PM Friday, July l8, l985. A warm summer night on Chicago's west side has just gotten hot and is about to get hotter. Surrounded by a phalanx of 25 personal bodyguards, the 16-year-old gang "queen" of the Terrytown Pimp Girls strides toward Chicago Avenue with vengeance on her mind and a .38 caliber bulge in her pocket.
She is not alone. Within shouting distance 300 gang members are settling scores with fists, bats, chains, bricks--anything they can get their hands on.
It's quite a spectacle, but Helen (not her real name) hardly notices. Tonight she is not so much a gang leader as an angry sibling: Helen's sister--her 12-year-old baby sister, who's never been involved with any gang--has just phoned from a friend's house, crying for someone to pick her up. She's been beaten by a high-ranking member of the Lady Vice Lords and now, caught in Vice Lords territory, she's afraid to come home.
As Helen approaches the Chicago Avenue "border," she knows that Lady Vice Lord will be waiting for her, and she knows what she will do when she sees her.
She is going to blow the young lady's brains out.
Helen plunges into the melee, her bodyguards clearing a path straight to the Lady Vice Lords leadership. She spots her target and closes in. One more step and . . .
But as she draws the gun from her pocket two strong arms grab her from behind and rip the weapon from her hand.
The arms belong to James Williams, a former Vice Lords leader, a veteran of Vietnam, and a mobile intervention worker with the Chicago Intervention Network (CIN). Williams has a reputation on the street, not only for his gang days but for the community work he's done since Vietnam. So one of Helen's bodyguards told him what she was up to, and others allowed him to break through their ranks.
"What the fuck you think you're doing?" yells Williams as he drags Helen to the car where his CIN partner waits.
"I'm going to get my sister!" she screams.
"Don't worry about that. I'll get her. You keep your ass in the car--and don't move or I'll knock your face in!"
Williams and his partner pick up Helen's sister and rush the two girls to their grandmother's house. Then they turn their attention to the Disciples (the male counterparts of the Terrytown Pimp Girls) and the Vice Lords, who are still going at it outside.
Out on the street Williams asks the head of the Disciples if he can get his people back onto their side of Chicago Avenue; then he tells the Vice Lords (as a former leader of the gang, Williams still carries considerable weight) to go back to their neighborhood, that the Disciples have agreed to back off as long as they're left alone.
By l0 PM most of the warriors are home in bed. The rest are out swapping tales. Williams is a hero.
And the Chicago Intervention Network has proved its worth in its very first month of operation.
CIN is an ambitious program established by the city in July l985 to reduce gang violence. Spawned in the midst of public outrage following the November l984 death of Simeon basketball star Ben Wilson, the program has been under siege from the beginning.
The very idea behind CIN is controversial. Modeled after a widely hailed--but essentially unevaluated--program in Philadelphia, CIN tries to prevent gang violence by strengthening the communities in which gangs operate. Yes, there are street workers, like James Williams, who get out and work directly with gang members; but the l9-member Mobile Intervention Unit (MIU) makes up less than a third of the program's work force. Physical intervention is the exception rather than the rule: wresting a gun from a would-be murderer is police work, after all, and CIN workers do not carry guns or make arrests. Most of the program's resources are devoted to less direct ways of fighting gang violence: developing block clubs, directing kids to job opportunities, working with drug and alcohol abusers, helping victims of gang violence file for assistance, and so forth. That's not everyone's idea of an effective war on gang crime. And it's bound to ruffle feathers within the bureaucracy: roughly three-quarters of the services CIN provides are, in theory at least, already provided by other city agencies.
The program has been a political football from day one. CIN has always been identified as Harold Washington's program, and that made it the subject of months of wrangling in the divided City Council of l984-85, costing CIN valuable start-up time needed to train its workers, draw up guidelines, and plan an overall strategy. Worse, by the time the council finally approved the program, two-thirds of the $4.2 million budget was earmarked for already existing social-service agencies. This limited the mayor's control over the program's budget, and provided individual aldermen with political plums to be doled out to the more politically influential agencies, many of which had no experience with gangs. At least one gang expert was appalled. "You got $4 million, and half of it goes to established agencies," said University of Chicago professor Irving Spergel. "[Those agencies] haven't been dealing with the problem before, how are they going to deal with it now?"
Turf disputes between local politicians and CIN's "community advisory councils" have seriously disrupted the program. For administrative purposes, the city department that oversees CIN, the Department of Human Services, or DHS, divides the city into nine districts: in each, CIN's efforts are supposed to be guided largely by a panel of community leaders who have volunteered to help shape the program. In some areas, these advisory councils charge aldermen with interfering in their operations, particularly in personnel matters. CIN's charismatic and well-liked founding director, Roberto Rivera, resigned last April, largely over the issue of outside interference.
Rivera himself was not Washington's first choice to lead CIN, and was chosen primarily for his untarnished record. A New Yorker with an education background, he lacked administrative experience and had a hard time fostering cooperation with the Police Department, local politicians, or any of the city and county agencies that might have helped CIN get started. He was also plagued by racial and factional divisions within his own staff. When the program was just over a year old it was taken to task by the Tribune, whose article "Chicago Losing Ground on Street Gangs" reported that city officials whom CIN ought to have been networking with had not heard from the program, and that CIN's hotline phone number was unknown even to City Hall telephone operators. Such charges, combined with an absence from the program of such bureaucratic trappings as formal written procedures, had some observers persuaded that CIN lacked focus and discipline. The services actually delivered through the program seemed to vary widely from district to district, and there were charges that some of the street workers were undertrained, reckless, or worse.
Business as usual in Chicago? Perhaps. But in CIN's case all of these problems have been exacerbated by a fundamental argument about whether the program works. There is no easy way to evaluate it, and that makes CIN vulnerable to all sorts of cheap shots and demagoguery.
