Chicago has been a violent city for a long, long time. After all, Chicago is where Al Capone reined supreme during prohibition. During the roaring 20's, Chicago was gangster central.
In 1929, Chicago was the home of The St. Valentine's Day massacre. The waring gangs of old used to gun each other down with Thompson machine guns with great regularity. For decades, the Chicago river has had a steady flow of blood trickling in from the streets.
In the 1960's, isolated neighborhoods in the city's south and west side gave birth to the modern Chicago street gangs. But I don't think it would be correct to say all gangs were originally formed for the express purpose of criminal activity.
Some of the original Chicago gangs could be likened to community organizations with political goals, but with militant overtones. The Oakland based, Black Panther Party, is an example of one such gang.
One of the first Chicago gangs to gain prominence was the Gangster Disciples. Their immediate arch rival was the Vice Lords. While the Gangster Disciples, also known as "GD's" were almost exclusively black, the Vice Lords were comprised of whites, blacks, and Hispanics.
One of the GD's founders helped create the Folk Nation which is an amalgamation of several smaller Chicago street gangs, including several Hispanic gangs such as the Spanish Cobras, Latin Eagles, and Maniac Latin Disciples. On the street, these smaller gangs might be rivals but once either in the county jail or prison they align with other Folk.
The Almighty Vice Lord Nation is similar to the Folk Nation with many smaller gangs allying with the larger Vice Lords gang. The AVLN and Folks are enemies.
The 4 Corner Hustlers are a west side gang under the Vice Lord nation. The Black P Stones are a south side gang, that are rivals to GD's, but are not necessarily part of the AVLN. The Latin Kings is Chicago's largest Hispanic gang. Anyone that's part of the Folk Nation is their enemy.
At some point I have had members of every one of these gangs as clients as well as several other gangs not mentioned. It can be very uncomfortable to have 2 clients at the same time who are in gangs at war with each other.
Last year I had a client that was a member of the Spanish Cobras. Then I took the case of a Y.L.O.D (Young Latin Organization Disciples, pronounced "Y low D's"), who had been a Cobra but switched gangs. I won't even get into the mess that comes with switching gangs. But typically to show loyalty to your new gang, you must kill a member of your old gang.
This gang stuff is no joke.
If I think about, most of my past and current clients are in a gang. Since most, if not all, gang activity is criminal, it's no wonder so many gang members get arrested. Through the course of my representations, I have learned from them about gang life.
Some were more willing to discuss it than others, but I have to admit I am curious about a lot of it. And since almost all of my cases are considered street crimes, it's important to have an understanding of the Chicago streets.
Out of caution, I never tell clients about other clients I am representing. Some know of former clients, if they were referred to me by them. But for the most part, I don't discuss anything but the client's case with the client.
Unlike the Bloods and Crips of Los Angeles, who wore either red or blue clothing to signify membership, most Chicago gangs do not fly colors. Certain types of clothing are sometimes associated with certain gangs, but for the most part, it's hard to spot a gang member. So many of the Chicago gangs are neighborhood based, thus gang turfs are laid out across the entire city.
While there are hundreds of smaller gangs in Chicago, most of the larger ones are listed here. Chicagogangs.org is a low-budget website with pretty accurate information.
Even with all of these factions and sub-factions, when they get to the jail and prison they separate into basically 2 groups, the 6's and the 5's. The 6 and 5 stand for points on a star. The Folk Nation tattoos usually contain a 6 sided star and the Vice Lord Nation uses a 5 sided star.
So when they get locked up, all of the Folk Nation align with the 6's and everyone else with the 5's. Non-gang members are called 'neutrons'. When prisoners have to be moved through the jail or prison in groups, such as in a single file line, the 6's go first, the neutrons are in the middle, followed by the 5's.
Street gangs also prefer street justice. They don't trust cops or the courts. And there is an unwritten rule that it's not wise to go to court and testify against a rival gang member, even if you were shot by him.
The reason is that there might be repercussions. The defendant's boys out on the street might just shoot up your house if you testify in court. Street justice is much simpler, but just breeds more and more violence. But it's simple. Eye for an eye.
If you shoot me, me and my people will come shoot you and your people. If you shoot at my house, I will shoot at your house. If you rob me, I will rob you. But in reality it's not quite that simple as the gangs try to one-up each other.
In other words, the reaction is greater than the action that caused it. If you shot at me by yourself, I am bringing me and 3 others to shoot at you and hopefully kill you. Get the point?
To say every gang member is a killer is like saying every person that goes to church is a religious fanatic. They might all be criminals, but so are a lot of people who are not in gangs.
Now before you assume I am defending the gang way of life and attempting to minimize their ill-effect on the community, I am not. I may have gang members as clients but I do not condone what they do. I am not a gang supporter by any stretch. But perhaps I have a better understanding of gang life than most.
And without fail I always tell my young gang clients they need to find a new group of friends or they are in for a life of going in and out of prison, or death at a young age. I think they know what I am saying to be true. But in some circles, penitentiary time is a right of passage. They expect to go to prison.
More often than not, going to prison or getting shot earns more respect than obtaining an education. And dying young gets your picture on t-shirts along with a well attended funeral. I have been to a gang funeral. People actually took pictures and, in some cases, video of the 17 year old corpse laying peacefully in the coffin. I found that completely bizarre. He looked quite different than he had a month earlier when I met him in the county jail.
Many don't make a conscious decision to join a gang. They just belong to a gang because of where they live.
In a lot of neighborhoods you have to go out of your way to not be associated with a gang. Typically never leaving the house accomplishes this and many do not, but for going to school and back. But the gangs permeate the schools too; however, most drop out when they turn 16. Many of the ones that don't drop out are eventually kicked out.
Very few of my clients have graduated from high school. Those that have a GED, likely got it in prison. Earning a GED in prison knocks 60 days off your sentence.
To say I am only interested in street gangs because of my work would be inaccurate. Perhaps my interest in street gangs is why I choose to do what I do, where I do it. I have never given it much thought. But the inner city has always interested me. I grew up in the inner city, but not Chicago. I saw crime but not shootings.
I can never say my job is boring or even slightly uninteresting. I never judge my clients and I tell them I won't. I am there to help and maybe understand them.
But there has been one issue about gangs that has continued to baffle me. Though loyal to the point of killing on the street, once a gang member is in jail, they are forgotten. No letters. No visits. Nothing. They have protection on the inside but that's it (though nothing to snort at).
I have yet to be hired by a gang member to represent one of his own. It just doesn't happen. I might feel betrayed, especially if gang activity is what got me locked up. I would expect the Calvary to come. Instead, they get me.