Heroin, LLC

The open-air drug market on the west side thrives in the same way that legal businesses do—by meeting demand, capitalizing on a cheap and plentiful workforce, and offering excellent customer service.

| December 04, 2013
- Mike McQuade

Antonio Johnson called Ray Longstreet to talk business.

Longstreet, a veteran leader of the Four Corner Hustlers gang, controlled the drug trade on 36 city blocks around Hamlin and Iowa in West Humboldt Park. But the potential to make money trumped old-time gang labels, and he had rented out some of his corners to Johnson, a member of the New Breeds, in return for supplies of heroin and cocaine—and proceeds of up to $10,000 a week. Together they collected tens of thousands of dollars a day, a revenue stream matched by few legal businesses on the west side.

The two considered themselves like-minded professionals who faced threats to their heroin and cocaine business: interference from police, rising costs from wholesale Mexican suppliers, and the rapid turnover of laborers willing to hit the street hard and keep sales brisk.

Johnson noted that he kept himself insulated from street dealing—"All them little cats that be out there, they ain't nowhere close to me, man"—while also setting high standards for his employees. "I fire people off the first mistake, dawg," he told Longstreet, according to court records. "The second one might cost a motherfucker if the first one don't."

Longstreet complained that some of his own street sellers were partying, making noise, and disturbing neighbors while on the job. He said he'd told some of his employees, "If I was an older person and I owned a house over here I'd call the police on you niggas too."

Johnson agreed. And he said he didn't tolerate disrespect for clients, either. His employees needed to remember that the customer is always right. "Whatever he is, whatever [he] do, he still a man," Johnson said of the consumer of his product. "And that's who feeding us."

But it wasn't customer service or an inept workforce that killed Johnson and Longstreet's business. A few weeks after the call, in late May 2005, authorities who'd had Longstreet and Johnson under wiretap surveillance moved in and began making arrests, indicting 34 managers and workers and charging them with participating in a drug conspiracy. Johnson and Longstreet are now in federal prison.

But business is still booming in the west-side drug trade. Chicago police and federal agents have made thousands of subsequent arrests in the area, including those resulting from a series of federal investigations centered within a short walk of Hamlin and Iowa. New operations, most specializing in heroin, have adopted tactics that allow managers to continue meeting demand and raking in profits, making the drug trade one of the most resilient and successful industries in the city.

"It's not just a bunch of idiots out there," Aaron Clayton, a former street manager for the operation around Iowa and Hamlin, said in a recent interview from Elkton federal prison in Ohio. "It is like any other business. The only thing is that our business was illegal."

The west side of Chicago has been known for decades as home to some of the largest and most vibrant drug markets in the country, where customers from around the midwest travel to find street dealers offering "blow" or "rocks" just minutes off the Eisenhower Expressway or the CTA's Blue and Green lines. The steady stream of buyers, combined with a long decline in job opportunities, has made the drug trade one of the area's largest employers.

Over the last 50 years, on commercial corridors like Arthington, Lake, Madison, Pulaski, and Cicero, most of the jobs that once lured residents to the area have disappeared, as attested to by abandoned candy, lumber, and plastics factories and empty lots that used to be movie theaters and hotels. Between 2002 and 2011, the area lost 10,000 jobs, according to the census.

In contrast, the drug business has moved from discreet sales in hotels and homes to open-air transactions on the street. Law enforcement busts offer an indication of the scale. In 1964, Chicago police made a total of 2,232 arrests for drug violations citywide. In 2012, they made 35,088, including 6,824 for heroin alone, the largest category after marijuana. Sixty-one percent of the heroin busts occurred on the west side, mostly in West Humboldt, East and West Garfield Park, and Austin.

More than 9,000 people were charged with felony drug offenses last year in Cook County, including about 4,100 for manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance—the charge usually assigned to those accused of selling heroin or cocaine—according to an analysis by Loyola University professor Don Stemen. Another 3,800 people were charged with possession. While many of the defendants charged with possessing cocaine or heroin were merely users looking to get high, a portion of the cases involved drug sellers.

That means well over 4,000 people in Cook County have worked at least part-time in the drug trade, most of them on the west side of Chicago.

While the drug business doesn't employ as many people locally as such leading fields as health care (160,000 jobs in 2011, according to the census bureau) and professional services (137,000), it's on par with fields like utilities, which employed 4,600.

On the west side the drug trade is an even more potent economic force, employing a far larger share of people than anywhere else in the city. Businesses in the three zip codes that make up the heart of the west side employed about 24,000 people, according to 2011 figures. Most west-side residents commute to jobs elsewhere. Even so, the drug business still would have employed almost as many west-siders as manufacturing (3,600), accommodations and food service (4,100), education (4,200), and retail (5,300).

Heroin sales have been a growth sector for the industry as the popularity of cocaine has waned over the last decade. The supply of heroin is so plentiful in Chicago that street prices are among the lowest in the country, trailing only Detroit, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration concluded in a study released in March. And demand appears to remain high as well. Roosevelt University researchers have found that the Chicago area ranks first in the rate and number of hospitalizations for heroin overdoses.

