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The Natural History of the
Spanish Vice Lords

by a UIC History student, 2002

In this research paper I will reveal the natural history of the Spanish Vice Lords Nation in order to present a firm and clear perception of this neighborhood gang.  There are three major components I researched; the first was the communities that this gang are operating and involved in, next was the historical perspective of why did the gang actually form in these two communities, lastly was getting inside the gang and disclosing members points of view and historical outline of the SVL and police perception of gangs and how they function.

The main focus of this research paper takes place in the Chicago Police 4th District.  The 4th District population is diverse in many different race and culture.  The 2000 U.S. Bureau of the Census Data divided the population into four mutually exclusive categories: “Blacks”, “Whites”, “Hispanics”, “Asian”, and “Other”.  The races consist of:

Blacks 88,064
Whites 16,474
Hispanics 35,838
Asian 287
Others 759. 

The 4th district is comprised of many communities but the main two that I’m focusing on are East Side and South Deering.  The race framework for the East Side is:  Blacks 242, Whites 6,951, Hispanics 16,113, Asians 60, Other 287. 

The race framework for South Deering is: Blacks 10,335, Whites 1,287, Hispanics 5,176, Asian 9, Others 183.  To distinguish how high crime or low crime varies in these two communities I’m going to disclose the major crimes that the police index.

Categories       Murder Sex.Assault Robbery Battery Burglary Theft ...CarTheft ...Arson

East Side            2               7               39        112      175         317           121         13

South Deering    7             15               79        173      134         476           151           5

As you could see the total for South Deering is 1,040 and the East Side is 786.  

The crime is much higher in South Deering rather the East Side mainly because I believe that the Trumbull Park Housing has a major influence on the overall crimes that occur in the South Deering Community.

108th Street Wolfe Park (East side)

In order for me to give a precise and in-depth research in to the SVL, I interviewed two major components.  The two major components would be the members of the gangs and the Police that are interacting and continuously involved with the members.  I first interviewed a Chicago Police Gangs Specialist that investigated gangs kkfor 19 years and was promoted Sergeant later in his career for a total of 22 years on the force.  Next I interviewed one active high official member that was the founder of the 108th territory.  He lived in the neighborhood over 20 years and was a member of the SVL for 10 years and through his membership he became an Elite, I will refer to this member as A.K.A Top Hat. 

Another person I interviewed was a member of 108th that lived in the neighborhood over 20 years and a member of the SVL for 9 years but not active and doesn’t take any more part in the SVL, I will refer to this member as A.K.A Sly.  Finally I interviewed a female that was also part of the gang for 3 years as a Lady Lord, to understand the female perspective of the SVL, I will refer to her as A.K.A Candy.  All of the interviews combined contributed an overwhelming amount of unofficial and informal knowledge about the SVL.  Their personal experience and perspectives helped by illustrating the differences of SVL compared to other gangs in Chicago.  The interviews helped tremendously due to the fact that there is not that much official and scholarly written documented fieldwork pertaining to the SVL.

The development of gangs in South Deering was mainly due to racism and segregation.  The Vice Lords, and Gangster Disciples were already established in the Trumbull Park Housing in the 70’s and 80’s.  To my knowledge I believe that these particular African-American gangs were already situated and organized in the TPH mainly because of the   past racial tension around South Deering in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Arnold Hirsch  presented this racial tension in “Making the Second Ghetto”. 

The Trumbull Park Home contains 462 units, is located between 105th Street and 109th street of Oglesby Avenue and Bensley Avenue, and which was in an all-white community South Deering.  When the Public Works Administration built the Trumbull Park Housing in 1938, it was alleged that

there was some kind of agreement with the community that the leasing of the units in the project to African-Americans would not disturb it racial homogeneity.  But as soon as the first African-American moved in to the Trumbull Park Housing there were overwhelming amounts of assault incidents and crowd gathering.  African-Americans were repeatedly harassed and attacked through the years of living in the Trumbull Parking Housing.

The African-Americans had to protect themselves from the whites that would enter and assault and devastate their homes.  So they began to unite and form groups to protect themselves when leaving or entering the Trumbull Park Housing.  Through the years vast amounts of Latinos and African-Americans began to move into the Trumbull Parking Housing and South Deering.  Later through the years the whites began to displace toward the East Side and Indiana.  This movement was called the “white flight” and it is still in progress to this day.  The African-Americans and Latinos that were left behind began to disperse through the South Deering community.

