The visiting room at the Dixon Correctional Center looks like a high school cafeteria. On a weekday in late December, prisoners are sitting around circular tables with their families, chatting, eating hamburgers, dealing cards. Kids are playing video games in the corner or buying candy from the inmate-run commissary. A bearded inmate in denim who seems no different than any other walks in, yet everyone somehow notices his arrival. He walks over to one table, where a skinny, elderly black inmate sits with his guests. “This is Larry Hoover,” the inmate says.
“Of course,” one of the guests says. “Mr. Hoover. A pleasure.” Hoover poses for a snapshot with the group, shakes hands, and moves on. At another table, a portly white inmate sits with his family. “Kids, this is Mr. Hoover,” he says to his three grandchildren. A woman shakes Hoover’s hand. “We’ve heard so much about you, Mr. Hoover. Happy New Year to you.”
Hoover poses for another picture and continues to work his way across the room, shaking hands as he goes. He’s carrying a Federal Express envelope under his arm. It contains letters from newsmagazines and CNN; they want to interview him.
Hoover’s fame extends beyond the Illinois prison system. He’s the leader, police say, of the Gangster Disciples street gang. But Hoover maintains that he’s transformed the Gangster Disciples into a community-service organization called Growth and Development. He’s unquestionably encouraged GDs and friends from prison to form 21st Century V.O.T.E., the political action group that’s making a lot of old-time politicos nervous. And he influenced Chicago’s controversial “gang summit” of October 1993. Thousands of young men, former and current gang members, hang on his words and ideas. When Hoover speaks, even though he’s been in prison for 20 years, people pay attention.
He says his gang days are over, and Growth and Development is a political organization. His life and education in prison, he says, have given him a new conception of power. “It’s a natural state of evolvement,” he says. “Everything’s changed. As you mature, you change. Your priorities change, your perspectives change. The difference between a gang and an organization is the principles and the goals that they apply. If you live by morals and principles, then the Gangster Disciples, or Growth and Development, ain’t no different than the Elks or Masons or some other organization. It’s principles that you live by, and it takes time to move from one stage to another. But you peer toward that stage. Every ethnic group, they start out with these street gangs, but as they mature they turn into something far more legitimate and something that could be a credit to the community. And that’s all it is, it’s an evolvement. You go from one stage to another.”
Hoover was born in December 1949 and grew up on the south and west sides. In a personal statement he wrote for a parole hearing two years ago, he described his childhood as a time of togetherness and community. “The inner-city neighborhoods I grew up in were basically segregated (all Black) and somewhat impoverished, but my fondest memories of life are from events that happened during this period of time. Childhood was very joyful; I lived with my whole family: mother, father, sisters, brothers, grandparents and other close relatives. We shared many wonderful experiences, simply being together. My family provided a healthy environment for me to be a happy child, to learn and grow, and enjoy the fun things little boys love to do. There was school, picnics, trips, baseball games (which I truly loved) and playing with friends. There existed no such thing as drive-by shootings, either at night or in the day time. For the most part, many neighborhood friends were raised in a similar manner; allowed to enjoy childhood without the threat of violence causing fear and death.”
In the 1960s, wrote Hoover, “being a teenager in a major urban city like Chicago became a violent experience, especially for black youths such as myself. . . . My attitude (and behavior) was greatly influenced by popular western and gangster movie stars, and the hustlers who lived in the immediate neighborhoods. It seems that everyone believed violence and guns were the best way to settle conflicts, to get real respect and power . . . the only way to be recognized as someone important. And I found myself believing this also.”
Hoover grew up during the rise of black street gangs in Chicago, and he gravitated toward the center of power: the Gangster Disciples were involved in the city’s largest gang conflict when he came of age. The situation that led to the rise of Hoover’s GDs began in the late 1960s, when another gang leader, Jeff Fort of the Blackstone Rangers, made public statements about turning his gang into a positive force for social change. Fort promised gang peace on the south side, and he consulted with national Democrats and Republicans about how to better conditions in inner-city neighborhoods. Fort, now in federal prison for life, attended Richard Nixon’s inauguration, and the Blackstone Rangers shared amply in nearly $1 million of federal antipoverty funds sent to Chicago. Fort used some of the money to form El Rukn, which grew to be the most powerful drug-running organization in the city.
The power of Fort’s gang led other gang leaders to seek alliances. David Barksdale, the leader of the Black Disciples, was one of those. He pulled together his BDs, the Gangster Disciples (of which Hoover was now a member), and other, smaller gangs to form the Black Gangster Disciple Nation. He could now give Fort a run for his money. Members of Barksdale’s gang began using the six-pointed Star of David as a tribute to him, and his influence grew. In 1974 Barksdale was murdered, and the gang almost immediately split in two, with Jerome “Shorty” Freeman taking control of the Black Disciples and Larry Hoover, now nicknamed “King,” assuming leadership of the Gangster Disciples.
But Hoover didn’t gain absolute control of the GDs until he was behind bars. On February 26, 1973, he and a GD named Andrew Howard murdered William Young, who had been named at a meeting as one of three persons who allegedly stole drugs and money from the GDs. Howard and Hoover were each sentenced to prison for 150 to 200 years. Another young man, Joshua Shaw, who testified at a preliminary hearing that he saw Howard abduct Young, was murdered before Howard and Hoover were tried. Neither was charged in Shaw’s death, but the state’s attorney’s office has continued to cite it in opposing parole. Likewise the apparent murder of a “John Tucker”–who actually is still alive and could be produced, Hoover’s attorney insisted at the 1993 parole hearing.
Hoover says he continued to belong to the Gangster Disciples from prison until 1987, when he was transferred to Vienna, a minimum-security institution near the southern tip of Illinois. He said in a written statement to his parole board in 1993: “It is an undeniable fact of life that gangs and their attendant activities have always been and will continue to be an inseparable part of the social dynamics that establishes and maintains the only true semblance of the prison’s order and the relative peace. . . . In the midst of a severe austere prison environment that is charged with the potential for violence at any given moment the lone individual is vulnerable. . . . One’s safety in prison is a tenuous proposition at best. On the bottom line, survival becomes the paramount pre-occupation, your well being is a matter of constant concern, the only reality one can count on is right now, the present, this moment, tomorrow is fraught with uncertainty.”
In 1978 Hoover and 20 other inmates were charged with inciting riots at the Pontiac Correctional Center that left three guards dead. The charges against Hoover were dropped for lack of evidence. But in August of 1993, the Chicago Tribune quoted Cook County state’s attorney Jack O’Malley as saying, “Hoover’s involvement was evident throughout the investigation.” The same article also said, “Hoover was disciplined by prison officials after the riots.”
When Hoover went to prison in 1973, he was functionally illiterate, reading at a third grade level. But once in prison he began to study, eventually obtaining his GED and an emergency medical technician’s license. He read and learned about politics. “For a black man to have anything to say about what goes on in the world, he’s got to be involved with what controls the blacks, and that’s the political apparatus,” he says. “Our black elected officials, a lot of them sell out, they vote the way the mayor tells them to vote. They don’t vote with the interest of the people. They vote with their own self-interest. If black people are to have anything to say about what goes on around them, they are going to have to get involved in the political process.”
The earliest evidence of Hoover’s political awakening comes in a 1981 memo that Hoover and his GD board of directors circulated. It said in part: “Through business and politics, we can build an economical base that will insure us boundless power and wealth.” In the mid-80s Hoover officially changed the name of the Gangster Disciples to Growth and Development, and began to articulate a different mission for his organization. He explains where the name comes from: “It sort of evolved out of the Gangster Disciples. There are prominent people within that organization that choose to follow that doctrine, and they mean to build with the pieces that affect our lives and our community. It’s old guys that realize, that are looking at it a lot differently, and that’s basically what it is.”
Hoover claims he’s several steps removed from his days as a Gangster Disciple leader, and that he and the “old guys” can lead young blacks toward political power. “We have the same social conditions and life experience,” he says. “Most black males now come through the prison system. That’s what binds us. Guys who come from the background I come from are in a unique position to help the black males. We have to listen to them to try and turn around the cycle. We can galvanize the sleeping giant in the black community. Street gang members don’t trust the system, don’t use the system, because they believe it can’t work for them. By them not taking advantage of the system, things are going to keep on going in the direction that they’re going in. But if somebody leads them, wants to bring them in and show them that they can get involved and they can impact and they can make some changes, then they’ll listen. At least you’ll get their attention.”
The most striking statement of Hoover’s political ideas is a 45-page manifesto that has been circulated to GDs and members of 21st Century V.O.T.E. during the last couple of years. At times repetitive and didactic, often obtusely spiritual and philosophical, Hoover’s “Blueprint of a New Concept” presents a few concrete political goals and strategies for achieving political power. But these appear only at the end, and the rest of the document has the tone of a preacher speaking to his congregation, telling them to shape up.
On the first page of the “Blueprint,” Hoover states the goals of the “New Concept,” which, he writes, “is slowly, but firmly, molding our lives into a network of Principles and Rules for the guidance and appraisal of our conduct. In the least, we are being fused into morality: A conscious effort to do what is ‘right’ and in accordance with our teachings. We are fast becoming a working, thinking, and planning group of people with common goals that unite us around an ideological concept of ourselves.”
He continues, lecturing on the topic of preparedness: “This is a large part of our struggle. We must PREPARE our own alternatives to save our brothers who are trapped in ‘penal warehouses’ without a purpose or mission in life. Death or incarceration have been the most widely-used exits from our frustrations. We must begin to PREPARE other exits.” Later, he writes, “Our New Concept teaches that our organization is based on GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT. GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT builds in stages: It is not cool and romantic; it is stalking and being stalked; it is ‘the system’ rising above our level of intelligence to repress us; and it is our membership learning how to counter their repression and again pull ourselves above their efforts to destroy us.”
Hoover sounds, in turn, realistic and paranoid in describing as a common enemy of his organization “anyone WHO supports or condones the ‘systematic warehousing’ and destruction of our people. By allowing themselves to become tools of this system, these people perpetuate it and its inherent evils. Liberals are just as guilty as the extreme right, because by tolerating these injustices, by adjusting to society’s discrimination, and by simply remaining silent, they compromise their own integrity and allow the evils of this system to endure.” He writes, “In the midst of a hostile, racist nation, whose racism is rising to the surface at a phenomenal speed, WHO, of us, are still so blind to our struggle for educational, economical, political, and social development that they are continuing to function in futile, petty ways??? We will not succeed until we fully understand the fact that the enemy is aware, disguised, determined, and mercilessly counter-intelligence. We must begin to understand that the . . . attempts to explain away . . . our ability to change does not end when we are released. These ‘mental acrobatics’ are political in nature and are designed to discredit our movement by reducing it to a criminal organization, a ‘gang.'” He also writes, “Our knowledge of this deliberate form of destruction should steel our hearts with an obsessive desire to become more organized and unified. Instead, as soon as our anger subsides, we allow our adversary to move in and re-take the ground it has been forced to give. We must fear this mistake far more than the strategy of our adversary. For us to GROW & DEVELOP, we must face and overcome these challenges.”
The balance of the manifesto outlines what Hoover calls the ” Six Universal Laws of Existence” and the “Six Principles of Growth & Development: Love, Life, Loyalty, Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding.” Of love, he writes: “LOVE is now used (more often than not) as an emotion controlled by our individual feelings, wants, and desires; instead of as the 1st Principle necessary to our survival. Why is this so? Perhaps because we find it easier to continue living in the same manner which we are familiar with, such as: Drugs, pimping, prostitution, gangbanging, extortion, etc., etc., etc. Or, could it be that we are out to get ‘TURNED ON’ instead of ‘PLUGGING IN???’ If we continue to allow our neighborhood conditions to keep our ability to LOVE blocked by negative thoughts and attitudes, then we are standing in the way of our success.”
Of loyalty, Hoover writes: “A man who lives without LOYALTY lives without the basic INTEGRITY and DIGNITY of humanity. NO LOYALTY implies no purpose, and life is so designed that it will not support a man who has no purpose. Although we can pity him, even this we cannot do for long if the signs of him SERVING A PURPOSE do not surface soon.” He also says, “Each member has to undertake a ‘positive approach’ toward their community, or wherever they pursue their normal lives.”
Urging knowledge, Hoover exhorts his followers to read. “Our illiteracy has been used to turn the burning hostility of poor people against one another,” he writes. “For a man to be illiterate and not struggle to remove his illiteracy means that he has accepted being a slave to those of a higher intelligence and the destiny of his life will continually be dictated by forces opposite his true purpose. Brothers, we can no longer afford to allow our destiny to be at the mercy of our illiteracy. For there is no mercy for the illiterate; only exploitation, slavery and death.”
Turning to wisdom, Hoover talks about a new “attitude about the world” that he wants his followers to adopt. “Because of tunnel vision, we have found ourselves gangbanging, shooting, robbing and killing each other because ‘he wore a certain color’ or, ‘he tilted his hat a certain way’ or, worse yet, ‘he believed in a different concept/ideology than ours.'” The section called “Understanding” continues this idea. “The answers to our problems cannot be found in ‘carbon copy’ to Al Capone’s and Frank Nitti’s. While we may be the by-products of the same environment that produced the ‘gangster era,’ it is evident (by the vast expansion of the penal system) that we cannot successfully live ‘carbon copied’ lives of ‘gangsterism.’ Rather, our approach to society’s injustices must become innovative and original.”
Hoover suggests that he and his followers “guide our lives not only by the futuristic implications of our Leadership’s vision, but also by the mistakes of other organizations such as TWO, P.U.S.H., BLACK PANTHERS, etc., which have happened to live before us. Most importantly, we cannot afford to blindly accept cash, favors, or support from the powers-that-be; through WISDOM, we can clearly see the ulterior motives of such support.” And he sketches a political program that includes a universal ban on guns, the legalization of drugs, an economic development program “such as the sale of positive products and services which are in great demand by our communities,” and, most importantly, aggressive participation in the political process.
More than anything, Hoover’s “Blueprint” calls for a complete transformation of the street gang structure that gave him his original power base. Sitting in a private room in the Dixon Correctional Center’s visiting hall, separated from the other inmates by glass, he talks about how that’s going to happen. “It’s been laid on the shoulders of public figures in the organizations,” he says, “because the organizations out there nowadays, they look to their leadership. They got more respect for their leadership than they got for their mothers and fathers, than for their preachers, than for Operation PUSH, the NAACP. To get out of the state they’re in, they are going to have to work within the system. They got to become part of the system, they can get something by putting people in that really have their positions at heart. You gotta fight for yourself, you gotta make some noise. You don’t make some noise, then nothing’s gonna change. It’s going to be business as usual. You need to have a movement, because you don’t have a black movement nowadays. They [young people] have nothing to point to. They have no Martin Luther Kings or Malcolm Xs.”
Much of Chicago was shocked in August 1993 when 21st Century V.O.T.E. headed a drive to release Larry Hoover from prison. Hoover’s parole had been rejected ten times previously, but his colleagues were determined to see him freed on the twentieth anniversary of his sentencing. They circulated petitions, receiving thousands of signatures, and obtained letters from more than two dozen prominent black politicians and citizens, including current Democratic mayoral candidate Joseph Gardner, state representative Coy Pugh, aldermen Allan Streeter and Virgil Jones, and activists Lu Palmer and Eddie Read. “I’m not ready to say that Larry Hoover is such a bad man,” Virgil Jones was quoted as saying in the Tribune. “I’m not sure Al Capone was such a bad person either.”
The most prominent person to support Hoover was former mayor Eugene Sawyer, whose participation in the parole effort moved Hoover’s story to the front page of both dailies and to the top of the evening news. As Hoover’s level of support grew, people quickly began to take the idea of paroling him more seriously. An assistant high school principal from the south side wrote to the parole board saying, “For 20 years now, Larry has been a model prisoner. During this time he has sought and achieved a higher education in prison which will also contribute to his new goal to be an upstanding, productive member of society. His self-worth and self-image have been changed, from his own cognizant perspective.” Joe Gardner praised Hoover for leading an “attempt to end the horrific cycle of gangs, drugs and violence. By his support for this effort, he has energized and motivated leaders in the business, religious and civic community to join in this effort. It is a true testament to his commitment, dedication and leadership that he has had such an effect while incarcerated many miles from the City of Chicago!”
Sawyer wrote, “Mr. Hoover has been instrumental in motivating young men who had been involved in committing acts of violence and distributing drugs into individuals who are making sincere efforts to transform their lives.” He added, “As you may be aware, my stand on this matter will be looked upon with a jaundiced eye in many circles. However, I have observed how people with nothing to look forward to resort to criminal activities to support themselves and their families. I see how the prospect of fast money and power can lure individuals to a life of crime. If Mr. Hoover can make even more of a difference in the lives of these individuals when he is released, then I fully support his assistance in these troubled times.”