In the summer of l986, while the Washington administration was boasting that CIN had reduced gang-related robberies and homicides by 20 percent, the Tribune article mentioned above was hanging the program out to dry for an 18 percent increase in gang-related aggravated batteries. What's odd about these contrasting claims is that the mayor and the Trib both took their statistics from the same source: the Chicago Police Department. And the Police Department will tell you that the most remarkable thing about gang crime over the period in question was its uncharacteristic stability. Yes, robberies and homicides went down 20 percent; yes, aggravated batteries went up l8 percent. But overall the total number of gang crimes during CIN's first full year of operation (the l2-month period ending July l986) was almost exactly the same as the year before: it fell from 3,59l to 3,539--a change of spectacularly modest proportions.
Gang crime generally goes up and down like a roller coaster: In l979 the number of "gang homicides" (as tabulated by the Trib using police data) nearly tripled, rising to 65 from 24 the year before; the figure then dropped by 42 percent in l980, more than doubled in l98l, and dropped sharply again in l982. These changes occurred independent of any antigang program (CIN is the first of its kind in Chicago) and bore no relation to the number of officers in the Chicago Police Department's Gang Crimes Unit.
Another problem with gang crime statistics is that there is no consensus about how "gang crime" should be defined. There is no federal definition, and local definitions range from "a crime committed by a known gang member" to "an act of violence committed by a known gang member on a known member of another gang in a dispute over territory." This makes it all but impossible to compare one city's gang problem (or antigang program) to another's--and far too easy for a city to cover up its problems by defining "gang crime" in its narrowest sense.
Take Philadelphia for example. Home of the original program on which CIN was patterned, Philadelphia radically changed its definition of gang crime during the first year of its highly touted program, leaving even the nation's leading gang experts uncertain about the program's success or failure. "They say they went from 40 deaths the year before to one death in l975," says the U. of C.'s Irving Spergel. "But because they changed the definition, we still don't know what that means. They might simply have defined the problem away."
If, more than ten years after the fact, statistics still can't tell us what the most celebrated antigang program in America has accomplished, how can they tell us anything about a program as young as our own? And if the statistics are meaningless, how can we judge this program?
"They're angels--that's all I can say," says Naomi Jackson of the CIN workers who helped her find food and shelter when she needed it most. "I don't know what I would've done without 'em. God bless 'em."
Jackson is a slender black woman with a pleasant smile who looks like she could be in her late 20s, but in fact is the mother of seven children, the oldest of whom is pushing 30. She sits in her south-side apartment and counts her blessings. Her home, which CIN helped furnish, is trouble-free, and her 18-year-old is attending Saint Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, where he is studying business management on a scholarship.
But things weren't always this way. A couple of years ago Naomi Jackson had nothing but trouble.
She says her problems started in the spring of '86, when she was the building council president of one of the high rises in the Chicago Housing Authority's Robert Taylor Homes.
"In one month there was 15 break-ins in my building alone," she says. "Reediculous! Kids would go up to people's doors and say, 'Miz Jones, you wanna buy this color TV?'--when Miz Jones know it come from Miz Anderson's across the hall."
Jackson responded by holding monthly meetings with the other council presidents, starting a neighborhood watch, and issuing an ultimatum to those parents who couldn't control their kids: "Come forward and get support--or be evicted."
That's when the threats started.
"I got notes saying, 'You gonna burn, bitch,' and stuff like that. I never thought they would really do anything to me, you know, 'cause nothin' ever happened to me before."
Jackson's l5-year-old was suspended from DuSable High for fighting after a gang member hit him over the head with a typewriter. On his way home he was approached by other gang members who told him to tell his "old girl" they were going to burn her apartment out. Naomi's grapevine told her the threats were serious, and she called an emergency meeting.
While she was at the meeting, "One of the janitors, he come rushin' in shoutin' 'Somebody's apartment is on fire!' So I run upstairs and see my house is goin' up in smoke."
Jackson called the Red Cross and the housing authority, but nobody came.
"I was standing there with my six boys, wonderin' what we gonna do, when a friend of mine suggested I call CIN. I never even heard of them before, but my friend says she knew somebody over there, so I called."
"The second I got the call, I hopped in my Honda," says CIN's Al Kindle. Kindle, who is now chief of CIN's Mobile Intervention Unit, headed the program's King-area district office at the time, covering with a staff of seven everything from l6th Street down to 80th between the Dan Ryan and the lake. CIN's district offices focus more on the roots of the gang problem than the band-aid approach of the Mobile Intervention Unit. Kindle's job included providing assistance for victims of gang crime, taking applications for services, and referring clients to the appropriate social-service agencies. The district offices also provide a base through which CIN can run citywide programs such as job-readiness seminars and youth councils, and the districts provide geographic boundaries for CIN's mobile units, which are normally assigned to a specific district but are run out of CIN's downtown office. Generally, though, the district offices are there to work closely with their individual communities, providing support and encouragement so they can stand up to the gangs themselves.
A former operations manager at Harris Bank, Kindle looks like an Afro-American Buddha and speaks with the carefully guarded syntax of a politician. In the city that many feel invented the stuff, his ability to cut red tape is an invaluable asset to the CIN program. Nobody ever appreciated it more than Naomi Jackson.
"When I got there the first thing I had to do was assess the situation," says Kindle. "I could tell right away there was a lot of emotion. Naomi was in the community room with her family and there were a number of people from the community present, especially youths. People were obviously very upset, but Naomi and her family were trying to keep everyone calm. Listening to what they were saying, I learned that besides burning out Naomi's apartment, the gang had broken into the community room and destroyed a number of things Naomi's youth program had been working on. They'd torn up uniforms which the kids had sewn themselves for the youth dance team Naomi had organized, and ruined the furniture they'd reupholstered as part of a carpentry project.
