Is being a Snitch a bad thing?

The photo is me standing beside a Chicago Police car with an officer asking questions of me in the middle of the street near where I was standing.

Enough years have passed that I can now tell the story. When I was 17-18 years old and living in Hyde Park Chicago, I was arrested twice for felonies. The arresting police officers both times were Sgt. Doyle and Officer Andrew Alinovich who were assigned to the Vice Squad, 21st Police District.

At some point during my police custody I was told I could help myself if I gave information which would lead to the arrest of others. I admit, I was scared. As scared as I have ever been. I can still recall some of my thoughts. I remembered being told the following two sayings. “Happy as a sissy in the Cook County Jail” (Chicago). The other, “Go in bitching, come out swishing.”

Both are references to the culture of rape inside the county jail. The officers said to me on one occasion that, “with your long hair you will be somebody’s bitch before the night is over.” FYI, I was 5’7″, weighed about 130 lbs and had long dark hair.

In addition to the immediate threat of jail, there was the additional fear of the Illinois prison system where the rape culture was as much or more prominent. Many of my friends had been to jail or prison and told me how dangerous it was and various survival tips. Tip number one. When other prisoners begin to threaten to attack me, jump on the biggest one and fight for my life. They told me I would lose and get beat up but I would get the respect of the other prisoners for being a “man”. And maybe if I showed them I was a man, they might not rape me. Not a strategy I wanted to test out.

The first time, I was in the station and a lieutenant walked by and asked the arresting officers how old was I. When he was advised that I was 17, he told them to take away my pack of Marlborough cigarettes because I was not old enough to have them. Sgt Doyle replied that it was okay because I was going to cooperate. He looked at me as if for confirmation and he let me have one of my cigarettes. I lit it and he waited for my actual cooperation. When I blew the smoke out of my lungs but did not speak, he said, “stop with the fucking smoke signals Cochise and start talking!”

So, I sat in police custody, chewed my lower lip half off and thought about who, what where I could tell the police about which might result in my release. My mind raced like never before. The officers just stared at me waiting for me to tell them something. Names of wrong-doers came to mind. I evaluated at lightning speed the various persons and what I knew about them.

So now the reveal at the time of my first felony arrest. I think my voice was shaking when I said, “I don’t know anything that you want to know”.  The look of disdain on  Sergeant Doyle’s face had a hint of hatred, he turned and typed up my arrest report before transferring me to a cell where I was held alone. Several hours later I bonded out, unharmed.

The first arrest led to a sentence of court supervision for one year. If I violated my court supervision, I could be sent to an Illinois prison for 6 to 15 years. The second time I was arrested was about year or so later. This Sunday morning, Alinovich and Doyle spotted me standing outside a coffee-shop at the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard.

Pulling up alongside me, they ordered me into their unmarked police car. They searched me quite thoroughly. I had no drugs on me. What I did have was a draft card belonging to someone else which I carried to buy alcohol and avoid curfew violations. I will never forget the look on Officer Alinovich’s face as he discovered the card. He asked me with glee if I knew the penalty for unlawful possession of a draft card. He was delighted to share with me that,

Anyone shown to have possession of any selective service card not duly issued to him, such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to establish an intent to use such certificate for purposes of false identification or representation, and may be fined up to  $10,000 or be imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

The cuffs went on and off we began the drive to the police station. I begged them to let me go. I told them my court supervision was one more week and this would violate my condition of supervision. Sgt Doyle pulled over and stopped on a quiet street. He turned around and asked me what I could tell him to help myself. Who was I willing to give up?

At the time of my first arrest I did not know that I was facing a lengthy prison sentence under Illinois law. I had been charged with possession of marijuana and possession of stolen or mislaid property. Both felonies.

Now I knew what the stakes were now. I remembered the judge admonishing me of the period of incarceration I would face upon a finding that I had failed to abide by the conditions of my supervision. I was on the verge of tears thinking of the consequences. I am sure I would have cried but I knew that somehow that would make things worse.

Both officers were turned around in the car looking at me in the back seat. Man, the silence was deafening. The noise in my head was deafening. Again I raced through the possibilities of cooperating, who to snitch out and how to survive being a snitch.

I do not know if it was true, but I convinced myself in that moment that being a snitch was a core violation of my values and that I would not be safe if I did provide information. I finally broke the silence and told them I could not help. Once again, the look of disdain was prominent on both their faces. They turned and Doyle put the car back in gear and off we went.