Appearing before the parole board on August 4, 1993, Sawyer testified on Hoover’s behalf, saying, “Our young people are not listening to us. With the help and support of strong African American men, it could make a difference. It’s no secret that he has a lot of influence over thousands of people, and for one person to have that kind of influence sometimes can be dangerous. But we want everyone to have influence, everyone in society.”
Among black politicians, only U.S. representative Mel Reynolds wrote to the parole board opposing Hoover’s release. “It’s absurd to say we have to look to the prisons for role models in our community, and the ones who think we do are the real ones who are out of contact,” Reynolds told the Tribune. “Are we in this community supposed to be afraid to speak up for what we believe in?” Roland Burris, then Illinois’s attorney general and now an independent candidate for mayor, went on record as having “no position” on Hoover.
The rank and file of Chicago politics opposed Hoover’s parole. Mayor Daley said politicians supporting Hoover’s release were “making a mistake.” Cook County state’s attorney Jack O’Malley said, “They just don’t know the facts. There’s no question he is continuing his activities. As we’re speaking, the gang he leads is murdering children.” In a letter to the parole board, O’Malley said, “Despite his protestations to the contrary, information gathered from the Illinois Department of Corrections, police gang intelligence, and official court documents in criminal trials reveals Larry Hoover remains the undisputed ‘king’ of the Gangster Disciples street gang.” On the same day Sawyer testified, the parole board heard testimony from Jack Hynes, supervisor of the Cook County state’s attorney’s gang unit, who said, “After 20 years, Larry Hoover still has the blood of William Young, still has the blood of countless other young men from the south side, the north side, from other cities, from other states on his hands. Through this orchestration of legitimacy, he’s trying to wipe that blood off. Please don’t let him do that. Please do not release Larry Hoover.” Hynes’s deputy, Tom Hennelly, said, “This Growth and Development is a sham. The only growth and development of the Gangster Disciples is murder and racketeering.”
The papers also came out against Hoover. A Tribune editorial argued, “Hoover is a leader, all right. He helped lead neighborhoods down a self-destructive road of murder, drug abuse and despair. His release would undermine the authority of law-abiding folks who lead by example, yet don’t get a parade of politicians to sing their praises.” The editorial concluded: “Let Hoover serve his time. If he has changed, and if he indeed commands his followers even behind bars, he can continue to do so right where he is. That will send two good messages. One, that bad people can change and do good works. Two, when you murder someone, you will go to prison for a long, long time.” The Sun-Times was slightly less harsh. Columnist Vernon Jarrett couched his criticism in quotes from black community members. A public school teacher said, “It’s embarrassing for me, a black person, to read where black leaders are trying to let free a murderer, a street gang leader, in order to influence the conduct of black children. The entire black community, especially our preachers, educators, business people, and all so-called successful people, should feel ashamed.”
Hoover went before the parole board on August 10. George Papajohn described him in the Tribune: “He was dressed as though on a European vacation: black loafers, black pleated slacks and a white, short-sleeve shirt. Looking younger than his 42 years, he spoke with a quiet force, politely acknowledging that he was a man of considerable influence.” Hoover said to the board, “I push all the youth down here toward education. They call me the old man. So as the old man I try to give them as sound advice as I possibly can. I stress the need to go to school, the need to get involved in the political process, the need to become entrepreneurs.” He also said, “I accept responsibility for the death of William Young. I was 22 years old at the time and didn’t have the same respect for human life that I have today. If I could go back and change it, I would do so.” The parole board also heard testimony from Robert Muzkowski, a businessman who said that he would hire Hoover if he were released, and from Winndye Jenkins, Hoover’s common-law wife for 27 years. Jenkins said Hoover should be freed to set an example for their two sons (now 21 and 25 years old) and other young black men. Hoover said, “Somebody’s got to reach out to them who they’ve got respect for. Somebody that’s one of them. Somebody that went through the same scenario they’re going through now. By me having a strong name, I can do some good out there.”
Hoover’s parole bid was rejected 8-0. Since he became eligible for parole in 1983, Hoover has never received a single vote to free him. This time the board told him, “After careful consideration of all the factors in your case, the board voted to deny parole. The board still believes that parole at this time would deprecate the serious nature of your offense and promote disrespect for the law.” Before the decision was made, board member Joseph Dakin said to Hoover, “One thing I’ve come away with is you’ve got some power. I’m just not sure whether it’s good or bad.” Hoover’s supporters claimed he was now a “martyr” and “political prisoner.” Jack Hynes called the decision “good news. His continued incarceration is one of our top priorities.”
21st Century V.O.T.E. occupies two apartments above an abandoned storefront on West 63rd Street. The paint is peeling, the window shades are cracked, the carpet is worn, and the wallpaper’s fading. Desks, tables, and folding chairs furnish the space, along with a few filing cabinets and a television and VCR. The walls are unadorned, save for ward and congressional district maps, and a listing of 21st Century V.O.T.E.’s “six-point principles: Total Commitment, Promptness, Responsiveness, Accessibility, Communication, and Legitimacy.”
In a back room, Charles Kellogg sits on a table in front of more than a dozen young black men. They’re about to start the first of four hour-long classes that will introduce them to 21st Century V.O.T.E. and teach them how to be the loyal legmen of a political organization. Kellogg, a 21st Century V.O.T.E. board member, is lecturing them, essentially, on how to build a political machine from the ground up. Just an hour before, the young men were certified as deputy voter registrars. Kellogg tells them what that means. “You’ve got the power to go out back into your community and register people for the vote,” he says. “Just like Malcolm said, ‘It ain’t a war of the bullet, it’s a war of the ballot.’ Now when you register each person to vote, that’s like having a gun. The more you register to vote, the more bullets you have in your gun. But it ain’t a lead bullet, it’s a ballot. Now you are with something that can truly change the conditions in the community. What you’re doing is giving them the power to participate in the election process, something the African American community hasn’t done in a long time. This is why they take us for granted, because we ain’t politically active. We don’t know how important a part that politics play in our lives.
“This is where you all come in at,” Kellogg says. “The grooming and training that you’re going to receive here, you take it back to the community. And you start with your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, relatives, neighbors, friends, everybody. Tell them who we are and what we’re trying to do for them and the community, and let them know that they can join; if they’re interested in improving the conditions in the community, that’s what we’re here for. They can come on in, be a part of the organization, and begin to multiply.”
21st Century V.O.T.E. (the initials stand for Voices of Total Empowerment) has gained considerable recognition for a two-year-old political organization. That’s less because of its politics and plans for economic development than because so much of its membership consists of former and current gang members led by friends and associates of Larry Hoover. The organization is being taken seriously because it knows its mission well: to gain power by building a political organization on the order of the old Daley Machine, a wish that Larry Hoover’s had for years, since he first read Mike Royko’s Boss.
Last September, ABC News obtained and aired a phone conversation between Hoover and an associate, “recorded by authorities in late 1992,” in which Hoover said, “I got a political action committee, a 21st Century V.O.T.E. I got a political organization called 21st Century V.O.T.E. And now I’m putting together a PAC. See, it’s 40 percent African vote in Chicago, and that vote is our folks. That’s the folks in the projects, the poor people. You got them dope fiends and wineys, we can get that vote out. We can–we got the army. We got what nobody else got out there.”
Charles Kellogg makes the same point differently to his class. “In order to bring about a change or to bring about the growth and development of the community, a plan has to be established,” he says. “You’ve got to have manpower to do it. You’ve got to have an organizational structure. And this is what we put together, an organizational structure whereby we can work with all the organizations all over the state. Because our line of thinking is: If we can get all the youth educated, groom ’em politically, have ’em put all their numbers together, then that means that 21st Century V.O.T.E. will be in the position to decide who’s going to be the next alderman in this ward, who’s going to be the next state representative in this district, who’s going to be the next senator. We’ll put all of that manpower to work. Bring your girlfriend, bring all your girlfriends, have your girlfriend bring her mother, her sister, your friends, your neighbors. If each one of you can bring five people to the polls, guaranteed, we’ll win every election.”
But before Kellogg can tell his students how to go about working their neighborhoods for votes, he needs to give them some basic political lessons. “Who in here ever talked to their alderman?” he asks. Two hands go up. “You see that, two,” he says.
“Who is our alderman?” asks a kid in a black stocking cap.
“See. That’s what I’m talking about,” Kellogg says. “We don’t understand how politics works. Where do you live?” he asks the kid.
“Sixty-first and Halsted.”
Kellogg pauses. “Sixty-first and Halsted. Shirley Coleman. Never even heard of her, huh? That’s because–how long you been registered to vote?”
“I come today,” the kid says.
“That’s why you never heard of her. You’ll hear from her pretty soon now, because your name will be on what’s called a polling sheet. This is a list of all the registered voters in the ward. All politicians have this. If your name ain’t on there she don’t care nothing about you, because you can’t hurt or help her. How can you, because you ain’t registered to vote. You got an empty gun, you ain’t got nothing to shoot. No ballot. They look at that. All the people on that poll sheet, they send their precinct captain out to cater to them, give them a can of peanut butter when they’re hungry, help ’em solve their problems. So they’re catering to a few people that are politically active that are in a position to vote. Everybody else, they’re kicking to the curb, like most of our youth.”
“But I thought that everyone who hadn’t registered to vote means another ballot for the opposing party,” says the kid.
“How can it, if they ain’t registered to vote?” Kellogg asks. “They can’t vote for the opposition against Shirley Coleman. In order to vote in the state of Illinois, anywhere, you’ve gotta be registered, or you can’t even participate.”
“If you’re registered and you don’t vote, that don’t make a vote for the opposing team?”
“It’s a wasted vote,” Kellogg says. “A wasted vote. It’s not cast for anybody.”
Kellogg tells his class to be wary of people who want to label 21st Century a “gang” organization. “They say that we shouldn’t work with so-called gang members,” he says, “but we don’t ask anybody about their organizational affiliations. All we’re concerned with is you come here with a clear heart, with the right attitude, and pick up our program and work with that. I ain’t saying that organizations or gangs are good or bad. We ain’t here to condemn or condone. We’re here to do one thing, to improve the conditions of our community. And anybody that lives in our community, that wants to help our work along, they’re welcome here. It was a gang called the Hamburgers that functioned in the Irish American community, in Daley’s neighborhood, and they grew and developed into the most powerful political organization in the state of Illinois. They run the political machinery in the state of Illinois today. That sprouted from gangbangers. Daley’s dad, he was the leader of ’em. So what are they talking about? It was just that the time was right for them. They fought to get the same things that organizations in the African American community were doing. Then one day, somebody came to them, taught them about politics, how to organize a community. This is where the old Daley Machine sprouted from, and it’s been running this city and just about the state for the last 30 years.”
21st Century V.O.T.E. is at the center of a politically charged, highly polarized debate about the nature of gangs and their role in society. On one side are the hard-line law-and-order types, absolutists who see all gang members and anything “gang related” as a threat to society. On the other side are people who believe that gangs should be a force for community renewal. The truth, as it often does, probably lies somewhere between the extremes. Writing in the Sun-Times, Salim Muwakkil had this to say about 21st Century: “The message our city’s leaders seem to be delivering is ‘once a gang-banger, always a gang-banger!’ Some of this reaction is understandable; gangs have earned the suspicions and social enmity with which they are now regarded. But that message of rejection implies a social attitude that precludes the possibility of redemption.”
Dwight Conquergood, a professor at Northwestern University who has done extensive ethnographic studies of street gangs, wrote in a paper presented at an urban studies conference at the University of Chicago last November: “In the middle-class imaginary [sic], the gangbanger incarnates urban violence and anarchy and is one of the most powerfully distorting filters through which the respectable classes distance themselves from the have-nots of the inner city. . . . Labeling someone a gang member licenses the most rabid racism and class bias, and underpins a formidable apparatus of legal-judicial procedures of surveillance and punishment.”
Recently Conquergood had this to say about 21st Century’s steps toward political involvement: “It’s just that people can’t imagine it. To them, it’s the height of cynicism and a symbol of the breakdown of civilization. This is the menace from the margins that is right at the center of public consciousness. I’m the first to say that they’re not choirboys, but they’re not symbols of anarchy. They provide a lot of identity and community in urban neighborhoods. They are deeply problematic, but there are dimensions to them that are not available to the suburbanite watching the ten o’clock news.”
Robert Dart, the retired head of the gang crimes and gang investigation units of the Chicago Police Department, is skeptical about 21st Century’s efforts. “I’ve never met a former gang member,” says Dart, now head of security for the Chicago Transit Authority. “When you join a gang, you’re in for the long haul. I see gang members rampant throughout 21st Century V.O.T.E. I don’t see where they have done anything to take the narcotics out of the neighborhoods that they’re involved in or to impact on the shootings. I can’t see how one can separate from the other, and if they were separate, we wouldn’t be talking about them.” Dart also says, “I don’t know if youth have ever had a voice in government or in leading people. They don’t have the experience, the maturity yet to do that. That’s why they have age limits on voting. If they are sincere, there are an endless list of organizations where they could become involved in learning about government. If you want to end street gangs, you certainly don’t join them. You stay away from them and become involved with government.”
The hard-line stance toward 21st Century is well exemplified by an article in the autumn 1994 issue of Illinois Police and Sheriffs News, a publication whose motto is: “Every good and excellent thing stands moment by moment on the razor’s edge of danger and must be fought for.” The unsigned article’s headline, “Menace ‘2’ Society: Gangbangers as Politicians,” sets the tone for what follows. The article acknowledges that “21st Century V.O.T.E. is a group to be reckoned with,” but warns that “the ‘incorporation’ of 21st Century V.O.T.E. should be viewed with the greatest skepticism and concern by people of good will.” It says the group is made up of “thousands and thousands of armed-to-the-teeth, sadly uneducated gang members” and laments a 1982 state law that prevents the Chicago Police Department from “gathering intelligence” about the group because it “purports to represent some political movement or course of action.” The article says, “The infiltration of anti-war protest groups in the late 1960s by members of the Chicago Police Department ‘Red Squad’ inspired the . . . consent decree–but now the Hippies, Yippies, and Weathermen are long gone and their criminal records, when reviewed, are no match for this new group . . . of what? Shall we be politically correct and refer to them as ‘community activists’?”
Some information about 21st Century’s business dealings is known. Between January 1993 and mid-1994, 21st Century rang up $114,899 in contributions. Of this, $2,500 was itemized, a donation from Save the Children Promotions, an organization run by Winndye Jenkins, Larry Hoover’s common-law wife. As of this month, Jenkins is still the group’s only itemized contributor. The Tribune reported last September that Nevest Coleman, one of the group’s founders according to its 1993 state incorporation records, had been charged with participating in the 1993 gang rape and murder of a woman in the basement of his apartment building. After his arrest, the Tribune reported, Coleman told police he was a Gangster Disciples member. 21st Century says Coleman is no longer affiliated with their organization.
The Tribune article listed criminal histories of other 21st Century founders. Most consisted of minor drug possession or drug trafficking charges but some were more serious, including a 1976 murder conviction against Charles Kellogg, who then served 16 years in prison. A Tribune editorial had this to say: “Someday, the people associated with 21st Century V.O.T.E. may have produced enough good fruit that everyone will hail them as a boon to the community, not a bane. Right now, however, their protestations of reform and their courting of and by politicians can’t efface the memory of the bloodshed, grief, and fear they caused as members of the Gangster Disciples. In some cases, they apparently are still causing them.”
The core constituency of 21st Century V.O.T.E.–young, inner-city black men–makes up 50 percent of the nation’s prison population. These young men live in neighborhoods whose economic bases have been stripped away by years of neglect and segregation, leaving criminal work, such as drug dealing, to provide the one significant opportunity for money, status, and respect as well as for violence, arrest, and punishment. Gang membership is often the only affiliation young black men have, says Howard Saffold, who heads the Positive Anti-Crime Thrust, a community education organization that deals with criminal justice issues.
“They’re an integral part of the future of Chicago,” says Saffold, a retired police officer who cofounded the African-American Police League in Chicago and the National Black Patrolmen’s Association. “It could be a negative or positive future depending on who tries to give them direction, futures, and opportunities. There’s a range of individual knowledge, hopes, and dreams, just like in any other group of young people. They deserve some help. These are individuals who are trying to find their niche in society like anybody else. The fact that they are black and poor works against them, causes them to be discounted. We have to realize that these are people who are already parents, involved in the criminal justice system in many cases, and we are just watching them flounder.”