"Even more serious, I noticed that the CHA hadn't come to bolt the doors. That was another reason everyone was so anxious: it was getting dark outside and everyone was worried there would be more theft, vandalism, or worse."
Kindle says he couldn't get to Naomi right away because she was too busy trying to take care of the situation and "being strong for everyone else." But sensing the mood of the youngsters in the room, many of whom were eager for revenge, he realized he'd better get help quick.
"I called in my area's mobile intervention team and contacted all the city services I could. By the time I got to Naomi, I'd already called the CHA, Red Cross, Goodwill, and the Gang Crimes Unit of the Police Department."
Kindle says the first thing he had to do when he got to Naomi was show her he was "for real."
"I had to win her trust. I had to let some of my emotions show to let her know that I wasn't just a plastic man, some nine-to-five bureaucrat who gives her a referral and goes home."
Evidently he convinced her, for she began introducing him to the neighborhood kids--"This is Mr. Kindle, he's here to help." And if she had any lingering doubts, they evaporated when the services Kindle had called in began to materialize.
"Being the kind of person Naomi is, she wasn't going to worry about her own house until this thing in the community room was taken care of. She'd called the CHA earlier, but no one had come. By the time I got to her place it was 4:30, so I knew they weren't coming and I called their emergency number. I guess the fact that they knew the program or had heard my voice before helped, because maintenance came and bolted the doors to the community room and security came and stayed in the area. In the meantime, the Gang Crimes Unit came and took down everybody's statement."
Kindle says it was more than an hour before Naomi and her family went back up to their apartment. By then Kindle's coworker, Anita Hoy, was with him.
"We took Naomi aside and told her she had to let her emotions out," says Kindle. "Anita told her that she was a strong woman herself. That she knew where Naomi was coming from, but that everything was under control now and she didn't have to be strong for everybody else. That we were there for her."
When Goodwill and Red Cross came with emergency clothes, food, and transportation to the Roberts Motel--where CIN had arranged for them to spend the night--Naomi and her family finally let their feelings surface.
"The whole family had been trying to be strong for everyone else all night, but when they realized they had to move, that they didn't have a home, they were finally able to let themselves go. That was important: you never know how it will come out if you keep stuff like that bottled up inside."
While he didn't jump in front of any bullets, Kindle figures his response--and Naomi's courage--may have saved lives that night.
"If it had been someone else in her situation, those kids probably would have went back on the street looking for the gang members who did it. People see something like that, and they get angry and they get discouraged. That's why it was critical that we got some positive action out of the CHA and the Police Department. We had to show these people that something was being done, that you don't have to go looking for justice at the end of a .45. The way I figure it, the longer people see a woman like Naomi Jackson suffering, that's another bullet someone's gonna fire."
CIN's intervention didn't end that night. While the program continued to pay for the motel room, Kindle went out of his way to make sure Jackson's family found a real home.
"They wanted to go back to their old apartment, but I was told it could take up to six months before it was repaired. So instead I worked on getting her relocated to scattered-site housing."
It was no easy task. The apartment Kindle had in mind needed repairs, and Jackson needed the approval of the CHA housing manager in her old building. Kindle went to see the manager personally, and was able to arrange transfer approval and speed up repairs on the new apartment. Within two weeks Jackson's family had a home again.
"It was like a rainbow," says Naomi. "CIN is a blessing."
Naomi Jackson is a blessing to CIN as well. Not only did she open up avenues for Kindle in her old neighborhood (where CIN is now actively involved), but, despite all she'd been through, she also organized an antigang block party at her new south-side home just three months after relocating, breaking ground for CIN in an area that "hadn't seen anything like it in ten years," according to Kindle.
"Everybody's leery," he says. "The senior citizens don't even come out at night. But with Naomi's help we had 250 people out here."
"That's what this program is all about," he says. "We need community ambassadors like Naomi. You can't do anything about gangs without community support. Besides--let's face it--we'll never have enough workers to deal with the gang problem ourselves."
"It was no big deal," says Jackson, who is more impressed by CIN's efforts to keep the younger kids off the street. "That's what you gotta do," she says, referring to a CIN program that buses young children from her old neighborhood to Chicago Bulls basketball games. "You gotta take them higgledy-piggledies right out from under the thuggy-buggies' noses. Let them tell them older kids they don't got time to hang out and play the boom-box."
Dealing with "thuggy-buggies" of all shapes and sizes, from the preteen manchildren now swelling the probation ranks to the hardened gang leaders in the state penitentiaries, is the job of Dr. Maalik Shabazz, one of four "area managers" in charge of CIN's citywide programs. Shabazz concentrates on schoolchildren and prison inmates. He seeks to instill in them a sense of dignity and self-respect that will keep them from committing acts of senseless violence--or becoming the victims of it.
Like most CIN workers, he doesn't sit behind a desk. Since October of '85 he has been walking into classrooms, juvenile detention homes, and work-release centers to conduct his "attitudinal seminars." It is a demanding task--but one for which Shabazz comes uniquely prepared. A big, tall, bearded black man with a serious, imposing demeanor, he wears enough jewelry to make Mr. T look twice: misshapen rock rings protrude up to an inch and a half from his knuckles; four-inch-thick seashell-studded leather bands adorn his wrists; a generously embellished boar's-tooth necklace stands out against the conservative background of his three-piece suit. Shabazz makes all the jewelry himself and says it is an asset when dealing with kids: "They look at it and ask me, 'What's that?' and right away I've got their attention. Then it's easy to get them into a discussion of individuality and get them out of that gang mentality they have."