Just as we neared the main road to the station, (Lake Shore Drive) Doyle pulled to the curb. He looked at Alinovich and told him “get him the fuck out this car”. Alinovich looked confused and unsure. Doyle repeated, “just get him out of my fucking car”. Alinovich opened the back door from the outside, uncuffed me, got back in the car and off they drove. No explanation. No charges.

About a week later I appeared in court and my supervision was terminated successfully. I met Officer Alinovich two more times. Once he walked in to my dad’s lumber yard with his family to buy building materials for his house. I was in my early 20s. We chatted amicably and of course I gave him the police discount.

The next time I was in downtown Chicago and encountered him inside a building on the Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue. He told me he was now assigned to taxicab violation enforcement. The Vice Squads had been renamed, Tactical Patrol. Doyle had either retired or died, I cannot recall which. We were pleasant to each other.

I was arrested a couple of more times by other Chicago police for a variety of crimes. But I was never offered freedom in exchange for information. I am glad I do not have to look back on my past and mull over how I decided to be a snitch. But full disclosure, I wanted to. I wanted to so bad, I do not know why or how I refrained.

Footnote. Many years later I did a television interview along with a Chicago Police Commander on the subject of street gangs. We chatted afterwards and we realized he had been assigned to the Gang Crimes unit in my community when I was young. He asked me as an aside if I wanted to guess who had been a snitch. I had no one in mind so he told me. It was a young man I knew fairly well and to whom I had sold what I believed to be a stolen US army rifle. I have discovered over the years that I was often closer to peril than I knew. But those stories are for another day.

I stand by Black Lives Matter.

Despite all that I hear about black on black or black on white crime, I stand in solidarity with BLM. I do so because the causes and foundation of racism in the US have never, ever been fully and openly addressed. The deterioration and disintegration I have observed over the past 40 years have convinced me that the war on black people has resulted in the unraveling in the inner-city of their culture, communities and values. I do not believe that the people residing in ghettos are inherently more violent or prone to criminality. I believe that by marginalizing, demonizing and disenfranchising poor blacks this country has created the environment and circumstances which has resulted in the devastation we see today.

My personal experience in the inner-city lead me to the conclusion that we over-incarcerated, under-educated and created the conditions upon which gangs can freely infest and prey upon the communities. But the gangs are in fact the product of the conditions I have cited. Gang kids are not born, they are created.

Chicago police historically and relentlessly preyed upon lower-income blacks. They committed crimes including torture against young black male suspects. They framed them for crimes they did not commit. They took payoffs to let gangs operate. They robbed drug dealers and resold the product they stole and spent the cash. One elite special operations group of the CPD has been implicated in significant series of serious crimes including attempted murder for hire on a police officer.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/08/chicago-police-charged-wi_n_846528.html

Chicago is just one of many departments that committed crimes against the community they swore to protect. While victims were many and diverse, the bulk of the crimes were committed against black men.

There are more good cops than bad cops if we use a yardstick based on intent. But if we use a different measure which requires a good cop to be intolerant of bad cops, we have a serious shortage of good cops. We need to challenge police officers to rise up intellectually and spiritually to actively do the Right Thing. When what is intolerant is police misconduct and when peer pressure weighs against misconduct, then we may see a seismic shift in policing practices and an end to the need for BLM.

We can not change people’s racist attitudes but we can diminish their impact. We cannot fix the stubborn racist black or white who tenaciously clings to his hate. But we can deprive him of permission so that he acts alone if he acts at all. Racist should be as afraid to come out of the closet just like a pedophile. It should be a source of shame in the presence of our society to proclaim your racial animus. Lest we forget what community norms result in, remember Emmett Till, a 14 yo black boy beaten to death.

http://time.com/4399793/emmett-till-civil-rights-photography/?xid=time_socialflow_facebook

We are the frontline of defense against racism and its harm to our entire way of life. No more uncomfortable laughter at cocktail hour racist jokes. No silent acquiescence to locker room chatter about “those people”. Our young white athletes and students need to be given our permission and encouragement to stand up to this insidiousness. Power to the people ought to mean all people. You may just be the best example of a human being that some people ever see.