The History of the Conservative Vice Lords

The Vice Lords are considered the oldest street gang in Chicago (Guzman 131).  Their development can be traced back to the late 1950s, when the gang was formed as a club in the Illinois State Training Center for Boys, in St. Charles reformatory, Illinois.  This center was a facility for juvenile offenders convicted of various offenses.  As members were released from the center and returned to their west side neighborhood, the club evolved into a street gang (Vice Lords) in the Lawndale area of Chicago.  In the 1960s, a war on poverty was funding grass roots efforts around the country.  The Vice Lords became the Conservative Vice Lords Inc. in 1967 after they were allotted federal grants.  The CVL, Inc. set up a variety of programs and businesses through the west side.  Many observers thought that gangs might be able to be transformed into pro-social organizations.  (Keiser 50).  There were also many allegations of waste and fraud concerning these federal money and federal program, but none of the Vice Lords were convicted of fraud. 

During the 1970s and the early 1980s, the Vice Lords remained a west side street gang.  As the Vice Lord gang leaders and hardcore gang members were released from the penitentiary system, they relocated to various north and south side neighborhood in Chicago.  From this relocation process the influence and power expanded as new Vice Lord gang members were recruited and new branches were revealed.  The racial make-up of most Vice Lords is African-American.  The branches all have alliance to the People and are under the five-point star.

In Chicago the branches consist of: 

Albany Vice Lords, Cicero Insane Vice Lords, Conservative Vice Lords, Ebony Vice Lords, Four Corner Hustler Vice Lords, Imperial Insane Vice Lords, Mafia Insane Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Undertaker Vice Lords, Unknown vice Lords, and the only Latino Vice Lords are the Spanish Vice Lords not to be misconceived with the Spanish Lords that are not part of the Vice Lords. 

Today, fractions of the Vice Lords can be found in almost every suburban area of Chicago in Cook County, as well as numerous jurisdictions in the collar counties of Kane, Lake and DuPage.  Fractions of the Vice Lords have also been established in Gary, Indiana, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Peoria, Illinois, Minneapolis, Minnesota and numerous other cities in the Midwest.  Their main gang colors are gold and black, & red and black.  Their emblems consist of:  Pyramid with a crescent moon, the letters “V/L,” top hat with cane and gloves, pair of dice, champagne glass, Playboy bunny head, crescent moon with a five-pointed star, a dollar sign, and gloves. 

The Vice Lord faction has a leadership and membership that is separate and distinct from other Vice Lord factions.  Each Faction has a king as a leader, followed in the leadership hierarch are a minister, five and three star universals, and five and three star elites.   Although each faction uses the name Vice Lord, each faction indicates their independence by using their own name in their graffiti.  The criminal expertise of the Vice Lords is narcotic trafficking and the violence that surrounds such criminal activity  (Guzman 131).  This violence is exerted to protect existing narcotic operations as well as to expand into new territories.  The Vice Lords, as any other gang, are involved in the traditional gang related crimes such as shootings, batteries and assaults.  In the 4th District the Vice Lords’ territorial boundaries are 75th to 77th from Constance to Jeffery and 85th to 89th from South Chicago to Colfax.

The formation of the Spanish Vice Lords

The CVL inducted the SVL mainly because of strong friendship ties within South Deering.  The Latinos in South Deering would assist the CVL that also lived in South Deering by fighting off the GD and the King Cobras that live in the side Trumbull Park Housing.  The CVL formed tight bond with the Latinos who lived in South Deering.  The CVL had no Latinos and Latinos wanted to become Vice Lords because of hanging around with the Vice Lords and playing with them they too wanted to become part of a nation.  One of the Elites from another chapter met with a few Latinos in South Deering and decided to start the first Spanish Vice Lord chapter (104th Hoxie in South Deering) even in Chicago and to my knowledge of research in Illinois. 