According to Shabazz, the keys to a successful seminar are getting the kids' attention and maintaining control. He improvises all the way.
"I'll walk in and start talkin' and look around, see if they payin' attention. If not, maybe I'll tell a joke or get loud or somethin'--whatever it takes. Once you got 'em going you gotta be patient and remember not to preach 'cause that'll turn 'em off like that.
"These kids today are like gremlins, they don't give you no respect unless you earn it. Back when I was growing up you gave a man respect just because he was older than you. But society and the family structure have decayed so much, these kids feel like they don't have to listen to nobody."
Shabazz says kids are getting in trouble earlier than ever--that in Cook County today 700-800 kids between 9 and ll years old are on probation and are going to slip through the cracks unless something is done. But, he laments, "It's hard to deal with them 'cause their attention span is too short and they too electric, so I can only work with a couple of 'em at a time."
Like his incongruous attire, Shabazz's background epitomizes CIN's dual focus on professional social service and street intervention. He has a PhD in therapeutic counseling and education, and has served five years in a federal prison on a weapons charge. He knows firsthand what kids can expect to go through in prison, and what they need to do to stay out of it.
At a recent seminar at Gage Park High School on the south side, Shabazz did his balancing act for a group of 15 hard-core gang members, some of whom belonged to rival gangs. He stood next to a large desk in a small conference room. Two female CIN workers sat behind him while the kids formed a semicircle before him. Some wore earrings on one side or the other, indicating whether their gang was "Folks" or "People" (the two opposing sides with which every major gang in Chicago is aligned). In addition, most were wearing clothing dominated by one of the local gang colors. All of the students were black. All but two were male. All were enrolled at Gage Park, but attendance at Shabazz's sessions is strictly voluntary.
Shabazz conducts meetings here every week; he says they expose the kids to the idea of living responsibly and help keep the kids in school. "Even if the kid only comes to school to be at the meeting, at least he's here and not on the street. That way, he may even attend some classes. And who knows, with a little encouragement he might even graduate."
Today's first order of business is a "Young Men's Conference" scheduled for the following day. While all of the men in the room have signed up for the conference, they've since learned that it conflicts with the school Christmas party. So when Shabazz asks who's planning to go, he is greeted with an embarrassed silence--his cue to start improvising.
"I know you'd rather go to the party. They'll be some slim [women] there. You wanna hang with your friends. You wanna jack your body, rock the house," says Shabazz, gesturing. "I know what it is."
The teenagers look at each other, chuckling in agreement.
"But you see, you made a commitment to come to this young men's conference, and you need to think about that. About what your word means to you. We're gonna talk about some serious things there. No slim, no party, this is gonna be brain to brain."
Shabazz explains that the conference will cover topics ranging from teenage parenting to South Africa. Sensing that he's losing the interest of his fidgety audience, the majority of whom have already decided to skip the conference, he shifts gears and turns his voice up a notch: "Did you know that the number one cause of death among black males age l4 to 44 is homicide? And that two-thirds of those deaths are caused by friends or family? You need to know that."
There is a stunned, almost meditative, silence. Now Shabazz eases up. He says he understands why a lot of them are going to the party, but they should think twice before ditching the conference because a man honors his commitments out of respect for himself. The kids seem to appreciate that Shabazz avoids the "because it's better for you" routine. It's likely even those who go to the party will think twice before backing out of a future commitment.
Small steps are Shabazz's stock in trade. He does not talk about quitting the gangs. That would be too direct, and these kids are too heavily involved to buy it. Instead Shabazz focuses on being responsible.
He points to two of the kids in the room who are joking about each other's gangs. "You see that?" he says loudly. "My man here's juggin' [joking] with this man here, and he's juggin' back. Ain't no thing, right? But suppose it carries into the street? And my man's boys are out there, tellin' him he shouldn't take that crap? Yeah, you know what's gonna happen. So then he gets hooked, and then my man gets hooked, and before you know it everybody's got to throw down."
To drive the point home Shabazz tells the story of two young women who were joking around in a group like this when one of them said something the other didn't appreciate. Rather than getting angry, the offended girl waited until the group broke up and jumped her rival as she came out of the john. One girl called her boyfriend, the other got her friends, and "before school was out you got a bunch of guys with their pipes [guns] waiting to throw down over something as stupid as this."
Shabazz brings up another stupid way to get hurt: to call out your gang affiliation in the street. "When I was walking in here today, this dude was shouting 'Vice Lord.' Now, I don't know if he is a Vice Lord, but suppose a couple Disciples are walking by when he says that? They're gonna think I'm the one who was yellin'. Now what I wanna know is who told that brother he could be usin' the name like that? He may be a Vice Lord, but then again, he may just be falsely representing himself."
At this point a lively discussion breaks out, and one of the students admits he shouts "Folks" in his neighborhood, but says he "don't mean nothing by it."
"That may work fine in your neighborhood, but you try false representin' in Joliet or Stateville [penitentiaries] and you're gonna get hurt," Shabazz warns. Heads nod in silence.
"What would you think if you saw me walking down the street?" asks Shabazz, causing an uproar of speculation over all the possible gang symbols on his person.
Because his necklace looks like a pitchfork pointing downward, it is decided that he is People.
"You may think you know where I'm coming from because of the necklace, but when you see the way I carry myself, with balance and dignity, you're gonna hafta stop and say, 'Hey, this is one strange bearded mutherfucker.'"
This brings the house down. When the kids have stopped laughing enough to talk, one of the boys asks Shabazz if he sleeps with his necklace on. "Why does everybody ask me that?" Shabazz deadpans. More laughter. Then the conversation turns to the symbolism on Shabazz's jewelry.
