Twenty-First Century V.O.T.E.

by Greg Donaldson

 

GANGSTER DISCIPLES

This is The Hole, six 16©story red brick buildings at the

north end of the Robert Taylor Housing project on the South Side of

Chicago.  The structures loom straight and stark.  High above,

shadowy figures drift behind cyclone fence mesh that drapes the

open air walkways.  At the foot of the buildings lies a nightmare

landscape, rusted green garbage compactors, a ruined playground.

Gang land. 

In an eruption of violence the week before Easter in 1994

there were 300 shooting incidents in the area of the Taylor Homes.

Gangbangers pumped shots from hi rise to hi rise, ambushed each

other in the dim lobbies.  Four young men were killed.  In times

like those, the only sound to cover the pop of gunshots and the

howl of police sirens is the unconquerable Chicago wind.

Ń

It was quiet here last winter.  A gang truce was negotiated

after the bloodletting.  Shootings were down forty percent. 

But even with the gang truce the Chicago Housing projects are no

place to grow up or grow old.  Over the course of a year, a

resident of the Taylor Houses has a better than 1 in 10 chance of

being the victim of a violent crime.  Nationally, the number is 1

in 135.  If the gangs are not on the move, the police are.  Dogs.

Sweeps.  Midnight raids.  Even the ice©eyed Nation of Islam guards

hired for security in some projects, look wary as they man the

front door metal detectors at night, their bright red bow ties

glowing like targets.‘

It is late February, a week for election day. Wallace "Gator"

Bradley, 43, a former enforcer for the Gangster Disciples, the

G.D.'s, a mega street gang which rules much of the South Side and

twenty©two of the twenty©eight buildings in the Robert Taylor

Homes, is running for Alderman here in the Third Ward against the

incumbent Dorothy "The Hat" Tillman. Backed by a renegade political

action group, 21st Century VOTE, Bradley is telling people he is

the only one who can bring peace to the bullet©pocked landscape of

the Robert Taylor Homes. 

 

Ń

Bradley's white sound truck covered with orange campaign

posters rolls slowly into the blasted courtyard of The Hole.

Instead of a shrill metallic voice petitioning for votes, deep,

soothing words from the truck's speakers waft up the stone

ramparts. 

Ń

"Much respect to the residents of The Hole.  Out of respect to

the people in The Hole, Gator Bradley is comin' through here at

5:30.  Come out and meet him.  He needs your vote. Dump  Mayor

Daley by Dumping Dorothy.  Punch 115."

Ń

Gator Bradley personally negotiated the Chicago gang truce.

Still, he is reluctant to campaign in The Hole without meticulous

introduction.  The Hole is a ghetto within a ghetto.  When the

Taylor homes, the largest public housing project in the world, was

constructed in 1962, there was careful screening.  But by the time

the north end was built, the screening process had broken down.

Troubled families spawned angry young men and the area became a‘

free fire zone known as The Hole. 

Ń

There is another reason why Bradley hesitates to charge into

The Hole, knocking on doors.  These six buildings are not

controlled by the Gangster Disciples, Bradley's allies.  Somewhere

in the complex shifting of boundary lines among Chicago street

gangs, the Hole had become property of a small but fierce cadre of

Mickey Cobras.  Traditionally, the sight of a Gangster Disciple in

the Hole means somebody is about to get shot.

Ń

There are no trees left here to bend in the punishing wind.

Slowly, the young men of The Hole, the M.C.'s, spokesmen for their

neighborhood, whether by default or violence, drift from the

doorways toward the Bradley van with their heads down and their

hands in their pockets.  Cal and Fly, Bradley's campaign workers in

the van slouch with feigned unconcern.

Ń

"What up, Money?"

Ń

"Gator's runnin'.  He needs your support."

Ń

 A dark reed of a lad peers into the back of the van.  "B.D.'s

votin'," he assures Gator's people.

 Ń

The Mickey Cobras are sometime allies of the much larger

B.D.'s, Black Disciples, once brothers now mortal enemies of the

Gangster Disciples.

Ń

"Gator goin' all the way," Cal, the driver, predicts.

Ń

"What if he don' make it?"

Ń

"Just come back again next year.  There's a meeting tomorrow

at the Boys and Girls Club."  Cal names a spot farther south in the

Taylor Homes.‘

M.C.'s don' go there," the slim kid reminds.  Then he recounts

what happens when boundary lines are treated too casually.

Ń

"Money got free tickets from Hoover's wife,' he says,

referring to Gangster Disciple chieftain Larry Hoover, serving a

150 to 200 year sentence for a 1972 murder. It was Hoover who

conceived 21st Century VOTE and launched the G.D.'s into politics.

"We went to the concert," the young Mickey Cobra continues.

"Thought it was chill.  Shit.  Mad G.D's there.  Money flipped."

The young man remembers the aftermath of the ill©considered concert

attendance. "Shootin' much G.D.'s," he recalls.

Ń

"Gator ended all that," Cal steers the subject from mayhem.

"He brought the peace."

Ń

"Naa, we did that," an M.C. corrects.  "But it's all good now,

Money.  We got no problem with y'all."

Ń

The M.C.'s wander back to their doorways and Gator's workers

continue their gentle campaigning. 

Ń

"Vote for Gator," Cal whispers over the loudspeaker to a young

woman leaning into the wind.  She makes her way to the window of

the van.  "You have my undying support," she promises.

Ń

At 5:30 a.m. Life rises from his mattress in the back bedroom

of his sister's apartment in the Robert Taylor Homes on the South

Side of Chicago.  He pulls on a pair of baggy white denim pants,

laces up a pair of factory fresh red and black Fila sneakers, and

slouches into the bathroom.  In the mirror Life's khaki eyes catch

the sparkle from his gold tooth.  Life is twenty©six years old.  He‘

graduated from Du Sable High School on State Street and has

fathered three children, but this is the biggest day of his life.

Outside, there is a dull rain and glorious possibilities.

Ń

Just two years ago at this hour of the morning Life would have

been sliding into the apartment after a night of selling crack in

front of his building, fingering a damp wad of bills in his pocket

and thanking his stars for making it through another night.  His

credo in those days consisted of three words, "Watch your ass." 