Court records and interviews with former street-level dealers show that the success of the drug trade is based on the basic principles of all profitable businesses. In addition, it's been able to capitalize on a cheap and plentiful supply of labor—poor young men who are introduced to the enterprise early and who believe they have few other options.

"It creates opportunity for people," says Derek Thomas, who's serving a federal sentence for participating in a heroin conspiracy in West Garfield Park. "I understand the negative aspect of it, but it creates a way where there wasn't a way."

The business plan

Federal and local law enforcement officials say the structure of businesses such as Longstreet and Johnson's tends to be similar. At the top are veteran executives with connections to wholesale distributors who get product from Mexico. The execs have the capital to buy large supplies up front, and the security apparatus—often armed members of their gang—to protect their revenue, sales territory, and street workers.

Last June authorities charged Cornel Dawson and his associates in the Black Souls gang with running such an operation—and with a number of murders, including the shooting of a government cooperator and the beating of a street salesman who was accused of stealing money and drugs.

The case has not gone to trial yet, but in court documents authorities describe the Black Souls enterprise as highly profitable and structured, as well as vicious. Dawson, 38, had led the heroin operation around Monroe and Pulaski for ten years, sources told police, and by the time it was broken up it was making $11 million a year. Dawson had invested some of his money in legal businesses, including a west-side barbershop.

Dawson and other leaders bought heroin from wholesalers and mixed and packaged it indoors, sometimes at an apartment in another neighborhood, authorities charged. One of their managers would deliver it to street supervisors, known as pack runners. The street supervisors would provide the sellers with "jabs" or packs, which are made up of 13 small bags of heroin, each of which retails for $10. Workers were required to return $100 from each jab to their supervisors, meaning their commission was $30 in cash or three bags of heroin for every ten they sold.

A confidential source told authorities that workers could typically sell eight or nine jabs per shift, which added up to earnings of $240 to $270 for eight hours on the street. Pack runners were paid a $10 commission for each jab sold, and if business was good that week, they might receive a $1,500 to $2,000 bonus on Friday.

Marketing was important. After the organization sold a batch of heroin that wasn't popular, they tried to win back customer loyalty by handing out free samples of their new product, an event known as a "pass out." The Black Souls' heroin was also known to come in distinctive blue bags. But when a competitor started selling better stuff in purple bags, the Black Souls switched to purple to capitalize.

Managing employees was often a headache. Dawson tried to keep underlings in line with brutal discipline, so that "everyone who works for him knows that if they steal or do something wrong . . . something bad will happen," an associate told authorities. But Dawson couldn't control the unreliable nature of his employees. He was recorded telling an associate that while he was making money, all of his workers were "on paper"—that is, on probation or bond, meaning they were always in danger of being locked up.

As one of Dawson's associates told authorities: "The Black Souls are always looking for additional workers."

The sales force

Like all retail businesses, the drug trade relies on both a steady customer base and a supply of low-cost workers. In the heroin trade, many of the street dealers are essentially day laborers who work on commission to support their own addictions.

Michael Jones has seen the heroin business from multiple angles. In three decades of using, he's bought and sold it all over the Chicago area. "Don't nobody want to admit we have a drug epidemic," says Jones, who's now clean and on parole at St. Leonard's Ministries, a halfway house on the west side. "And all of it is because there's no hiring and no jobs."

Jones, 52, grew up in Evanston, where his family had moved from Memphis in the early 60s. His mother died when he was a child, and Jones and his eight siblings were sent to different foster homes around the city and suburbs.

Jones says he joined gangs and learned how to fend for himself. To make money, he started selling heroin. Then he started using it.

To support his habit, he became a burglar and a thief, working mostly in the suburbs. He says he knew the barbershops and flea markets where he could ask people what sort of goods they were looking for, and then he could go steal them. In 1980 he was sentenced to three years in state prison for burglary. He's returned eight times since, for residential burglary, home invasion, aggravated battery, and possession of heroin.

"When I came home I didn't have no support groups, no jobs or nothing, so I end up back in the streets," Jones says. "I could always hustle. And then to deal with the anger and the pain, I could always go back to drugs."

"If you're up at five in the morning and you're out in one of those areas, there's no problem finding work. It's just like day labor."—Mike Jones

Jones held legal jobs working construction and cooking. "But my background kept me from getting into a lot of jobs. So did my habit. I'd go back to the west side on my lunch break."

There were always opportunities in the illegal economy. When he wasn't selling stolen goods, Jones knew a number of spots in Lawndale or K-Town (the section of West Garfield Park where the north-south streets start with K) where he could make some cash or work for his fix. "If you're up at five in the morning and you're out in one of those areas, there's no problem finding work. It's just like day labor. You can get a couple jabs."

Jones estimates that more than half of the street dealers he worked with were users like him, who showed up to sell only when they needed a fix. But they had to prove their worth or they wouldn't keep the gig.

Jones had his own sales techniques. He wouldn't wait for customers to roll up—he'd call his old connections and let them know he had a product they'd be interested in. The word would get around.