Once upon a time in a faraway land, Part 1

I remember standing outside the high school waiting for the bell to ring for. Until the bell rang students had to wait outside untill they unlocked the doors and let us proceed to our classrooms. 5 black boys approached from a gang called the Blackstone Rangers (Stones). I was a pipsqueak. I was 4’11” and I had Free Lunch stamped on my forehead and these guys wanted lunch at my expense. I didn’t know these guys, but they had a keen sense of smell and picked up the scent of my fear.

I needed to do something and fast. I sized them up and ran through my encyclopedia of bluffs and the first one that occurred to me was to act as if we were all together in this escapade. This normally doesn’t work for a little white Jewish kid about to be robbed. but I had spent a lot of time around guys like this and I am a good mimic. I could talk the talk even if I couldn’t walk the walk. I knew these guys were gang-bangers just from their look.

 A gangster’s style was dress-casual. He wore lose fitting, almost baggy clothes. His shirt was an Italian knit and he wore pants with two pleats at the waist with room in the leg so that a gangster could pimp. Pimping was a way of walking with a kind of shuffle and slightly slouched and emanating attitude. They frequently wore narrow sunglasses that they had to look over the top of when talking.

The way this worked, when thugs approached, I would initiate the encounter by talking to them. I mean I knew damn well they planned to rob me, so I greeted them first, “Hey, what’s up?” (It is called, act as if.) Then I asked if “Anyone has seen JB.” See JB was the baddest kid around and a leader in the Stones and we went to grade school together. So I would got the jump on guys by asking for JB. The fact that I knew his name gave me credibility. so usually after that, they don’t ask for money. A rule of the streets was to not rob a friend of a gang leader.

Now if that doesn’t seem like much of a plan, it wasn’t but I had a back up bluff. That next part was to act as if I could fight. I acted like I would want nothing more than to have these guys mess with me so then I could whoop someone’s butt. Totally grounded in fantasy! Fact is if you acted first you might throw them off balance psychologically long enough to get in the school. One way to do this is as they approached I would ask them for some money and act huffy when they don’t got it. So the 5 spread out in a semi-circle in front of me. They arrroached me intending to secure compliance and get my money or pounce.     I know I have to make eye contact and hide fear. So I stare at the closest one and ask  “Hey, someone got a quarter?” The reply “Huh? Are you out of your mind boy?”, (a reasonable assumption when a small white boy tries to coerce several young black boys out of “spare change”) I would reply along the lines of “Hell yea, I’m out of my mind. better believe it! So who got a quarter? Don’t be tight. man. Someone give it up. don’t be cheap, help a dude out man.”

I was not only a small white boy, but I was dressed preppy. The uniform style of dress amongst my peers was Brooks Brothers button down shirts, khaki pants with cuffs dark socks and Bass Weejun penny loafers.  I might have been slightly more convincing if I dressed like the white thugs we called greasers. Anyways, if that bluff failed….run.

This particular encounter just typifies the type of incidents that took place regularly in my neighborhood. This time it ended with the five boys walking away, heads nodding in bewilderment and wonder about what exactly had just happened and who the hell was I. These encounters would have the hair on the back of my neck stand up. My palms would be quietly sweaty. My heart would beat so loud I thought anyone near by could hear it.

Amazingly, for me, acting like a teenage Jewish kid was much more difficult. At least acting like a “cool” Jewish kid. The encyclopedia of bluffs was quite useless in this realm.  I arrived to high school from a grade school that was over 50% black. In grade school I had taken to speaking the language of my black peers. So, in high school I had to learn to minimize my inclination to mimic the sound and speech of a young black boy who had emigrated to Chicago from Knoxville TN.

Many of the Jewish kids in my high school were in organized fraternities and sororities which were comprised mostly of Jewish kids. I have never met anyone outside of Chicago’s south side who had these clubs in their Chicago area high school. It seemed important to be accepted into this fraternity environment. I can’t tell you why but it did. My older brother had been in a fraternity, but I didn’t like him much. For sure I desperately wanted to be cool. But the reality was, I was too young and too awkward to blend in well. Fraternities just didn’t place a value on having members who were 12-year-old, freshmen, short, non-athletic, jive talking and not particularly affluent. I was 3 years away from a driving permit, and my body wouldn’t see pubic hair in the immediate future.

It took about 6 months of lobbying to be accepted into the second lowest-ranked fraternity in school. Ranks were based on the number of cool guys you had in the fraternity and gentiles and blacks were not considered cool and don’t count. I suspect most non-Jews were invited to join to bolster the athletic standing of the group (Ringers). My fraternity was considered just slightly cooler than the one fraternity that accepted both people of color and gentiles. But my membership resulted in 2 friendships that span over 43 years so I consider it a good investment.