Calvin Williams, a 21st Century V.O.T.E. member, is 28, the father of five children, and the supervisor of a maintenance crew at a college. He’s also a former Gangster Disciple and drug dealer, and he says the leadership at 21st Century told him to clean up his act. “When they first started, they asked me to come in,” he says. “I was like, no, I’m too busy doing other things. Hanging out with my buddies, drinking beer, just hanging out. I didn’t have time for it. . . . I never had nobody to talk to, I didn’t have a family, and these guys were there for me. Everybody who was working in the office, they were friends. When you had a problem, you had their home phone numbers, you could call and talk to them. I didn’t have family members, I didn’t have nobody to turn to. The only people I could turn to was somebody who’d say, you want a drink, you want a joint, or something like that. Nothing positive.”
Williams says he’d never given politics a thought before he signed up with the organization. “I didn’t even think about voting,” he says. “I couldn’t really tell you what the duties of an alderman were, what the mayor did. It really didn’t matter to me. They started teaching us, getting us politically aware of what the aldermanic duties were, state’s attorney, the governor, the mayor, what their duties are, what functions they hold, with Congress, state representative, even with the president. For instance, I didn’t even know who to call if my streetlights were out. I didn’t know who to call if a dead dog was laying in the alley for too long. I didn’t know who to call if I didn’t have adequate heat in my apartment. I just didn’t know. All I did was call my landlord. I didn’t know you could call and make an appointment with the city. They teach us those things.”
Williams, who spent two years in college on a football scholarship, now devotes his spare time to educating young men within the context of 21st Century V.O.T.E. “We grab ’em and take ’em and show ’em, and they learn,” he says. “You’ve got to sacrifice. Stay away from that dope. Stay away from those drugs. I used to sell drugs, but it ain’t nothing good when you sell your drugs and you look around and police are coming after you to get you on a secret indictment. It’s no good. Just do what you gotta do, work, work, work. You’ll get there. It’s just a process.” He says he’ll work with anyone who’s willing. “You can never look at a person, say he’s GD, Growth and Development, and say he’s all negative. It tickles me, it really does. If I had taken 21st Century V.O.T.E.’s advice years ago, a long time ago, I would be four years ahead of myself. I’m set up pretty nice, I make a nice salary, I’m able to provide for my kids. But if I’d paid attention to this four years ago, I’d be ahead of myself. Instead of renting, I’d probably been owning.”
There’s been excellent original reporting on 21st Century by John Kass and George Papajohn in the Tribune, and good coverage in the Sun-Times, a lot of it by Mary Johnson. But much of the coverage of 21st Century V.O.T.E. has been based on hearsay, and it’s taken the attitude that the alleged ties between gangs and the organization are irrevocable and irrevocably negative. ABC intercut shots of 21st Century V.O.T.E. workers registering voters last September with shots of drug dealers on street corners, insinuating a connection between the two activities while providing no clear evidence of one. Introducing the two-part report, Peter Jennings said, “We’re going to focus tonight and tomorrow on one of the meanest and cleverest street gangs in America.” A so-called Gangster Disciple seen at a political march told ABC, “I don’t really know what the march was about, but they had us down there. We don’t ask no questions why we gotta go there, we just do. They wanted to see a lot of people show up there. I don’t know why.” Correspondent Erin Hayes reported, “Gang investigators have told ABC News they are convinced the 21st Century V.O.T.E. political organization was created primarily to protect and expand the power and influence of the Gangster Disciples.”
A few days later CNN correspondent Jeff Flock reported, “Police say Chicago’s biggest, baddest family, or gang, the Gangster Disciples, controls the political organization 21st Century V.O.T.E.”
In his hour-long lecture to new members, Charles Kellogg tells them to take advantage of the media. “You’ve got to read the newspapers every day,” he says. “Anytime the government, city, state, or federal, intend to do anything, they have to inform the people in the community about it. And the only way they can inform the people in the community is through mass media, TV, radio, and newspapers. So if you read the newspapers every day you know what’s going on in the community, what they have planned for the community, and guess what? If it’s not in the best interest of the people in the community, you can organize and protest it and stop it. If it’s in the best interest of our people in the community, then we can still organize and make sure that we get our share. We have to make sure that our best interests is observed there, make sure that we get what we got coming. And by reading the newspapers you become politically aware, you become educated about the issues. Read only the articles pertaining to Chicago politics. Them’s the only articles we’re interested in.”
One recent afternoon a reporter from the Associated Press who apparently has been trying to get the scoop on 21st Century for a while stopped by the office and offered a taste of the way the organization and the media approach each other. He sat down with Tom Harris, 21st Century’s spokesman:
“Can you tell me a little bit about how 21st Century V.O.T.E. got started?” asks the reporter, “Whose idea was it?”
“It was done by a guy named Dwayne Harris,” says Harris, referring to the group’s chairman.
“Is he around today?”
“No, Dwayne’s not around. I do all the speaking.”
“Can you tell us a little bit about Dwayne Harris?”
“Well, what do you want to know?”
“His background, who he is.”
“He’s a young guy, went to college, played football.”
“He went to one of the state colleges. Northeastern, I think.”
“Yeah. Does he have a job?”
“Uh-huh. He’s working right now.”
“What does he do?”
“He works on a construction crew. That’s basically what he does. I won’t tell you the company, because I think it would be up to him to make that decision. He was an interested young guy who started something. He just tried to show that young people can do something.”
“You know, a lot of times,” says the AP reporter, “you talk to someone in the political organization and they usually have their spokesman who does what you do. But usually the chairman is not–”
“That’s their choice, they decide how they want to do it. We have a choice of our own.”
“How come the chairman doesn’t come forward?”
“Because he doesn’t want to talk about it now. I do all the speaking. Dwayne has been quoted in several things, but when it come to this kind of thing I do the talking. We got some clear-cut things we want to put out, and certain things we might not want to discuss with you.”
“Can you tell us a little more about what Dwayne Thomas got–”
“Dwayne Harris. He got the idea. Where did he get the idea?”
“There were some other people that he knew, and they were all talking, and they decided they wanted to do something together.”
“Who are the people?”
“Some people. They started the corporation, and that’s how it really got started. It was just that simple. There weren’t no long-range goals, except by the 21st Century to have the job done, and it would take people to get it done, people who have some know-how. And we try to bring as many aboard as we possibly can.”
“Did you bring in people who had worked on elections before?”
“Yeah, did Dwayne Harris?”
“Let me kind of explain to you how that works. We personally, as an organization, do not back candidates. Our main focus is to give the kids an opportunity to work on different elections with different politicians that they feel that they want to work for, because we’re not involved in that at all. We don’t have a group where we endorse or finance candidates. We don’t do that. Our thing is strictly educational. Voter education and voter registration.”
Later, Harris starts to get mad at the reporter. “I understand you have to print bad stuff. The good stuff don’t sell your papers. You know what I mean?” he says. “And I don’t really have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is that everybody asks the same questions over and over and over again. And you’re going to get the same answers over and over again. It’s getting redundant to some point. It really is, because you asked me the same questions a month ago. Asked me the very same question a month ago about Dwayne Harris.”
“But you didn’t answer it,” the reporter says.
“OK. But you asked me the same question again. Why don’t you ask me something new? You should have that in your notes. Now I’ll show you how specific I want to be about it.”
“I told you to come in because I thought you’d get a chance to see the people from the Board of Election Commissioners in there. Show you that we’re legitimate about what we’re talking about. And I don’t want to answer the same questions again, so if you ain’t got no new ones I ain’t going to answer no more. Because if you don’t want legitimate information from the kids then we ain’t got nothing else to talk about. It’s redundant. I know how you would feel, if I came to you over and over with the same bullshit.”
“But is it wrong to ask for more information about Dwayne Harris?”
“I gave you a ton of it the first time. I explained it to you, sat down in a restaurant I explained it to you, we talked on the phone I explained it to you. The answers will always be the same. We ain’t about lying. There ain’t no game here. This is serious business with us here.”
“And when you really recognize that, it will be easier for you to get answers from me. Because we don’t mind telling you anything you want to know.”
The reporter pauses, and fires off: “How old is Dwayne Harris?”
Harris sighs, “About 26.”
“What school did he go to?”
“I think it was Northeastern he went to. As a matter of fact, we’ll send you a copy of his resume.”
“You probably have it here somewhere, right?”
“When he wants to release it to you. Until he tells me, I won’t give you anything.”
“You’re not mad at me, are you?” the reporter asks.
“No, no, no, no. I’m a straightforward guy. I’m nasty at times. You personally I can’t be mad at. You’re trying to do a job. But I’m telling you, you’re wasting your time. Now if you told me something about the neighborhood I didn’t like, I would tell you to shut the fuck up and get out, because you don’t know. I would tell you literally, get the fuck out of here.”
“So tell me a little something about the neighborhood. This is the heart of Englewood, right?”
“What do you want to know?”
“Um, OK,” the reporter stutters. “What’s the average income here?”
The AP reporter leaves 21st Century at about three o’clock. A half hour later, Dwayne Harris comes into the office. He’s just gotten off his construction job. Former gang crimes commander Robert Dart says Hoover picked Dwayne Harris to head 21st Century because he was a GD with a clean record. Tom Harris says Dwayne Harris was never in the gang.
In May 1993, Dwayne Harris organized a march of 5,000 people on City Hall to protest municipal cutbacks in health care. Vernon Jarrett, who attended the march, wrote in the Sun-Times, “I felt good being introduced to Dwayne Harris, 25, a building maintenance worker, who heads a group called 21st Century Vote.” Jarrett added, “Meanwhile, a word of warning. Don’t believe all those reports about the Friday march being ‘mostly street gangs.’ My research says that they were there only as a numerical minority. And I can think of worse activity for a group of disenchanted youth than marching for a worthy cause.”
In September 1993, 21st Century held a gathering in rural Kankakee County called the Illinois Family Day Voters Picnic. In August, Winndye Jenkins had applied for a permit to hold the picnic in Kankakee County State Park. The state Department of Conservation rejected the application, saying the site could not handle a large crowd. So the event was held instead on private land, and the crowd was large indeed: more than 10,000 showed up, many of them wearing the Gangster Disciple colors, blue and black. “Let’s not assume what you see is what it is, because you really don’t know,” said Tom Harris. “We invited everybody all over the city, every youth on the street. Some of these are young Democrats, some of them belong to Operation PUSH, some of them belong to the NAACP. We don’t go around and say, ‘Who do you belong to?'” Kankakee County sheriff Bernie Thompson tried to stop the event and failed. “If there were the same number from a white gang wanting to assemble, I would oppose them just as strongly,” he said.
The gang colors and cocked hats were gone two weeks later at a 21st Century rally called Real Change 1993 Summit. The Wednesday rally, held at Englewood Technical Preparatory Academy, was attended by only about 150 people. Speakers included state representative Coy Pugh, aldermen Allan Streeter, Arenda Troutman, and Ricardo Munoz, and John Stroger, now chairman of the Cook County Board. Pugh said, “21st Century is the vehicle for you to be involved. Until we do that, we will continue to be undereducated and overincarcerated.” Walter Burnett Jr., chairman of the Young Democrats of Cook County, said, “What I always say is, God created all kinds and everybody deserves a chance to change. If the Democratic Party would not have accepted me because I come from Cabrini-Green, I never would have been involved. I probably would have been a gangbanger myself.”
In December 1993, Mayor Daley criticized Stroger, his political ally, for meeting with members of 21st Century. Stroger had come under attack from Aurelia Pucinski, an opponent for president of the Cook County Board, and Daley, while continuing to support Stroger, agreed with Pucinski. “I think the day that we highlight the Al Capones or John Gottis of America, whether it’s a 20-year-old gangbanger dope dealer–these are not our real heroes of our society. The drug dealers are not. The gangbangers are not. There are good people out there.”
Stroger accused Pucinski of race baiting. “What we have witnessed these past two days has not been a discussion about the issues but a veiled personal attack that aims to taint Cook County government with the divisive politics of Chicago’s City Council wars,” Stroger said in a prepared statement. After winning the Democratic primary, Stroger came under attack again during the general election campaign and felt obliged to return a $100 campaign contribution from 21st Century, as well as $200 from a private corporation called Growth by Development Contractors, Inc. “This money is stained with blood,” said Joseph Morris, Stroger’s Republican opponent. “John Stroger should have refused it.”
21st Century played its own race card when it attempted to launch a boycott of stores in Englewood owned by Korean Americans that it contended were exploiting black customers. After months of negotiation with the merchants and also the city’s Commission on Human Relations, 21st Century staged a march on December 18, 1993, during the same week that a citywide Korean merchants group presented 21st Century with 50 gift baskets for distribution to the poor. In turn, 21st Century solicited Korean business leaders for $500 contributions to its Christmas fund. “I don’t know what kind of an organization it is,” said Myung Chang, president of the Korean-American Englewood Businessmen’s Association. “I try to figure out.” Negotiations with the city collapsed last February. Clarence Wood, chairman of the human relations commission, accused 21st Century spokesman Tom Harris of manipulating public opinion through the press, and both the city and the Koreans remained wary of making concessions because of 21st Century’s gang ties.
Tom Harris continued to accuse Korean American merchants of selling “counterfeit merchandise” and overcharging. Even now he blames “foreigners” for draining money from the African American community. “Some of these people aren’t even citizens,” he says. “I’m not saying don’t feed your families, I’m saying you shouldn’t be able to come to our neighborhoods and do this. We have to fight for the right of people to be protected by consumer laws that’s on the books. Me as an American couldn’t have done that with my store, so why are they permitted to do it? Koreans and Arabs, Indians as well. They have the gas stations and the Dunkin Donuts. They don’t even understand the customs, so you don’t expect them to cooperate. They do know the laws, but the government ain’t even enforcing the laws. They need politicians to finance them, but financing begins with the well-being of the people that elected you, and they can’t even vote. That don’t make sense.”
Last July, 21st Century contracted with the Urban League of Chicago to receive $45,000 in city money. The Urban League, which was going to disburse $543,000 in city funds to raise black participation on the Green Line el reconstruction project on the south and west sides, subcontracted with 21st Century and three other minority groups. As part of the deal, 21st Century would be allowed to negotiate with trade unions about establishing apprenticeship programs. Mayor Daley came under fire from a number of political camps for giving out the contract. A union official was quoted in the Tribune as saying. “Are they nuts at City Hall? Now we have to negotiate with the front men for the gangs on the job site? I think Mr. Daley needs some talking to.” Sixth Ward alderman John Steele managed to accuse Daley of both pandering to and insulting 21st Century. “All this year he criticized the group, said they were the front men for the gangs, said they were evil,” Steele said. “But now his reelection is coming around, and there’s a new direction from City Hall. He’s a hypocrite. If he’s defending the contract, then he owes these young people a full and public apology.”
Daley responded: “It’s too important. You can’t stop the project. It’s a very small amount. I can’t tell the Urban League, ‘You’re not going to hire them.’ You want the mayor to do that? It’s wrong.” But Daley immediately told his attorneys to find loopholes and get the city out of the contract. And a day later he announced that because 21st Century described itself as a political organization, it might not be entitled to receive community development block grant funds covering the $45,000. “This is a political organization, I’ll be very frank,” he said. “You can’t contract with the Democratic Party. You can’t contract with the Republican Party. You cannot contract with the Harold Washington Party.” Yet Daley said the Urban League contract should find jobs for “individuals who have an unfortunate criminal background, who have been clean since, who are looking for training and jobs.”
Daley never did remove the 21st Century contract from the $6.7 million community redevelopment bill that contained it, and on August 2, 1994, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved the bill by a seven to two vote. The seven yes votes came from Daley allies. Daley opponents, like John Steele and Robert Shaw, who were forced to choose between supporting Daley and opposing 21st Century, instead walked out of the council chambers. Only Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle and Fifth Ward alderman Lawrence Bloom voted against the contract. “This is ridiculous,” Bloom said. “We’re telling taxpayers whose children have been shot to death by gangs that City Hall is now about to make the gangs legitimate. We tell parents to say that gangs are wrong, then we reward the gangs by giving them political control over jobs. It is cynical. It is wrong. This is the kind of thing that hurts our city and the people who live here.”
Bloom then moved to amend the decision, to prohibit 21st Century from receiving community development block grant funds on the grounds that it was a registered political party. The next day the council approved his amendment on a 34-6 vote, taking away the $45,000 award. Bloom claimed to have saved Daley a major political embarrassment. “I’m doing their dirty work for them,” he said. A few black aldermen voted against the Bloom amendment, but others once again managed to leave the council chambers and neither oppose nor defend 21st Century. As for Daley, he said, “I disagree with the contract. I told the Urban League that today. It’s all set now. No political organization can participate in CDBG funds. Period. There’s that [Harold] Washington philosophy, you know, to write a blank check and fill it in. There’s no way they’re going to do that here. It’s not a blank check for anyone.”