"If you're a slow worker they'll put somebody else in. By me being an addict, I know the needs. I knew who the money spenders was. It's a network."

Customer service

Through years of experience, Derek Thomas learned what it takes to be a successful street salesman: treating customers with respect and not taking their business for granted.

Thomas admits that he didn't need to start selling heroin; it wasn't a matter of survival. But it was so readily available—an option he could always turn to when he needed some cash—that eventually he came to rely on it.

"The first 15 years of my life, outside of my family, I didn't know anybody who had a job," he says from federal prison in West Virginia. "That was the way people made a living."

Thomas, who's 30, grew up in K-Town. His father was a dietary specialist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and his mother worked at a bank and volunteered at their neighborhood elementary school, Melody, where she served as PTA president.

Thomas and his twin brother were the youngest of five children; the older siblings started businesses, volunteered in the community, and went to church. Both twins were accepted at Von Steuben, a well-performing high school on the northwest side, but Derek struggled with the long commute from West Garfield Park, and ended up getting a GED.

By that time, he says he'd already begun to sell drugs. Friends had new shoes and clothes, and Thomas knew how they'd paid for them. "I wanted things my mother and my father couldn't get me."

Along with neighborhood friends, he also joined a gang, the New Breeds. "It seemed like this is the way it's supposed to be. When you grow up over here, if I went out and said I was [not in a gang], the police wouldn't even believe me. It was like, 'This is who you are.'" His street nickname was Fatboo.

"It's just like anything else in life: you work hard, you get more; you work less, you get less."—Derek Thomas

Members of the New Breeds ran a lucrative heroin ring around Van Buren and Pulaski, though many of the workers in the operation weren't part of the gang—they were users who needed to work for their heroin, or young guys who'd commute in to make a few bucks.

Once Thomas learned how to interact with customers, he found the job to be straightforward. He didn't even have to search for buyers. "They trusted me. I don't look down on people. They use drugs, they may be a bum, whatever, I don't hold that against nobody. People would look for me because they knew that I would treat them like a human being."

They kept coming, mostly driving in on I-290 or taking the Blue Line. "Most of them were from outside the area," he says. "There isn't that much money in that neighborhood."

Thomas says he was able to set aside concerns about the dangers of heroin and see his sales as a business transaction. Most of his heroin customers were "functional," he says. "When you see them you don't see the struggle and the hurt—they're going to be clean and they're going to have cars. A crackhead, they may try to sell you their TV or their kids' milk or something."

He would usually quit after making a few hundred dollars a day in profit, though he emphasizes that the opportunities were almost limitless. "Some people say they want to make $2,000 a day and they don't leave until they make it. It's just like anything else in life: you work hard, you get more; you work less, you get less."

When he was working, Thomas had to remain vigilant about potential stickups or other threats. "I mean, you know what a shady character looks like, so you try to stay away from those type of people."

He understood the risks of the business. He spent a year in prison on a drug charge, then moved to the south side to try getting away. He found other jobs—he worked at McDonald's for a while, then at a tire factory. But he was laid off in late 2009 as he and his girlfriend were planning to move in together. Thomas went back to the street.

At a little after 7 AM on February 19, 2010, Thomas sold heroin to a customer who, unbeknownst to him, was an undercover officer. During the sale, Thomas offered his cell phone number to arrange future deals, according to court records. When the undercover officer called later, Thomas asked him if the heroin was good. The officer said yes.

By March, Thomas had quit selling again and enrolled in Putting Illinois to Work, a job training and placement program run by the state. After finishing it, in August, he landed an interview with the secretary of state's office for a position aimed at ex-offenders.

He never made it. "The feds grabbed me," he says. Though he hadn't been selling for months, he was named as part of a drug conspiracy centered around the New Breeds in K-Town.

Prosecutors acknowledged that he had stopped selling before his arrest, but they stressed that he knew he was dealing dangerous drugs for an organization that was linked to shootings and murders. Thomas ended up pleading guilty to one count of the conspiracy charges and was sentenced to 162 months in prison.

Now that he's away from Chicago, Thomas says he's gained perspective about how dangerous it is for young people in neighborhoods like the one where he grew up. He says it's not easy to break out of the environment of the drug trade, but he'd like to get the training to work as a youth counselor so he can share his story as a warning.

"When I'm around people on the streets, that facade I have to put forward, it's like a character almost—like Fatboo is one person and Derek is somebody totally different. When all this happened with the feds, I wasn't being Fatboo. I was trying to be productive in life. But when I tried to bring Derek to the forefront, nobody wanted to see him, because the things that Fatboo did just overshadowed it."

The middle manager

The heroin trade, like all businesses, relies on skilled middle managers who know how to get the best out of their employees. When he worked as a supervisor for Longstreet's organization in West Humboldt Park, Aaron Clayton drew on his past experience with street sales as well as his observations of what makes people tick.

"I was like a liaison for the higher guys and the lower guys," says Clayton, 42, during a phone call from prison. "And that was my niche anywhere I went, because I started off on the street selling bags hand to hand."

Clayton says he first started selling because his family was struggling and it seemed like the best opportunity for making money.

