With supporters including a Cook County judge and university criminal justice researchers in attendance, a former Chicago gang leader spoke on campus March 15 to launch his campaign for clemency for a 1970 murder conviction.
Former Conservative Vice Lords gang leader Fred “Bobby” Gore talked about his life before and after his nine-year term at Statesville Prison in an appearance sponsored by the department of criminal justice and the UIC Criminal Justice Society.
Panelists expressing support for Gore were Cook County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Murphy; Robert Warden, executive director of Northwestern University’s Wrongful Conviction Center; Cynthia Kobel, executive director of the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Foundation; and John Hagedorn, UIC professor of criminal justice.
Gore is seeking assistance from Northwestern’s Wrongful Conviction Center, which hasn’t officially accepted his case as it awaits the outcome of related legal inquiries.
Although Gore’s situation doesn’t meet the center’s fundamental criteria of helping those incarcerated, Warden said an exception is being made because the case, which he described as “racist and unfair,” has “all the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction.”
Gore described the ugly racial tension and violence of the West Side in the 1960s, when he was a gang member.
After seeing “a lot of people hurt and killed,” Gore said he and other members decided to transform the street gang into a Lawndale neighborhood social organization.
“It’s not about us anymore, we must do this for our kids,” Gore emotionally explained the group’s new motivation.
The Conservative Vice Lords eventually claimed 10,000 members. He said the group, which became incorporated, created community businesses, job training programs, beautification drives and youth activities and centers. As the group’s spokesman, Gore was a visible figure.
In 1969, Gore was arrested for murder in connection with a shooting outside an Ogden Avenue bar. A series of arrests and deaths of other gang leaders would follow weeks later.
Gore said his lawyer, Eugene Pincham, withdrew from the case after the presiding judge would not allow a continuance. The case was moved ahead of others and Murphy, who became his attorney, defended his client without sufficient time to prepare.
Based on the account of one eyewitness, Gore was convicted for murder. After his imprisonment the group reverted to criminal activity.
Murphy described Gore as “one of the most decent, most human, most compassionate people on this planet.”
Gore earned a GED and two bachelor’s degrees in prison. After his release, he worked for Murphy as a social worker and later served as a counselor with the Safer Foundation.
While reflecting on the 1960s in Lawndale, Gore provided perspective on contemporary neighborhood violence.
“Today’s gangs are worried about protecting the ‘dollar.’ There are no morals or emotions. It’s frightening,” he said.
Several UIC students in the audience asked the panel for advice on making a positive impact in their own communities.
Kobel, a veteran social activist, encouraged them to raise issues of concern in their schools and neighborhoods.
“Young people need to start discussing what is going on to possibly find a solution,” Gore added.