Tom Harris says 21st Century has continued to work on the Green Line project, getting its members involved in apprenticeship and job-training programs. “We’re working on a volunteer basis,” he says, “because it was never about the money with us in the first place. When we found out that they were going to give us money, that was fine, but we were going to do it whether they did it or not. Our main emphasis is not the $45,000. Opposed to what’s at stake, it don’t even amount up to nothing. We didn’t even know we was going to get paid in the first place, because we’re not into accepting grants of that nature. We fill that through economics and the participation of our membership. We don’t need that.”
21st Century V.O.T.E. got to test its electoral muscle for the first time in the March 1994 primaries. The organization supported Jerry Washington as a candidate for state representative in the 23rd District against incumbent Daniel Burke, who is also the deputy city clerk. Burke belongs to one of Chicago’s oldest machine families, and he’s the brother to 14th Ward alderman Edward Burke, who became notorious in the mid-80s as Mayor Harold Washington’s most hostile opponent in the City Council. Before the election, said Dwayne Harris in the Chicago Defender, “we will bring one to 10,000 youths to help, and we will win by any means necessary.” South-side state representative Lovana “Lou” Jones said of the Washington-Burke contest, “People are looking hard at this race. I think it’s a test to see if their numbers are what they say.”
Jerry Washington, who listed his job as political consultant for 21st Century V.O.T.E., had run against Daniel Burke in 1992, finishing third. He said of the group, “Even those who are doing negative things are asking and crying for help. They want to get off the corner.” Daniel Burke said, “I don’t understand how any community can support candidates who promote gang activity.” Meanwhile, in the Second Congressional District race, which covered much of the south side and south suburbs, Alderman Allan Streeter was doing battle with Mel Reynolds over, among other things, 21st Century V.O.T.E. “I believe in Century 21 [sic],” Streeter said at a rally. (So reported the Tribune.) “I believe in what you’re doing.” Streeter also appeared with Jerry Washington and Dwayne Harris when Washington announced his candidacy. Reynolds called 21st Century a “liability” and said, “There are some seasoned politicians who saw this group getting together and viewed them as a force and tried to get ahead of the train and manipulate them. And Streeter was the first to do this.”
The Tribune featured a postelection account of the Washington-Burke race, written by John Kass and George Papajohn, that described 21st Century V.O.T.E. volunteer poll watchers patrolling the district wearing GD colors. Dwayne Harris said that he was thinking of having his volunteers wear shirts and ties next time. Kass and Papajohn also described the operations at Ed Burke’s political headquarters on West 51st Street: “The atmosphere was all business, the kind of well-oiled operation that has taken generations to perfect. The precinct captains stood in a line before a counter. On the other side stood the pink-faced Burke brothers in their perfect suits, checking the numbers like accountants going over the day’s receipts. Off-duty police officers arrived, having watched over the closing of polling places to make sure there was no trouble. Friends came by. The room was filled with the members of a successful, middle-aged organization with only a few under 35.”
Daniel Burke won with 5,840 votes. Washington received 3,210, and 4,104 votes were distributed among five other black challengers. “Hey, this is like spring training for us,” said Dwayne Harris. “We’re going up against Burke’s guys, who know what they’re doing. But we’re young. They’re old. And we’ll learn.” At his headquarters, Ed Burke said, “I think they got their feet wet this time. Their problem is not only harnessing the young people but keeping them interested. If they stay with it, they could be a very strong presence in future ward elections.”
One ward in which 21st Century could be a factor this election season is the Third, where the colorful Wallace “Gator” Bradley is posing a well-publicized challenge to the incumbent alderman, Dorothy Tillman. Bradley is a childhood friend of Larry Hoover’s; they were GDs together and served time in Statesville in the 1970s, but Bradley was paroled after serving four years on an armed robbery rap and in 1989 was pardoned by Governor James Thompson for his work with inner-city youth. He has no official connection to 21st Century V.O.T.E. but is in close contact with the organization, and he visits Hoover often in prison. Recently, Bradley attended the inauguration of another ex-convict turned political candidate–D.C. mayor Marion Barry. “His campaign is pretty much similar to mine, getting only the support straight from the people,” Bradley says. “He got his straight from the blessing of God, and that was transcended to the people. I believe it is a redemptive struggle, and I feel that my campaign is a continuation of that struggle, from Mandela to Marion Barry to the Third Ward aldermanic race.”
After leaving prison Bradley became involved in a variety of businesses. In 1985 he was operating his own public relations firm, LeGator Productions, mostly promoting bowling leagues and bands, and a south-side soul singer and beer distributor named Jerry “Iceman” Butler was getting ready to run for the Cook County Board. “When I met Wallace,” says Butler, who was just reelected, “he was running around, hustling. He was getting up early, trying to make a living. I was impressed with his go-getter attitude.” Bradley worked on Butler’s campaign, and after Butler won he brought Bradley on as an aide. Bradley worked for Butler until 1992; Butler described in a Tribune article how Bradley’s personality led him to outgrow his subordinate position. “I used to tell him not to wear his mink coat down to the office,” Butler said. “I was trying to change him into a nine-to-five kind of guy, move up from the inside. But he wanted to be a celebrity. And, guess what, he got what he wanted.”
Bradley ran for alderman in the Third Ward in 1991, but only, he says, “to test my pardon.” He received 375 votes, and finished a distant third of nine candidates. His first true taste of the public spotlight came in the fall of 1993, when as one of the chief organizers of Chicago’s gang truce summit his face was suddenly all over television and in the newspapers. Bradley led workshops and discussion groups during the summit and secured the attendance of such notables as now-ousted NAACP head Benjamin Chavis, the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, and Reverend Jesse Jackson. But most noted by the media was a prayer Bradley gave at a gang summit news conference. After asking for the success of a “nonviolent movement,” Bradley concluded: “Father, I ask of you that all those naysayers, all those agents provocateurs, all those who will stand in the way of this peace, I ask that you blind them, snap the limbs in their bodies, and wipe them from the face of the earth. Amen.”
In November 1993, Bradley was arrested in Chicago while driving a white Cadillac DeVille. Avis Rent-A-Car initially claimed the car had been stolen, but later recanted, though adding that Bradley did owe Avis $3,000 in rental costs for Cadillacs. In January 1994, Bradley and Jesse Jackson drove a white Cadillac to the White House to brief President Clinton on urban violence, the day before Clinton’s state of the union address. “It was righteous,” Bradley told reporters.
In April 1994, in response to shooting deaths in a park near the Robert Taylor Homes, Bradley and other activists called for a park patrol of 5,000 young people, including former convicts and gang members, as well as a paid national guardsman, to patrol each of the city’s 562 parks. Mayoral spokesman Jim Williams said about the proposal, “We have serious concerns about using people to patrol the parks who have not been trained in law enforcement. The Park District will have 100 additional police officers in the park this year. We believe that is the way to go.” Sun-Times columnist Raymond Coffey scoffed at Bradley’s proposal. Bradley responded in an angry letter. “For the record,” he wrote, “I am a principled, God-fearing, unwavering peace advocate; a product of urban America’s inner cities with a selfless vested interest in the welfare of the future of all African Americans; a rehabilitated ex-offender working to achieve positive change, including, but not limited to, the establishment and maintenance of a better social environment for our children.”
Last December 6, Bradley declared for alderman in a City Hall press conference. He charged incumbent Dorothy Tillman with presiding over the decay of the Third Ward and establishing political alliances with Mayor Daley. “I saw how she screamed on [Eugene] Sawyer,” Bradley said. “I see how she screamed on [CHA chairman] Vince Lane. But I have yet to see her scream on Daley. . . . She’s with [Daley adviser Timothy] Degnan–everyone knows that.” Tillman did not respond but Mayor Daley did. “I don’t know if I will support anyone in that race,” Daley said, “but she’s worked very hard. I’ve had differences with her over the years, yes. But she does work very hard on behalf of the people.”
Tillman has found an odd, if wary, ally in Daley. She built her reputation as a community activist in the early 80s by publicly shouting down a white south-side school principal, forcing her to retire. This event gave her the political backing to challenge Tyrone Kenner for his Third Ward seat in 1983. Kenner, who had been alderman since 1971, owed his political power to the original Mayor Daley, but in 1983 he was being dogged by extortion charges. Still, he defeated Tillman, avoiding a runoff by 134 votes. In May 1983 Kenner was convicted of extortion, mail fraud, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, and Harold Washington nominated Tillman to replace him. Tillman’s nomination became a cause celebre in Washington’s Council Wars. One alderman refused to support her because, he said, she had called him an obscene name. Another refused on the grounds there was no such word as “alderwoman.”
In 1985’s special aldermanic election, Tillman faced eight opponents. One of those, James “Skip” Burrell, was asked by Washington to withdraw from the race. Burrell surreptitiously taped the conversation, and the transcript found its way into the hands of the Tribune. The resulting furor over Burrell’s actions ended up generating much sympathy for Washington, but his assessment of Tillman remained on the public record. He called her “cruel . . . not a likable person . . . abrasive, loud . . . a loser. . . . She doesn’t know city government. . . . She doesn’t know how precincts work in providing services. . . . She doesn’t know what’s going on. . . . She doesn’t know how ordinances are passed.” Washington also said to Burrell, “Look at the situation. She represents a coterie of activist people in the Third Ward . . . and that group has been helpful to me. He added, “She comes out of that black nationalist group.” “She’s a racist,” Burrell said. “Shit,” Washington said, “most of them are.”
In 1987 Tillman, now also the ward committeeman, easily defeated several challengers, including Jerry Washington. After Harold Washington’s death she supported Timothy Evans for mayor, and when he lost she went all-out after Eugene Sawyer, calling him “an Uncle Tom, a shufflin’ Uncle Tom trying to lead us back into the Democratic Party. An Uncle Tom is one who would sell out their community to the interests of their master. An Uncle Tom is one who never puts the struggle for liberation of people first and do the bidding for the master.” Tillman’s language, and her propensity for wide-brimmed, face-obscuring hats, led Mike Royko to call her “the scariest aldercreature afoot.” In 1991 Tillman once again faced eight challengers, including Gator Bradley and Tyrone Kenner, who had been released from prison. “We do all right in the Third Ward,” Tillman said at the time. “Ty Kenner was a convict. Do you really think I’m worried about him?”
Gator Bradley’s criminal record was expected to be an issue in this year’s campaign, as was that of Kenner (who is running again), because of a 1993 state law that prohibits anyone convicted of any type of felony from running for Chicago office. In order for Bradley to test his executive clemency, however, someone would have to mount a challenge to his candidacy on the basis of his conviction. Instead of offering that, an Englewood resident named Eugene Randolph briefly challenged Bradley’s right to use “Gator” on the ballot. Bradley, surprised to be challenged over his nickname instead of his criminal history, said, “Gator is very important because everyone in the community knows me as Gator,” he said. “I’ve had that name ever since I was 14 years old. It started with the cartoon character Wally Gator.” Bradley is the only candidate challenged over his name in an election season that includes aldermanic candidates known as “Butterball,” “Cowboy,” “Buck,” and “Z.”
Bradley is running a campaign, he says, for the young people of the city. “This election is their election,” he says. “This is for the youth. I’m 43 years old, I’m not looking for any more than two terms or even one term. All I’m doing is showing them that the people can do it. I’m one of them, who went to the penitentiary, who made a fool of myself during my youth, who didn’t respect education. By the grace of God I got executive clemency. I haven’t been back. I’ve been on both ends of it, as a user, as one who’s had to sell dope to take care of the community, as a burglar and hold-up man, but I’ve changed my life around. I got in through the system and became issue- orientated.”
As for his relationships with 21st Century V.O.T.E. and with Larry Hoover, Bradley says he will enlist the organization’s support and he will go on visiting Hoover regularly in prison. “If people are using Hoover’s name in antisocial behavior,” he says. “I go out there, find them, and bring them to that penitentiary. Hoover will tell them to shape up.” He says that while he was in prison it was Hoover who interested him in politics. “Me and brother Hoover go back nearly 30 years,” he says. “He saw my potential before I saw it. I could have been back out in the streets. Hoover said to me, ‘Don’t be a damn fool.’ He said, “I got a hundred-some years for conspiracy, and God blessed you that all you did was four. The man been locked up 20 years. People are doing things in his name. He needed someone out there to tell people what he was about.”
Meanwhile, Larry Hoover remains on the outskirts of the news. In October he was transferred from Vienna, 300 miles from Chicago, to the medium-security Dixon facility, 100 miles away. Hoover says it’s to be closer to his family and his aging mother, but others say it’s to be closer to his “political base.” Mayor Daley called on Governor Edgar to reverse the decision to transfer Hoover. “This shows what is wrong with the state prison system,” said Daley. “They let people out early. They let them choose their prisons. And they let them run their street gangs from behind bars. Why else would Hoover ask to leave a less secure prison. He wants to be closer to his drug business and his gang, and that’s not good for the people of Chicago.” An Edgar aide responded, “It is irrelevant as to where Hoover is located. Every phone call he makes, we know what numbers they are, and that is shared with the Chicago Police Department.”
Hoover is up for parole again next month, and he has secured as his attorney Rufus Cook, who also represents Winndye Jenkins and 21st Century V.O.T.E. Cook, who is 58, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and graduated from the University of Chicago Law School at the age of 22. After a stint in the Air Force, where he started an on-base NAACP chapter, he came to work for a white law firm in Chicago. After making a lot of money converting apartments into condos, he went into private practice. In his career, Cook has sued Muhammad Ali on behalf of a boxing promoter and in 1970 unsuccessfully sued Elijah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam over some property on the south side. In 1982, already involved in complicated dealings with Muhammad’s family, Cook became the attorney for his estate. A 1991 article in Chicago magazine said of him, “Cook wears so many hats it is often difficult to tell whose interests he is representing.”
Cook says his involvement with 21st Century V.O.T.E. fits into his life-long interest in black economic and political self-reliance. “I feel that blacks have too often not asserted themselves politically in the ways that they should. As a result, they’re often left with the crumbs from the table. I’ve felt that way ever since I’ve been old enough to formulate notions. I have looked with great dismay on the antics, for example, of the old-line black aldermen, who were simply Stepin Fetchits for the political system in Chicago, who could be counted on regularly by the Democratic Party to vote against matters that were in the interest of black people. So to see an organization that did not adopt that posture, and that shows some signs of autonomy, was of great interest to me.” He also says he understands why the powers that be are wary of 21st Century V.O.T.E. “I think a lot of traditional Democrats, black and white, are fearful of the kinds of numbers that can be turned out, and of the potential of such organizations, especially when they can involve young blacks, those who are outside the political process. But I think every time there are entrenched organizations and there are challenges to them, there is fear. But that kind of challenge is what is at the base of our democracy.”
Cook says the old strategy of using high-profile black citizens to advocate Hoover’s parole may have harmed their reputations. This time he will be taking a more low-key approach. “The people who stood up for Larry last time have been subjected to a barrage of criticism,” Cook says. “But the real issue here is not to have politicians stand up for him, civic leaders and so forth, but to put on the record what this man has done, what he is about, what is being done in his name.”
Cook argues that Hoover, who was sent to prison before mandatory sentencing laws took effect, has served a greater than average sentence for his crime; and he notes that Hoover’s codefendant, Andrew Howard, who received an identical sentence, was quietly released two years ago. Cook adds that he thinks Hoover may have been incorrectly sentenced in 1973. “Larry is not a heinous criminal in the sense of somebody who did something that is totally unthinkable,” Cook says. “There are far more heinous crimes committed by people who have gone in since he was convicted, served their time, gotten out, and gone on with their lives. What’s different about this man?”
As for Hoover, he says he is being held unreasonably now, and his parole should come and will. “They don’t allow me to change,” he says. “They don’t allow me to mature. That’s the natural state of things. Everybody changes and matures. The Berlin Wall could come down, the fall of communism, it could be the end of apartheid, Rabin could sign a peace accord with Arafat, all of these improbabilities were possible. But it isn’t possible for me to change. And that’s based on my political views. They don’t believe that I can be a force throughout the black community, that I wake up these young guys and show them a different way.”
Hoover scoffs at comparisons to Jeff Fort and the Blackstone Rangers of the 60s. “Jeff Fort and them in the 60s were 19-, 20-year-old kids that got hold of a bunch of money and fixed it. The difference between Jeff Fort and what I’m doing is, I’m a mature man who’s spent 20 years in prison. I understand what needs to be done. He was young. I really believe Jeff Fort got the blame for that. There were a lot of other organizations involved with that grant. Jeff Fort might have been the fall guy, but if he wasn’t they were still kids. And we are mature adults trying to put something together that is going to save some people. That’s the difference.