Anyway the point is I had a harder time passing in my natural state for what I was (the little Jew kid) than passing as something I wasn’t and didn’t appear to be (the little black kid).

I can’t tell you the first thing about being with a sorority girl as I was barely able to negotiate being a preteen boy in a teenage world much less hope to date girls. I had no business being in high school. I wasn’t a good student or mature beyond my years. Hard to say if I was even age appropriate as I had no way to determine that. I had gotten ahead in school through some stubbornness, luck (bad/good), timing and mistakes. So while most kids had already consummated their childhood before going to high school, I was still wrapping up my juvenile affairs. bar mitzvah, puberty, walking, you know the basics. There is much more to this story. I was on a trajectory which would lead me to 5 failed years of high school and becoming a drop-out. It was the precursor to becoming a real criminal. But here is an insight. I got sick and tired of being picked on. Not only was I robbed the first day of each of the three Chicago high schools I attended, I was assaulted my first day of college preparatory boarding school in New Hampshire. In the sophomore year I was brutally attacked and nearly drowned by a rabid anti-Semite Palestinian student. I promised myself that someday I would get a gun and I would end the reign of terror of bullying and getting robbed which seemed to summarize my early years.

My first armed robbery, and last.

We were in an apartment on the south side of Chicago, in Hyde Park. “I don’t know man. I never done nothing like that. What do you want from me? I don’t know man. I don’t do that kind of stuff.” So began my conversation with Tiny. Tiny had gotten it in his mind to rob a meat packing plant at 58th and Elizabeth Street. Someone on the inside had told him about a safe they had and how easy it would be to walk in with guns and take the cash. I am not sure why Tiny was asking me to partner up with him. Maybe it was because I had a car, or guns or because I was a full time (non-violent) criminal. But this was an area I never intended to venture into. I tended to  stay away from crimes against persons. Burglary was my main criminal enterprise, and we burglars avoid people when working, because they are a source of detection and apprehension.

Whatever the reason, I was listening to this proposition. Tiny had been a mentor of mine in the underworld. He was a car thief and knew how to run a “chop shop” where they cut stolen cars up and sell the parts for more than the car would sell for whole. It was easier to avoid arrest if you were selling only the parts. I was about 18 and he had 10 years on me and seemed philosophically wise in the ways of the streets. He also was an imposing figure. He was 6’3, 350 pounds of black man. He was a product of the Chicago’s west side ghetto. So to my wayward mind he had experience and credibility and so I listened. He laughed profusely and joked and danced frequently. But when it came to crime he was all business.

The plan was to go to the area of the plant where we would park my car about a half block away. We were going to knock on the packing house door and ask to buy some meat. There was going to be 3-5 employees and we were gonna draw down on them and take the cash from the safe. We discussed it at length. I tried to persuade him away from the idea. But I never said everything I was really thinking. Cause then I would have told him the idea scared the hell out of me. He allayed all my spoken concerns and so the deal was sealed.

When the agreed day arrived I drove us to the plant. We parked near by in a vacant lot, car facing towards the street so we would just have to jump in and drive right out. I had two handguns. One didn’t function at all. But we brought it for its persuasion value. Tiny had another handgun.

I convinced Tiny to stop at a corner tavern so we could get a drink. I wasn’t 21 yet but we never had trouble getting me liquor in ghetto bars. We had a drink. My hands were shaking and I was nauseous with fear. I suggested another drink but Tiny said no, we had to get going. He had gotten a call that day from someone on the inside that there was a lot of cash today and he was eager to get there. I glumly followed him down the street.

When we arrived at the plant, I got a worse feeling. The door had a peephole and when they answered the door they did in in such a way that I knew they clearly had been robbed before. The guy at the door didn’t want to open the door more than a crack. He ask “what do you want.”  Tiny was in front of me telling him “we needed a large order of meat for a church we work for”. The guy was not opening the door enough for us to enter. He was being cautious. But Tiny just kept talking as he pushed on the door and the door began to give way. Tiny’s size was not to be denied. As he pushed on the door, I saw his jacket rise up above his hips and his gun was clearly visible to me. I tried to pull down his jacket from where I stood behind him. He signaled me to follow him in.  As the door opened wider I could see that there were far more people inside than we had anticipated. Combine that with the fact that these people were obviously being cautious and it was probably because they had been robbed before.