This chapter was established in the early 80’s.  They had very few members starting out, but they were considered the most ruthless and heartless Latinos of the SVL.  Sly and Top Hat described them as “Down as motherfuckers that didn’t give a shit”.  They paved the way for later members of SVL to get their respect and honor.   Soon enough in the late 80’s there were more than 50 dedicated active members (mostly cousins and friends) that controlled South Deering hood.  The South Deering hood was known as headquarter for the SVL mainly because this was their first hood.  SVL followed mainly all the same principals and organizational structure as any other VL.  There were a few minor differences from the VL.  One particular difference was their colors; the SVL colors were maroon and black.  The SVL also followed the same prayers as the other Vice Lords.  Prayers were their code and passage in this particular gang.  It could distinguish if you were in this gang or false flagging.  When VL went to prison they had to know their prayers verbatim and not just know their signs, color, and hoods.  The SVL were in constant war in South Deering, with GD and King Cobras that occupied inside the Trumbull Park Housing.  Sly first heard about the SVL when he was a freshman in high school.  He described to me this particular incident he recalled in the spring of 1989 on the last day of school (George Washington High School).  He said, “All the SVL from 104th South Deering went up to school in car loads and started to beat down on all the GD with bats and everything.  It was so big that the news was there and cops began to stop all the traffic that went toward the high school.”  This incident sparked an interest for every body about the SVL, from police to the local community that witnessed this first hand. 

The development of SVL in Wolfe Park (108th Mackinaw in East Side) was different in many perspectives.  Wolfe Park is a full city block in an expanding residential section of the heavily industrial East Side neighborhood.  The Park consists of a playground, two baseball diamonds, and a wading pool, a basketball court and a recreational building with an office, shelter, and sand court.  The city named the park after Richard W. Wolfe.  Wolfe served as the city’s Commissioner of Public Works from 1927 through 1931.  The city transferred Wolfe Park to the Chicago Park District in 1959.

In 1970-1975 the gang that controlled Wolfe Park was an all white gang called the Simon City Royals.  The Simon City Royal is one of the oldest white gangs in Chicago.  The gang was founded in the early 1960s at Simon Park, located at 1640 N. Drake, in the Chicago Police 14th District.  At that time they were formed in an effort to stop the Hispanics street gangs from moving into their changing neighborhood (Guzman 119).  Top Hat explained to me that when he was around 12 years old his Latino friends and him were continuously getting into fights and harassed by the SCR.  The SCR at the time were older teenagers and younger men that were involved.  When Top Hat and Friends wanted to go to the park and play in the play ground or past through, they would get beat up and told never to come back.  Wolfe Park was the closest park in the vicinity that the younger kids would go to without walking a long distance to get to another playground.  Through the Top Hat and his closest friends formed a clique that always hung out together, played sports, and protected one another in fights.  In 1975-1989 the SCR died down and began to move out of the neighborhood.  Top Hat and friends started to go to the park more often and hanging out there. 

Top Hat and his friends formed a small group called the "Wonders" through the years.  There was an estimate of up to 40 to 50 members involved in this group.  There was no clear organizational structure, just a bunch of friends around the neighborhood that hung out together.  Also around this same time Latin Kings were already founded (89th Commercial) and had established territorial boundaries in the South Chicago communities.  Their principal hangouts were 89th Commercial, 96th Ave M, 99th Ewing, and Bessemer Park.  The Latin Kings were predominately Hispanic members with their main interest in protecting their neighborhoods or turfs.  The LK developed a reputation as a very violent street gang.  (Guzman   94)  The LK realized that the Wonders were forming and gaining member frequently and rapidly.  LK also had seen that the Wonders controlled Wolfe Park and hung out there frequently.  So the LK would come to Wolfe Park and attack any known Wonders that were hanging out there.  It came to a point that the LK would just harass any teenager regardless if they were affiliated with the Wonders or just walking through Wolfe Park. 

My personal experience that would illustrate my point would be this one particular time in the summer of 1990 when a neutron was almost beaten, and stabbed to death.  He was not affiliated with any gang; he was just another teenager that was out late playing at the park.  A group of LK creeped up on him and began to beat him with metal pipe and stab him numerous amounts of time.  After this vigorous and deadly life experience he acquired enough energy to crawl to a near by friend ‘s house across the park.  The Wolfe Park community all witnessed the aftermath of this horrific scene, as the ambulance escorted this innocent victim of a gang related incident to the hospital.  After this incident and minor other attacks on the Wonders and kids in the neighborhood by the LK, caused pressure and lead them to find support or refuge from other groups.

Wonders gradually diminished and began to look for support from a larger organization mainly because they didn’t want the LK to take over the park.  Latinos from Wolfe Park began to hang out more with the SVL from South Deering forming strong bonds with one another.  Since the SVL in South Deering wanted to become larger and gain entries, their Elite granted a branch for 108th (Wolfe Park).  The 108th SVL were established in the early year of 1991 and controlled Wolfe Park.  Since their alliance was under the People they had no problems with the LK at first because they to were under the people.   The only wars at the time were against the GD and King Cobras because their alliance was under the Folks.  Little by little they gained access to drugs and started to distribute it through the community.  The main drugs that were sold through the community were acid (LSD), weed (marijuana), and cocaine. 