The customers would try to rob you," he tells. "The police, the

competition and even your own people might move on you."  Life's

own people © then and now © are the Gangster Disciples. 

Ń

But Life isn't thinking about rock cocaine these days.  It is

election day and he is thinking about votes.  Life is one of

Bradley's Political Directors.  For the past six months he has been

heading a voter registration drive in his project, coordinating

community rallies, and recruiting gang "shorties" for the political

movement.

Ń

Life's apparent conversion is one of a series personal

transformations of South Side gang leaders that have left most

Chicagoans throughly unconvinced.  Candidate Gator Bradley went to

jail for armed robbery in '75. When he emerged four years later, he

seemed a changed man.  During lengthy prison conversations with

charismatic Gangster Disciple leader, Larry Hoover, Bradley

concluded that no matter how much loot he had made on the street,

it wasn't worth the prison time.  Ń

But it is Hoover's self described metamorphasis from warlord‘

to political leader that elicits the most suspicion and outright

fear throughout Chicago. The figure of Larry Hoover seems to float

over the South Side like the Wizard of Oz. Police portray him as an

evil mastermind.  Community leaders and ministers recoil at his

name. But respected African American political leaders, like former

Mayor Eugene Sawyer, have championed Hoover's petitions for parole.

And the blank©eyed baby gunmen of Chicago's black ghettoes, the

ambitious street operators like Life will listen to no one else.

Even though still incarcerated, Hoover is so revered he is known on

the street as "The Chairman" and "King", and he was voted "most

admired" person by a Chicago High School student body.  He even has

a popular line of hip hop clothing that sports the logo "Ghetto

Prisoner" and his corrections department number. 

Ń

When Hoover changed the name of the Gangster Disciples to

Growth and Development and started preaching political empowerment,

his message whipped through the Illinois prison system and into the

South Side housing projects, converting thousands of gangbangers at

least temporarily into true believers.  "Think of it," Life muses

on his way to campaign headquarters, "from stickup kid to dope man

to political man."

Ń

But for now, there was no money in the fledgling political

movement, and a battle raged in Life's psyche, his allegiance to

Hoover and his desire to do the right thing against a tide of

suppressed cravings.  "A Lex (Lexus) and a Rolex," he dreams out

loud, even as he steers his twelve year old Buick Skylark with

frayed tires and bent rims over to the Bradley campaign‘

headquarters.   Ń

The slender Life executes the duties of daily existence with

studied ease, his voice a honeyed whisper, but there is a

devoutness to his personality that made him a formidable figure on

the street and makes him an asset to 21st Century VOTE.  A

diabetic, he injects himself with insulin every morning, he has had

to fend for himself for a long time in other ways.  Life's father

was born with gray hair and gray eyes.  "People said he was

cursed," Life recalls.  His father left when he was ten and Life

was raised by his mother.  When he talks about "the old man," Life

is referring to Larry Hoover whom he has never met.  "I wouldn't

mind if he was my father," he admits.

Ń

Life's mother suffered a stroke when he was twelve years old

and he passed into manhood Chicago style, joining the Gangster

Disciples.  Even as a teenager Life never dressed flashy, "I was

always righteous and conservative, not radical," he maintains.  He

stayed cool and minded his business.  But Life's business was what

he calls "street activity." As a fleetfooted boy he and his crew

robbed the freight trains that run along the tracks behind the

projects.  "They'd come by all loaded and they'd slow down.  We'd

jump on with bolt cutters.  Just like Jesse James."  When a Chicago

sports team won a championship the young marauders hit the

commercial districts on the South Side with a vengeance.  "It was

like we won the 'Lottery'," Life quips.  "One time we shut the

whole city down.  We stopped the busses, everything.  People were

just lookin' out their windows."   Ń

All Chicago was mesmerized by the Third Ward race.  Gang

membership numbers, the arithmetic of rumor, are unreliable.  Both

police and gang members have reason to exaggerate.  But one thing

is sure, the Gangster Disciples have tens of thousands of members.

In the summer of '93, 21st Century VOTE turned out ten thousand

people, mostly young men with gang affiliations, who surrounded

City Hall, and helped force an end to a confrontation between

teachers and the city that was headed for a strike.  In a city

where ten thousand votes could swing any election, the

possibilities were obvious.  At the same time, the truth about 21st

Century VOTE remained maddeningly elusive. Ń

Whether a long©awaited inner city political empowerment

movement or a crude grab for power, 21st Century VOTE is under the

closest surveillance by Chicago police and the FBI.  Referring to

a 21st Century VOTE sponsored event, a Chicago law enforcement

official says, "We were in it.  We were around it.  We were above

it."   Ń

Gang participation in the electoral process "scares the

bejeesus out of me," Richard Kozak, Deputy Director of Public

Safety for the Chicago Housing Authority, moans.  But in the

hothouse of Chicago politics gangs have been players for a long

time.  Al Capone paid for his politicians with bootleg whiskey

money.  The current Mayor Daley's father in his youth was a member

of the Hamburgs, a brawling street gang with political ties.  In

the '70's, Blackstone Ranger leader, Jeff Fort, was invited to

Nixon's inauguration.  A convoy of Rangers, Vice Lords, and‘

Disciples helped escort Martin Luther King through the howling

white mobs in Marquette Park in 1966.  When a rock struck King in

the forehead, the Disciples were ready to do what they did best,

rumble.  "But we held back," Gator Bradley remembers.  "We were the

shorties then.  Our leaders told us not to retaliate.  We followed

orders."

Ń

Gangster Disciples still follow orders.  Its impressionable

young members crave the quasi military hierarchy, gang slogans, and

signs like the Disciple's signature six point Star of David with

crossed pitchforks at the top.  Below the star insignia on a wall

in the Taylor homes is scrawled, "If I should die have no pity.

Bury me in sin city.  Tell King Hoover that I did my best and put

two pitchforks across my chest."

Ń

Gang membership can mean different things.  For some Gangster

Disciples the group represents an identity and a protective shield.