In the early 1960s Clayton's maternal grandparents moved from rural Mississippi to West Garfield Park, where his grandfather found work in a copper factory and his grandmother as a switchboard operator in a hotel. Clayton's mother graduated from Crane High School and had him when she was 18. To support Clayton and his three siblings, she worked at the Tootsie candy factory on Pulaski and then at a contact lens manufacturer.

But while their family struggled, others in the neighborhood had money—the cocaine and heroin dealers.

"It was easier for me to go and sell and make rent money and bill money and help my mom," Clayton recalls. "I felt guilty being out selling, and my mom was like a police officer herself—she'd run me off the corner, 'Get your ass in the house!' But I'd come in and pay those goddamn bills, $125 for light bills, $100 for that. It became a way of life."

He tried straight jobs. Clayton says he worked at a plastics company until he failed a drug test. His uncle taught him how to work with cars and he would fix his friends' just to get extra practice, but he never found a mechanic's job. He stocked groceries and did a stint at McDonald's.

"A lot of people think these guys are just gangbangers and drug users. But each and every one of those guys, they've got to work well with others, take initiative to do things without being told."—Aaron Clayton

"It wasn't that I couldn't do the jobs, but I was used to making that fast money," he says—as much as $600 a day on the street.

Once he started getting picked up by police, it became even harder to turn to other work. In 1994 an officer reported seeing several people approach Clayton on West Iowa Street at 1:30 in the afternoon. When they handed him cash, he reached into his waistband and gave them plastic-wrapped tinfoil packets of heroin. Clayton was eventually convicted of heroin possession and, after a stint in jail, returned home on probation.

"You just can't go into a factory and say, 'I can do that forklift.' Your experience from 16 to 25 is being out on the street and selling drugs. It's kind of hard to all of a sudden turn that switch off and turn another switch on when you don't have any skills and no education."

On the other hand, Clayton had discovered that he was good at listening and communicating with people, and he understood how the drug business worked. "A lot of people think these guys are just gangbangers and drug users. But each and every one of those guys, they've got to work well with others, take initiative to do things without being told. Those are qualities that you look for out there in the streets."

Performance and reliability mattered far more than gang affiliation. Clayton identified as a Gangster Disciple, because that's what his friends were where he grew up. But he landed a job with the Four Corner Hustlers operation based on his experience and skill set.

Clayton's managerial strategy was based on the simple premise that workers should be praised for dependability and output, and he tried to learn what motivated each of them. "I would reward them for coming early and staying late. It could be something as simple as getting them cigarettes or food, or if they did blow I got them blow. These guys were like day laborers. They didn't sign a contract to stay with us, and I knew that.

"On the other hand, there was discipline involved too. I would curse their ass out or have to maybe put my hands on them, but that was the extent of it. I didn't have to get a weapon and shoot nobody or nothing like that. I was nice but also had to be firm with them."

Clayton says many middle managers were paid based on commission, while others might earn a weekly salary in the range of $1,000 to $1,500. But he understood that it wouldn't last. After being arrested as part of the federal investigation into Longstreet, he pleaded guilty to one count of participating in a drug conspiracy and was sentenced to 146 months in prison.

He worries about what kind of work he'll be able to find when he's released next year, and dreams of getting a tow truck or starting his own business. "I've blown 25 years of my life in the drug business, and I have nothing to show for it," he says. "I've hurt and I've compromised a lot of people's lives in the process. I'm ready to give something back."

Though the open-air drug trade is visible and vibrant, Clayton stresses that most west-siders aren't involved in it. "It's a small number of people. But damn, when the kids come out they see the guys on the corner, they see the addicts walking around in the morning or at night, they see the strangers come in the neighborhood, all the different kinds of people, and of course it's influencing them."

Interns Jillian Sandler and Rachel Graf assisted in the researching of this story.

This story is part of a joint series between the Reader and WBEZ that explores the impact of heroin on Chicagoland and the midwest.

The Chicago Connection. By Mick Dumke

Heroin: It's cheap, it's available and it's dangerous business. By Natalie Moore, WBEZ

From Mexico to the Midwest, a heroin supply chain delivers. By Chip Mitchell, WBEZ

The movie that brought Naperville face to face with its teens' drug use. By Bill Healy, WBEZ

Heroin moves to Chicago suburbs in small amounts through users. By Rob Wildeboer, WBEZ

From Mexico to the Midwest, a heroin supply chain delivers. By Chip Mitchell, WBEZ

Afternoon Shift: Interview with Daniel Bigg, cofounder and executive director of the Chicago Recovery Alliance

Chicago's Southwest Side, southwest suburbs home to major drug warehousing. By Natalie Moore, WBEZ

Chicago is hub for heroin in the Midwest. By Rob Wildeboer, WBEZ

Afternoon Shift: A conversation with sociologist Greg Scott

Check back here to explore our and WBEZ's ongoing coverage.