I mean we were in a tough area. It was mixed zoning, inner city housing and commercial. When you had businesses in such close proximity to this many poor people, the stores usually got used to folks trying to rob them.

This wasn’t going the way I had envisioned it. I got even more scared if that were possible. So I went from trying to pull Tiny’s jacket over his gun to just pulling on his jacket in an attempt to prevent him from going in.

I said to Tiny, “screw them, they don’t want to sell us any meat. Let’s go somewhere else.” He looked back at me with daggers in his eyes.

I was being no more effective than the guy on the inside at deterring Tiny. I pulled harder and said loudly that we should just leave. I could see even more people walking around inside, everybody wearing white coats and white hard hats.  More people meant more probability of something going amiss. And this is heavy prison time stuff.

Tiny realized I wasn’t going in and so he retreated. But was he mad. He called me a punk for days. Weeks. He got some of our friends together another day and they did the job. They sat around spending money on drugs and alcohol, wouldn’t share with me because I was a punk. I remember visiting the apartment in Hyde Park that they were hold up in and partying. That had a big BBQ spread from the local bbq house. They were watching a new television. I came in and made small talk like any other time. “hey, let me have some ribs.” Tiny replied “Fuck you punk. We got this sticking up the plant. You didn’t do shit, you don’t get shit.” The hair on the back of my neck stood up. He was fronting me off in front of everyone. This would get ugly if I made a wrong move. I acted like it was no big deal, not hungry, don’t need your food. “Screw it, I’ll get my own ribs. I’m out. Later to this” With that I slinked away.

My rep definitely went down a notch or two. But it wasn’t too much longer when Tiny invited me to take a road across Illinois with my illegal M1 semi-auto rifle that I had bought on the streets. It was an ominous piece of work with a big 30 round banana magazine, a folding stock, flash suppressor, and telescopic sight. Tiny wanted to drive south and pull a series of armed robberies. His explanation was that with my rifle looking so intimidating, no one would challenge us and we could clean up. I was surprised he was asking me and I considered the good effect this would have in restoring my reputation. But I didn’t see any reason I wouldn’t be just as scared as I had been before. So I took a pass.

A postscript to this relationship is years later, Tiny got arrested and went to federal prison for a bank robbery. I had not become a lawyer yet so I couldn’t help him. Before he left I asked him if he was scared. Tiny asked “what would I be scared of?” He looked at me quizzically. I said if I had to go to prison I would be scared. Tiny started to laugh….”if I was as small as you I probably would be scared. Big as I am, ain’t nothing gonna happen to me in prison son, so don’t worry about me.” He passed up on giving up his co-conspirators. Even though they got away with the money and never sent him any, he stuck by the code, No snitching! He told me he thought he knew who ratted him out, a friend of ours from the hood.  But he said there wasn’t anything he could do about it now, and he had no proof.

He did come out of prison an older and more subdued man. Got a job as a janitor at the Chicago  Museum of Science and Industry. He died in his 50s of diabetes related causes. All that weight wore his body out. I was his lawyer in the end. We were suing the Chicago Transit Authority bus company for not securing him properly in his wheelchair during a visit to the doctor. When the bus stopped abruptly he fell and was injured when the stitches split on his recently amputated leg.

Some day I’ll write about Tiny’s first LSD trip. Or how he knocked Gene Rogers out at the University Church. Or how we tried to……..oh hell……. I feel like crying, I am out of here.

Hurt people, hurt people.

The title is a statement about what hurt people do to others. Hurt people in turn often hurt other people. So follow along as we stroll through my mind, surprised by what we might find.

I was driving to my AA meeting this morning and as usual I was watching the car behind me to monitor how close it followed me. I get agitated if I am tailgated. I decided I should really just look forward and wondered why I pay so much attention to the cars around me. It struck me that I have always driven this way. I walk this way. I am in a constant state of vigilance.  I wondered how did I get this way. I had sudden recall back to 1966. I was standing in the hallway of my high school. I was supposed to be in class but I had pretended I was going to the toilet so I could stand in the hallway. 