The first thing a South or West Side teenager is asked on the

street is, "Who you ride?"  What is your gang affiliation?  A

member is required by gang law to "represent", to identify his

gang, no matter how dire the consequences.  For other members, the

gang provides a ready vehicle for criminal activity.

Ń

The Gangster Disciples chain of command travels from

"Chairman" Hoover to a Board of Directors then to a network of

Governors, Regents and Directors.  The sight of a G.D. Regent

convening an open air meeting attended by several hundred teenagers

and men is not an usual sight to people in the Taylor Homes.

Still, estimating the level of real control possible over such a‘

huge street organization as the Gangster Disciples is as puzzling

as the true motives of Larry Hoover.

Ń

  Part diplomacy, part symbolism, and part fear, Hoover's

power on the street is mysterious.  One thing is sure, Hoover

controls the prisons in Illinois.  When he was transferred out of

Vienna State Prison in late 1994 the guards complained, fearing the

institution would fall into chaos in his absence.

 Ń

Gang culture, a kind of tribalization, grows when social

structures have withered.  In the black and latino neighborhoods of

Chicago, schools, community organizations, and family units all

began to disintegrate in the '60's when industrial jobs disappeared

and nothing came to take their place.  "You are not talking about

fallen heroes," a West Side minister explains, "you are talking

about a fallen society."  The result has been a phantasmagoria of

street gangs.  Besides the Black Gangster Disciples, Gangster

Disciples, Mickey Cobras and Vice Lords, there are the Traveling

Vice Lords, Conservative Vice Lords, Insane Vice Lords, Mafia

Insane Vice Lords, Latin Kings, Four Corner Hustlers, and a dozen

others.

Ń

In the 80's Chicago gangs started calling themselves "Nations"

instead of gangs, both to avoid prosecution under anti gang©laws,

and to emphasize their right to recognition as legitimate political

entities.  Ten years ago, Larry Hoover √

changed the name of the

Gangster Disciples to Growth and Development, and began issuing

anti dope and stay in school directives. 

Ń

"Lions do not walk among sheep," declares one such G.D.‘

communication, entitled, "Who are We?".  The document distributed

to members reads, "Our transition from a lifestyle of ill repute to

one of respectable and productive people is not from fear or

force....  There are many who promised to assist us on our war on

oppression, but proven themselves to be unworthy deserters and

cowards, afraid to tread unconquered territories."  The second page

of the letter lists rules of silence and secrecy as well as a ban

on drugs, stealing, missing school, confronting the police, and

even littering.  All members are forbidden to "use membership in

the group to extort funds or favors from any member or anyone in

the community."  The communication assures that the "Honorable

Chairman" is pleased with the positive changes and achievements of

a few of you."

Ń

When hordes of young men like Life started showing up at

protests and political rallies it became clear that Hoover's idea

had given the youth something their hearts yearned for even more

than gold chains and state of the art sneakers.  But political

organizers have long been wary of relying on youth notorious for

their lack of wisdom and short attention span.  Many of the gang

members would not be able to vote for a year or two.  It was time

to hold their imagination with a victory in the Third Ward.  "We've

got to win," a leader of 21st Century VOTE said, "We just got to

win."

Ń

It wouldn't be easy.  Dorothy Tillman had the savvy and the

political connections throughout the city.  But she did have

weaknesses in the Third Ward. Once viewed as a bonafide community‘

activist, she now rarely enters the projects for any reason. Ń

Life is on the phone at the Third World People's Organization,

Bradley's campaign headquarters, talking with a girlfriend.  "No,

I don't have no money.  I √

money.  Money don't mean shit to me.

No, I ain't trippin'.  Do for you?   What you want, furniture?

You're materialistic.  I guess I"m just a good guy gone bad," he

says wearily and hangs up.  Living within the law isn't easy on the

South Side of Chicago.  "I'm down to my last crumb," he admits to

his friend across the room.  Life picks up the telephone and

cradles the receiver contemplating his sorry state.  Recently, he

has been shorn even of his signature gold chain. His jewelry and

his small savings were robbed from of his apartment.  Even though

he knows who did it, he cannot retaliate in the way he would have

just a year and a half ago.  "Naa," he says," deciding not to call

the girl back.  "Got to let it go.  I'm easy.  I'll wait my turn."

Ń

The Taylor Homes run hard by State Street on one side, the

railroad tracks and the Dan Ryan expressway on the other.  Built to

stop the spread of blacks into surrounding white neighborhoods, the

project runs two miles from 35th to 54th street, and houses 40,000

people.  According to census reports, it is the poorest district in

the country.  Here waiting for a bus is a status symbol.  It means

you have somewhere to go. 

Ń

A fist

sized moon floats pale above the building tops.  The

night is cold but blessedly windless.  At 4845 State Street two

security guards behind a metal detector and a thick window disavow

knowledge of the neighborhood political meeting known as a coffee‘

sip.  But a hundred feet away, down an unlit tunnel, eighteen women

and six men sit on plastic chairs listening to Wallace Gator

Bradley.  The candidate, in an exuberant yellow sweater and a Kente

cloth fez, is the picture of ease among his people.  Short, full™shouldered and slim©waisted, Bradley is in good shape and full

voice. 

Ń

"I did four years and a day in Statesville pen.  In '89 I got

a full pardon from the Governor," Gator is telling.  "The Chicago

crime commission, called me public enemy number one," he brags.

Actually, the commission, a dusty relic from the Capone days,

called gangs "the number one problem."

Ń

"This transcends the Third Ward," he begins.  "They don't want

me to win because it will send a message to people in the ghettos

all over the country.  They ain't nothin but a bunch of Euro

Gentiles," Bradley charges.  "They say the gangs are killin' in the

name of Larry Hoover.  Hell, those fifteen to twenty one year olds

shootin' never seen no Hoover.  I got no problem reachin' out to

them (gangs).  The authorities are after me now, not because I'm

sellin' crack or guns or pimpin' women.  Because I believe the

ballot is more important than the bullet.  Ń

Bradley begins to lay out some principles of his community

program.  "We want a twenty percent discount to seniors on

Wednesday."  Then he offers his self©improvement message.

