"Who are the leaders of these gangs?" Ask West Side Activists

West side graphic3On Aug. 8, the Chicago Sun-Times published a story titled “CPD alerts cops that 3 West Side gangs plotting to shoot officers.” Written by Sam Charles, the article refers to an alert issued by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) that allege “Leaders from three West Side gang factions allegedly met last week to discuss plans to shoot members of the Chicago Police Department in response to the fatal police shooting of Paul O’Neal.”
“The meeting took place between higher-ups from the Vice Lords, Black Disciples, and Four Corner Hustlers, according to an alert issued to department members the day after the meeting.”
The story was picked up by every news outlet in America – both big and small – and set off a wave of panic across the city amongst the general public, police officers, and especially West Siders. The Chicago Defender went to the West Side to get to the heart of this matter and to ask the people who are working on the streets every day: Why would CPD put out a statement about alleged gangs plotting to shoot them on the West Side?
In his opinion, Student Minister Caleb Muhammad, Nation of Islam, believes this was created as a diversion to the Black Lives Matters protest that happened as a result of the latest video being released depicting 18-year-old Paul O’Neal being chased and gunned down by CPD, in what the family attorney is describing as “cold-blooded murder.”
Says Minister Muhammad “. . .based upon the O’Neal case that they mentioned. Based on how they [CPD] were in such disarray with one another. They were shooting at one another. They didn’t know who to shoot.” The CPD behavior captured on video he believes has galvanized “. . . other ethnic groups who are joining in on the latest protests. You saw Europeans, Asians and everybody now holding up Black Lives Matter [signs] all across the country. You have different races now joining in saying: ‘Stop Killing Black Folks.’ ”
He continued to say, “As far as I know, being out here in the field and in the streets. There are no more centralized gang leaders. This is something they worked to break up years ago. Right now you have cliques, a little group here and there. There is nobody that has the power to call people together right now. Yet alone, make peace.”
Minister Muhammad then digresses to bring up an important point to highlight other CPD tactics. In an attempt to stem violence before the Memorial Day weekend, CPD carried out massive arrests of 140 people throughout the city. Out of the 140 subjects arrested, 117 people were on the ‘Strategic Subject List’ a computer generated list that scores those most likely to be shot or to shoot someone, as reported in the New York Times.
The problem he states is that CPD’s mission failed to curb the violence, even after the massive arrests, 69 people were shot in Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend as reported by news outlets. And this latest episode he says underscores their continued attack on the Black community.
“We haven’t been able to bring peace to the neighborhood. So now, how do you have the power to go after the Police Department?” he questions.
Clifton “Booney” McFowler admits to being one of the founders of the Cicero Undertakers back in 1972. “Years ago, I helped form a street gang on the West Side of Chicago. In the Austin community, Cicero and Van Buren – it was the Cicero Undertaker Vice Lords; I was the Prince. Back then, in the Austin community, our fight wasn’t with each other, it was with the white people over here.
They wouldn’t allow us to participate in certain programs at Columbus Park, and we couldn’t go to those places. Booney, as he prefers to be called, said that “there was no drug dealing or drive-bys and mothers didn’t have to worry about getting their purses snatched,” he states.
It was formed to protect the block from the mob elements that came from Cicero and Oak Park to try to extort money from our community, and we followed the principles of the Nation of Islam, he states. “We were geared towards helping Black people, people who looked like us. There was crime but not that much. And the worst thing that could happen was a fist fight.”
Booney states that police back in the day were more like the gangs than the gang members themselves. “They would pick us up and take us into other gang areas – The Souls – drop us off and then they [police] would holler ‘Undertaker.’ We would have to fight our way back to Cicero.” This instigated tension between rival gangs he says.
In response to our question about the Sun-Times story: “First of all, there are no gangs no more in the community. That which they keep calling gangs doesn’t exist,” he insisted “. . . they arrested the guys who were actual leaders of the gangs, locked them up, and broke down the structure.”
Booney went on to explain why he thinks the story was planted in the media but prefaced his statement by saying “I understand the necessity of police in a society,” but, he continues “One of two things I see going on here: Either they don’t want to do their job, which they’re saying they’re not going to be as visible in the community now. And, the second thing I see is they’re trying to get a green light to continue killing unarmed Black kids for no reason.”
The Chicago Defender asked about the impact the Sun-Times story was having on the community, particularly Black men. Owen Pittman, who was labeled a Gangster Disciple by CPD because of where he lived, in the Henry Horner Projects said people are concerned. “You got a war in the streets right now with the same gang factions they said came together. They’re at war right now. So when did they sit down to conspire against the police?” he asked.
The 43-year-old supporter of Reclaiming Our Community believes in Blacks controlling the resources in their own communities. “We’re grass roots. We’re out on the streets every day. Nobody knows of any type of peace treaty where these gangs came together to go after the police. No one knows about this in the streets, but the police. To me, it’s definitely another distraction from the elephant in the room. Economics, jobs and the opportunities that we don’t get.“
“They’re [CPD] guilty. Their conscience is so guilty because they’re shooting us down at an alarming rate. To come into the community and justify what they’re doing, they have to create a narrative.”

The dove – a universal symbol of peace

Benneth Lee, former leader of the Vice Lords who spent time on death row, but was later exonerated said “The first impression I got was: Here we go again, some kind of conspiracy. It’s really frightening for an article like that to come out. Who are these gang leaders? Who are the leaders of these gangs? No one can identify these gang leaders. Who were these guys that met and said they were the leaders and would conspire to kill police officers?”
The Northeastern University professor known as “Benny” to his students teaches criminal justice and says “You can’t identify who is the actual leader of the Four Corner Hustlers. Who is the leader of the Vice Lords? Who is the actual leader of the Disciples nowadays?”
The professor says with a very concerned look on his face “This has got the community shook up. Even gang members in that community are like: ‘Man, we are now targets based on that article.’ ” Benny shared his feeling that this is a possible setup for some future event. “I’m concerned about the young members in Austin that may be labeled gang members,” he said.
The Defender looked at past stories in the media that reported that reputed gang leaders of the Four Corner Hustlers, Vice Lords, and Gangster Disciples had been locked up or killed. One such story appeared in the very paper that broke the alleged gang meeting – the Chicago Sun-Times. On May 12 this headline appeared in the paper “Life in prison for ‘king’ of the Imperial Insane Vice Lords.”
On Oct. 10, 2013, DNAinfo ran this headline: “How We Killed a Gang Boss: Men Testify They Fired 30 Times in Self-Defense.” A quote from the story reads “Royal and Roundtree, two longtime friends and admitted members of the Unknown Vice Lords, took the stand Wednesday at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, testifying in their own defense that when they gunned down the head of the rival Four Corner Hustlers street gang in 2009, it was him or them.”
Again, on August 7, 2014, DNAinfo reported the following story: “Gangster Disciples Leader Used Drug Money to Buy $1.6M in Property: Feds.”
“Johnny “Goo” Herndon, 55, the alleged leader of a Gangster Disciples faction, was one of those taken in during a mass arrest Thursday morning,” the story reads.
“Who are these people?” says Benny “I’ve got a concern that a lot of people in Austin that’s been labeled either a Vice Lord, Four Corner Hustler or Disciple is going to be targeted because of this story. Especially young members who’ve been labeled gang-affiliated.”
Gang leaders who had the power and authority to organize as suggested by the media are either locked up or no longer alive. Question: Does this imply that CPD has undercover cops in the loosely affiliated groups that remain? If not; how would they know something that was allegedly said by so-called leaders that no longer exist? Stay tuned as we continue to follow this story. . .

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