A young black kid approached whom I recognized from another class. I said hello to him. He didn’t say a word but he quickly struck me in my chest and knocked me down. Some change fell out of my shirt pocket. He picked it up and walked away without ever saying a word. I was stunned by the swiftness and the silence of it. I never told the school just as I never told them about the other assaults on me. Importantly, I was not stunned by the violence of it. 

I have tried to remember the number of times I was robbed or assaulted in high school. I can recall only a few. Maybe 20 or so. A lot of it was black on white crime but I had my fair share of white on white, greaser vs Jew assaults. But the assaults started with my dad when I was about 4. It continued in grade school as I was jumped by other kids starting in the second grade. The assaults increased when I lived on the streets. Most didn’t result in much harm. I either escaped quickly, bluffed my way out or won against the attacker(s). I would guess that I could have avoided some of these encounters had I been where I was supposed to be and generally speaking less openly. Like do not hang out on the streets at night, do not go to the go-carts without an adult, and do not walk by the drug store that the Catholic kids have claimed for themselves. Do not talk back when tough kids threaten, don’t mock hoodlums and don’t scoff at threats.

As an adult I faced dozens of violent incidents working with street kids. Kids that I talked with one day could be dead the next, always from gang violence. What is manifestly clear to me is that hurt people, hurt people. Abused children often become abusers, sexual victims especially men, become sexual predators. It probably always has been and probably always will be.

So, is there a way out of this hyper-sensitivity and vigilance which I practice without intention? If my experience is any measure, the answer is no. At best damaged people will find healthy, new ways to cope. They will find mentors and techniques which will serve them well. Or they won’t. And they will suffer addiction, institutions, incarceration or simply have a gnawing sense of insecurity which follows them into everything they do. 

If you have a friend or family member like me I would look for opportunities to introduce them to 12 steps, or meditation or something which has been shown to successfully be a catalyst for change. I am convinced I will have to live with my demons despite every effort to shed them But I am also sure that my demons serve me well at times. I have known danger was imminent when most others were unaware. I have been heard by very damaged humans who could otherwise not hear. I have intervened and helped facilitate change in the lives of persons believed to be beyond reach.

My demons will go anywhere with me. Physically or mentally or spiritually they have staked a claim to a portion of my brain, heart and soul.  Dark alleys or sunlit mountains, they have treaded fearlessly with me. (Along the road of happy destiny)Always protecting and always threatening my well-being.  And it is this awareness that grants me an ability to understand that hurt people, hurt people. 

Is a Ghetto always to be a Ghetto?

Just returned from Chicago and I was reminded why I left. The traffic, the cost and the crime. I was there to work.

So I am working a case of a police officer shooting and killing a 20 y.o man who I shall call Damon. The bullet entered in through Damon’s back. The young man was allegedly shooting at the plain-clothed police officer, but no gun was ever recovered. No debate that the officer fired 16 times at Damon. No debate it was his bullet which killed Damon. No doubt that at some point Damon was running away from the cop. He died about a half block from where the officer says Damon was shooting at the officer. But this post is not about Damon per se, but about where he lived.

My investigation took me into an area of Chicago which is depressed. It is called West Englewood. Up until the early 70s I believe it was a white community. Now it is 98% Black/African American.

Where my time was spent is an area of mostly single family homes. Some homes were so very well-kept. Many others were boarded up. I interviewed about 20 people or more. This is what struck me. Most of the residents have been in prison, which includes men and women. Most are jobless. Most know someone or themselves have been shot. Most would probably qualify as suffering from some level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder based on experiencing or witnessing traumatic events.

This community and many others have been distressed a long time. It is brutally ugly to come face to face with. I ask, where are the governmental concerns, plans and objectives to improve the community. Why would Chicago news media not have constant stories about the task forces, resources and enhancements to the community? Why are the lake front and the North Side so gentrified and beautified and the South Side so bereft of assistance? When school gets out in Englewood, there are yellow- vested personnel everywhere who are part of Safe Passage. http://www.suntimes.com/news/education/19113214-418/cps-to-hire-more-safe-passage-patrols-to-watch-over-kids-going-to-different-schools.html#.VE7Q8_nF98E

The reason for these people is that as schools are closed and students transferred their lives are in jeopardy. So, these Safe Passage folks have to try and facilitate the safe transit of these children. A neighborhood so dangerous that people are hired to stand on the street and try to get the school kids home safely!!!