"Children must obey their parents.  I'll have an 800 number.  If

you got a hardheaded child call me.  'Fore you know it, he'll be

washin' windows."  The crowd of mothers chuckles appreciatively. ‘

"We ain't havin' no abuse and no stalkin' young girls.  We're

talkin about this here."

Ń

The lean, sallow man in thhe back row is Mack, about forty

years old, one of Gator's campaign managers.  "We're usin' the

American way," he says to a tenant seated in front of him.  Next to

Mack is Life, who, along with the president of the tenants' group

organized the coffee sip.  "It's all good," Life says.

Ń

Bradley is jamming now, "Don't talk to me about no gangs.  The

governor is irish, the sheriff is irish, the Mayor is irish.

They're four percent of the population and they run everything.

The mob who is attacking our communities is the Irish mob.  Who

killed (Black Panther) Fred Hampton?  Not no gangbangers.

Gangbangers never bombed no church.  They touch me and I'm comin'

after their first born."

Ń

Life leans over and whispers to Mack, "Lady cop had me down,

had her gun in my mouth.  She says, 'I'll blow your head off' I

just smiled.  He opens his mouth wide and round, performs a smile,

and leans back in his seat with a sigh of contentment.  "Tired of

bein' the lowest scum on earth.  This here is the beginning of

something.  In twenty years I want to look back and say I helped

start this here."

Ń

Gator Bradley is winding down, but before he can wrap up, an

ocher©skinned woman in the center of the room launches a raucous

harangue.  No one, including Bradley, tries to shut her up.  "Let

me tell you...don't tell me shit," she hollers.  It seems there is

no way to stop the woman until the door swings open and a larger,‘

louder, lady claims the stage.  She is only about twenty five but

strapping and tougher than trouble.

Ń

"I ain't havin it," she booms.  "Beat him down?  Naaa."  A

conventional candidate would have blanched, fled to a waiting car.

But Bradley has lived all his life in this maelstrom.  He stands

his ground and questions the woman calmly.  It seems the police

snatched the woman's son off the street for no good reason.  A cop

was seen slapping the boy to the ground.  In a moment, Bradley and

his campaign operatives, Mack, Life, and Cal, trailed by a gaggle

of residents, head over to the police station located in a building

a few hundred feet away.

Ń

The wolf faced, light©skinned sergeant is not happy to see

Gator Bradley.  The police, black and white, despise Bradley and

those who support him.  Some have been spotted wearing 21st Century

VOTE buttons upside down, knowing the practice of upending of an

insignia is an insult in the gang culture.

Ń

"Sit down," he orders Bradley, who faces the booking desk with

ten Taylor residents behind him.

Ń

Bradley remains standing.  "This woman has a complaint of an

officer beatin' on her son.  Simple as that."

Ń

 The sergeant locks eyes with the candidate.  Cal, standing in

the doorway, snaps a picture of the scene.  At the flash, a

plainclothes officer across the room takes immediate offense.

Apparently, he is concerned a photograph will compromise his

plainclothes activities.  Veins bulging, he pushes his way across

the room to confiscate the camera. Ń

"Stupid shit," a Bradley follower hisses.  "Everybody know all

y'all anyway." 

Ń

"You took my picture?"

"I didn't take √

 picture," Cal explains, holding the camera

behind his back.  The cop lunges and Gator steps between the men.

Two white cops quickstep from the backroom.  The sergeant bellows,

"Sit down," nodding to his officers to back off, "and," he says,

his voice softening to a purr, "everything will be love." 

Ń

As tensions ease, the sergeant finally gets to the heart of

the matter.  "There was a physical arrest, Cannabis Misdemeanor."

Ń

"Pickin up thirty a night.  Is that the deal?"  Bradley wants

to know.  He is talking about the police interfering in the

election by tearing up voter registration cards and arresting his

campaign workers.  "Brought them attack dogs out last night," one

lady complains.  "Said we couldn't be more than one hundred feet

from our apartment."

Ń

"We don't run a head count operation," the sergeant says,  "We

ain't part of it."

Ń

Bradley nods knowingly to his people at the tacit reference to

a quota system.

Ń

 When all is said and done, Bradley gains points for

statesmanship.  The police allow the mother to inspect her son.  A

moment later, she emerges from a back room satisfied.

Ń

Outside, in the icy moonlit night, Life shows Mack a piece of

notebook paper with his creed written upon it.  He had distilled

his philosophy into a list of phrases and transcribed them in‘

careful hand.  "Life is a tragedy, Face it," one reads.  Another,

"Life is a duty.  Perform it."

Ń

Mack, Wali, and Fly are a block away from the Taylor Homes in

the Bradley campaign headquarters on 47th street, making last

minute preparations.  Forty©Seventh Street was once a mecca for

blacks who had taken the "blues highway" north from Mississippi.

Now, the men who warm their hands by a fire in a garbage can nearby

call the shabby street Tobacco Road.  One of the reasons Life wears

a spotless red cap, new shirt, and sneakers even when he can't

afford them is that for him the first sign of wear harbingers a

descent into the ragged despair he sees all around him.  Ń

One of the tragedies here is that too many of the teenagers

have raised themselves, passing on impressions and unformed ideas

to each other as knowledge.  But today, the shy youngbloods stand

quietly and listen as Mack and Wali, like wise older brothers,

explain campaign strategy.  "Ask the girl if she's registered.

Just ask her to vote for Gator.  It's a way to break the ice."

Ń

Mack and Wali are no nonsense middle©aged men.  But their age

would not be enough to bring them respect from the young men in

this world.  These youths have seen too much unwholesome behavior

to look up to their elders.  It is Mack and Wali's connection to

Bradley and by extension to Larry Hoover, that gives them what the

teenagers call "props", proper respect.  Dwight Conquergood, a

professor at Northwestern University who has studied gangs, spoke

in Hoover's behalf at his last parole hearing.  Conquergood

believes that this precious mentoring factor is enough to take a‘

chance on releasing Hoover.  "I don't know if he is totally

rehabilitated," Conquergood says.  "No one can really know that

until he gets out.  But it would be cost effective to parole him.

