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Once a Gangbanger

Now Hal Baskin is a "gang deactivator," a peace broker, a role model, and a candidate.

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Inside Englewood Technical Preparatory Academy, a bell sounds at mid-morning and kids begin to change classes. Six-foot-three Hal Baskin is moving about quickly, looking like a sequoia in a stand of maples. A sequoia in blue jeans with a flattop and Fu Manchu mustache. "Ladies and gentlemen, get a move on, straight up," he says to a clump of students who appear to be loitering. He spies a cornrowed idler. "Get in class, else I'm going to hit you up the side of the earlobe."

Baskin corners a boy in a stairwell. He's been told the boy was mouthing off in class. "Don't lip off to your teacher," he says to the kid, "and when you see that teacher, apologize."

For every admonition, Baskin waves to a girl or shakes the hand of a boy. He droops his arm over one lad's shoulder and whispers a confidence, hearing some small confession in return.

The next period has begun when Ken Cashion, an art teacher, stops Baskin with news that a freshman boy has stolen some slips that readmit students to class and has been forging the teacher's signature. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Baskin sets off. Within minutes he has located the boy, yanked him from class, and faced him with the forged slips; the boy fesses up to his sin, and Baskin delivers a tongue-lashing: "Mr. Cashion is a personal friend of mine. An offense to him is an offense to me. Don't let this happen again. Hear me?" The contrite freshman nods and shuffles off.

At 41, Baskin is neither a teacher nor even a school employee, but a volunteer who heads Englewood Tech Prep's gang deactivation program. The program uses present and former gang members, Baskin the prince among them, to moderate behavior and prevent violence. "I'm a doctor who's seen so many remedies that don't work," says Baskin. "My diagnosis says you can't solve problems like we're seeing in the streets from the outside. In order to stop killing, you have to use the killers, so to speak, to turn around their followers and make them correspond to acceptable norms."

The school-based strategy is unique in the nation, claims Clemens Bartollas, a sociology professor at the University of Northern Iowa and a specialist in street gangs. The deactivation program also stands as the most concrete local manifestation of a growing--and controversial--movement to change the perception of gangs from incorrigible toughs to agents of community good and political change.

Englewood Tech Prep, housed in a redbrick, skylighted structure built in 1979, is an all-black public institution with a student body that knows a high level of poverty and a 50 percent dropout rate. In the 1960s Englewood High had an enrollment of 2,400 youngsters, but now only 1,100 kids attend, a decline principal Warner Birts blames on the advent of magnet programs for high schoolers. A year ago Birts turned Englewood into a technical academy, adding academic programs in business computers and in medical, metal, and food technology. "We're pushing career entrepreneurship," says Birts. One of the school's goals "is to instill in youngsters' minds the value of a good education, to dissuade them from gang activities."

Two gangs, the Black Gangster Disciples (GDs) and the Black Disciples (BDs), are well established at Englewood. More than a quarter of the student body, male and female, are committed to one gang or the other or are gang "wannabes" lolling on the fringe, says Baskin.

The gangs' roots go back to the Devil's Disciples and the Supreme Gangsters, which flourished in Englewood in the 1960s and eventually merged to become the Black Gangster Disciple Nation. In 1977 the Disciple Nation, by now citywide, split into the GDs and the BDs. By 1989 the two gangs were at war over turf and rackets.

John Porter, an Englewood minister and sociologist, puts the gangs' combined citywide membership between 23,000 and 28,000. Donald Hilbring, commander of the Gang Investigation Section of the Chicago Police Department, says it could reach 40,000. Baskin says there are 35,000 GDs and 15,000 BDs.

Gang deactivation began at Englewood Tech Prep last fall. Students are supposed to obey rules laid out under a covenant reached between the GDs and the BDs, rules that call for students to attend every class, maintain a C-plus average or better, avoid verbal and physical fights, and leave campus directly at the end of the day. Two student monitors representing each gang, plus nonstudent monitors who are older, enforce the rules, or the more serious of them. Offenders are given warnings, often in what are called "mediation sessions." Says one BD student monitor, "Basically we say, 'Leave the stupid stuff alone.'"