“People say don’t do it, because we tried in the 60s and we failed. If that same philosophy was used with the space program we wouldn’t be on the moon. The thing is, to right the wrongs in this community we’ve got to use unorthodox methods. Because the orthodox methods have proved to be a failure. And if they’ve proved to be a failure then why keep on using them? Why not try? And to say that we can’t try again because of what happened to Jeff Fort is to write off a whole generation.”
Hoover’s tone of voice is quiet and confident, almost smug. He’s heard these questions and doubts hundreds of times before. He stares squarely ahead and says: “I believe in pushing the democratic process as a means to better the conditions of these people, rather than mainstream politicians. They can relate to me. I’m still one of them. I haven’t deserted them. I haven’t put a tarnish on my name. They can relate to ideas coming from a person like me.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Lloyd DeGrane.
Larry Hoover, also known as "King Larry," is the notorious former leader of the Black Gangster Disciple Nation, a Chicago street gang that spread nationwide.
Who Is Larry Hoover?
Larry Hoover grew up in Chicago and became the leader of the Supreme Gangsters, which merged with a rival gang to become the Black Gangster Disciple Nation. In 1973, Hoover was sentenced to 150 to 200 years in prison for killing a drug dealer. Despite attempts to portray himself as reformed, he was indicted in 1995 for continuing to orchestrate gang activity from prison.
Early Life and Gangster Disciple
Larry Hoover, also known as "King Larry," was born on November 30, 1950, in Jackson, Mississippi. His parents moved the family north to Chicago, Illinois, when Hoover was 4 years old. By age 13, he was on the streets with a group called the Supreme Gangsters, engaging in petty crimes such as theft and mugging. His criminal activity soon evolved to shootings and assaults.
Hoover ascended to a leadership role as the Supreme Gangsters grew, and he later joined forces with rival gang kingpin David Barksdale to form the Black Gangster Disciple Nation. In 1969, after Barksdale was wounded in a shooting, Hoover took charge of the Gangster Disciples. The gang assumed control of the South Side drug trade, making more than $1,000 a day in profits.
By his early 20s, Hoover had been in and out of prison several times and had endured at least six separate shooting attempts on his life. However, he was unable to escape the reach of the law when he and another Gangster Disciple, Andrew Howard, were charged with murdering dealer William Young on February 26, 1973. The two men were sentenced to 150 to 200 years in prison, with Hoover sent to the maximum-security Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois.
But Hoover's power seemed only to grow inside Stateville. He began protecting other inmates, who in turn became devotees and new recruits for the Gangster Disciples. His control over the other prisoners was recognized by the warden's office, which began looking to Hoover as a positive influence to quell riots and uprisings within the prison system.
Growth and Development
Hoover, inspired by the biography of Mayor Richard J. Daley, began discouraging violence among his followers. Instead, he made education mandatory for members of the Gangster Disciples and instructed his army to "go to school, learn trades and develop ... talents and skills, so that we will become stronger in society."
Changing the G.D. of "Gangster Disciple" to "Growth and Development," Hoover's move to reform began gaining positive attention from the outside. Growth and Development created nonprofit organizations that registered voters, a music label that helped needy children, a series of peaceful protests to fight the closing of public programs and even a clothing line.
Dubious prison officials, however, saw Hoover's good intentions as a ploy to get out of prison and resume his illegal activities. While friends and allies on the outside lobbied to get Hoover paroled for his contributions to society, law enforcement agents insisted that he was finding new ways to expand his criminal ventures. The Gangster Disciples had grown to more than 15,000 members in at least five states. Their drug profits had also risen well into the millions of dollars—all of which gang members attributed to the leadership of Hoover.
Transferred to another prison in Vienna, Illinois, Hoover was living a luxurious lifestyle that involved new clothes, expensive jewelry, specially prepared meals and private visitations from friends and loved ones. Suspicious authorities began wire-tapping Hoover's private meetings, and discovered that he was running the Gangster Disciple group from within the prison system.
Worse still, informants revealed that Hoover's nonprofit organizations were actually fronts for laundering drug money. According to the testimony of Gangster Disciple members, none of the proceeds for any of the so-called charities actually went to helping anyone in need.
On August 31, 1995, after a five-year undercover investigation by the federal government, Hoover was indicted on drug conspiracy charges. He was taken from his prison cell and moved to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago to stand trial.
In 1997, Hoover was found guilty on all charges, and sentenced to six life sentences. He is currently serving his sentence at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado.
American mobster incarcerated in a US federal prison
Larry Hoover (born November 30, 1950) is an American gang leader, co-founder of the Chicagostreet gangGangster Disciples. Hoover is serving six life sentences at the ADX Florence prison in Florence, Colorado. He was sentenced to 150–200 years for a 1973 murder and in 1997, after a 17-year investigation of conspiracy, extortion, money laundering, and running a continuing criminal enterprise for leading the gang from state prison, he received a life sentence.
1973 murder of William Young
On the evening of February 26, 1973, William "Pooky" Young, a 19-year old neighborhood drug dealer, was abducted and later shot to death in an alley near 68th Street and Union Avenue in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood. His killing was ordered by Hoover after his name was mentioned as one of three people accused of stealing drugs and money from the gang five days earlier. On March 16, 1973, Hoover — along with Young's killer, Black Disciple member Andrew Howard — were both arrested. In November 1973, Howard and Hoover were both charged with murder and sentenced to 150 to 200 years in prison. Hoover was sent to Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, to serve out his term.
Gangster Disciples leader and events
In 1974, after the leader of the Black Disciples, David Barksdale, died from kidney failure by an injury due to an earlier shooting, Hoover took the reins of the Black Gangster Disciples Nation while under his wing, which now had control of Chicago's South Side. Under Hoover's rule, the Black Gangster Disciples took over the South Side drug trade. While incarcerated, Hoover helped form the Folks Nation, which added other gangs such as: Black Disciples, Satan Disciples, Ambrose, Two-Two Boys, Gangster Two-Six, Simon City Royals, North Side Insane Popes, La Raza Nation, Spanish Cobras, Imperial Gangsters, Maniac Latin Disciples, Harrison Gents, Spanish Gangster Disciples and Latin Eagles. In 1989, The Black Gangster Disciples started to go against their own merger and ally, the Black Disciples, over a drug-dealing dispute in the neighborhood of Englewood, Chicago, that escalated into a shooting that killed several people. This infuriated members of BGDs and resulted in them changing their name into the "Gangster Disciples." While Hoover was incarcerated, he ran the gang's illicit drug trade both in prison and on the streets, starting from Chicago's West Side and later extending throughout the United States. By early 1993, Hoover claimed to have renounced his violent criminal past and became an urban political celebrity in Chicago. The Gangster Disciples earned fans in the community with charity events and peaceful protests. Hoover proclaimed that the initials GD had changed to mean "Growth & Development." A lengthy federal investigation using wiretaps led to Hoover getting another life sentence in 1995. Prosecutors alleged that Hoover's gang had 30,000 "soldiers" in 35 states and made $100 million a year.
While in prison for murder, on August 22, 1995, after a 17-year undercover investigation by the federal government, Hoover was indicted for drug conspiracy, extortion, and continuing to engage in a criminal enterprise. He was arrested at the Dixon Correctional Center by federal agents, and moved to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago to stand trial. In 1997, Hoover was found guilty on all charges. Hoover is currently serving his sentence at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado.
On October 11, 2018, during a luncheon with President Donald Trump, rapper Kanye West pleaded for clemency for Hoover.
In popular culture
On Kanye West's 2021 album Donda, the tracks “Jesus Lord” and “Jesus Lord, Pt. 2” feature a recorded message by Larry Hoover Jr, son of Larry Hoover Sr, in which he outlines the cracks in America's criminal justice system and talks about the impact of Hoover's incarceration on his family.
- Cooley, Will (2017). "Jim Crow Organized Crime: Black Chicago's Underground Economy in the Twentieth Century". In Weems, Robert; Chambers, Jason (eds.). Building the Black Metropolis: African American Entrepreneurship in Chicago. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 147–170. ISBN .
Imprisoned Gangster Disciples founder Larry Hoover, who says he’s no longer involved with the gang and is asking for an early release from his life sentence, promoted two men to top posts in the gang while locked up in a federal “super-max” prison in Colorado, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in East St. Louis.
The indictment says the two men threatened to kill anyone who challenged their authority and, on May 18, 2018, shot and killed a rival Gangster Disciples board member on the South Side of Chicago.
Hoover — who prosecutors have called “the most notorious gang leader in Chicago’s modern history” — isn’t charged in the indictment, which targets leaders of the Gangster Disciples in downstate Illinois and eastern Missouri in a racketeering case that includes two murders.
Hoover has asked a federal judge in Chicago to reduce his life sentence under a reform measure called the federal First Step Act, which allows people convicted of crack-cocaine offenses to challenge their sentences in light of subsequent changes in federal sentencing guidelines. Other high-ranking members of the gang have been released from prison under the same law.
But U.S. Attorney John Lausch urged U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber last year to keep Hoover in federal prison for the rest of his life. The judge hasn’t ruled.
If Leinenweber decides Hoover has served enough time in federal prison under the life term he was handed in 1997 for running a criminal enterprise, Hoover still faces a 200-year Illinois state court sentence from 1973 for ordering the killing of a gang member he suspected was stealing from him.
Hoover attorney Justin Moore said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of the new indictment and questioned the idea that Hoover could have been involved in gang affairs from behind bars.
“It seems almost impossible that he would be able to communicate that to anyone if he were trying to,” he said.
Moore questioned why prosecutors — who previously have said they suspected Hoover was still involved in the gang — hadn’t brought up the latest accusation during arguments over Hoover’s bid for a reduced sentence.
“This is a 70-year-old man in the twilight of his years who has serious medical complications and is seeking release to finally be with his wife, children and grandchildren after nearly 50 years of separation,” Moore said. “To have his name continuously thrown into the affairs of others and to be used as a scapegoat for criminal activity he has no connection to needs to cease.”
The new indictment says one member of the gang, Anthony Dobbins, told another, Warren “Big Head” Griffin, in September 2014 that Hoover had appointed them as “board members” — the highest rank in the gang’s leadership.
It also says Dobbins, 53, who’s from downstate Troy, a suburb of St. Louis, and Griffin, 51, from Lancaster, Kentucky, threatened to kill anyone who resisted their authority, though it doesn’t say how authorities got that information.
On May 18, 2018, Dobbins and Griffin shot and killed Earnest “Don Smokey” Wilson, 65, a rival Gangster Disciples board member, in the 7100 block of South Euclid Avenue in Chicago, according to the East St. Louis indictment.
Dobbins and Griffin were arrested later in 2018, Dobbins for drug possession and Griffin in a separate case for illegal possession of a gun.
Dobbins is being held in the same prison where Hoover is being held, the federal super-max in Florence, Colorado, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Griffin is in a federal prison in Kentucky.
According to the Chicago police, the Gangster Disciples and other big Chicago gangs have, over the past two decades, fragmented into factions that aren’t controlled at the top the way they used to be. About 900 gang factions operate in Chicago today, police say. But recent indictments against Gangster Disciples members downstate and in Atlanta suggest that the corporate structure of the gang has remained in place.
Hoover development larry growth and
Editorial: Keep Larry Hoover in federal supermax. Chicago’s safety is at stake.
Twenty-five years ago Monday — Aug. 31, 1995 — a federal indictment prompted the abrupt takedown of 38 top Gangster Disciples and a cop who had assisted the murderous drug gang. Some 250 law officers swept through Chicago making arrests. One defendant got special treatment:
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration aircraft flew Downstate to retrieve Larry Hoover. For more than 20 years the self-styled “King Hoover” had, astonishingly, run the Gangster Disciples from an Illinois state prison. His so-called gang nation included 50,000 members in 35 states. Internal Revenue Service agents would calculate the GDs’ annual drug sales at $100 million; the Chicago Police Department blamed them for 75 homicides a year in this city alone. Yet despite the group’s sophisticated structure and nationwide reach, this was Hoover’s first plane ride. Chicago’s skyline had evolved during his imprisonment. When Hoover inquired about one building, a CPD detective, Mary Hodge, patiently explained, “That’s the Sears Tower.”
During Hoover’s 1997 trial in Chicago, his supporters’ raucous chants of “Free Larry!” wafted into the 19th-floor courtroom from Loop streets below. Hoover’s attorney claimed he actually was a political leader being persecuted by the feds. Jurors thought otherwise and convicted him on all 40 counts. At sentencing, lead prosecutor Ronald Safer itemized Hoover’s ruination of young lives at the deadly nexus of gangs, guns and drugs: “The tears of the mothers who have lost their children to the gang are real.”
U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber acknowledged the human debris Hoover left in his wake: Leinenweber gave Hoover six life sentences, seven 20-year sentences and three four-year sentences, all to run concurrently. Plus a five-year sentence that would come after the others.
The feds transplanted Hoover from his cushy life in an Illinois prison, where he had been serving a 200-year sentence for ordering a murder, to the tougher U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Now 69 years old, inmate 86063-024 is among the worst of the worst confined to the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado.
The takedown 25 years ago Monday showcased the most ambitious assault on any major gang in this nation’s history. The investigation demonstrated the ability of federal and local law enforcement to jointly combat runaway street violence here — much as the U.S. Department of Justice and Chicago authorities are trying to do in 2020.
And now, alarmingly, Hoover’s case is back in the news. Attorneys for Hoover, citing a federal law passed in 2018, want Judge Leinenweber to recalculate the drug kingpin’s sentence. That could result in Hoover leaving federal custody and returning to an Illinois prison to serve more of his earlier murder sentence.
At least two other GD leaders have left federal prison after making similar arguments.
We hope Hoover isn’t the third. He is not simply an old man who has served decades in prison. He is the notorious leader of a violent gang and nihilistic culture that, to this day, shoots and kills in Chicago.
Hoover’s rule of the GDs from his Downstate Vienna prison was as shrewd as his subordinates in Chicago and across the U.S. were ruthless. Bringing him to a measure of justice required a similarly shrewd capture of his communications with his gang.
Rather than discuss GD business by telephone, Hoover routinely instructed his lieutenants to travel to Vienna for their orders. DEA agents and Safer, the assistant U.S. attorney leading the case, had a warrant to eavesdrop but no way to hear, let alone record, the conversations.
Hoover would greet a visitor in a lunchroom at the prison, which was more like a college campus than like Alcatraz. Then, within bounds, he and a guest could walk the grounds. These strolls undercut the feds’ schemes to bug lunchroom ashtrays, salt shakers, a wall clock or the Coke machine. Frustration.
One day, though, a federal agent angry with a prosecutor in another case stormed into the Chicago office of a DEA supervisor, Richard Barrett. Barrett, noticing that the agent hadn’t removed his visitor’s badge from his trip to the prosecutor’s office, teased the man: “You know, that badge is transmitting everything you say back to the U.S. attorney’s office.”
Barrett’s joke became his inspiration: What if the DEA could embed tiny microphones and transmitters inside a Vienna prison visitor’s badge? That way agents could record Hoover and a guest no matter where they roamed.
Barrett found a firm that would do the miniaturization for $1,500 per badge. Soon, Hoover’s intimate conversations about his vicious drug gang were beaming 350 miles north to a listening post in Chicago. The evidence was as voluminous as it was devastating. In one telling discussion, Hoover counseled his deputy, Gregory “Shorty G” Shell, to occasionally give young GDs free drugs to sell. “You bring them along,” Hoover advised. “They know that wouldn’t have anything without you.”
Shell, who was convicted with Hoover, later argued on appeal that the use of Barrett’s invention was an unconstitutional search. In 2006 a panel of federal appellate judges disagreed.
The prison tapes had established a “dry conspiracy” — incriminating words but not enough to prove specific criminal cases in court. Safer wanted to structure a CCE case, fedspeak for establishing that the gang was a “continuing criminal enterprise.” That would make gang leaders eligible for life sentences. Also, a successful CCE case would make Hoover legally responsible for crimes of his lowliest co-conspirators — the foot soldiers who sold the drugs.
Chicago police officers detailed to the case understood the unique investigative and legal tools of federal agents and prosecutors. The cops rolled up foot soldiers who, in hopes of receiving modest sentences, opened up about violent GD crimes. That cooperation from GD witnesses helped build cases against scores of their leaders.
A quarter-century later, the decapitation of the GDs ranks as a remarkable Chicago case that put some remarkably dangerous Chicago gang members in prison.