He has the potential to be worth more to the youth than scores of

social workers and psychologists, and any number of programs they

might devise."

Ń

Later in the day, there would be a large Growth and

Development orientation session over at the Boys and Girls Club.

The plan is to instruct palm card holders who will blanket the

Third Ward with Bradley fliers, organize building captains who will

get out the vote in the projects, and train pollwatchers to prevent

the Tillman forces from engaging in the vote stealing for which

Chicago elections are notorious.

Ń

A visitor from another city approaches Mack who is in a back

room fretting over organizational details and asks if he can attend

the orientation session.  Mack shakes his head.  "I deal in

protocol," he explains. The outsider approaches Gator Bradley 

who motions the man into the hallway.  Bradley's concern is

understandable.  Even if 21st Century VOTE is everything its

leaders say it is, there are sensitive issues to be confronted.

Drug dealing is virtually the only viable business in the community

and some G.D.'s continue to deal drugs, of that there is no doubt.

Certainly, in this street alliance there are compromises to be made

to go along with admonitions.  21st Century VOTE has been taking a

beating in the press.  Ń

"I'd like to go over to the Boys and Girls club and watch the‘

training session," the man tells Bradley.

Ń

He shakes his head.  "Do you know what game we're playing here

in Chicago?"  The vistor cocks his head.

Ń

"The murder game."

Ń

""Like Fred Hamton" the man asks, naming the Black Panther

murdered in his bed in 1969 by Chicago police.  Bradley nods.

The threat of such an attack is probably not as serious as

Bradley believes, but the FBI has called 21st Century VOTE  "the

new mafia" and authorities have taped hundreds of Larry Hoover's

telephone conversations in jail, including the one where he

broaches the idea of political action committee to a gang leader in

another prison.  "We got the army," he said.  "We got what nobody

else got out there." 

In his tiny first floor office a mile from the Taylor Homes

Deputy Director Richard Kozak is sick with contempt when he talks

about Growth and Development.  He has a heart condition but his

hand, keeps creeping toward the pack of cigarettes in the drawer of

his desk.  In 29 years as a policeman Kozak has become steeped in

gang lore.  Once he starts talking about gangs he can't stop.

"There were a lot of Chicago police dicks walking around with raw

(gang) data on 3 by 5 cards.  When the state police got the Hoover

telephone tape, that was the smoking gun and we started pooling our

information."  Kozak worries that in time 21st Century VOTE

movement will become legitimatized.  "The Gangster Disciples have

more liquid cash than the Rockerfeller Foundation," he says,‘

shuffling photographs of gang members like playing cards.

Kozak contends that 21st Century VOTE is a device to hide

behind the First Amendment.  "Gator Bradley calls a press

conference and talks about oppression and all this nonsense, but

people are not comprehending that this is organized crime."  Kozak

alleges that the real role of 21st Century VOTE is to "funnel ill

gotten gains to candidates."  He cites police intelligence reports

showing the influence of the Gangster Disciples spreading across

Illinois and the country to St. Louis and the West Coast.  Ń

In the summer of '92 the Gangster Disciples held a picnic.

Ten thousand people attended, transported in 80 buses.  Allegedly

the picnic cost $70,000 and the purveyors were paid in cash.  "They

had an altar," Kozak says.  "An altar to 'King Hoover'.   

 Kozak produces a "dues" list to show that the Gangster

Disciples collect a street tax depending on the profitability of a

dope location.  "You know what they do when somebody on their count

messes up?   He gets a sanction.  One of the sanctions is a

'pumpkin head,' where they lay you down and tap you on both sides

of the head with the blunt end of a baseball bat till your head

swells up.  Ergo, the 'pumpkin head.'"

There are no shortage of black community leaders who agree

with Kozak.  Minister Jeffrey Haynes, himself a former Gang member

and now director of the West Englewood Youth and Teen Center,

claims to have helped thousands of kids get out of gangs.  He gives

a tour of his neatly appointed men's shelter on the West Side.  The

residents greet Haynes with the self consciously decorous manner of‘

men who are piecing their lives together.

"If you really want to see things change," Haynes says, "it's

not hard to believe in Gator Bradley.  But If Gator got elected he

wouldn't stand for anything."  Haynes wants to know how Bradley and

those who support him brokered the gang peace.  "Did they do it by

negotiating boundaries for drug trafficking?"  Haynes calls the

participation of gangs in politics "regression".  "I was excited

for a minute, then I realized it was set up to exploit children.

Gator is scary.  He's past scary."

On the other side of town, Tom Harris, Director of 21st

Century VOTE, scoffs at such talk.  "They try to criminalize our

movement because they think we might be bad for business."  Harris

has the short arms and mechanical movements of the old television

talk show host Ed Sullivan.  But the man is no joke.  Like the

Reverend Haynes, Harris is anxious to display his organization's

accomplishments.  He hustles down the street from his office and

bounds up the unfinished interior stairway of a residential home

under renovation as a black history museum.  "The police say that

the Gangster Disciples are in 120 cities.  Jesse James didn't rob

all those banks and this is the same principle" he says.  In

Chicago, minority Aldermen comprise nearly half the city council

yet little seems to change in the places like the Third Ward.

Harris rankles at so called "plantation politics."  We're tired of

beggars and panhandlers.  We won't stand with losers.  They can

kiss my ass.  We're not backdooring and not receiving funds from

negative sources."

Outside in the cold, Harris clears his throat and spits hard

across the wind.  "Drug money?  Everybody in the country got dope

on their money.  If a dog sniffed it he would smell the dope.  The

truth is we are not supported by the drug dealers.  Talk to the car

dealers selling $45,000 cars and the lawyers.  They're the ones who

live off the drug dealers."

Prince Asiela Ben Israel, a black community and religious

leader, supports Gator Bradley.  In the back room of his spotless

Soul Vegetarian Restaurant he speaks softly, while a clear eyed

woman in a printed wrap serves lunch.  "21st Century VOTE is not

just the gangs but the permanent underclass.  We have to

participate in the political process or participate in our own

assassination."  When  the question of 21st Century VOTE's

association with those in the drug trade is raised, Asiela's face

hardens to marble.  He opens and closes his hands slowly.  "There

is not a sane, intelligent, black person who supports drugs."  It

is Asiela's belief that the media's preoccupation with the drug

question is a device to demonize and derail 21st Century VOTE.