On the third offense--or sooner if the infraction is on the order of a fistfight--the outside monitors get involved. Michael Burnett, a GD outside monitor, is unemployed, although he makes a little money on the side cutting hair. Last August he completed five months of house arrest after pleading guilty to cocaine possession, and another drug case is pending. He swears his bad-boy ways are behind him, making him all the more effective with Englewood students: "I can lead them in the right way, so they don't fall astray like I did."

Outside monitor Tyrone Webster is 23. A Robeson High School dropout who subsequently earned a GED, Webster has been a "soldier" in the BDs since his early teens. When he was 18 he pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon, and a few years later he was shot in the ankle and in the foot. Out of work since his weapons conviction, he receives food stamps and lives with his mother, though he remains close to his girlfriend and their infant son. Webster says he's in business part-time--"I just do what I have to do to survive"--and he's best summoned by beeper.

Violators face the music as played by the outside monitors. "The monitors may fine you, or they may be a little more forceful," says Baskin. "They may get in a circle and beat you, not on the face but on the body. They may hit you three or four times with a paddle. But they don't break no bones, and it all happens outside the school." According to Tyrone Webster, "If it's a BD that's involved, a BD does the paddlin'; if it's a GD, a GD does it."

"We do not condone corporal punishment, just like we don't condone drugs or killing," says Warner Birts, "but we don't have control over whatever order of discipline the gangs impose off Board of Education premises."

The academic day at Englewood ends at 2:28 PM. Each afternoon the outside monitors and Baskin gather by the doors and guide the students off the grounds. Then they stand on 63rd Street and make sure the kids mount CTA buses without incident.

Three years ago impoverished Englewood was awash in violence, much of it gang related. The neighborhood led the city in murders. GDs and BDs recruited new members at the high school, where there were skirmishes in the lunchroom, starter jackets regularly got stolen, and tension ruled the halls. "This was no blackboard jungle," Birts insists. But off campus was deadly.

By 1991 Baskin says he was attending the funeral of someone he knew, invariably someone young, about once a week. "I got sick of going," he relates, "especially to funerals where I knew the parents and had to speak. Often I refused to say anything--it just got too hard, and I was at a loss of words."

As the troubles mounted, Eugene Davis, a retired doorman who's an elder at Christ Light Apostolic Church and a person of some local stature, approached Baskin about interceding. "I knew Hal was a former gang member," recalls Davis, "and I wanted somebody to talk with the leadership in the area." On Mother's Day 1991, the Englewood heads of the GDs and BDs met with Baskin in the lobby of the theater in the Evergreen Plaza shopping center. Outside, says Baskin, 30 underlings waited, "and half of them had guns and bulletproof vests." Within 45 minutes the leaders struck a peace agreement that Baskin says has lasted to this day.

Soon the high school's local school council came to Baskin for advice on improving the atmosphere at the school and on building its enrollment, which had dipped to 900 kids. But Birts was wary of Baskin's involvement. "And the faculty was apprehensive," Baskin acknowledges. "They'd heard about my gang activities, and they took me for a grandstander." By last fall, however, Nehemiah Russell, the newly hired assistant principal for discipline, had persuaded Birts to give Baskin a chance. Board of Education spokesman Lauri Sanders says that under school reform it's up to the school itself whether to hire someone like Baskin, "though we encourage schools to make sure that ties are severed with gangs when people come in to work in a facility."

Baskin, who makes a living from owning and managing buildings in the area, arrives at Englewood Tech Prep most mornings at 9:15 AM, after the school day has begun. When he's not touring the building he's in the office he shares with Russell; it's a spare corner room with two desks, a file cabinet, a vinyl couch, and a map of Africa. Here the student monitors conduct mediation sessions, and here Baskin is frequently on the phone, staying in touch with the south side. He leaves at midday to pick up his son Hal Jr. from kindergarten and deposit him with a sitter, but he's back within the hour.