And now the most dangerous of them all wants a lesser federal sentence.
As a series of federal trials sent leaders to the gray-bar hotel, the GDs splintered into smaller but still vicious gangs. Some of them provoke today’s bloodlust. We don’t know that, if he makes it back to Illinois, Hoover can rebuild his gang nation. But it took an uncommonly gifted leader to run an interstate organized crime ring from prison for two decades. We don’t underestimate his ability to settle old scores or cause fresh havoc. We also don’t want Chicago to bear the risk. Homicides and shootings have surged through the first seven months of this year, with young children caught in the line of fire among the victims.
Recall that before the feds sidelined him, Hoover was drawing close to parole in Illinois, with several Chicago civic leaders ready to vouch that he was a changed man. He had tried to recast the Gangster Disciples as a reform group, Growth and Development, that supposedly could steer young people away from lives of crime. A few aldermen wanted to believe in the makeover; perhaps Hoover’s loyal army would help their political futures. The evidence from Hoover’s conversations proved that Growth and Development was just a con job.
A city desperate to cope with this year’s rising tide of violence doesn’t need Larry Hoover back in Illinois, chatting up his old cronies.
Chicago could, though, profit from more of the federal-local joint ventures against bloodshed and narcotics crimes that, over the years, have ebbed and flowed. If the feds and locals can build cases against gangs not only as killing machines but also as criminal business enterprises, great.
We hope Larry Hoover hears all about it as he serves his sunset years in Colorado.
Just as we hope he never sees the Sears — er, Willis — Tower again.
Editorials reflect the opinion of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.
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|Founded||Founded in 1964 in or near Englewood|
|Affiliations||Folk Nation — c. 1978 – 2000 or later;|
|Colors||Black and Blue|
|Primary ethnicities||African American|
|Symbols||Winged Heart, Devil Horns, and Devil Tail|
A special big thanks to TheGhostInTheMachine for all your help!
In order to tell the story of the largest mob in Chicago’s history I must intertwine both the history of the Gangsters and the history of the Disciples to bring about the correct understand. The Gangster Disciples are said to be at least 40,000 strong in numbers and continue to grow with members as young as pre-teen and members as old as in their 70s. The Gangster Disciple nation has a hell of a legacy of expansion, power and dominance. The Gangster Disciples have grown beyond just being a gang and are about Growth and Development. Growth and Development is something positive that turns Gangster Disciple members into productive members of society and helps men of all ages better themselves and become successful. Not all Gangster Disciples get involved in criminal activity and many retire and leave the criminal life and become productive members of Growth and Development.
The history of the Gangster Disciple nation has roots that come from civil rights issues and dealing with problems that plagued their communities. It became time to fight back. From the rough parts of Hyde Park to the impoverished and blighted community of Englewood Gangsters and Disciples were born and would evolve to show the world true power in numbers and organization.
We will start the story back in the year 1958 to the impoverished northern half of the Hyde Park neighborhood, the impoverished southern Kenwood area and in Englewood. In Hyde Park and Kenwood wealthier white greaser youths were bullying several black youths. Hyde Park had always enforced restrictive racial covenants in the earlier times but in the late 40s it was deemed unconstitutional; therefore, black families began to move into the older northern section of the Hyde Park neighborhood. By the later 50s blacks were moving into this area and southern Kenwood at a higher rate as this area became more affordable. In Englewood, black families began moving in at a very high rate in this neighborhood causing many Italian families and Italian greasers resentment and soon bullying ensued. There were also white and black gangs from outside of Englewood, Hyde Park and Kenwood that invaded and bullied these youths.
Some of the bullied youths from Kenwood, Hyde Park and Englewood got together as friends and decided to create a club that would fight against all these enemies they had. These boys were only 11-13 years old in age and they all sat down to figure out the name of this new organization. They decided to flip through the holy bible to get ideas and that’s when it dawned on them to use the name “Disciple” in their title. The boys then added on the prefix “Devil’s” to give the name an intimidating edge to it. After that was decided the Disciples were simultaneously at 49th and Dorchester in Kenwood, 53rd and Kimbark in Hyde Park and scattered throughout Englewood between 56th Street down to 67th Street.
Some founding members were Richard “Champ” Strong, David Barksdale, Mingo Shread, Prince Old Timer, Kilroy, Leonard Longstreet, Night Walker and various others. The Disciples had no central leader in their earliest days, and they kept their business out of the press. The Disciples established headquarters at the Hyde Park intersection of 53rd and Kimbark which became their very first stronghold. The Disciples created the symbols of the star of David, pitch fork and devil’s tail with devil horns when they formed in 1958.
The first arch enemy of the Disciple was the “Rebels” which was a white gang of greasers in Englewood, West Englewood and Gage Park. There were over 2,000 Rebels and they were very racist toward blacks. Disciples also fought with other black gangs in Englewood like the Egyptian Cobras that moved to the neighborhood from the west side of Chicago in 1958. Disciples also fought with the Blackstone Raiders that had settled along Garfield Boulevard, the Raiders would eventually become the Blackstone Rangers then eventually Black P Stones.
In the year 1959 Disciples made their first expansion move as they settled in the western part of the Woodlawn community west of Woodlawn Avenue as they took over about 2/3 of the Woodlawn neighborhood. The other 1/3 was all Blackstone Ranger territory who became arch rivals along with more Egyptian Cobras that had settled there as well.
As the years of 1958 to 1961 went by the Disciples became especially powerful in northern Englewood as white flight ran its course and more black families moved in created excellent recruiting opportunities.By 1961 the Devil’s Disciples were the most powerful gang in Englewood and the Italian greaser gangs were fighting that losing war against the Disciples.
In the year 1961, 14-year-old David Barksdale took over leadership of the Devil’s Disciples and he directly oversaw the Englewood branch of the Disciples. Barksdale appointed Mingo as President of the Disciples in Hyde Park and Kenwood that became known as “East Side Disciples.” Barksdale set to work absorbing several other small gangs on the south side turning them into Disciple gangs. These gangs would still retain their original name, butall groups would all have the last name of “Disciple.” All other branches of Disciples outside of Englewood had their own President.
The Hyde Park/Kenwood chapter was at its peak around when Barksdale took over as they had members from 43rd down to 53rd between the two neighborhoods but starting in 1960 the University of Chicago backed a program to renovate southern Kenwood and northern Hyde Park by clearing out slum buildings and renovating some the older and salvageable homes. This action would increase the value of these neighborhoods and push impoverished black families out causing most of these families to move to Englewood. As the families began moving in the early 60s the Disciples grew stronger in Englewood and gradually a new headquarters was set up at 63rd and Normal in the year 1963 because many homes were razed at 53rd and Kimbark in Hyde Park and the Kimbark Shopping Plaza was built over half of Disciple headquarters.
In the same year that David Barksdale took over power of the Disciples Richard Strong and his family moved into the Cabrini Green public housing projects that was mostly ran by various small gangs and Egyptian Cobras. Strong developed quite a following in no time and recruited several black youths into the Devil’s Disciples, this is the story of how Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples first landed in Cabrini Green.
Now that we began the story with the creation of the Disciples now let’s look into the formation of the “Gangsters.” This took place in Englewood in the year 1964, more specifically at 68th and Green. A group of thirty young black youths got together at this intersection as they hung out in Larry Hoover’s home and watched outside the window as gangsters and pimps hung out in the parking lot of The Guys and Gal’s night Club that used to exist at that intersection. These boys wanted to be just like these pimps and gangsters, and they were living on the border of Ranger and Disciple territory. Larry Hoover was inspired to be a leader of gangsters and began dressing himself very well to fit the role. Eventually these boys created their own club called the “Supreme Gangsters” which was Larry Hoover’s idea for the club name. Larry Hoover himself was not the first official leader but more of a behind the scenes type leader. Hoover teamed up with street hustler Andrew “Dee Dee” Howard and Ike “King Ike” Taylor and made King Ike his right-hand man. The Supreme Gangsters wore the color black and their symbols were a heart with wings and a round crown with a sword going through it. The Supreme Gangsters saluted each other with a clenched fist as their hand sign.
Upon inception the Supreme Gangsters were immediately at war with Blackstone Rangers and Egyptian Cobras but had no hard feelings against Disciples.Supreme Gangsters were the newer organization in Englewood, and this made them the target of Blackstone Rangers that wanted to flush them out right away, but the Gangsters fought the Rangers viciously. The Supreme Gangsters were hustlers and were about getting money early in their history before Disciples and Rangers were as much about it.
In the year 1965, the leader of the Supreme Gangsters was no longer in charge and Larry Hoover stepped up to be the official leader of the Supreme Gangsters instead of being a behind the scenes leader. After Larry Hoover took over the Supreme Gangsters began to grow in Englewood and became a major force to be reckoned with as Rangers struggled in battles with them.
The Devil’s Disciples were the largest gang on the southside by 1965 and before, even after the Black Stone Rangers started,Rangers were not as large. The Rangers only appeared larger because they were more outspoken to media outlets. The Supreme Gangsters were up and coming and even began recruiting older members that were even above high school age. Larry Hoover was becoming increasingly recognized, respected and feared by many. He was only 13 years old when he started the Supreme Gangsters and by the age of 14, he was in charge of older guys.
On the date of January 6, 1966, the Disciples perceived the Rangers as a threat due to their aggressive recruitment measures. In order to counteract this threat David Barksdale had the idea to create a unity among several gangs on the south side that mutually hated the Rangers. This was to be a coalition that would absorb these gangs under one “Disciple” nation. This new coalition would become known as the “Black Disciple nation.” The coalition expanded Disciple boundaries beyond the Englewood, Hyde Park and Kenwood area and put them in further south side neighborhoods like Greater Grand Crossing, Woodlawn, Washington Parkas they absorbed up several small black gangs in all these communities causing Disciple numbers to grow into the thousands. Every gang that absorbed into the Black Disciple nation adopted the last name of “Disciple” added onto their name. This spreading of this nation did not gain much notoriety due to Disciples keeping the activity low key, therefore, you don’t read much about it in the history books. What you will read all about is how the rival Black Peace Stone nation spread all over the place after that nation was created in May of 1966 to counteract the Black Disciple nation, again it was because Stones were more outspoken to media outlets.
Now that there were the powerful Black Disciple and Black Peace Stone alliances at war with each other the much smaller Supreme Gangsters, Larry Hoover now felt the need to create his own countermeasure against the Black P Stones. He adopted the same belief as the Disciples in keeping out of media outlets and having a code of silence, hence, why the new Gangster nation alliance flew under the radar when it started in 1966 and through the rest of the 60s. The Gangsters absorbed several black gangs that all hated Stones and didn’t want to be Disciples from as far south as 71st Street. All organizations that joined the Gangster nation adopted the last name of “Gangster” to show allegiance. One thing people tend to get twisted is that the Supreme Gangsters were known as the “High Supreme Gangsters,” in reality the High Supreme Gangsters were just a branch of Supreme Gangsters from 71st Street. Another branch on 71st was the Imperial Gangsters, once again another name that gets confused as a Supreme Gangster official title.
In 1966, the Black Disciple nation became heavily active in the community opening fund raisers, legitimate businesses, enforcing school policies to keep kids in school. There are many sources on the internet that can go into great detail about all the legit things the Black Disciple Nation and the Black Gangster Disciple nation did back in the 1960s that is very easy to find; therefore, I do not need to go into extended details about it but there was some positivity that came out of all of this. Maybe some of that money went to illegal activities but a great deal of it went into helping the community. David Barksdale used his power for some good as can be seen. The Disciples were also tied to civil rights groups and fought against civil rights injustices. In that summer of 1966 Disciples even tried a peace treaty with the Rangers, this didn’t last but at least there was a large attempt.
In the month of September in the year 1967, Ike Taylor moved to the intersection of Gladys and Keeler in the K-Town section of Chicago’s West Side in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. When he arrived, he began spreading the word of the Gangster nation to these young west side youths that were mainly familiar with Vice Lords and Egyptian Cobras. King Ike recruited many youths in this area and established the very first Supreme Gangster branch in history. Ike appointed Robert “Red” Lawson to be his Sergeant of Arms and this was the birth of the Gangster Disciples on the west side of Chicago and it all started in 1967.
The west side Supreme Gangsters gained quick popularity especially after they absorbed the “Black Pimps” and the “Jive 5” gangs by the 1970s. The Black Pimps were especially large in the West Garfield Park area, so this became a colossal move for the Gangsters turning them out. This gave the Gangsters a major momentum boost and they soon colonized the Henry Horner projects located in the Near West Side neighborhood putting the Gangsters on the map in two west side neighborhoods. There really weren’t any Disciples or Stones on the west side so this was prime opportunity, the only major rival to deal with was the Vice Lords.
In the early 1970s Ike Taylor was convicted of attempted murder and other charges after the shooting of Albert Harris. In the court case of People vs. Taylor on December 24, 1974, Albert Harris was walking home from a friend’s house and was down the street from where he lived. Harris stopped walking when he heard the clicking sound of a gun, he turned and claimed he saw Ike Taylor standing there holding a pistol. Harris said that Ike said, “It ain’t nothing but a Gangster Thing.” Harris then saw another man holding a shotgun in a doorway, then Henry Hearan joined Taylor holding a pistol and Ronald Lawson on the other side of Taylor holding a shotgun. Harris then claimed that Taylor said, “You’re busted,” then shot Harris in the throat. The man with the shotgun in the doorway fired next and shot Harris in his right side. A fifth shooter suddenly showed up and shot Harris again with a 12-gauge shotgun in the face. Harris then turned to see Taylor, Hearan and Lawson standing side by side with flashing sparks coming from their guns. Harris dropped to the ground to crawl away but then a sixth shooter appeared with a 12 gauge and shot Harris yet again. Harris managed to flee under a car as the men continued to open fire on the car as Harris could hear all the pellets striking the vehicle that terrified him so much that cried out for his mother to save him. His mother heard the frenzy of gun fire and her son cry out then rushed to the scene as the men fled. Harris was blinded, was left with a difficulty speaking, lost six teeth and was left with scars all over but survived the attack. According to court documents Lawson was acquitted of the crime and the other three men not named were never found. Ike Taylor and Henry Hearan were convicted and both men protested their innocence. Ike Taylor was able to get the aggravated battery charges removed but the attempted murder charge stuck (source from People Vs. Taylor App.3d 396 1974). In later years Ike Taylor would become a positive leader and positive advocate for the Growth and Development concepts of the Gangster Disciples.
In the year 1967, The Woodlawn Organization was awarded over $927,000 to be handed out to the Blackstone Rangers and the Black Disciples to operate job training centers for neighborhood youths in Woodlawn. All Disciples and Rangers were paid a salary to be instructors of this program despite the lack of training. Disciples received about $360,000 of this money for the program. In these programs there were both Disciple and Ranger instructors and students in these classrooms and sometimes gang fights and shootings happened in the classes.
In the year 1968 war began between the Black Disciples and Gangster nation. Larry Hoover became the target for assassination attempts. He was shot on two occasions then on September 4th, 1968 a third attempt was made on him. On this day Englewood was on high alert as Disciples, Gangsters and Stones were packing guns and ready to shoot each other. At Parker High School members of the Supreme Gangsters and Disciples were especially ready to get into drama against each other. Baron Disciple member James Highsmith and Disciple co-founder Leonard Longstreet entered Parker High School even though they weren’t students. The two spotted Larry Hoover standing outside of the principle’s office and Highsmith walked past him with a smile as Longstreet shouted out “Burn him,” Highsmith pulled out a .32 pistol and shot Larry Hoover and two others nearby. No one was killed but Highsmith was convicted of the shooting and sentenced to one to five years (from source A Report on Chicago Crime by the Chicago Crime Commission).
During that fall season of 1968 the guns were blazing all over the south side as Disciples, Gangsters and Stones were at each other’s throats as bodies were dropping. This led to a temporary truce between the three organizations that didn’t last long but it was an attempt to curtail the several acts of violence on the south side.
In 1968, not only did the Gangsters open up on the west side of the city they extended themselves further south outside of Englewood. The Hyde Park stronghold was closed downfor the Disciples as now that area become upper class income families and all East Side Disciples and Falcon Disciples moved to Englewood. Gangsters were now just primarily in Englewood and some west side turf until Gangsters began colonizing south of 68th Street all the way down to 95th Street in the Roseland neighborhood. The Roseland chapter of Gangsters became known as the “Outlaw Gangsters” and “U-S” was the founder of this branch, this is what started the Wild 100s Gangster Disciples that we know today.