"Larry Hoover hasn't committed a crime on these streets for

twenty-two years," he says evenly.  "If I am correct in interpreting

Christian philosophy, it is not immoral for a man who (once) broke

the law to participate in the political process."    

 At an Operation PUSH meeting, a national empowerment group

organized by Jesse Jackson, Bradley charms hundreds of concerned

citizens and well heeled politicos.  These are black Chicagoans,

but they are from a different world than the people in the Taylor‘

Homes.  From their vantage point in the middle class the PUSH

members have their own concerns, morality and style.

The crowd laughs politely at Bradley' jokes and smiles in his

face.  Then Life and his boys saunter in the back of the hall to

warm up after distributing fliers out in the cold.  Life, the hood

of his sweatshirt up and his hands wrapped around a container of

coffee, settles in next to a woman with a fox coat draped over her

bony shoulders.  She recoils, her face quivering with distaste. 

Life has not read many books but he is a student of

disrespect, and he is finally fed up.  He has had it with the drab

image he has been seeing in the mirror lately, with his girlfriend

harping about money.  This time, Life is anything but cool.

"What," he hisses at the woman.  "What," he repeats, leaning

closer.  There is trouble in Life's light eyes.  Before he can

fully break his vow of restraint a hand settles on his shoulder.

It is Mack.  The touch is enough to remind Life of his mission and

he eases.  The woman arches her neck and slides her chair a foot

farther away.  

Late that night Fly cruises the Third Ward with another worker

in the campaign van putting up Bradley posters.  As he rolls down

Michigan Avenue, a car pulls in fronts and Fly yanks the wheel,

jerking the van into oncoming traffic for a moment.  At the light,

he stomps on the brake tossing his passenger forward in his seat.

"Watch out, Fly.  You're gonna get us killed," the man cautions.

Fly grunts and bears down on the task.  "I just got out of jail

last month," he explains, "did fourteen years."

"I'm not going to let Dorothy steal this election," Mack

announces at headquarters on election morning.  Like Life, scores

of young men and women have gotten up at dawn.  Outside polling

places they hunch in the morning rain, handing out palm cards with

Bradley's picture and whispering "Punch 115.  Vote for Gator".

Life is carrying a walkie talkie, communicating with palm card

holders, making sure all polling spots are covered.  Five white

vans arrive, probably supplied by 21st Century VOTE, as well as six

lawyers in crisp suits.

The atmosphere is buoyant.  Mack is coordinating the

pollwatchers and Wali is chasing down problems.  The denizens of

47th street outside sense a winner and wander upstairs to feel the

precious warmth of success.  A blush of young men stands in the

office hallway waiting for assignment.  It looks as if things are

being done the right way.  There is even a subtle congratulatory

touching of hands as campaign workers pass each other.  But soon

plans go wrong. 

Tillman's minions are challenging people at the polls in the

Robert Taylor Homes.  But Bradley's young pollwatchers are reticent

to do the same in the spots where Tillman has strong support.  One

lad sits by blinking absently as Dorothy instructs the judges at

one of her strongholds.  "Don't even ask for (registration) cards.

Folks get too intimidated." 

The irony is heavy.  The gangster insurgents are worried sick

that the respected incumbent will steal the election.  The terrible

teenagers, lords of the streets, are too shy to challenge the‘

adults over voter registrations.

Nevertheless, people are pouring out of the projects.  Two of

Gator's followers stand all day with a megaphone outside 5247 South

Federal.  "We need everybody's support.  Please come out and vote."

Not all the Disciples are so committed.  A check reveals that

some palm card holders have abandoned their posts, including

Eightball.  Mack is beside himself.  "When a people never had

responsibility, they run from responsibility," he says.  

"Damn," a well dressed campaign worker says, lamenting the

soft approach of Growth and Development.  "What we need is some

P.H., a chilling reference to the old pumpkin head.Ń

At midday, Wali bursts into the control room at headquarters.

"Dorothy is performing," he says.  Sure enough, Tillman sporting a

black leather hat, has been on television leveling charges, later

proven unsubstantiated, that Bradley campaign workers have been

attacking her workers, harassing voters, and breaking into her

office to steal poll watcher applications.  Life was walking out of

a polling place when Tillman stalked toward him trumpeting her

accusations about theft and assault.  Life kept his mouth shut.

"It wasn't my part to speak," he explains to Mack. "I just kept the

fuck on."  News sound trucks swoop down on Bradley's headquarters

and he faces the lights.

"My burglary career was over in '75," he jokes."

 More Bradley election workers are heading home early.  Not

Life, he has been diligently traveling from polling place to

polling place encouraging palm card holders to stay at their posts. ‘

"What's goin' on at " 49th and State," he barks into his two©way

radio.  "We need that covered.  Come back to me with that info."

Bradley pulls up and beckons Life into his car.  "We need you as a

poll watcher in the tenth precinct."

"Right."

Mack is looking on, impressed.  "Life you got it."

"Hey Mack.  I'm nationwide."  Life allows himself a moment of

self congratulation.

"Freeze that shit," Bradley orders.

Suddenly, the 47th street headquarters is invaded by half a

dozen strange looking old gentlemen, campaign workers from the 27th

Ward, come by to pay their respects.  Each wears a stingy brimmed

hat, three piece striped suit, and fancy shoes.  Through a haze of

cigarette smoke, they look like Frank Nitti, a Capone enforcer in

the old Untouchables television series.  Surely, they have lost

touch with reality.  But the costumed oldtimers are not alone in

their folly in a country where gangbangers and mafiosi learn how to

dress and act by watching movies about themselves.  Chicago gangs

did not use machine guns, Gator Bradley says, until they saw Al

Pacino with an uzi in the movie "Scarface".  Bradley hugs each one

of the gents.  Old Gangsters Disciples never lose their status.