Comments (34)

Showing 1-25 of 34

If you wanted to be smart about the heroin business -- you should've moved to Kansas City about 4 months ago.

report 2 likes, 6 dislikes   
Posted by John Morgan on 12/04/2013 at 8:21 PM

Geeze I just don't know what to say as a lifelong resident of the west side pre-riot I'm 54 I know of a westside few people know one of which a community activist was actually a parent but I suppose with the breakdown of morality a drug market would be the logical choice but why focus on the dealers Sudhir Venkatesh did that with Gang Leader for a Day (even though it focused on the South Side) it's those crazy ass suburbanites who truly can afford recreational drugs and yes it's recreational for them po black folk get high to forget forget the fact that no matter how high they achieve some well connected white person will knock them out for the position they apply for me myself being a perfect example college graduate Job Developer for various social service organizations servicing my own people but of course let go when it became obvious that I was actually doing my job now I'm currently homeless but the thought of passing out Jabs as it were never occurred to me,and others like me it whites would open up the doors to advancement and stop believing in these crass stereotypes that you the Reader perpetuate perhaps then we could actually be seen in a better light than that of a car coming off the Eisenhower ramp.

report 19 likes, 21 dislikes   
Posted by craigjjj on 12/05/2013 at 11:44 AM

I have always wondered if the recent rise in heroin use is not simply a preference over cocaine but due to an increased supply/lower price resulting from the war in Afghanistan. Studies showed similar changes in the drug trade with the war in Vietnam.

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Posted by curious on 12/05/2013 at 1:22 PM

The recent rise in heroin use might also be attributed to prescription painkiller dependence. Opiate addiction, including heroin and prescription painkillers, is so incredibly powerful, that even if someone wants to stop using, they are often not able to do so on their own.

report 14 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Waismann Method Rapid Detox on 12/05/2013 at 3:35 PM

The rise in heroin use, over the past ten years, is because it's sold in a powder form that can be snorted, and not injected.

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Posted by dindong on 12/05/2013 at 8:33 PM

Keep ya head Craigjjj and stay strong in the struggle!

This whole drug thing is just the next form of slavery for Black people. But for white people, it's their new growth industry in America from the rich republicans, to the comfortable white liberals -feeling superior/ self righteous while being paid for hardly working in the non profit industrial complex, to the poor whites in the hills of virginia working as prison guards.

Need a classic example of "white" liberals in the non profit industrial complex arm of the drug game? Ironic that you mentioned The Great Sudhir Venkatesh! That man wrote an "academic" book of lies about Black people, but because he was "U of C" and not Black, his "novel" -as in fiction- became a best seller about him being so tight with a major street gang that they let him write down their involvement in a Criminal Conspiracy. Of course no white crime organization( like the Mafia) would allow this, just us dumb black criminals willing to let an honorary white male be gang leader for a day. Now he goes to New York, gets caught lying and stealing from his ivy league university( and making the same lies about his so called research) and don't even get fired. If he was a Black man he would be in jail!


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Posted by Spook on 12/06/2013 at 2:44 AM

Absolutely excellent look into why the drug business is no different from any other. Thanks Mick.

report 11 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Lamprey on 12/06/2013 at 11:16 AM

"Of course no white crime organization( like the Mafia) would allow this, just us dumb black criminals willing to let an honorary white male be gang leader for a day.

Well, that's not exactly true true about the Mafia. There was at least one high-profile old school godfather who wrote an autobiography (look it up), and others who actively sought the limelight (look it up). Sure, that's a bit different from what you are saying, but your statement is far too general in your haste to show Whitey how much Whitey sucks.

And Whitey may indeed suck. On that, I have no strong opinion.

Keep on trucking, dude.

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Posted by really sad on 12/06/2013 at 12:05 PM

Could someone please tell me when Sudhir Venkatesh became a white guy? Does that mean Gandhi was white as well?

report 12 likes, 2 dislikes   
Posted by Xtapolapocetl on 12/06/2013 at 1:14 PM

So when white people do drugs they're evil, but when black people do it's because they're fighting the Man?

I think this attitude has more to do with your unemployability than whitey going to the moon.

'it's those crazy ass suburbanites who truly can afford recreational drugs and yes it's recreational for them po black folk get high to forget forget the fact that no matter how high they achieve some well connected white person will knock them out for the position"

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Posted by Xtapolapocetl on 12/06/2013 at 1:16 PM

The "Customer Service" is very real. I am a retired Chicago Police Supervisor who was working in the area undercover. I am balding, grey hair and Hispanic. So one day I exited the CTA station at Cicero and Lake to observe one of my teams in the area to make a buy. Well all of a sudden a young black man came up to me and asked if I spoke English, to which I responded "very little". He then asked if I was lost and needed assistance, because he did not want anything to happen to me, he actually told me the neighborhood was dangerous. And he then stayed with me until a bus arrived, which I boarded and he said goodbye to me! He was genuinely concerned for my well being because he knew if something happened to an elderly non-resident in the area it might bring heat on their drug operation. The whole incident was one of the strangest situations in my 30 yrs. of police service. He never realized he was helping/talking to a police sergeant, my firearm was well concealed and I was not wearing a vest, it was awkward, very strange.