Sly pointed out an interesting concept about why SVL didn’t sell rocks (crack cocaine) in the community.  Sly said, “That was one thing that we didn’t want to sell out there.  The reason why we didn’t want that was because we didn’t want to bring junkies into the neighborhood, and so that the junkies wouldn’t start to rip of the community. We didn’t need that junky we didn’t need that hype (crack head) out here.  It would have been easy money for everybody but it would have brought to much heat (police) and problems to the neighborhood.”  The money that was acquired from the drugs lead to buying of more drugs and guns.  Guns in the hand of a gang member gave them a sense of power, excitement and security.  Carrying a gun or being willing to use one enhanced the gang member’s reputation (Guzman 12).  The SVL also collected dues from the members to buy ammunition and bail out members from jail.

The SVL from 108th were not that widely known until the summer of 1994.  They were recognized because they went to war with two large gangs at the same time and battled them off.  The two gangs they went to war with were the LK, and Latin Dragons.  The LD is a predominately Mexican gang and was alliance of the People (Guzman 88).  Their principal hangouts included 87th Escanaba, 87th to 88th Buffalo, 104th Ewing, 83rd to 86th Muskegon and Mackinaw.  Sly explained this summer to me and said, “All of the SVL of 108th were trigger happy (shot at gangs a lot), and they lighted them up (shot at the gangs hoods) in the day or in the night it didn’t matter.”  After that summer the police, gangs, and citizens knew about the SVL from 108th.  Sly said, “Two main rules were followed so no one would get caught.  Never rat on a member and keep your mouth shut always when talking to the police.” 

In 1995 the SVL from 108th created a section for the Lady Lords within them.  There were not that many but they still participated in criminal active with the men.  Candy explained to me that they were initiated the same way as guys were into the gang, and they also followed the same principals as the guys.  They did work if they wanted to but not obligated to do missions (drive-by) or take part in selling drugs.  But other VL respected all of the Lady Lords by shaking up with them and including them in their meetings.  Now at the present time there is no more Lady Lords active they all moved on with their life.

The Chicago Police and the SVL

The Chicago Police don’t have that much information on the SVL mainly because they think of them as a sub-gang.  They believe they are not as threatening as the larger gangs across Chicago.  The CPD has an overview of most gangs and describe what they represent and where they are located but not a firm understanding of how and why they developed.  The CPD had a special gang tactic unit that started in 1981, based solely for intelligence gathering and sharing of information on the dynamics of criminal street gang activity, in order to fight the war on gangs.  The tactic units infiltrated and examined mostly all of the major Chicago gangs in specific details and accumulate overwhelmingly amount  of research to help employ strategies to combat their illegal activities.  The police definition of street gang is an organized group that participates in criminal, threatening or intimidating activity within the community.  They are an anti-social group evolved from within the community and have recognized leadership as well as code of conduct.  Values such as unity, identity, loyalty and reward are important to a gang’s organization. (Guzman 5).  This definition of gangs is totally contradicts how Frederic Thrasher’s in The Gang describes what is a gang.  This tactic unit was terminated 2 ½ years ago partially because of evidence being tampered with and CPD working to closely with gang members causing them to lead to corruption.  The CPD had a specific fund called the State Law 1505 Fund that helped finance their war on gangs.  The government believed that this fund was not being properly used by the CPD and canceled it and terminated the unit.

In conclusion, the SVL are still fairly new considering they have only been active for 20 years compared to other gangs.  There was very limited research on the SVL due to the fact that they haven’t been establish for a considerably long amount of time.  I mainly was interested in the SVL because they have been in my neighborhood the longest and I have some friends that are of SVL.  I have seen a lot of gang activity through my childhood life and wondered how did all this become the way it has.  All of my interviews were extremely informative and helped tremendously in order for me to have an accurate historical point of view and perception of SVL.

Works Cited

Dawley, David. Nation of Lords: The Autobiography of the Vice Lords.  Chicago: Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1992.

Guzman, John J. Gang Reference Book. Chicago: City of Chicago Police Department, 1998.

Hirsch, Arnold R. Makin The Second Ghetto. U of Chicago P, 1998.

Keiser, Kenneth. The Vice Lords: Warrior of the Street.  New York: Holt P, 1969.

Thrasher, Frederick. The Gang: a study of 1313 gangs.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1 1927/1963.