One kid asks about a particular symbol and Shabazz replies "Allah." The kid becomes keenly interested and starts interrupting Shabazz repeatedly. That's when Shabazz pulls out his crowd control device--a small three-minute hourglass. Shabazz tells the young man to speak his piece--he has the floor for the next three minutes. The kid explains that Allah means God, adding that the six-pointed star that symbolizes Folks stands for Love, Life, Loyalty, Respect, Knowledge, and Understanding. When he finishes, before the time is even half up, Shabazz takes the timer and puts it back in his pocket. "Y'all tried to steal it from me last time," he chides as the students profess their innocence. "Twice!"
For the rest of the session Shabazz is in complete control. Focusing on "the right to wear hats and earrings in public," he seizes an opportunity to side with the gangbangers, citing a major confrontation between a CIN worker and a gang member who refused to take off his hat. That, Shabazz says, was an example of stupidity on the part of the CIN worker. "Who am I to tell you what you can and cannot wear?"
But at the same time Shabazz urges the students to use their heads. Pointing to the meaning of the six-pointed star, Shabazz reflects that, without knowledge and understanding, "you don't have nothing." He goes on to explain that the hats and other gang paraphernalia may be offensive to others. "It may be your hat, but that hat might give me a lot of trouble, and you better know it."
The group breaks into a discussion of what color hats can be worn in what neighborhoods, concluding that it is wise to coordinate one's wardrobe with one's travel plans.
"And the same thing goes for school," adds Shabazz. "If you come into my house, you can't wear something that's offensive to me. You know if you come in here with your gang jewelry it's gonna get confiscated or cause trouble. You got to do what my man here's doing--if you're gonna wear that six-pointed star, keep it under your shirt. That way you show respect for the school."
The bell rings and the students get up, seeming happy and refreshed. As the room empties, one of the bigger kids drops something on the floor. Shabazz reminds him that he shouldn't be carrying bullets around in school.
"The good thing about this school," he says later, "is that they give us the kids who are really involved [with gangs]." Gage Park is, in fact, the first high school Shabazz ever spoke at.
"I still have the letter he sent us in October of l985," says Gage Park principal Carol Petto, an enthusiastic red-haired woman who looks young for her position. Petto says she called Shabazz the day she got the letter because she was worried about an argument that broke out the previous afternoon between the leaders of two rival gangs.
"Dr. Shabazz came over the next day, arriving just as I was talking to two rival gang members, one of whom was involved in the fight the day before. Right away he stepped in and started talking with them, helping them resolve their dispute. He's been coming here ever since."
Shabazz visits Gage Park once a week. He says his sessions keep up an informal dialogue between the gangs that helps them coexist peacefully. Petto goes even further, crediting Shabazz with improving students' attitudes toward her administration.
"I've found an incredible change comes over some of my students after they meet Dr. Shabazz--all of a sudden, they start to trust authority! You've got to understand, some of these kids come from such a bad home environment, Dr. Shabazz is the first trustworthy adult they've ever met."
Shabazz gives Petto a lot of credit as well. "She was the first principal who was willing to let us into her school, and she's been an advocate for us with the [school] board ever since. Many high schools refuse to acknowledge their gang problems--even when it leads to shootings on their own grounds. Dr. Petto called us before it got to that point, and that's the kind of cooperation we need to be effective."
CIN has three other "area managers" who, like Shabazz, work citywide and specialize in one or more social-service areas. One of the areas is substance abuse, until recently the responsibility of Louis Wright (who has been promoted to assistant director of CIN). Wright, formerly the coordinator of an alcoholism program at a mental health center, says substance abuse is critical to CIN because substance abusers are often the heads of problem families whose kids are likely to turn to gangs. Wright also heads the Chicago Safety Network, a CIN program designed to strengthen communities by organizing block clubs, educating parents about the signs of gang activity, and keeping community leaders from moving out of their neighborhoods.
By far the youngest of CIN's area managers, Larry Whitman, 30, is in charge of CIN's youth councils, which are modeled on the area advisory councils and are designed to give young people input into the program. The councils also work with the mayor's office on such projects as the Say No to Drugs and the Celebrity Role Model programs. Whitman says these youth councils have anywhere from 10 to 50 members, depending on the district. "We're trying to recruit leaders on a number of different levels," he says, adding that the councils "provide a visible alternative to gangbanging" by running programs that benefit the community. These have included talent and fashion shows; one youth council put together a band to raise money for a food pantry.
Of the four area managers, Al Carter probably has the most difficult task. As the head of CIN's employment and training program, he conducts employment readiness seminars to teach young people how to present themselves in an interview. "A lot of these kids go in for a job wearing baseball caps and high-tops and carrying their ghetto boxes," Carter says. Carter also holds job fairs and works with city employers to get jobs for qualified applicants. Thus far the results have been less than impressive, but considering the employment potential of most minority teens with street backgrounds, each referral Carter places is a minor miracle.
The social-service orientation of CIN pervades even the highly visible Mobile Intervention Unit. Less than 25 percent of the calls handled by the mobile intervention teams are specifically gang-related (according to CIN's own statistics), and less than half of those involve actual confrontations. I once spent an evening riding with a two-man team as they cruised through Humboldt Park, where they were once gang members themselves: Carlos Rivera, 22, a tall, exuberant man who reminded me of Che Guevara; and Angel Reyes, 26, a squat, swarthy, and well-groomed fellow who spoke sparingly and had a sober, "it's just a job" approach that balanced his partner's enthusiasm. They drove a rundown blue-and-white Department of Human Services van through an area they patrol five nights a week, establishing contacts with the gangs and the community. They stopped to talk with gang members and "marginals" (kids who may or may not be affiliated with a gang); handed out forms to a woman interested in starting a block club; and gave a job application to a young man who had previously registered his need with the program. Social work on wheels.