By nine o'clock, it is clear that Tillman will not get her

majority, she has only 47 percent of the vote, Gator 31.  There

will be a runoff.  The News trucks are back.  As Bradley stands

before the microphones, Life is by himself in a corner smiling

dreamily.  "I'm part of this movement," he says.  "I want to see‘

the headlines tomorrow.  Black youth defeat dirty Alderman.  I know

the Chairman is going to be happy."

The headlines came.  Word that a convicted felon, backed by an

organization with ties to street gangs, has forced a runoff in a

Chicago election drew reporters form far and wide.  The New York

Times and CBS Evening New With Dan Rather and Connie Chung run

features.  An Italian News crew, the BBC, Biegel T.V. in Germany,

and CNN  showed up.  But the center could not hold.  The very

morning after the election, Bradley, elated by his support in the

Taylor homes, and annoyed by constant badgering from reporters

about his gang support, blurted during a television interview, "I'm

a Gangster Disciple, O.K. I'm a Gangster Disciple that ain't gonna

let no more killing happen in his community by nobody."  He didn't

say "former" Gangster Disciple.  The furor was predictable, and any

chance Bradley has to widen his support, withered.  But it was just

a matter of time before Bradley fell off his trembling tightrope.

It could have been a drug bust or a drive by, almost anything so

people could say, "I told you so."

The evening before the runoff five hundred young people file

quietly into the Boy's and Girl's center for an organizational

meeting.  21st Century VOTE has purchased 400 white shirts and ties

to fight the gangster image.  Suddenly, all outsiders are asked to

leave.

The Boys' and Girls club meeting is followed by an unusual

affair.  A Mickey Cobra Regent who had been convinced to attend is

impressed by the turnout and tone of the Boys' and Girls' club‘

gathering.  "I'm on the wrong page," he says.  Then he goes back to

The Hole and calls a crisis meeting of his own membership to

consider more active participation in the runoff.  Within the hour

one hundred M.C.'s turn out at a Parks Department building in

nearby Fuller Park.  The M.C.'s begin their meeting with a solemn

Cobra ritual, turning to the East their left hand behind their leg

in a fist, their right hand raised performing gang signatures.  The

M.C. Regent addresses the gathering.  "We can do other things

besides sell drugs.  Whatever you want to be you can be.  If you're

not down with it you can leave."  Nobody leaves.  "Gator is here

and I want you to give him respect."

After Bradley speaks he fields questions.  One query cuts to

the heart of the matter.  "I deal drugs.  If you are elected are

you gonna shut us down?" 

There is no proof that Gator Bradley either deals drugs or

profits from the drug dealing of others.  In fact, his campaign

appears painfully strapped for money.  But what can Bradley promise

as a source of income for those who live off drug money?  Ń

Bradley answers this way.  "If your drug dealing becomes a

problem for the community they will come to this gentleman here,"

he motions to an old M.C. who had invited the Regent to the Boys'

and Girls' club.  The implication is that the man would then come

to Gator who would take action.  "What I can do is stop you from

shooting this brother here."

This election day started differently than the one six weeks

before.  Though the Chicago Board of Elections had reported that‘

there were no complaints of gang intimidation of voters, the police

were out early, in numbers. 

At 8 a.m. a squad of eight uniformed police in an unmarked van

sweep the projects.  They pull up quickly behind selected

buildings, pile from the van and charge into the lobby.  At 8:30

the squad enters the Boys' and Girls' club, prompting complaints

 are intimidating voters.  But there are no gang members

to be seen and few voters.

Five unmarked cars with two plainclothes officers in each

cruise up to two teenagers standing in front of 3737 State Street.

A sickly morning sun filters through the thick glass of the lobby.

"Who you votin' for?" a black cop asks, without leaving his car

"Nobody," Antonio, a 17 year old Bradley worker answers,

afraid he will be roughed up.  But Antonio and his buddy, Nuke, are

not planning to run for cover.  They are building captains and plan

to knock on every door and get out the vote for Bradley.  After the

police leave, they hurry into the lobby where they stand peering up

through a crack to see if the elevator is descending.  "I wanna

win.  All this shit I did."  Antonio says. "Freezin' my ass off."

The boys start on the top floor hurrying up and down the

penned in walkways knocking on doors.  Many people open up.   

A silky skinned young lady with a graceful neck opens up and

eyes Antonio.  "I'm checkin' to see if you votin'," he tells her.

The girl's head waves gently from side to side.  She holds her

housecoat closed at the neck.

"What's that you doin'?"

"Remindin' you to vote for Gator Bradley."  Antonio sucks in

a deep breath.  The girl considers the handsome young man for

several seconds.  Then her face blooms into a smile.  "I'm a

vote," she says.

"Ahh," Antonio gasps, dancing away from the door.  "They like

us here," he chortles, trotting down the dark staircase with nimble

feet.  "Except for Mrs. B.  She went on TV and said we was stickin'

people up."

  Big Six, one of their buddies is out now too.  "Get up and

vote,"  he bellows like Paul Revere, his voice echoing down the

walkways.  "Stop sleepin' and get out and vote."

But not enough people were listening.  In the lowest regular

election turnout in Chicago election history, Bradley tookk a

beating at the polls, losing the runoff by three thousand votes. 

"I thank the people for votin'," Bradley tells a dozen

reporters who crowd the hallway outside his campaign office for his

concession speech.  "This whole race was uphill.  Thank you,

everyone who didn't get violent.  With sixteen and seventeen year

olds there is another race comin' up in 1996.  We will be in full

force, in full effect, on the street."

Out of the lights, Mack is bitter.  "We just didn't have money

to make the deals they did."

Near midnight over at the Boy's and Girls' Club a young man

with his tie swiveled so it hangs down his back and his new shirt

hanging out of his back pocket like a giant white handkerchief,

shoots baskets.  A couple dozen of his friends mill around eyeing‘

the refreshments for the planned victory party.

Bradley strides in, takes one look at the dismal scene, and

leaves.  Wali is standing by the door.  "There's a rule in poker,"

he says, "Let them try to beat you.  That is what Dorothy did.