In January of 1969, Larry Hoover was highly recognized by David Barksdale and Jeff Fort because the Gangsters had risen to become the third largest outfit on the south side of the city. Both Jeff and David wanted to absorb the Gangsters into their nations but Larry Hoover looked to Jeff Fort and the Stones first. Now this is where history gets tricky and has caused many disputes on the streets for many years on if Larry Hoover and the Gangsters became Stones. Some will tell you he was a Stone and others will say no way. The truth lies somewhere in the middle; however, I will say this right now before we go into details, Larry Hoover was never a Stone and I’ll explain it all right now.
In January of 1969 Larry Hoover went to Jeff Fort for a peaceful meeting to discuss an alliance. The two leaders agreed on just having an alliance that had no official title, it was simply a truce between Gangsters and Stones and not a merger in any which way. This alliance was not the same as the Black Disciple type alliance, or Gangster nation type alliance or like the Black P Stone type alliance, this was an alliance that kept Gangsters and Stones separate but would still be governed by Jeff Fort and Larry Hoover supposedly as equals. Larry came up with the idea for him to rule this alliance alongside Jeff, but Jeff ended up declining this in the long run because in Jeff’s mind nobody is his equal. The peace between them lasted close to a half year but ended up going sour as Larry was seeing more and more how Jeff would not let him rule alongside him as an equal. Jeff also came up with the idea for a complete merger of Gangster and Stone concept that he wanted to call the “Gangster Stones,” but Larry Hoover rejected the idea especially since Jeff wouldn’t let him rule as equals. This and a shooting in May of 1969 when the Stones shot at Supreme Gangsters near Larry Hoover’s home were events that brought an end to this alliance. Here are the details of that shooting that pushed things over the edge between Stones and Gangsters.
On May 7, 1969 two Supreme Gangsters Gregory Sanders and Ronald Vandergrift were shot at by Black P Stones at the corner of 69th and Halsted in the Englewood neighborhood. At the intersection of 69thand Green at address 817 West 69th Street (old shrimp shop no longer there) between 1:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Ronald Vandergrift came across Lonnie King and Charlie “Stone” Smith who were two members of the Double Six Kings which was a Black P Stone gang. Vandergrift knew Lonnie King so he began walking and talking with him as they walked toward 69th and Halsted. Lonnie started telling Ronald that he did not belong around there and to stop coming around that neighborhood because Ronald was a Supreme Gangster. Lonnie had no idea about the Gangster and BPS alliance and somehow Ronald could not convince him of it. Charlie “Stone” Smith then came around the corner and joined Lonnie in telling Ronald he did not belong around there and to keep his Gangsters out. Charlie was ruthless about it and only said it one time then yanked out his revolver and shot at Ronald two times striking him once in the groin area in his inner left thigh. After Ronald was shot, he ran to the other side of the street, Felix Murry and Gregory Sanders were nearby(both Supreme Gangsters too) and fled the scene too. Ronald did not get far because of his wound and fell between two cars. Felix Murry then came to help Ronald and as the two men took off, King and Smith kept shooting at them and grazed Murry. The two men ran two blocks away to the corner of 68th and Green and that is where they met up with Charles Hoover at the family home of Larry Hoover. The two were then taken to the hospital and were treated for their wounds. The hospital called the Police about the fact they were shot but both men declined pressing any charges or naming their assailants according to court documents. On May 9th at about 4 p.m. Charles Hoover was at the corner of 68th and Halsted and saw the shooters Lonnie King and Charlie Smith. King and Smith told Hoover they were sorry and that they did not know Hoover and the Supreme Gangsters were allies. On May 11th Vandergrift, King, Murry, Smith, Charles Hoover and some others attended a “reconciliation meeting” at the Black P Stone headquarters where the shooting was declared an accident due to the fact that the shooters did not know Supreme Gangsters were now allies according to court documents. Black P Stone Ranger chiefs were the judges in this meeting. In June 1969 Ronald Vandergrift was picked up by CPD for jumping bail, Marijuana possession and two charges of aggravated battery according to court documents. Vandergrift made a deal with CPD and decided to testify all about the shooting and now press charges in exchange for leniency for his crimes. He also came to this decision because by then the Supreme Gangsters had now went back to war with the Stones and were now merged with the Disciples (People v. Smith, ILLINOIS APPELLATE COURT FIRST DISTRICT (2ND DIVISION)). This opened up a court case of People v. Smith on October 9, 1973 which was a joint indictment of Steven Smith for an aggravated battery charge and was also being indicted on murder charges from June 2, 1969. He was 20 years old at the time and the leader of the Double Six Kings.
In June of 1969, Larry Hoover had completely had enough of the Stones and conferenced with rival David Barksdale instead. David Barksdale wanted the same type of plan that Jeff Fort wanted which was to absorb Gangsters and Disciples together as “Black Gangster Disciples,” however, David’s plan would offer Larry to rule alongside David as Barksdale as both men would become “Kings.” Although this was a merger of concepts it was not a combination into one gang, it was still an alliance but a closer conceptual alliance than what Stones had with the Gangsters. Larry accepted this offer because him and David would have equal say so in how the alliance operated. This was a much more attractive deal for Larry Hoover, and he accepted this offer, and this brought about the birth of the “Black Gangster Disciple nation” name. Prince Old Timer was appointed the Prince of the Disciples while “Tennesee” the Prince of the Gangsters.Again, this was still just an alliance, but it was a combined concept alliance unlike the one between the Stones and the Gangsters. All Disciple gangs and Gangster gangs were all Black Gangster Disciples. Many Disciples objected to this and only wanted to see this as a looser alliance just like how the Stones and Gangsters had it, but the majority ruled, and this was to remain a combined concepts alliance with separate ruling.
Now as far as the Gangster Stone thing is concerned. There was a group of Gangsters that didn’t agree with a merging alliance with the Disciples because of their great dissatisfaction toward the Disciples. This group thought Jeff Fort’s original idea to combine Gangster and Stone concepts together was a great idea and when Larry Hoover severed his relationship with Jeff Fort this group of Gangsters was not happy to say the least and became more upset when the B.G.D.N was assembled. This group refused to link up with the Disciples and even went renegade against the Gangsters and vacated the south side entirely perhaps with only some members remaining in Roseland on 104th Street. These Gangsters pledged allegiance to Jeff Fort as a leader among them emerged called “Mooseman.” Mooseman became highly respected by Jeff Fort and took these Gangsters into the BPSN making them into the “Gangster Stone” branch. Moose man then took these Gangsters to the Henry Horner housing projects where there was already Supreme Gangsters over there and opened up the Gangster Stones at the 105 Lake Street building. Larry Hoover and the Supreme Gangsters had nothing to do with this move and this was not tied in any which way to the Gangster nation. The Gangster Stones just took Gangster concepts especially the concept of making money and took it to the Henry Horners while putting Jeff Fort’s BPSN on the map for the first and only time on the west side of Chicago.
In June of 1969 right after the BGDN was assembled, Vice Lords, Black P Stones and BGDs all got together to form a coalition known as the “Lords Stones and Disciples” or LSD. This was a unity of the gangs so they could march on the government and demand equal rights, better jobs and against the oppression and poverty in their neighborhoods. This coalition effectively slowed down gang violence between these three organizations even after CVL INC went defunct in the fall of 1970. For the rest of 1969 the LSD coalition really set aside a lot of gang wars as they marched on City Hall, Universities and everywhere, until finally in January of 1970 they achieved some success in bringing about “The Chicago Plan” which was “An agreement to implement the employment of minorities in Chicago’s construction industry” (Chicago Building Trades Council, 1970). The final agreement lists 3,000 jobs or training positions in four categories. But a Coalition spokesman claimed that the actual final agreement called for 1,000 jobs in each category (Chicago Defender, January 13, 1970)” (Panagopoulos, The Role Of Gangs In The Construction Of UIC). It was soon discovered in the early 1970s that the Chicago Plan was failing about producing like it should and by October of 1973 the LSD coalition disbanded.
Since 1968, David Barksdale had been working with leaders of the Black P Stones on several failed peace treaties. By June of 1970, another weak peace treaty was in effect, but this was broken on June 7, 1970 when David Barksdale was shot in his side at a bar at 848 West 69th Street (69th and Peoria) in the Englewood neighborhood. The shooters were Black P Stones. Larry Hoover was there with Barksdale when the shooting started and acted quickly after Barksdale was shot by swiftly getting Barksdale into his car. Hoover then raced to St. Bernard’s Hospital in Englewood and was accredited with saving David Barksdale’s life after Barksdale suffering an M-14 bullet wound in his side that passed into his kidneys causing terrible damage.
In the year 1970, the west side Supreme Gangsters advanced into the West Humboldt Park area battled the newly arrived Mad Black Souls in a vicious gang war. I don’t know how long the Supreme Gangster lasted in this area but it is known that the Gangster Disciples never have had established territory in Humboldt Park so I believe this conquest was either failed or they absorbed into the Black Gangsters/New Breeds by 1981.
Before the 1970s, Cabrini Green was run by various different gangs with a good number of Egyptian Cobras and Black Disciples running some of the buildings or parts of buildings. In the early 1970s a bid for domination of these projects began and first caught wind in the news when two officers were shot dead by snipers on the rooftops of the project buildings. There was an existing war between Black Deuces and Egyptian Cobras that prompted police to investigate, this is how serious this war was becoming. In 1971, Richard Strong, the Cabrini Green Disciple founder, started a group called the B.L.A.C.K.S which was a civil rights group that aimed to help the people of Cabrini Green facing injustices. Eventually the B.L.A.C.K.S and the Deuces would merge together then eventually merge into the Black Disciples. The war ran its course and by about 1972 the Disciples and Cobras dominated these buildings.
In the early 1970s, investigations into street gangs using government funding for illegal activities came to a close as they now had evidence to convict high ranking gang members from the Black P Stones. In 1971 top leaders of the Black P Stones were officially charged and by 1972 Jeff Fort was sentenced to 4 years in prison. The investigations didn’t stop with the Stones though, investigators went after the Vice Lords and shut down their legit businesses then they aimed their cross heirs at the Black Gangster Disciples. Authorities ended up getting Mingo to testify before the grand jury against his own organization, however, no charges were brought upon the Disciples, but government funding was cut off. Stones and Vice Lords had members testify against their own gangs too in these proceedings and caused Vice Lords and Stones to face prison time, but Mingo’s testimony failed to convict anyone, instead Mingo was severely beaten on the streets by the Disciples for snitching on his own kind. The same exact money that convicted the Stones somehow didn’t get the Disciples convicted even though both groups were technically mismanaging funds. It seemed like the government just had it out for the Stones more. Not only that, the Disciples didn’t seek out this money it was kinda forced on them as equal payment to them to not favor Stones. Disciples weren’t big with talking to the media and stayed out of the spotlight unlike the Stones, so perhaps this helped their case and kept them less of a target of the government.
A harsh conviction did come down on the Disciples in 1973 though when on February 26, 1973 Larry Hoover ordered the death of William “Pooky” Young, a 19-year-old drug dealer in the neighborhood that stole drugs and money from the BGDs. Larry Hoover then ordered Andrew Howard to kill him and it all happened at 68th and Union in the Englewood neighborhood in an alley, Young was shot 6 times in the head. On March 16 both men were arrested and charged with the murder. By November 5, 1973 Hoover and Howard were sentenced to 150 to 200 years in prison in Statesville Correctional Facility in Crest Hill Illinois.
As Larry Hoover was now sitting in prison while David Barksdale was the main face for the B.G.D.N in the streets David also started to become very ill. In 1974, David Barksdale began to suffer serious health problems as his kidneys were slowly shutting down. The 1970 assassination attempt by the Black P Stones may not have initially killed him but in the long run it brought an agonizing fate that led to his death on September 2nd 1974. The fond memory would live on of King David as a positive leader that truly worked to better lives for Disciples. David Barksdale was no drug dealer, he was no killer, or at least not on record he was no killer, he was barely even a criminal. He was the King of the Disciples but when you look at his old rap sheet you really couldn’t tell. David wasn’t full of money and power like Jeff Fort and he didn’t even make money like Larry did. On record he was a small-time hustler that committed petty crimes and he had no real felonies on his record. Here is a list of crimes on record recorded on David Barksdale from a list I got from the NGCRC website written by George W. Knox.
The rap sheet begins with the arrest of David Jones, 5 May 65, for Criminal Trespass to Vehicle (dismissed by Judge Comerford). On 13 July 65 the arrest is for “resisting”, and again 28 July 65 “Resist. & Disorderly G.B.”. The case also went to Judge Comerford.
* The first twist on the real name begins on 2 December 65, “David L. Barksdale” with investigation for aggravated battery.
* The next alias (Davis Jones) comes on 31 Dec 66 for Strong Arm robbery. His gives a home address of 8407 S. Morgan.
*Arrested as Davis L. Barksdale 14 Feb 67 for investigation of Burglary, released without charge, and listed as living at 522 W. 64th St.
* Arrested then again on 26 April 67 as Donise Barksdale for assault and resisting, it was non-suited. Address given: 6452 S. Union.
* An entry on 10 Aug 67 for David L. Barksdale (6452 S. Union) indicates “Appl. Chicago Urban Oppt.”, which presumably means an anti-gang program or gang-treatment program.
* David Barksdale was arrested on 13 Sept 67 for possession of marijuana, but it was a case dismissed by Judge Wendt.
* George Walker was an alias used in the arrest on 13 Oct 67 for disorderly conduct; but again the charge was non-suited (Judge Wendt again).
* David L. Barksdale on 1 Feb 68 was arrested for resisting and disorderly conduct (Xparte $25, Judge Cerda).
* On 7 April 68 David Barksdale was arrested for curfew, but again the case was dismissed (Judge Lee).
* On 28 May 68 David L. Barksdale was arrested for aggravated assault, battery and criminal damage to property, but also dismissed (Judge Cerda).
* On 8 June 68 David Barksdale was arrested for disorderly conduct (Xparte $25 & NC, Judge Zelezinski).
* David D. Barksdale arrested 27 June 68 for mob action. Again on 3 July 68 for Agg. battery.
* Arrested 24 July 68 for warrants on the two prior arrests, receives 6 months in the “House of Corrections” (i.e., today known as Cook County Jail) by Judge Zelezinski.
* On 3 August 68 charged with criminal damage to property, but on 3 Nov 68 it is dismissed (Judge Zelezinski). Similarly, 4 August 68 charged with resisting arrest and disorderly, again dismissed (Judge Zelezinski).
* Arrested 7 Mar 69 for a battery warrant, dismissed (Judge Zelezinski). On 4 Sept 69 again for “mob action”, again dismissed (S.O.L., Judge Genesen). Arrested 14 August 69 for unlawful use of weapon, and defacing I.D., dismissed (Judge Mooney).
* Arrested 15 January 70 for intimidation, dismissed (S.O.L., Judge Hechinger).
* David Lee Barksdale arrested for resisting arrest on 7 May 70, discharged on 10 Mar 71 (Judge Genesen). Arrested 4 Sept 70 for mob action, held to the grand jury (Judge Dunne). He is indicted for Mob Action by the Grand Jury. Verdict: not guilty (Judge Aspen).
* On 9 Jan 71 arrested for defacing firearms and discharging a weapon, gets 6 months in the county jail (Judge Dunne).
* Next record entry is 12 Jan 71, for traffic court. Arrested 26 January 71 for armed robbery conspiracy, dismissed by Judge Murphy. A 21 June 71 entry for traffic court. A blank entry for 11 July 1972 in the 6th district (CB No. 3586047).
* On 18 Jan 74 John David Barksdale arrested for gambling (dice), dismissed by Judge Neal.
* Last entry, 13 Feb 74 for possession of marijuana and fictitious license plates (3 days in jail, and $100 fine, Judge Murphy).
(2004: National Gang Crime Research Center, Knox)
As you can see from this rap sheet, he was no kingpin and was more focused on the activist side of Disciple operations.
After Barksdale’s passing in 1974, he was dearly missed especially by the Gangster gangs allied with the B.G.D.N. Some of the Disciples were not as mournful as they began doing their own thing and not following B.G.D.N laws. These Disciples had always held a grudge from 1968 when Gangsters and Disciples were at war.These Disciple groups also violated the rules because they lost respect for B.G.D.N and also acted independently, sometimes Gangsters and Disciples would erupt on each other in certain parts of the city. There was no chief there to make sure the alliance stayed in tact on the streets now that David was dead, and Larry was locked up. The Disciples didn’t even have a leader at all anywhere and became wild in many areas. These wilder groups of Disciples, that were also bitter about 1968, decided to no longer honor B.G.D.N which caused some violence between Gangsters and Disciples.