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Posted by Baby "G" fo Gorilla on 12/06/2013 at 7:28 PM

It's always good to see that almost any thread in Chicago will end up with a bunch of stupid racist shit. I expect this from Tribune readers, not Reader readers, who tend to represent those of higher intelligence in Chicago.
Heroin is going to destroy Chicago. Chicago was ill prepared for this epidemic and I learned working at BBH in Baltimore that the next city the trade was planning on moving to was Chicago. A large part of that is because the racism here positions the gangs as just a bunch of dumb black kids on the corner. Perfect. Go with that. See where Chicago is at in twenty years as they triangulate with the Mexican Cartels, (I worked on the team that did the big story in 2009 for Congressional Quarterly so this is something I know about. We left out the Chicago part because Dear Leader is from here and my fellow leftists believe Democrats should not get the same scrutiny as GOPers.)
Otherwise, this is an incredibly good story, the sort of story from the Reader I grew up reading. I bet it's going to be shopped as a Wire type series about Chicago.
Anyway, I'm moving because my tech company got first round funding and we have to up to DC and I don't want any of the tax dollars we generated this year to go to this shithole state.
I hope that Chicago people wise up and elect a Republican law and order mayor. Yeah, I fully realize that the heroin trade and other gang-related businesses are there because of marginalization from economic opportunity but in order for people to demand enfrachisement, the mechanisms that economically validate disenfranchisement have to be squashed.
Also, when violence disappears, so does racism and the victims are mostly black men. As a man of color, I would rather be stopped by police and know I'm safe then to be stopped, forever, by gangs. I lived in Gulliani era New York and when I did make a mistake jumping a turnstyle and was stopped, the police were great. I very much enjoyed being in a city where I didn't have to have some banger call me a 'faggot' or say 'what you be about?"
Also, the gangs actively suppress the opposite to make sure they have labor. I was an honors student at Thornwood who used an address that was not mine so that I didn't have to go to a gang ridden school. I know that the gangs intimidate honors students specifically but my fellow lefties in journalism who have never had a gun to their head glorify the problem. It's 'cool' because the drug trade is a fantasy.
If this shit was going down somewhere in another country, the left would be up in arms and have signs all over like Save Darfur. However, we never speak ill of something Dear Leader never addressed.
Anyway, I know I'm ranting. It's sad that in 2013, when every other big city has realized that the drug trade and the gangs around it affect blacks most, we use it -- or rather, Chicago uses it -- to prop up segregation.
Anyway, good riddance. I would recommend everyone take a clue from Safeway and move. The reason they are shutting down is because Chicago, between corruption, violence, Cook County taxes and elected officials badgering businesses for a piece of the action to thrive, it's a fucked up place. I think that it will finally affect Dear Leader this year. I generally vote Dem but I'm fine with that if it becomes a liability that eventually pushes change.
I had two separate people related to elected officials threaten me for equity in my business. FTS.
I just hope the racists in the suburbs realize that this will soon be at their door because White flight runs out of places to run and because suburbanites are the base consumer for smack, it will follow the customer base. You cannot commute from Iowa to DuPage County.
By the way, to those of you who are smart and raise kids in the city, good to you. Letting them see what heroin does will insure they won't be fascinated with it.
I think we should legalize the crap, hand it out for free and let the addicts be their own anti-drug advertisement.
In the meantime, wake up Chicago liberals and get off the 'root causes' BS and elect a Republican mayor who will crack down. To weed out the root, you cut the tree first. I advocate legalization but that's about as realistic as a Harold's Fried Chicken opening in Lake Forest.
I expect some nice stupid racist comments after this little rant.
Chicago makes me ashamed to have ever served in the US Army as a 74 Delta.
Ugh, I'm going to be so happy to leave this place and go to America, where racism has actually disappeared.

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Posted by Kristopher Irizarry-Hoeksema on 12/06/2013 at 8:21 PM

"I expect some nice stupid racist comments after this little rant. "
Actually, "KI-H", that was one of the most intelligent and honest posts here in the last 10 years.
The problem with the Reader, as I see it, is they recognize the common problem, but they always place the blame outward from the offending/effected people.
For example, drugs are the center root of crime. In segregated neighborhoods, and through poverty/population density/social depression, the drugs have created a brutal market in which few people thrive, and most others fall further into despair and addiction.
The Reader then manipulates their condition by damning every part of government or social services that have been in place for decades, that these services are a total/massive failure, and that the government should do better. Here, the cops suck and are a racist buffoons-the courts are racist and are running through cases with little or no interest-the schools suck because all of CPS educators are shitty, the war on drugs is devastating the poor, and on and on they go.
Never does the blame go back to the dealer, the user, or the gangs; herein the gangs are again a mystical, intriguing entity who's business venture is no different that any other small business?
What irresponsible, north-shore liberal (and I'm one) bullshit.
The gangs of this neighborhood thrive because of a weak government, a municipal government, which rightfully so, owes it to the tax payer not to aid people who have entrenched themselves for 50 years in severe anti social behaviors- I'm talking about the gangs, and not the vast majority of blacks who suffer in the shadows because of them.
"KI-H" is able to better illuminate this, by adding; if you take away the violence- the racism will disappear with it. I couldn't agree more. Those are some golden, truthful words Sir.
But the Reader seems to ignore the fact that gangs thrive on constant generational violence, intimidation, and manipulation. They suggest we should accept gang culture as a group of people who find a way to subsistence through their own means because they've been abandoned, and wouldn't you, the reader, do the same thing if you were in their shoe's? Fuck no, and the vast majority of blacks say the same thing, but their ignored because that don't sell a good story.