Well Chicagoans often can be heard bemoaning the prevalence of guns in Chicago. Those are not ghetto folks generally. You can’t hear the bemoaning emanating from the inner-city. It is drowned out by tears, poverty and violence. Where is your fucking indignation at the conditions that your fellow Chicagoans are living in? How can the mayor advocate for health, safety and welfare of his town without holding press conferences about the persistent, consistent and massive efforts to help those in poverty?

I see it this way. A prison record can hamper someone from getting a job. Lack of jobs requires resourcefulness. Drug dealers are resourceful. Drug dealers get busted and get prison records. Prisoners become ex-prisoners who can’t find jobs. Jobless people get hungry and are required to be resourceful. Resourceful people often become drug dealers. Drug dealers get busted.

Good houses must be boarded up as soon as they are vacant to prevent being sacked by thieves. Boarded homes are unattractive. Property values are not as high in unattractive communities. Lower property values in neighborhoods where local citizens can’t afford to buy property leads to predatory practices by outside landlords. Ex-cons without jobs sit on stoops drinking beer all day. Fathers are in prison. Children grow up without dad. Boys without dads often land up in prison. 4 generations later, boys have no relationship with Middle America. Their relationships, value system, and education are derived from their experience in prisons and streets. The prevailing social system in prison is gangs. Gang members return to the community and further blight the already depressed community. They prey upon other gangs and the innocent. The innocents move away or join gangs for protection. They adopt the values of the gangs. They are no longer innocents.

Stores have a higher cost of operation in the inner-city because of crime and poverty. So major stores abandon he area because of the difficulties associated with operating there. Instead, small convenience stores owned and run by daring immigrants become the primary providers of dry goods, prepared foods and restaurants. They charge more money because they have less buying power and more risk. The people in the community have less spending power, spend more for what they do get and have they fewer choices in products.

So the politicians convince the Haves that the Have Nots are a burden on society. They convince the Haves that the Have Nots are just sucking at the tit of society, parasitic and ungrateful to boot. The solutions is often to cut welfare as if then poor people will suddenly jump in their make believe cars, drive to the make believe jobs and bring home the make believe pay. Notwithstanding the lack of education, mobility and money, what could possibly be wrong with such a plan?

If we start right now, it will take generations to unravel the Gordian knot which is the inner-city. You can hate Blacks and other inner-city dwellers. You can cast aspersions on their ethics, values and lifestyles. But if you do not expend the resources to bring up the least of us the chickens will of necessity come home to roost. Inner-city dwellers have higher birth rates than others. They have a greater propensity for violence and crime. They run the drug trade at the street level. At some point you will be unable to gentrify them out of existence. They will not leave the city to become farmers nor will they relax and while away their remaining years on the porches of the new suburbs you push them to.

So if it were up to me, I would harness the best brains and capital and I would invest in these communities. I would empower the people to work and derive income in their communities. I would make it so attractive to businesses to relocate and hire the locals that someday, some day in the future, the mindset of the inner-city dweller would be very much like that of people not confined to the ghetto and gangs. In a future I may not live long enough to see, there would suddenly be born a generation that breaks the inclination towards incarceration. Someday, a new generation would adopt a value system and pride itself on education and production. Someday we would have a generation where gang kids are an aberration not a logical outcome of the environment.

The people I interviewed were just lovely.  Most all had been convicted of crimes thus they were criminals by societal definition. But all were more likely to know their neighbors than any other community I have worked in. These persons who were generally kind to me, a stranger, were used to gunshots. They expressed fear of violence and theft. They shared a sense that cops were there to protect society from them not protect them from predators.

 I do not have the psychological mindset to face, as a lawyer, a system that lacks concern for the salvation of the lives brought before it. It is a system which emphasizes punishment at every turn versus rehabilitation and reformation. Hell, you should be very afraid of all the convicts and ex-cons who have been required to survive an environment where dog eats and rapes dog. Some of my clients deserved prison but most didn’t deserve to be sent to a hell which was controlled externally by the government. The crimes which loom largest are those of a government which makes laws which work to the advantage of criminal cartels and their bankers.

Oh well, I am tired and you have read stuff like this many times before. I didn’t write anything new. Just cannot understand how years and years go by without the recruitment of the best minds, (not political hacks) and a monumental commitment of financial and intellectual resources to solving the dilemma that is our entrenched acceptance of persons residing in poverty with its attendant assault on the mental, psychological and physical well-being.