Waited for us to make the mistakes.  It was like we were playing a

veteran and we didn't know the fine points."  A moment later he

winces.  "Makes me want to cry."

Nearby, Life rocks back and forth, his arms folded across his

chest.  There has been no grand beginning.  "What am I gonna do?

What a black man does best, keep comin' up in this world they call

hell."

Eight weeks later it was summer in the Robert Taylor Homes and

fever hot.  Conditions in the projects had been so bad for so long

that the Federal Government had just taken over the Chicago Housing

Authority.  There had been plenty of speeches but no sign of change

yet.  Hundreds of young men face the desultory day in the slim

shade of the buildings.  Over in the Hole the basketball game flows

back and forth without pause.  Life is still clinging to the 21st

Century VOTE program, pushing yet another voter registration

initiative, and trying to stay out of trouble.  His status as a

convicted felon is making the difficult task of finding work near

impossible.  This morning he walks over to the bedraggled mall near

his home to pick up chicken and ribs for the barbecue he is having

for the residents of his building.

In the early afternoon Gator Bradley quits the South Side and

heads down the toll road to the Dixon Correctional facility to see

Larry Hoover.

For two hours, waves of farmland roll toward Dixon.  Postcard

vistas, no farm animals, no growing crops, no human beings.  There

seem to be no living things in the town of Dixon either.  A road

off the highway loops past graceful homes, wide porches, easy

living.  Nestled in a corner of Dixon, the medium security

Correctional Facility, once a mental institution, looks like a

college campus tucked behind double rows of razor ribbon. Ń

Larry Hoover is one of the few "C" series inmates, left in the

Illinois prison system, which means he was sentenced before the

indeterminate sentence laws were changed in '78.  The authorities

can keep him in jail indefinitely and it looks like they will.  The

man convicted with Hoover of the 1972 murder has been out of jail

for years.  Ex Chicago mayors, mayoral candidates and community

leaders have visited Hoover in prison, supported his applications

for parole.  Still, he has never received one positive vote from

the parole board. 

There are no partitions or looming guards in the wide visiting

room.  Larry Hoover enters in his own clothes, a maroon ensemble

with matching alligator shoes, and crosses the room, nodding to

other inmates as he goes.  His demeanor is shy, almost sweet.  He

is about five foot ten with narrow shoulders and thick hands.  His

sideburns are shaved to a point, as if he had too much time to

experiment with his appearance.  He has a soft chin but his hair

glistens and his skin is so smooth it looks powdered.  In the drab

surroundings he looks like a sultan.

When Hoover entered prison he was already co-leader of the

Gangster Disciples.  Before long he had achieved the status of an

Ayatollah.  "I do run the prisons," he offers with a soft smile.

Hoover's influence in the jails is so strong that when there is a

problem at a correctional institution across the state he is called

to the Warden's office at Dixon to help solve the conflict.

Like a traditional politician, Hoover starts by listing his

accomplishments.  "When I came into the Illinois prison system it

was daily practice to rape the young guys.  They'd size them up on

the fish (orientation) line, and then at night you could hear them

screaming.  I stopped all that.  I saved them from being punks and

that is appreciated."  Hoover does not say how he stopped the

rapes.  "If somebody wants to move up in my organization," Hoover

continues, "he has to go to school.  Guys don't talk about what

prison they went to now they talk about what 'university'."

It is easy to see what the young inmates men see in Larry

Hoover.  He is thoughtful and stern like the father they never had.

And funny.  "Brother in here just became a Muslim," he says. "Then

the Oklahoma City thing happened and the police thought the Muslims

did it, so my man changed his name back to Jeff, quick.  Threw away

all his Muslim shit."

The charge against Hoover is that he runs a violent drug gang.

His contention is that Growth and Development is a movement within

a wider organization.  "Of course there are people in the

organization who sell drugs.  People who support me who sell drugs.

And I do have some influence over them.  But they don't give me‘

their money.  The police try to portray the G.D.'s as an octopus

that sucks money up to the top.  It doesn't work like that.  The

drug dealers may listen to me on some matters.  But I can't tell

them to stop selling drugs, to stop feeding their families."

Hoover sheds some light on how he influences activities on the

street from his position in jail.  "Sooner or later the guys on the

street know they will probably come inside.  Then they know they

will have to deal with me."

In the middle of his talk Hoover rises to "walk the yard," to

get away from any listening devices in the visiting room. He has

known for some time that there have been microphones concealed in

the visitors' passes.   He and Bradley pace an enclosed grassy

area.  Hoover listens and nods, speaking every few minutes.

Hoover's disciples in Chicago and their brothers in inner

cities across the country are the lepers of our society.  Hoover

can touch them.  But where will his guiding hand lead, and perhaps

more important than the question of his character, can any leader

bring this flock into the American family without the restructuring

of a shrinking economy?

When Hoover returns he talks about the Black middle class.

"Sure they see themselves as apart from us.  But they are not

exempt in the long run.  They are like the jews in Germany who

believed that they would be spared when Hitler came to power. Ń

Larry Hoover is the picture of reason but he is at the rudder

of a ship that floats on violence.  Even if you accept the

proposition that he is a reformed man trying to change things, he‘

is never far from the murder game.

Last year, a Gangster Disciple in the prison at Pontiac

refused to move out of his cell and was set upon by a squad of

guards called to move him.  In the melee the inmate's cellmate was

killed.  It wasn't long before a supervisor at the same jail was

murdered, allegedly by Gangster Disciples.  The finger pointed at

Hoover.  Informants were sent to record an admission that he had

ordered the hit.  "I'll tell you the same thing I told the warden

here.  He has it on tape.  If I was going to have somebody killed

it would have been (Correction Commissioner) Lane."  The words are

soft but gravestone cold.

"They may never let me out, he says slowly.  "They locked up

a whole generation and they're locking up another right now,"

Hoover continues.  "Nothing is going to change unless the young

people get involved.  Chicago is the place where it can start.

Because that's where we have the organization."

Back in Chicago over in the Robert Taylor Homes, Life is

betting what slim chance he has left in this world that Larry

Hoover is a visionary not an ordinary villain.