The atmosphere at Englewood has changed. Neither Birts nor Russell has statistics yet on whether attendance or grades have improved, but in terms of violence, matters "are 210 percent better than what they once were," says Baskin. The number of mediation sessions has dropped from three or four a day to one a week, and these are "for minor infractions," says Baskin. There are still altercations, Birts reports, such as tussles over a girl--but nothing serious.

That's not entirely true. The Thursday before Easter, a large group of boys congregated in front of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, which is across the street from Englewood. One youth about to shoot at another who had been intimidating him thought better of it and aimed his gun at the ground. Firing, he hit a girl, an Englewood sophomore, who was waiting for the bus. Wounded in the left foot, the girl screamed in pain--"I want my mama! It hurts! It hurts!" Baskin ran toward the shots, but it was too late. The gunman hopped into a blue van with tinted windows and disappeared. Unfortunately, the incident was witnessed by a New York Times reporter, who'd been observing Baskin that day, and a description of the affair wound up in the Times story.

Birts credits changes at Englewood as much to his new technology-based academic focus and the metal detectors given every public high school two years ago by Mayor Daley as to the gang deactivation program, which he prefers to call "the community liaison program." Others see it differently. "The GDs and the BDs don't like each other," says outside monitor Tyrone Webster, "but we got no choice but to get along because the higher authorities say we have to. We're keeping the peace, keeping things from going crazy at the school."

The gang covenant Baskin engineered also has helped calm the Englewood community. Last year police reported 65 murders, down 15 from the year before and 35 from the record total in 1991. Between last December 20 and this February 23 Englewood actually went without a murder--a modern-day record, says Englewood District police commander Ronnie Watson.

Watson, the local police chief since July 1990, takes a dim view of street gangs, and he shares with school officials misgivings about the gang deactivation program. The monitors weren't adequately screened and there was scant parental involvement. "Gangs can't run the school," he warns. "There have to be checks and balances."

Yet Watson applauds Baskin for his part in lowering the virulent crime rate. "You have to take your hat off to a lot of things, certainly the work of my own men, but I'd have to include Hal Baskin," he says. "He walks the streets, is involved in the schools, and that's what it takes. He has more influence with these young people and their families than the police do--he has a way to make them listen and stop the violence. He may associate with gang members, but then I'm not here to judge him. He's done nothing illegal, at least since I've been here."

"We all honor Harold," says Tyrone Webster. "He's been here longer than anybody, and he talks to the GDs and the BDs. There are some bad guys out here who don't give a fuck. They'd have torn up Englewood if it weren't for what he's done."

Hal Baskin was born in 1952 in Mississippi, the seventh of 14 children. His family migrated to Cleveland and then to Chicago, where his father, Primas, found work with the Armour meat-packing company and then as a steelworker with Inland Steel. The Baskins landed in Englewood in 1960 just as the neighborhood was changing from white to black.

Hal was enticed into a gang when he was 12 years old. While he was a student at Parker (now Robeson) High School, he headed his own gang, the Hustlers, which numbered as many as 75 followers and eventually became affiliated with the Disciple Nation. "He was a hellion, that's for sure," says Wilford Bonner, the assistant principal at Robeson. Bonner was at the school during Baskin's heyday.

"Everyone knew I was the toughest guy around," says Baskin. His street name was Maniac Mad Maine. He carried three guns--one in his waistband, another in his boot, and a third in his glove--and he was hardly shy about using them. Once rival gang members kicked in the door to his apartment and fired 40 shots. "I fired out with a .357 magnum, which saved my life," he says.

He viewed himself as a general who trained his minions to box and to shoot and then sent them off on "missions." He says he dressed his troops up as women and marched them out with baby buggies, packing hardware. "When the other gang realized we weren't girls, it was too late," he laughs. Most of the derring-do was less flamboyant but often no less lethal. "Lots of times we worked by stealth, going up the back way, knocking on the door, and shooting everybody in the house."