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Posted by dan on 12/06/2013 at 11:47 PM

"That man wrote an "academic" book of lies about Black people, but because he was "U of C"

Hey "Spook" was he wrong?

If he was, how so? It's Just a question.

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Posted by Spock on 12/07/2013 at 12:11 AM

"I have always wondered if the recent rise in heroin use is not simply a preference over cocaine but due to an increased supply/lower price resulting from the war in Afghanistan. Studies showed similar changes in the drug trade with the war in Vietnam."

American heroin doesn't come from Afghanistan. It comes from South America. Black Tar "Heroin" (which isn't really heroin, as it has many more opiate alkaloids than just diacetlymorphine) comes from Mexico, and powder heroin (more prevalent on the East Coast) comes mainly from Columbia.

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Posted by dormin on 12/07/2013 at 5:34 PM

The order of business here is important. Just like Prohibition and the way Irish-Italians-Jews-Polish shot each other up in broad daylight in the LOOP, end Prohibiton II in its current racist incarnation and then the violence will decrease overnight. People will still continue to do harmful substances for recreation, but that is better addressed by the medical profession. As we can clearly see from this article (and thousands of others), the dealers aren't stupid, quite the contrary, they will adapt as they have no choice.

I dug the rant, but would have to disagree regarding the "law and order Republican" solution. That's addressing the symptom not the root cause IMO.

The root cause is Prohibition II, and to date Preckwinkle is the ONLY major Chicago politician with the stones to call it out. I don't think the self-style underdog Karen Lewis has publicly said jack about the drug war, and how if nothing else it is a destabilizing factor across all levels of public education.

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Posted by Xtapolapocetl on 12/07/2013 at 7:32 PM


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Posted by Lou on 12/07/2013 at 10:25 PM

There has been an increase in heroin use in DuPage county. They come in on the expressway, buy their drugs, get back on the expressway and head home. They don't buy I or 2 packages, they buy 5, 10, 15, packages at a time. This goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sometimes, they will get out of their cars and walk down the street like they live on the west side. What this article failed to tell you was on the northern part of Austin, at Roosevelt Rd. borders Cicero and Berwyn. Those white people come to the west side, EVERYDAY to buy drugs. You will see them walking across the expressway at Cicero and Central. I lived on the west side for years but the dope dealing ran me off.

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Posted by lou on 12/07/2013 at 10:48 PM

I'm not exactly sure if heroin is on the rise, more readily available, or just still an old habit that refuses to quit. I was almost out of high school in the late 90's, and had a few personal brushes with it, and the West Side that provided it. I was a suburbanite, and in the late 90's, there was a rash of deaths and OD's that surprised Suburbia, drawing a lot of attention to the drug. I agree it was probably the ease of use (needles no longer required) and the budding rave scene that helped usher in the popularity of the drug, but most journalist pursuits have forgotten this window in time. I had a very good friend OD and die. Not long after, another close friend OD'ed and ended up in a three day coma, lived, and managed to right his ship (after a long recovery). My point is, this article has eye witness accounts, from long before the wave my generation endured, of a market that has existed longer than the guys who run it now even know. This is a LONG TERM epidemic, and has been handed down, generation to generation. The real crime is that this is more lucrative and steady than any other forms of employment in the area. It draws from even outside the neighborhood, and its gang ties, to people that know they can make money. This area needs opportunity outside of the drug trade, so the kids that grow up here can have a chance to thrive without resorting to immediate gratification of easy money. No, not everyone sells drugs in this community. Not everyone grabs the easy cash. However, it is called that for a reason; it's easy. Afford more opportunities, and we will see this dwindle, because people everywhere are inherently good, and only environmental restrictions and negative experiences makes one believe that such a life is the only stepladder to a better standard of living. We are all products of our environment, and sometimes the lines of right and wrong get blurred because of the wrong we witness is more prevalent than the right.

Pre-edit (for fear of not addressing other valid issues brought up in the comments I failed to read before my own rant): Violence and segregation go hand and hand here in Chicago, and this dissection of the West Side is no different to the City on a whole; where poverty thrives, opportunity has already died. Poor people don't have a whole lot of opportunity; from bad schools to shit jobs. It would take a lot more integrity than I possess to not see the upside in making $2k a week slingin' and $7.25 an hour at McDonald's. However, a Republican influence is also the wrong answer. As disillusioned as we are with politics in Chicago, a less than compassionate party to social spending and interest in issues that don't turn a profit is also counterproductive. We need actual advocates that give a shit about these areas to have any hope of a rejuvenation and actual end to poverty. A revamp of the entire system will only give rise to new hope. I love my city, but poverty and violence will haunt us until segregation and corruption is appropriately addressed.