Still, though direct confrontations with gangs are only a small part of what the mobile intervention teams do, they dominate the folklore of CIN--the image the public has of it and the image the MIU workers have of themselves--and they're responsible for a disproportionate number of the complaints registered by the local advisory councils and others.
Some of the mobile intervention workers seem like a curious mix of street savvy, prudence, and braggadocio. "We go into the worst places lookin' for trouble," says Julio Matias, a wiry five-foot-nine hypercoolcat who dresses like he just stepped out of GQ and drives one of CIN's unmarked Buicks. "Every time we stop to talk to these motherfuckers the shit could go down. I've been working here since the program began, and I can tell you right now that you gotta pace yourself or you'll burn out."
Despite the pressure, Matias is grateful to CIN for giving him the opportunity to help others avoid the mistakes he has made in the past. "I am definitely a rehabbed gang member," he proclaims. Prior to joining CIN, Matias says, he was a hairstylist in one of the most vice-ridden neighborhoods in the city--an occupation that led him to a $500 a day drug habit.
"It got so I didn't care if the customer was bald, I'd still charge him," he jokes.
Unlike most mobile intervention workers, Matias rides alone. "Guns don't scare me," he says. "I've had guns pointed at me before and nothin' ever happened. But if my partner freaks out, there's no telling what the guy's gonna do. That's why I drive A-lone."
Matias doesn't follow a route like Rivera and Reyes. Roving from Cabrini-Green to Humboldt Park, he responds to reports from other CIN workers and to a police scanner that tells him when something's going down.
"I might get a call right now and I'd have to go 55 [miles per hour] and take out one or two stop signs," he says, grinning fiendishly as he laments the lack of a siren on CIN vehicles. "But I'll get there on time."
Matias's freedom allows him to go where he's needed, but it can also be a liability. The one time I rode with him we spent an hour and a half getting lost on the way to a client's house. He never phoned in for directions and we wound up missing the call.
But he is not reckless or casual where his safety is concerned. "Whenever seven o'clock comes, boom, I turn the light on inside my car. That's to say 'Please, take a look at me, recognize me, I'm a CIN worker--not a rival gang member.'"
"Look, we're not crazy," says Mike Singleton, who once headed the Mobile Intervention Unit. "We don't carry guns, and if blood's already been spilt, there's not much we can do except try to limit the number of victims by getting people off the street. It's not our job to stand in front of a guy with a gun--hell, one of 'em told Roberto Rivera, 'Get your fat ass out my way or I'll bust you upside your head with this pipe.' What could he do? He got out of the way."
Singleton, another ex-gang member, is a big, bad, 37-year-old black man who looks like he'd rather be playing linebacker for the Bears. He's a nice enough guy to shoot the breeze with. He'll bullshit about cars, football, women. But once he starts talking intervention, his eyes narrow, his muscles twitch, and he undergoes a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation that charges his six-foot-two frame with a frightening intensity.
Every situation is different, explains a now-frenetic Singleton, but the important thing is to take immediate control:
"Sometimes all you gotta do is put your arm around the kid and say, 'Hey Jimmy, what the hell are you doing out here this late? Get your ass home before you do something stupid.'
"Of course, some situations require more drastic action. One time me, Julio, and James Williams drove right through two to three thousand gang members who were getting set to raid a rival gang's turf. When we drove up they all started running. We got out of the car and said, 'What are you running for? We're not the cops.' They cooled out and we started talking to little groups until gradually we were directed to the leadership. After they explained what was going on, we were able to send a message to the rival gang that these guys were willing to talk it over."
In the meantime, Singleton says, a fight broke out a block away between members of the rival factions. Rather than jumping in themselves, Singleton and his coworkers encouraged the gang leadership to intervene, reasoning that any unsolicited action on CIN's part would only undermine the leaders' authority. Strong leadership within the gang generally helps to contain gang violence, because the leaders know it's easier to sell drugs when their customers aren't afraid to leave their homes. By staying put, the CIN workers gave the leaders the chance to exercise authority in a positive way, giving them another reason to feel good about stopping violence.
"The key to that intervention was the first minute when we drove through the ranks," says Singleton. "You've got to get control in situations like that, get their minds off what they're doing any way you can. If you give them the chance to think about it, they'll realize they've got you outnumbered and that there's really nothing you can do to stop them."
Singleton speaks with authority, and he has some impressive successes behind him, but his methods are not universally admired. "They call him 'Mr. Policeman' around Cabrini," says Neil Bosanko, president of the CIN advisory council that serves the South Chicago area. "Apparently he's walked into some very sensitive situations over there that almost exploded because of his kamikaze attitude. We don't need that kind of attitude in the program."
Marion Stamps, president of Cabrini-Green's advisory council, echoed Bosanko's concerns, claiming that Singleton once interrupted a meeting she was having with two female CIN workers and ordered them into a life-threatening situation.
Local advisory councils have charged that problems like these stem from a lack of training and supervision, and some of the problems certainly do. When he was director of CIN, Roberto Rivera said that, because of the program's delayed start and the pressure to produce results right away, he never had time to establish the sort of guidelines he would have liked for the mobile intervention workers. "We interviewed them one week, trained them the next, and by the third week of the program they were out on the street. And it's been day-to-day ever since."
But part of this image problem must also be blamed on the failure of some advisory council types to see the inherent contradiction in the idea of "guidelines" for people who have been hired for their street savvy. Much of what the MIU is called upon to do is highly subjective. Nobody in CIN can explain what a worker is supposed to do in every situation; sometimes the only answer is "It depends on the situation." Is that so surprising? If street smarts could be put in a procedure manual, if violent confrontations never involved risk, there would be no need for the program to employ former gang members.