In 1971, during his final semester of high school, Baskin was arrested for murder and aggravated battery. The murder charge never came to an indictment, says Baskin, and although he was indicted for aggravated battery--he allegedly shot a rival in the buttocks--those charges were dismissed. Somehow he managed to graduate, as a 19-year-old.

During his gang years Baskin received five gunshot wounds. One wound "took a permanent cut out of my head," but none of the injuries was life-threatening. His father was not so lucky. In November 1972 Primas Baskin got into an argument after a card game with some of the other players and was shot to death. When Primas's death was ruled a justifiable homicide Hal contemplated revenge, but he thought the better of it. "If I'd have harmed anybody, I'd have been the prime suspect," he says. "My mother told me, 'Don't bother with that.'"

In 1973 Baskin decided to leave the gang. He was troubled by his father's death, and by now he had a son by a girlfriend and a daughter by his wife, Hermein. "I had outgrown the organization," he says. "When you are a man, you have to part with childish things." Not that his departure was altogether smooth; in 1976 he was charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder after a street confrontation left one man dead and two wounded. He went to trial facing 200 years in prison, but the jury, evidently buying the defense's argument that he was standing too far from the murder victim to have been responsible for the powder burns on his body, acquitted him.

Despite 100 arrests, he was convicted only once, of simple assault, and for that his punishment was a year's probation. "I can applaud the criminal justice system in America," he remarks. "It works--at least it worked for me."

(Of his ten living siblings, two brothers are now in prison: Tyrone, 35, for murder, and Robert, 52, for armed robbery and attempted murder. "The Baskins are community-minded, law-abiding, and God-fearing," says R. Eugene Pincham, the former judge and mayoral candidate who has represented family members, including Hal, for years. "Some of the children became aberrant, and some came back into the fold.")

After high school Baskin worked for several years at Inland Steel, a steelworker like his father, then survived on odd jobs before being hired by the city's rat control program in 1980. Later he was a youth worker for Catholic Charities. He organized Englewood-area cleanups and toiled in various south-side political campaigns and as a Democratic organizer in the 16th Ward.

In 1984 he set up a community center at a Catholic parish, to which "parents sent their children in droves," he says. "They used me as a baby-sitter." A subsequent Baskin-run operation, the Center for the Reduction of Gang Violence, occupied a storefront at 68th and Halsted. His latest community house, which he calls the PEACE Center (for People Educated Against Crime in Englewood), has settled into the facilities of Saint Stephen's Lutheran Church at 65th and Peoria.

Baskin regrets the changes that have overtaken gangs since his youth. "We used to use homemade zip guns, where now these kids are using Uzis and AK-47s--now they can shoot you more times than you can even count. When I was gangbanging, crime was chop shops and burglaries, and some shooting, yeah. Today it's so much drugs and killing."

Yet he takes a tolerant view of today's gangs: "These so-called gangs are, for the most part, institutions that do positive things. They raise folks' children, act as surrogate parents, and serve as protectors of the community. At the same time, you're going to have some bad apples in the bunch, renegades, agent provocateurs, who mess up the whole process through violence, and they need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

He recognizes a doctrine of self-defense: "Violence should not be tolerated if it's visited on innocent victims, but I believe very firmly that a person has to defend himself. If I allow you to shoot my brother today, you're going to come back tomorrow and shoot me. Say you're driving up beside me in a car with dark-tinted windows, and you let the window down and I see you're the opposition. You follow me around. I don't know what your intentions are. If I feel my life is threatened, I have the right to defend myself--what am I going to do, wait, in a situation where my manhood's at stake?"

When asked whether he still considers himself a gang member, Baskin pauses, at an uncharacteristic loss for words. "Ah, for the most part, no," he finally sputters, "but in my heart, I guess, maybe yes, I am."