By the year 1976, Larry Hoover wanted to reach a resolution to absolve this two-year disorganization between Disciples and Gangsters and to carry on the legacy that David Barksdale had left, all of the Gangster groups agreed with Larry. Larry had earned a lot of respect from the majority of the Disciples and they were on board as well with a resolve to make the B.G.D.N more than just an alliance, it would be a complete merger into one nation and the idea would bring about organization and complete unity, however, some Disciples were dissatisfied with this idea, many of which were the same Disciples that fractured away from the B.G.D.N after David’s death. The new B.G.D nation did become official that year and the majority of Disciples became “Black Gangster Disciples” alongside the Gangsters and Larry Hoover but the rest of the Disciples led by Dirk “Don Dirk” Acklin split away entirely and brought back the name “Black Disciples,” this time it meant one organization and not an alliance. As soon as Dirk Acklin organized the Black Disciples an immediate civil war began between BDs and BGDs that brought blood shed on the streets. In the prison system BGDs and BDs were at each other’s throats with no resolve and there was basically chaos everywhere. Although there was a split on the streets there wasn’t as much clarification on the difference between BGD and BD but in prison it was very clear.
During all these wars Larry Hoover always tried to look for ways to end violence between all the gangs. His overall grand vision was for there to be peace among the nations and if there needed to war, he wanted it controlled exactly like how the Italian Mafia controls their gang wars. Larry never liked messy wars and uncontrolled bloodshed, nor did he even agree with prison rape. In later years Larry was very much outspoken against prison rape and attempted to forbid this behavior. As I had said Larry only saw violence as needed when completely necessary and wanted it controlled.
Larry showed his absolute power in Statesville prison on April of 1978 when he got together with members of the Black Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples, Black Souls, Vice Lords, El Rukns (Black P Stones), Mickey Cobras and organized a work stoppage strike against foul food that was being served to inmates making them sick. During this strike Larry Hoover also got together with leaders of several rival and allied organizations from all over the city in this prison. Now that they showed unity by assembling this work stoppage the unity was taken further or perhaps it was arranged while creating the stoppage in the first place, regardless of when exactly it happened the creation of the Folk and People alliances happened in April of 1978 stemming from this work stoppage protest.This organizing led to another big sit down with members of allied and enemy nations to discuss how to control the gang wars in the prison system. He proposed two rival coalitions that all major gangs would follow that could be controlled by negotiations between the leaders of each of these coalitions just like how the Italian Mafia organizes their gang wars between families. For Larry’s own organization and his own allies, he assembled the “Folk” alliance which united Black Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples, Ashland Vikings, Ambrose, Two Six, Satan Disciples, Maniac Latin Disciples, Spanish Cobras, Imperial Gangsters, Latin Eagles, Simon City Royals and Insane Popes to have complete peace among each other and work together. His rivals agreed to this and assembled their own coalition called the “People” alliance. The People alliance was assembled by the El Rukns, Vice Lords and Latin Kings as they allied with Latin Counts, Bishops, Mickey Cobras, Four Corner Hustlers, Insane Unknowns, Spanish Lords and Puerto Rican Stones. This became a very effective coalition in the prison system and drastically reduced violence between BGDs and BDs.
Right after Larry assembled the Folk and People alliances, he was then out of Statesville prison and sent to Pontiac prison in Pontiac Illinois (Source: (Tyson 1996; Journey of Chicago’s Ultimate Street Tough). When Larry got to this prison, he saw how poorly prisoners were treated by prison staff. The prison was overcrowded, and this resulted in squalid conditions. Larry Hoover organized the “Brothers of the Struggle” movement that involved high ranking Black Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples, Black Souls, Vice Lords, Black P Stones and Mickey Cobras. These 17 inmates raised up a rebellion on July 22, 1978 to overthrow the prison and bring mass destruction. In the wake of the intense violence 3 correctional officers were stabbed to death. When the 17 men were out on trial, they were found not guilty. During his trials that went on until 1981 he was in segregation away from other inmates initially.
In the year 1978, Don Smoke and Jr. Hope brought the Black Gangster Disciples to the Cabrini Green projects. The story on this began in 1978 when these men met up with Larry Hoover in Statesville. After this Smoke got out of prison and brought BGD to Cabrini Green and introduced Disciples to BGD. From the start Smoke and Little John were bringing a larger drug trade to these projects beginning in 1978. In Cabrini Green there were just Disciples as usual and were kind of cut off from all the drama that unfolded in the past two years. While Smoke was in with Larry, Larry asked if Smoke would become BGD and side with the Gangsters, Smoke agreed and joined BGD. Smoke then got in contact with Little John who was on the streets of Cabrini and now got word that Cabrini Green Disciples would become BGD. This would absorb up the Black Deuces and the B.L.A.C.K.S. This is the whole story of how the Gangster Disciples took over the majority of Cabrini Green, it all started in 1978.
There was a pretty solid peace between BGD and BDs from late 1978 until late 1979 until a flare up happened in Statesville but got patched up only to return a year later. In late 1980 another flare up began again and heightened on January 29, 1981 when an incident happened at Statesville.
In Statesville prison unit B, Black Disciple gang member George Baily resided in this unit along with members of the Black Gangster Disciples. Baily was allowed a privileged duty known as “cellhouse help” which allowed inmates to roam freely in the cell block without cuffs or escort by guards according to court documents. Black Gangster Disciple leader Earnest “Smokey” Wilson disapproved of Black Disciples being cellhouse helpers and declared that all BDs should either resign from this position or flip to becoming BGDs. Wilson even held a meeting in that unit for BGDs and BDs to attend in order to lay out the rules, three BDs including Baily were in attendance and two of those three BDs resigned from that position and listened to Wilson according to court documents, but Baily would not drop the position. The BDs did not like this rule that Wilson imposed and for two weeks straight they chanted “B.D. Power” every night around 8 P.M. according to court documents. Wilson then had a meeting with Dirk Acklin, who as I stated earlier was a BD founder and leader, to express Wilson’s dissatisfaction of this revolt from the BDs, but apparently it got nowhere so Wilson picked a fist fight with Baily which got Wilson thrown in segregation, and on January 29th he was returned back to his unit and met with fellow BGDs to plot the murder of Baily. The BGDs obtained an aluminum bat which ended up in the hands of Fred “Bobo” Collins. Later on that day Collins struck Baily in the head with the bat repeatedly which caused Baily to be hospitalized, and on February 5, 1981, Baily died according to court documents (People vs. Harris, 1988).
After this incident in Statesville in 1981 a divide was finalized and made official for the streets as Black Disciples Mickey “Bull” Johnson, Jerome “Shorty” Freeman were released from prison. Jerome Freeman was appointed the new Chief of the entire Black Disciples organization bestowed upon him by Dirk Acklin in 1978. Mickey “Bull” Johnson went to the streets to ensure all young BGDs not in the network with Larry Hoover understood that they were now Black Disciples and had nothing to do with the B.G.D.N. The B.G.D.N alliance was finally tossed away for good and the split was completely finalized on the streets.
In the same year of 1981, Black Gangster Disciples were released as well that assured the split was finalized for the BGD side of things. Basically, there was a big toss up in 1981 between B.G.D.N gangs to side with either Gangsters or Disciples and sections had to turn in their decision to be with the Gangsters or the Disciples. Either follow Larry Hoover or follow Jerome Freeman.
Robert “Cold Black” Dordies was released from prison in 1981 and was appointed by Larry Hoover to come to the Stateway Gardens projects and the Robert Taylor projects and flip many B.G.D.N members into BGD members as the Gangsters took over the area of Pershing Road and 43rd Street in the Robert Taylors and the majority of the Stateways. At the same time Mickey “Bull” Johnson brought flipped the rest of the B.G.D.N into the Black Disciples in the Robert Taylors and Stateway Gardens. The Del Vikings were the dominant gang in both sets of projects until most of them flipped to Black Disciples while some others flipped the BGD.
The Black Gangster Disciples were now very strong in the public housing buildings and there were over 400 members in Cabrini Green alone in 1981. This was also the year the lucrative Gangster Disciple and Black Disciple drug operations began in Cabrini Green, Robert Taylor and Stateway Gardens that would become legendary in later years.
Also in the year 1981, Larry Hoover began to draw the BGDs into politics as he established bylaws for BGDs not to harm prison guards or any prison staff unless ordered to do so. In 1982, he stepped up his organization as he established “Brothers of the Struggle” as official and this time only for BGDs. He sent out memos to top leaders geared toward bettering the organization and encouraging members to refine themselves.
In 1982, the wars between BGDs and BDs almost came to an end after Dirk Acklin was released from prison and disapproved of how powerful Jerome Freeman had become. Dirk then created his own group of Black Disciples to go against Freeman’s called the Asiatic Apostles and a civil war began within the BDs. As a result of this war relations between BGDs and BDs smoothed over as these two BD factions were focused and removing each other until Dirk Acklin’s BDs went back to the rest of the BDs in 1983 or 1984.
In the year 1986, the El Rukns faced indictment that caused some harm to their organization. After this happened the BGDs experienced a major boost in numbers and now outnumbered El Rukns/Black P Stones in the city. This even involved the BGDs even becoming the new dominating force over the drug trade after the Stones ran it for nearly 20 years. This was also the year that Jr. Hope was running all the street operations for the BGDs.
In March of 1987, Larry Hoover was seen as becoming reformed especially after his 1981 policy about not harming prison staff. This all granted him a transfer to Vienna Correctional Center in Vienna Illinois which is a minimum security prison. It was in this prison where Larry Hoover now conducted business easier since security was much lower.
After Larry Hoover was transferred to a minimum security facility all hell broke loose in Statesville and in Pontiac Prison as now Larry was no longer around to smooth things over. At Pontiac prison members of the BGDs conspired to murder Superintendent Robert Taylor for the purpose of avenging mistreatment against BGD members by prison staff. These BGDs wanted revenge for the death of Billy “Zodiac” Jones and Kirk Williams who both died while choking on cocaine they were trying to conceal. When BGD Harry Martin was apprehended and charged for the murder he claimed Larry Hoover gave him the order to kill this prison staff member. Upon investigation it was proven Larry had no ties to this, however, the damage was done because Martin gave up lots of other information about how the BGDs were ran and how they govern and this led to other investigations. At the time this was happening Larry Hoover was actually working on a positive program he created that was aimed at steering the BGDs further away from being a criminal organization. He created “Better Growth and Development” and declared BGD stood for those words. Better Growth And Development concepts were to help GDs better themselves and to help better their community instead of fueling the problems that existed in their neighborhoods. It was also a way for BGDs to become legitimately successful and become productive men and women of society. Better Growth and Development was not official and was not even released to the public at this time.
In the year 1988, Michael G took over leadership of all street operations of the Black Gangster Disciples.
In the year 1989, the drug trade became increasingly competitive in the Englewood neighborhood between BGDs and BDs and this resulted in a string of violent shootings between these gangs that year that left some bad feelings between BGDs and BDs in Englewood it was also foreshadowing what was to become in later years, for now this clash was squashed later in the year.
In the year 1990, Cold Black was running the BGDs but only for a short time in that year. This was also the year that Better Growth and Development was finally shared for the first time among trusted BGD heads. It was not made public or official yet.
In the summer of 1991, BGDs gunned down Mickey Bull. After that happened the Black Disciples got revenge on August 7, 1991 by gunning down multiple members of the BGDs in Englewood. After this shooting a group of BGDs from 66th Street started calling themselves “Gangster Disciples” dropping the “B” or “Black” out of their name. This was the beginning of BGDs transitioning the being just knows as GDs.
As this violent between BGDs and BDs ensued in 1991, Larry Hoover was trying to demonstrate to many of his members the “Growth and Development” ways. The name was slightly changed leaving out the “Better” part that was part of the original 1987 plan, this was another step toward “GD” becoming the new ways, however, Growth and Development had nothing to do with the name change or the violence it was purely coincidental because the initials of Growth and Development were “GD” and that certain section on 66th was calling themselves “GDs.”
Between 1991 to 1993, the wars between BGDs and BDs was so severe that members of each gang couldn’t hardly walk around the neighborhood without getting shot at by each other. It was almost like you couldn’t even move a muscle. During this time more and more Englewood BGDs began to call themselves “GDs” and more were dropping the “B.”
In 1993, the BDs and BGDs reached some peace but it only lasted a year or two then war became permanent. This was also the year that Growth and Development became official and was publicly released. This was also the year that BGDs officially became “Gangster Disciples.” Some members still used BGD until 1994 including Gator that went before the White House in January of 1994 and spoke about “Better Growth and Development.”
By 1993, the Gangsters Disciples were trying a new political move known as “21st Century V.O.T.E” which was an attempt to get Gangster Disciple members into politics. To the public it was meant to help rehab neighborhoods and bring about positive change but critics and law enforcement saw it as a way to help expand Gangster Disciple illegal operations. At that same time in 1993 Larry Hoover was trying to get out of prison and was up for parole. Over 10,000 members of the Gangsters Disciples gathered at a large picnic in Kankakee Illinois where Larry Hoover gave a speech (not live) to all the GDs there. He further expanded on “Growth And Development” which was the new term Larry Hoover wanted to use to replace the Gangsters Disciples term. As I said before, Growth And Development concepts were to help GDs better themselves and to help better their community instead of fueling the problems that existed in their neighborhoods. Afterward there was a flood of letters to Governor Jim Ryan pleading with him to allow the parole of Larry Hoover; however, Larry Hoover was denied parole. Things only got worse in 1995 when the Chicago Police launched “Operation Headache” which took down 39 high ranking members of the Gangsters Disciples including Larry Hoover and Andrew Howard who had been on parole since 1992. Larry Hoover was brought up on several drug conspiracy charges that dated all the way back to 1970 which was the time when the GDs started to operate a major drug cartel mostly of Cocaine and Heroin. Hoover and several of his top Generals and Lieutenants were being arraigned on charges of supplying small time dealers, extorting money and running their own drug cartel that was worth millions of dollars. By the end of the trials in 1997 Larry Hoover was transferred to United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado which is a super maximum security prison, which effectively cut off over 95% of Hoover’s communication with the outside world.
During the 1990s recruitment of Hispanics and whites exploded mainly in the suburbs as the Gangster Disciples appeared to be a mixed race organization out the burbs but in the city it was still a vast majority black organization besides some territory in the Uptown area and some other north side areas.
Starting in the late 1980s and escalating in the early 1990s, the Gangster Disciples were operating highly sophisticated crack cocaine operations in the Robert Taylor Homes, Cabrini Green high rise and low rises, Dearborn mid-rises and the Stateway Gardens. The GDs ran the majority of the buildings within these public housing complexes and began a $100,000,000 a year crack cocaine operation just in Cabrini Green alone. Soldiers in the organization worked around the clock 24 hours a day serving crack cocaine as they worked in shifts. The GDs ran public housing project buildings with an iron fist as they had armed security that even patted down residents as they came home, GDs also imposed a curfew on residents after hours so they could control the drug trade more efficiently during peak hours which was later at nights. Rules were very strict, especially in Cabrini Green where Gangsters were ordered to meet in the courtyard each night to do exercises just like in the military. There was no tolerance for disobeying any rules and refusing to work your shifts or members were severely beaten or even killed for refusing to do security. GDs were heavily armed in the public housing projects with automatic weapons as they patrolled the project hallways. The drug sales in the public housing developments gave the Gangster Disciples a massive boost in the overall growth and developing of their organization. The GDs took advantage of the City and CHAs lack of interest in the public housing high rises. There were young kids living in the projects poor and struggling in life, the GDs recruited them and turned them into soldiers that were paid and fed while no one else cared. Drug addicts had already taken over the projects since the 1960s, the GDs were there to feed their need and all this was neglected by the city, it makes you wonder who really is the bad guy, the city and police neglected these developments and the GDs came in to a place no one cared about.
Before the demolition of the Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor Homes housing projects in the 1990s and 2000s, the GDs were pulling in well over $100 million dollars in drug profits on a yearly basis in these buildings (for more details see my Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor histories). The organization eventually swelled to over 35,000 members.
The Gangster Disciple history is more than just drugs and killing, there is also an activism side of this organization that has been rooted deep since the 1960s. For many years the Gangster Disciples have preached to young Disciples to keep their lives in order and to live as good men to their families and their community. Many of the older members that once were convicted of murders and other serious crimes have become outspoken about true leadership and developing young black men into productive members of society. This could be anything from just being a working man that takes part in Gangster Disciple politics up to being an active member of the crime family within the Gangster Disciples that does not take part in destroying his community and instead works to protect the neighborhood. The BOS message is still strong today in the hearts of many, but sadly many younger members have lost that message and don’t even know who Larry Hoover is.
Please send in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s pics!
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