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Posted by EastVillage on 12/08/2013 at 12:32 AM

"A lot of people think these guys are gangbangers and drug users. But each and every one of those guys, they've got to work well with others, take initiative to do things without being told."

This article reminds me of the biographies of the terrorists in the days following 9/11. With the biographies came so much hype about "advanced terror networks" because radical muslim men knew how to use cell phones and email.
Calling these guys executives is an insult to the word. So you're at the top of a smack slinging enterprise and have investments in a couple barber shops. It had nothing to do with initiative or likeability, it had everything to do with being a gangbanger and drug user, using force and coercion, lacking scruples to enable yourself to be a ruthless street hustler and manipulator of children and neighbors.

And so similar to "the war on terror" is "the war on drugs" All they have done is fanned the flames of our enemies and grown their ranks.
We know that heroin will most likely never be legalized nor eradicated. The important questions now are how do we diminish these men's roles in their communities? How do we destroy their status in the community?
Unfortunately for black people rap music has embraced these characters and deified them because of the "war" being fought in their community.

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Posted by CHS on 12/08/2013 at 1:29 PM

I dug the rant, but would have to disagree regarding the "law and order Republican" solution. That's addressing the symptom not the root cause IMO.

The root cause is Prohibition II, and to date Preckwinkle is the ONLY major Chicago politician with the stones to call it out."

You have to go deeper to get to the root cause. Why is there almost no effort to come up with a different way to deal with drug crime despite clear evidence that the current system is not working? This is something where it does make sense to follow the money. At the federal level and in various other states there is clearly a push for more inmates to go into the correctional system because there are some companies making money off of it. And in all states, including our own, there is a push for more inmates (or at least not reduction of them) to go into the correctional system because of the large amount of workers who depend on it. I think the effect of politicians simply fearing they would look weak by advocating a different approach is generally overstated with regards to this. That's definitely a strong factor in the failure to do anything but its not as strong as the pushback that would happen from unions and companies that serve the correctional system. If by some miracle we at some point get to the situation where there is a real possibility that the fight against drugs gets transformed from a law enforcement approach to more of a prevention and (for harder drugs) treatment approach and the necessary layoffs of law enforcement and correctional staff gets proposed I wonder if Dumke will change his views about this. I hope he wouldn't. But with other issues, protecting union jobs is pretty much always his first priority.

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Posted by The original IAC on 12/08/2013 at 11:08 PM

By the way, here's a good illustration from the past week about how good policies in the criminal justice system are impeded by pressure from people's whose jobs may be affected by them: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/b… A program that provided jobs to ex-offenders so that they can have a better opportunity to not re-offend has been ended due to union pressure. In this case, the union wasn't even in the criminal justice system and the amount of union jobs at stake was pretty small in the scheme of things. And there was money saved by taxpayers that could be measured. Imagine what happens when we are talking about major restructurings of what is done and where the taxpayer savings, though huge, wouldn't happen for years. Unfortunately, it's just not going to happen. There is too much pressure from those whose jobs would be threatened by changes. This is the major reason why we are unlikely to see the status-quo change in any significant manner with anything related to the criminal justice system.

I'd be interested in seeing Dumke's take, by the way, on the discontinuation of CTA's program hiring ex-offenders to clean rail cars. He has written about the lack of opportunity for those leaving prison. He has a well-deserved reputation for having strong knowledge about these types of issues and about what changes should be made. So he might be able to make a difference if he were to highlight the injustice that results from this program no longer being offered.

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Posted by The original IAC on 12/09/2013 at 12:51 AM

"You have to go deeper to get to the root cause. "

The root cause is the US government has made some plants with historical usage as recreational substances illegal while others aren't.

It's not a coincidence that these plants/substances are ones that browner people enjoyed initially.

I'm not dismissing the rest of your comments, but, this is a horse-and-cart thing. If the substances/plants are decriminalized/legalized, people can't be locked up for them.

Analogy: alcohol.

Legalizing it by ending Prohibition did not lead to an utopian paradise, but it did mean consumers didn't inadvertently support a violence-riddled black market just to have a drink.

If you want to get way deep, just read up on the Opium Wars.

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Posted by Xtapolapocetl on 12/09/2013 at 9:20 AM

"...Why is there almost no effort to come up with a different way to deal with drug crime despite clear evidence that the current system is not working?"
Not working? According to who, you?
The system is working very well; you sell dope (heroin) or use it, you go to jail.
I don't want that shit in my neighborhood, near my kids, and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want that either.
The ONLY way to do that is to arrest the shit out of the gangbangers and the people responsible for keeping the system going.
If you have a better answer, then by all means elaborate on a REALISTIC structure and system that would fix this problem permanently, and do it at a less costly expense (that's also been one of the "issues") otherwise I think you might want to accept that the current system is working pretty well- unless your a gangbanger or addict of course.

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Posted by ginger on 12/09/2013 at 11:59 PM


holy shit, you really had to tie this article to your disgust of unions?! please, respond in less than 3 pages.

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Posted by IAC Remix on 12/10/2013 at 6:14 AM
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