The PEACE Center rents the Saint Stephen's parish hall from the church for $100 a month, funding operations out of donations from other churches, groups, and foundations. A $30,000 youth delinquency grant from the city allowed Baskin to repair the heating system, but the hall is still in poor shape, with almost no furniture in the first-floor meeting area and paint peeling horribly in the gym. Still, GDs and BDs both consider the space neutral turf. Youngsters come in after school to play basketball, do arts and crafts, receive tutoring, and study martial arts. Baskin expects to introduce computer-training classes soon with equipment donated by CNA Insurance.

"We also deal with conflict resolution on a major scale," Baskin says. A kind of street-level Don King, he collars feuding kids, has them don boxing gloves he keeps in the trunk of his car, and lets them slug it out in six-minute bouts. "No one gets hurt, and after six minutes it's over," he says. "By that time they're too tired to be mad at each other."

In addition, Baskin administers a ten-point covenant struck last year between the GDs and the BDs. It obligates the gangs' leaders to meet monthly, investigate conflicts, especially those that involve gunplay, and discipline offenders. In truth, the gang leaders, whom Baskin refuses to name ("but who I basically raised"), don't meet monthly, despite the covenant; instead, Baskin says, "Middle management gets together on a weekly basis." There have been joint GD and BD picnics, but Baskin is proudest of gang-orchestrated neighborhood cleanups held during spring vacation the last three years.

Baskin is studying for a degree in political science at Northeastern Illinois University; when he's done, Baskin will be the first in his immediate family to finish college. He's a baseball commissioner, having established a local Little League, and he's become a committed Christian. While incarcerated in the Cook County Jail in 1971, he became enraptured by the preaching of the Reverend Consuella York, a charismatic part-time chaplain there; in 1980 he joined her congregation, the Christ Way Baptist Church in Englewood. "I can count on one hand--and have some fingers left over--the number of services Hal has missed in 14 years," says York. Throughout these lengthy Sunday services, Baskin stands in the back of the church, softly rebuking anyone who gets disorderly. He is free with advice and counsel. One recent Sunday he had a word with a 12-year-old boy who was being courted by the gangs. "I been there and back," he told the boy, "and what you need is Jesus."

As he cruises the streets of Englewood in his dark-blue Lincoln Town Car, passing vacant lots, two-flats, and worn frame houses, he appears to know everybody. Adults call him "Hal" (his given name) or "Harold"; kids shout out "Mr. Baskin" as he glides by, or simply flash a gang sign. He responds in kind. When Baskin parks the Lincoln, he doesn't bother to lock it; anyone who messes with the vehicle knows there'll be hell to pay.

Many residents count on him. "People call him if their lights are out, if somebody's parked in front of their driveway, or if their kid's in trouble," says his wife Hermein, a secretary. "He's got a good mouthpiece on him," reflects Michael Burnett, an outside monitor at the high school. "He goes beyond the cops in the way people listen to him. If there's a big shoot-out, he can get you out of jail. He keeps you out of trouble. He knows everybody, not just in Englewood but everywhere. He's a teacher--a teacher of the streets."

"It's like he's the alderman," observes Hermein, naming someone Baskin would like nothing better than to be. In 1991 he ran for the City Council's 16th Ward seat and came within 122 votes of making the runoff. He plans to oppose the woman who was elected, former Department of Human Services administrator Shirley Coleman, in '95.

There is no love lost between Coleman and Baskin. When asked about Baskin's role in the ward, the alderman comments, "He doesn't have a role." But she will go no further. "We don't have a relationship because she fears me politically," says Baskin.

The night of April 11, hundreds of men crowded into the Progressive Community Church, once Harold Washington's place of worship. A couple of blocks away were the Robert Taylor Homes, which two weekends before had been rocked by gunfire. Henry Cisneros, U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, visited the Taylor homes earlier in the day; now the ministers' division of Operation PUSH intended to show its concern by organizing a men's march through the project.