A similar misunderstanding exists concerning CIN's purpose. The program was established not to get rid of gangs, as some observers assume, but specifically to reduce gang violence, which according to the theory behind the program means gaining the trust and respect of gang members. So CIN workers don't make arrests, and they don't help the police make them either: though they may try to convince gang members that it is not a good idea to sell dope or steal cars, they never "drop a dime" on those who don't listen. Even when violence is involved, intervention workers do everything they can to find a solution that doesn't include the police. Thus, when James Williams turned in Helen's .38, he did not turn in Helen along with it. Such tactics sometimes make it appear to the public, and to the police, as though CIN is on the side of the gangbangers.
Many of CIN's early problems landed in the lap of its first director, Roberto Rivera, who was in many ways a victim of circumstance and politics. A leader respected by almost everyone associated with the program, Rivera originally applied for a middle management position in CIN, but was drawn to the directorship when Mayor Washington learned his original choice for the job was a potential political liability. After a three-hour interview with the mayor failed to turn up any skeletons, Rivera became CIN's first director. It was a mixed blessing at best: from that moment until he resigned 2l months later, Rivera was a man in the middle.
On one side he had Mayor Washington, trumpeting favorable gang-crime statistics out of context; on the other side was the Tribune, shellacking CIN in response. On one side he had the U. of C.'s Irving Spergel, who criticized him for not hiring active gang members, and on the other side he had bureaucratic guidelines that prohibited him from doing so even if he'd wanted to. Worst of all, Rivera was caught in the daily crossfire between influential aldermen and the advisory councils. Several of the local aldermen felt they had the right to pick which of their constituents would be hired by CIN, going over Rivera's head to exert their influence with the mayor and DHS commissioner Judith Walker. This didn't go down well with the advisory councils, which had felt all along that they should have more say in hiring and firing.
(Although they flip-flopped on whether Rivera was the villain or not, Bosanko and Stamps singled out Burton Natarus [42nd Ward] and Timothy Evans [4th] as two of the worst aldermanic offenders. Neither alderman could be reached for comment.)
Another problem faced by Rivera concerned CIN's "delegate agencies," the outside social-service agencies to which CIN workers were supposed to refer their clients (and which, as a result, ended up with a large share of the CIN budget). As time went by the myth that justified their budgetary allotment unraveled. Most didn't adapt to gang work at all. Many didn't even try. The 115 agencies aren't accountable to CIN's director, but are monitored by the Department of Youth and Family Services. This made it difficult for Rivera to even determine which of the agencies were fulfilling their roles.
Not all of Rivera's problems came from the outside, of course. Some must be blamed on what can only be called a lack of discipline and organization at the top. It didn't take long, for example, for the CIN staff to fractionalize along several different lines: former Folks against former People, black against Hispanic, and (according to some insiders) assistant director Leon Duminie, a black, against Rivera himself. In addition, there was a critical lack of communication from the beginning. "He never told me about that" was the most popular phrase in the program. The chain of command was poorly defined and the district offices were running amok. According to CIN's own statistics, for example, the Broadway district office enrolled 493 clients in classes during the program's first year of operation, while only two of the other eight offices enrolled more than 16 apiece. Meanwhile the King area office referred citizens to delegate agencies for help 724 times in that first year--more than CIN's other eight offices combined.
Rivera tried to get on top of these problems, chiefly by restructuring CIN to even out its delivery of services and to fill in some of the holes he felt were being left by the delegate agencies. This reorganization was largely successful, but it didn't solve the problems of outside interference and internal dissension. Eventually Rivera decided he couldn't take it anymore. "I'm gonna get the fuck out of here," Rivera told me shortly before resigning last April, to take a job as chief legislative assistant to State Senator Miguel del Valle. "My problem is I'm not a bureaucrat--I've still got too much humanity left."
Fortunately for CIN, newly appointed director Robert Martin is a bureaucrat--and one who evidently has kept his humanity intact. The former vice president of the Glenwood School for Boys (a boarding school in the south suburbs for boys from low- income, single-parent homes), Martin has a master's in social-service administration from the University of Chicago and many years of social-service work behind him.
Seeing Martin in the director's chair, one can't help but notice how he differs from Rivera. Courageous as Rivera was on the front lines, he was never comfortable in a suit and tie. Martin, a tall, portly, bespectacled black man with an intelligent, open face, looks as if he was born in them. Of course it may be too early to tell, but in the six months since he took over (in September l987), he's already begun to solve a number of problems that have plagued CIN from the start.
Martin says his first move was to define everyone's role and establish a clear-cut chain of command. "When I came here I couldn't get home at night [because of all the problems he was hearing from the staff]. So I stayed up all night two nights in a row and created this organizational chart. It really helped. People must know who they report to and what's expected of them. And there has to be a protocol for due process."
Martin also moved quickly to define CIN's goals in more concrete terms, targeting 8- to l6-year-old hard-core gang members as CIN's primary focus. This, he explained, was to prevent CIN workers from trying to do too much. Rather than taking on more than they can handle, he would rather they refer more clients to appropriate agencies and city services.
"Say one of my CIN workers is on the street looking for Bill because he knows Bill is planning to hit another gang member. While looking for Bill he may run across his younger brother, who needs some kind of activity to keep him off the streets, and a teenage girl who's pregnant and looking for help. Now in the old days the worker might tell Bill's brother he'd come back and play baseball with the kid, and you'd even have some CIN workers trying to counsel the teenage girl themselves. This inevitably led to disappointed clients and burnt-out workers. Now that the workers are clear on their role, they know that they're supposed to call on our support systems. Get that young man in a baseball league and send the girl to someone who can give her medical attention so they can work on finding Bill before he kills someone.
