fight against gangs from other Chicago area suburbs. When African Americans began to move into the neighboring suburb of Maywood these greasers began targeting black youths and inflicting several gang beatings upon them. Melrose Park teens would cross the border into Maywood and start fights and sometimes Maywood black youths would cross into Melrose Park and start fights, this began a very ugly rivalry between Maywood and Melrose Park youths that went on into the 1980s.
The Hispanic migration of Melrose Park began in 1976 as most of the newly arrived families were moving into the south east side of town in an area bounded by Lake Street on the north, the railroad tracks on the south, 9th Avenue on the east and 25th Avenue on the west. This small section of town directly bordered the suburb of Maywood where crime began increasing heavily by the late 1970s. Among the Hispanic migration came members of the Latin Kings from Maywood that settled in this section of town in 1976 and slowly recruited in the late 1970s and by the early 1980s the Melrose Park.
Much of the mostly Italian community objected to this new Hispanic populace and aimed to keep them confined to their small area. The Hispanic area of Melrose Park is very small in size and made for mobility about the community very tough as many groups of hostile Italians became very territorial and vicious. Many Hispanic kids were bullied in school and tormented as they tried to use public facilities outside of their neighborhood. Hispanic people often had a tough time opening businesses outside of their confined area and this all caught the attention of the Maywood Latin Kings. In the same year that Latin Kings settled in Maywood in 1976, Latin Kings immediately established the Melrose Park chapter that was partially directly governed by Maywood Latin Kings. From 9th Avenue down to 15th Avenue the Maywood Latin Kings directly governed this half. From 15th Avenue down to 25th Avenue the Latin Kings there governed a little more independently. Latin Kings also recruited Italian youths that were considered as undesirables and overall rejected by the Italian community. The Melrose Park chapter of Latin Kings became the second suburban Latin King chapter in the entire world. This chapter was referred to as “UsedayWood.” The Latin Kings heavily protected Mexican owned businesses at the intersection of 19th Avenue (Broadway) and Lake Street that would constantly be under attack.
Latin Kings were often indirectly protected by Melrose Park Police as most of their enemies were from the black gangs from neighboring Maywood. Black Gangster Disciples would cross the Maywood/Melrose tracks from St.Charles Road to Main Street and the police would swarm them quickly.
Gang activity was still the heaviest in the southeast side of town and this was the spot of the first Melrose Park gang related shooting death that happened on June 24, 1982 when Latin Kings from Maywood crossed the tracks to gang bang on a rival gang at 14th and Main Street. Both gangs got into a fist fight in the streets and from what I understand in the article the Maywood Latin Kings were getting the better of the other gang in the fight which caused the rival gang to run away, but the Latin Kings were not satisfied enough and pulled out a .22 rifle and began shooting at the crowd of rivals. The shooter Donald Garrett (King Stretch) was convicted of gunning down James Peck according to the article (Chicago Tribune Daily Suburban August 2, 1983). This shooting was only the beginning of excessive gang violence in this suburb but it now showed the community that there were indeed street gangs active in the community and it was not just a Maywood or Bellwood thing.
Eventually Latin Kings would spread all over the Melrose Park community especially after Hispanic families were able to move into other parts of town, in part, due to the efforts of the Latin Kings. The Latin Kings became the biggest gang in town but eventually rival gangs moved into the area that opposed the Latin Kings like: Black Gangster Disciples, Imperial Gangsters, Maniac Latin Disciples and Los Bebe Stones.
In the 1990s there were several gang related incidents in the suburb as more gangs moved in such as Two Two Boys and Spanish Lords. Drive by shootings and gang fights became quite common in the suburb until eventually Melrose Park police cracked down hard on gang activity and by the 21st century Melrose Park experienced low crime rates.