"They say men can't sing," said one minister from the pulpit, and some 400 black men proved the notion wrong by delivering a rousing "This Little Light of Mine." B. Herbert Martin Sr., Progressive Community's pastor, stepped up to the microphone. "Needless to say these are heartening sounds," he said. "We go forth from this place with the power of love and soundness of mind."

The PUSH ministers were the first to parade out of the sanctuary, and one of them, the Reverend James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church, spotted Baskin standing in the crush. In 1991, just after Thanksgiving, Baskin had helped Meeks organize a candlelight march against violence through Englewood. "Hey, Hal, come on," Meeks said and swept Baskin along with the ministers moving out onto the street.

A soft rain was falling. Some of the marchers unfurled their umbrellas, but many walked unprotected. A hearse led them north up State Street. A rank of ministers--Martin, Meeks, Prince Asiel Ben-Israel, a leader of the Original African Hebrew Israelite Community--led the marchers, with Baskin positioned right behind them. "The brothers are back," somebody started to chant, and no one joined in more heartily than Baskin.

In time the march wound its way into the project. Just weeks before, acccording to marcher Wallace "Gator" Bradley, Baskin had helped negotiate a truce among the Robert Taylor gangs, which include the Mickey Cobras and the Vice Lords along with the BDs and the GDs. Suddenly a group of BDs massed at the foot of a building on South Federal shouted threats at some GD marchers. Baskin and Bradley raced between the young men. "Get back into the march," Baskin shouted at the GDs. Turning to the BDs, he said, "We're not about to have a confrontation here." Tempers cooled; the GDs resumed walking and the BDs evaporated into the building.

The march ended at a bandstand that had been erected at the south end of the project. "Just ministers on the bandstand, just ministers," someone said into a microphone. As the clerics clambered onto the platform to listen to rap singers and give more speeches, there stood Baskin, the only nonminister aboard.

"In every community there are people who work at the grass roots, who aren't elected officials or ministers but who are doing what they can to make things better," says James Meeks when asked why Baskin assumed such a prominent place in the Robert Taylor march. "Hal is one who is very well respected."

After the leaders of the GDs and the BDs in Englewood cemented their movie-theater pact in 1991, black gangs in other areas entered into truces, most notably those at Cabrini-Green after the death of Dantrell Davis in October 1992. Street gangs suddenly were bucking for acceptance from the general public.

The legitimation movement gained its first real notoriety last August, when former mayor Eugene Sawyer and leaders of Operation PUSH and the local NAACP joined Bradley, Baskin, and Ben-Israel to argue that GD chieftain Larry Hoover should be paroled from prison. Hoover, 20 years into a 150-to-200-year sentence for murder, said that from now on out he'd be turning his followers to positive, nonviolent pursuits. Today GD stood for "growth and development," Hoover explained. Hoover and Baskin had been "associates" in high school, Baskin says, and he marshaled some letters written on his old friend's behalf. But to no avail--the Illinois Prisoner Review Board rejected Hoover's parole by an 8-0 vote.

Last October, United in Peace, an organization founded by Gator Bradley, ex-offender and onetime Supreme Gangster, convened a five-day gang summit that drew 400 participants from 26 states to the Congress Hotel. "This ain't no gang meeting. We're having an urban policy meeting," said Jesse Jackson, who termed the summit "the frontier of the civil rights struggle." U.S. Representative Mel Reynolds railed against the summit, warning the city's youth, "These [summit attendees] are not role models you should emulate." Talk shows on white radio stations were flooded with calls that denounced the event as sanctioning the malevolent and the dysfunctional.

On the Monday after the summit, the Reverend Ben Chavis, executive director of the NAACP, came to Englewood Tech Prep to address a meeting in the gym. In attendance were students and gang members from outside the school. After Chavis had left, Eugene Davis presented plaques honoring 25 persons for their efforts to achieve gang peace. Among them were Baskin, Larry Hoover, and Vice Lord chieftain Willie Lloyd.