"[The new focus] doesn't mean we're going to ignore the marginal gang member," says Martin; he believes that the "marginal's" older brother is often a hard-core gang member, and that if CIN doesn't do something the kid will probably follow in his brother's footsteps. He also thinks it is important to work with the girlfriends of gang members in order to keep their children from growing up part of the gang.
Martin says CIN's new focus will also address the problem of the delegate agencies. "Once we've defined what type of kid we're targeting, we can decide which agencies are actually capable of handling them. This is absolutely critical: there can't be any breakdowns once we scoop a kid off the streets. It's so frustrating when you finally get through to a kid and you tell him to go talk to someone in an agency, only to find that, for one reason or another, the agency isn't ready to see the kid."
Martin would like the delegate agencies to be made directly accountable to him for their CIN-related work--a wish his predecessor expressed repeatedly to no avail. He also thinks that stronger guidelines and more training are necessary, and has developed a rotating system that will train district office workers to do mobile intervention and force everyone to work in different neighborhoods. This should enhance CIN's ability to mobilize in an emergency. Even so, Martin would still like to double the size of the Mobile Intervention Unit, which now has 19 members. "I don't think 40 is a lot for the entire city of Chicago."
As for CIN's advisory councils, Martin says he supports a five-year-plan signed by Rivera and DHS commissioner Walker, giving the councils a greater say in the program's future.
"I see no limit to the role the advisory councils will play in CIN's future," says Martin, explaining that each district has its own individual needs which are best known to the people in the community.
This line of reasoning led Roberto Rivera to predict that CIN would one day belong to the communities. "Eventually the program will have to be divorced from the city," Rivera once told me. He had in mind the need to depoliticize the program. "But that isn't the only reason for making the move," he said. "City programs are just too limited when it comes to dealing with gangs." He explained that the city will never be able officially to recognize gangs as groups to bargain with, whereas a community organization could recognize a gang's "turf" and strike a deal based on that.
Rivera said the strongest argument for local control is that no antigang program will succeed without community support. "Government by itself will never turn the gang problem around," he said. "Therefore the community has to play a critical role."
Martin agrees that the community must play a greater role, but is not convinced the program has to be divorced from the city. His optimism is not surprising; so far everything Martin's done has turned out well. He is a hit with the staff, which is functioning more harmoniously than ever, and he claims he's encountered no political interference whatsoever. Even the advisory councils like him. "He's given us a lot of cooperation and commitment," says Bosanko. "He comes with a good balance of administrative savvy and street knowledge. I like him."
Still, Martin faces a number of formidable obstacles--some of the sort that would confront anyone trying to stop gang violence, and some that are peculiar to Chicago.
First and foremost is the scope of the gang problem itself. Gang crime does not exist in a vacuum. It is the end result of failures that cut to the core of our society. A fallacy many of us hold dear is that kids only join gangs out of immaturity and ignorance. Today's kids aren't joining gangs because they don't know any better, but because they don't have anything better to know. These children are growing up in neighborhoods where all the legitimate roads to success are closed. Neighborhoods where inadequate schooling, chronic unemployment, cutbacks in federally funded programs, and a rapidly decaying family structure have orphaned an entire generation for whom the gang is the only family they know. It's a family that protects them both on the street and in the prisons (which, thanks to state and local neglect spanning 20 years, are now run by gangs) and provides them with the jobs they can't find anywhere else: Chicago's street gangs have become the first of their kind to control the drug traffic in a major city.
To combat this multifaceted problem, CIN employs a variety of individuals. Of the three district coordinators I spoke with, one sounded like a businessman, one a social worker, and the third an academic. CIN workers come in all shapes and sizes, but the two things all the good ones have in common are commitment and the ability to deal with both sides of the street. Such people cannot be found so long as politicians are allowed to interfere in the process. Martin hopes he can head this problem off by strengthening the advisory councils, but in the end it will be up to the new administration to keep CIN politics-free. And doubts remain as to City Hall's intentions.
It is no secret that CIN was the late Mayor Washington's program. The Sawyer administration recently came through with a $3.2 million budget that will keep CIN at its present strength for another year, and Martin says he believes the mayor is committed to the program. Some advisory council members are less sure, and fear that the uncertain political situation leaves too much room for wheeling and dealing. Martin admits that between the time he took his job and the time the new budget was passed, he heard eight different predictions about the fate of the program, including one suggestion that it was being dismantled altogether.
That would be a big mistake, for if one thing is clear about the gang problem it is that it can only be solved at its roots. "Today, the Police Department is arresting more gang members than at any period of time in the city's history," says Edward Pleines, commander of the Chicago Police Department's Gang Crimes Unit. "And the courts are incarcerating them for longer periods than at any time in the city's history. Nonetheless, we have more gang members than at any time before. So arresting them is not the total solution to the problem."
Given the condition of our jails, it is no solution at all. Chicago's new tough-talking police commissioner can "crack down" on gangs, but every gang member he arrests is going to come out of jail even more involved in and committed to the gang than he was when he went in. Short of mass executions, there is nothing the police force can do to solve this problem. Chicago's only hope is to reform gang members before they get in too deep.
Right now Helen, the young lady whose story began this article, would be wasting away in jail if James Williams hadn't ripped the gun from her hands and taken her home. And Williams's intervention didn't end there. Since that night he and a handful of committed CIN workers have devoted their spare time to helping Helen get on the right track. Helen quit the gang, going from borderline high school dropout to solid B student before graduating. She is currently enrolled in Malcolm X College and plans to transfer to Jackson State in the fall.
Anyone having trouble with gangs is advised to call the CIN hotline. The number is 744-0800.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Lewis Toby.