On the other side of the tracks - efforts to stop crime by gangs in Chicago, Illinois
National Review, Nov 29, 1993 by ArLynn Leiber Presser
On the face of it, a ceremony honoring people who work for peace, like the one at Englewood Technical Preparatory High School in Chicago, seems like a nice idea. The award ceremony was the finale to a five-day United In And For Peace summit. However, the "Nation Leaders" who were honored are more conventionally known as urban street-gang leaders, and the summit, endorsed by NAACP Executive Director Ben Chavis and attended by the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, was hosted by the megagang Gangster Disciples (GDs, which some now claim stands for Growth and Development).
Convention participants are part of the much-heralded "gang truce" movement. Chicago, like New York, Los Angeles, and Sarajevo, obviously needs a gang truce. But, although there have been more than 15 announced ceasefires, Chicago's gangrelated homicide rate continues to rise.
The conference gave a clue as to why this should be so. As participants talked of creating peace in the inner city, there weren't many suggestions that they turn in their guns and stop drug-trafficking--although Prince Mukhtar Ali, a member of the Cleveland chapter of the Conservative Vice Lords, announced that members of his gang would no longer take guns into public schools. Topics of scheduled meetings included fostering unity between blacks and Latinos, combatting injustices in the courts and by police, and encouraging greater government "investment" in the inner cities. Summit-goers recommended that the Clinton Administration establish 500,000 jobs for at-risk youths, expand the nationalservice program, and establish a national commission of minority-group members to probe police-brutality reports. In a closed-door session, remarks by President Clinton were read to participants.
The daily news conferences, with some participants covering their faces with brightly colored bandannas as the cameras rolled, had two running themes: black men taking a stand for peace in their community and then blaming outsiders and agents provocateurs for problems such as drugs and crime. Several speakers adamantly denied any gang responsibility for the distribution of drugs in the black community. When reporters tried to interview some Crips, they were admonished not to ask insulting questions about drugtrafficking profits and drive-by shootings. The press obliged.
Attendance, at about 150, was a fraction of the thousands projected (invited Latino gangs flatly refused to come). While most wore black leather, gang leaders whose appellation of choice proclaimed their royal status preferred African-inspired dress. Prince Asiel Ben Israel of the Black Hebrew Israelites cut a particularly dashing figure in floor-length robes.
The award ceremony at Englewood High honored local gang leaders for their "peace" work. Recipients of the peace prize included Chairman Larry Hoover of the GDs, Willie Lloyd of the Unknown Vice Lords, and leaders of the Four Corner Hustlers, Black Disciples, and Conservative Vice Lords. Unfortunately, none of the honorees was able to make the ceremony. Their reasons for sending regrets included prison, which is a credible excuse (Chairman Hoover is serving time for murder), and fear of assassination attempts, which is not so credible since it is a part of doing business.
Board of Education President D. Sharon Grant, hounded by the press about the use of school property for the assembly, talked tough about a possible investigation. The investigation was brought to a hasty close when the school principal, Warner Birts, claimed no prior knowledge of gang involvement in the assembly.
In fact, the awards ceremony was not the first official contact between gangs and Englewood's administration. The school has used volunteers from the Gangster Disciples and its rival Black Disciples to counsel students and keep the peace. Other gang members are used to supervise afternoon dismissal time. Assistant principal Nehemiah Russell wrote to the state parole board to encourage Hoover's early release (the parole board refused), on the grounds that Hoover had been an "invaluable asset" to the school.
Mayor Richard Daley, breaking with politicians too nervous to criticize the summit, called it "crazy," warning that delicate school-finance negotiations with Illinois legislators could be jeopardized by the perception that Chicago public schools are cozy with the gangs. Whether the summit will adversely affect school finance or positively influence gang crime remains to be seen. But summit organizers hope it will give them a springboard to greater political power. "Gator"' Bradley, the GDs' "enforcer," whose credentials include four years in prison for armed robbery, hopes to run for the city council. He says he learned a lot during the five-day conference. "What I found out is I can become just as great as Kennedy, I can become just as great as Mayor Daley, I can become as great as Clinton and Gore," he says.