News of the presentation enraged Board of Education president D. Sharon Grant. She observed, "Something is wrong in our society when some of our leadership legitimizes these thugs as role models." Mayor Daley compared the Englewood ceremony to "honoring John Dillinger" and suggested it imperiled a school-funding bill pending in Springfield. Birts said he hadn't known beforehand that the plaques would be dispensed, and he conceded that some of the recipients "were not positive role models."

"I could care less about what D. Sharon Grant says," Baskin explains today. "She's just a puppet of the mayor. I care about the needs of children, about their coming to a safe school every day. If President Bill Clinton can roll out the red carpet for Yasser Arafat, a known criminal, why can't we honor those people who have helped stop the violence?"

The furor quickly subsided. Some gang truces appear to be holding, particularly in African American areas--Englewood, Cabrini-Green, and parts of the Robert Taylor Homes. But there's certainly no citywide armistice, says Donald Hilbring, commander of gang investigations. "If there's a universal gang truce, how come all these bodies are falling around after drive-by shootings?" The Police Department reported last month that there were 129 gang-related murders in 1993, 13 more than in '92; and this year gang-related deaths are running a third higher than in '93.

The campaign to legitimize gangs continues--through Baskin's program, United in Peace, and an affiliated organization called 21st Century V.O.T.E. that seeks to build a voter base of gang members and other unregistered citizens. In the March primary, 21st Century V.O.T.E. attempted to return former state representative Jerry Washington to Springfield by knocking off Daniel Burke, the brother of Alderman Edward Burke, in a southwest-side district that encompasses Englewood. Washington lost badly. Baskin is counting on a voting base provided by gang members and their families to help elect him alderman in '95.

Hilbring has a reserved view of legitimation. "On the one hand, you have to praise the gang people for cooling things down," he says. "You can't get rid of the violence without bringing the gangs in, because they're the ones shooting up the neighborhoods and they don't want to hear from the police. On the other hand, you might want to take a look at their real agenda, whether all this benefits them in their political or in their criminal activity." In the end, he says, "you have to go by each individual. Just to take someone off the street and think they are rehabilitated, I wouldn't want to take that chance."

While Hilbring is relatively unfamiliar with Englewood Tech Prep's gang deactivation program, Randolph Barton, commander of the police School Patrol Unit, is not, and he takes a dim view of it. "Gangbangers are the worst things in the world as mentors," he says. "Kids need fathers and mothers, but they're growing up admiring gang members and what they do, which is shooting people and dealing drugs. These kids [at Englewood] are going to grow up wanting the fancy clothes and the drug selling that buys them--all this is doing is creating gangbangers along the way." Barton has shared his misgivings with the Englewood administration, but he can do no more. "This is school policy, and I don't interfere with school policy."

"In a situation where we don't have any answers, where kids are killing each other and doing harm, this alternative approach must be considered," says Professor Clemens Bartollas, who has visited the school. In terms of diminishing the violence and pushing education, Bartollas calls the approach "promising," though he worries that it's doing too little to quell the use of drugs.

Bartollas says some teachers at Englewood remain critical of Baskin. Baskin says opposition comes from teachers who want him to take "a middle-class, Winnetka-type approach" to his task. Birts and LSC chairman Gloria Cage continue to endorse the gang deactivation program. "Hal's been quite effective," Birts says. Cage adds, "We support this because before we didn't have harmony among the kids and now we do." Ironically, Jerry Washington, the failed General Assembly candidate who happens to sit on the local school council, wonders if Baskin's program is accomplishing much. "This is doing nothing preventive," he says, wishing that Baskin would find youngsters jobs or offer them job training.

Baskin defends his program as a last-ditch effort to rescue a school and a neighborhood. If the mentors aren't paragons of civic virtue, so be it. At least they behave themselves at the high school. "Say you're drowning, and you're going down for the third time and your lungs are filling up," he argues. "John Wayne Gacy is on one side, and Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer are on the other. Are you concerned about who's saving you, or do you want your life?"

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.

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