Dedicated to my friend Tiny

When I was 17, in 1970, I was up to my eyeballs in illegal activity. I lived on the south side of Chicago. I would wake up around 9AM and about 10AM I would go out burglarizing apartments till 3PM with my partner in crime Tony James. This was the time of day most people were at work and their apartments sat empty. Then in the evening we would sell drugs we bought with the money we got from selling hot (as in stolen) merchandise. The pay phone at a local Persian restaurant (Ahmads} was the best way to contact me.

Sometime around this period I met Marshall Jackson, aka Tiny. Some who were around then will remember Tiny and no one who knew him will forget him. He was black, stood about 6′ 3″ and weighed about 350. He had a stutter and a bubbly, intense personality. He was10 years older than me, and he was a stone criminal also. We became quite close and I took him for a mentor as well as a friend. His specialty was stealing cars and chopping them up for sale. But like myself, he remained open to any criminal activity.

Tiny had very few white people he liked growing up in Lawndale on the West Side. He was enamored  with our neighborhood and the young white kids in Hyde Park. White kids here had grown up in this wonderfully ethnically diverse community and exhibited little of the racism he was used to. He concluded he had misjudged us as a race. He thought the general lack of street smarts and the open nature of Hyde Park whites was endearing. It became his neighborhood.

Tiny taught me a lot about being a criminal. He taught me the advanced rules of intimidation, deception, and manipulation.  He introduced me to car repair shops where we hung out and bought and sold stolen goods. Tiny was fascinated with all the drugs we young bloods were doing. Our hood was one of those which early dove deep into recreational drugs. His knowledge of drugs until then was limited to his girlfriend’s  heroin addiction.

Tiny acquainted me with his criminal pals and I introduced him to mine. But I also introduced him to the Blue Gargoyle coffeehouse at the University Church for the Disciples of Christ and the Reverend Loel Callahan. Loel had befriended me and subsequently convinced me to help him launch an alternative youth program (non-religious) at the church, which was located in the shadow of the University of Chicago.

So, I recruited Tiny and all my other street pals to hang out at the church and help out with our youth program there. That is a whole ‘nother story. Adding his pals definitely strained the notion of  “youth” add increased the mean age of the group. But lest you get the wrong idea, we were a mix of teens some who were straight-laced, drug free, high school students and many like me, street kids. We had two things in common, intelligent and a sincere desire in the improvement of the human condition.

So, Tiny and I shared adventures. Panhandling bail money for friends at a nightclub called Alices Restaurant on the North Side, hitting blues bars, camping in Missouri, stealing credit cards and saving damsels in distress. If you knew Gene Rogers, you would be interested in the night Tiny knocked him the fuck out for messing with university students at the Blue Gargoyle.

I can’t do justice to what such a relationship was like and the indelible impression it left on me. We had a bunch of laughs, at jokes and at danger. Tiny took me for my first (and last) armed robbery. at a meat-packing plant on the south side. Supposed to be easy in and out, just show our guns, grab the cash from the safe and go. But the man at the door of the plant seemed suspicious of us from the git and reluctant to let us in. Tiny nicely pushed on the door while chatting friendly about how we just wanted to buy some meat. The man tried to dig in and keep the door from opening wide, but his feet were sliding backwards as he lost the pushing match. Nothing felt right and so I yanked hard to stop  Tiny which aborted our heist.

Tiny took a long time to forgive me. He had to round up a new crew to finish the job another day. He gave me a chance to redeem myself later and offered me the opportunity go on an armed robbery spree across Illinois. He wanted me to bring my quite ominous M1 military carbine which had a folding stock, a telescopic sight, flash suppressor and a 30 round magazine. His theory was that no one would resist us if we displayed my rifle. I had to admit to him that in my heart I was really just a property crimes kind of guy and not cut out for armed robberies.

As I was saying earlier, Tiny became involved in the youth program at the Blue Gargoyle and was usually there with his pals to provide security when our youth group put on an event, like a dance. Because of the church location, it was not uncommon to find Disciples and Stones in attendance. For the uninitiated, those were the two large, very large, black gangs on Chicago’s south side. Tiny had this way of walking into conflict and deescalating it. His size was so persuasive that I saw him stop gang violence with a smile. 

But we didn’t physically hurt innocents. Neither Tiny nor I liked bullies. Hard to explain but we stood together against violent predators who we encountered trying to hurt those we perceived as weaker. He used his size and demeanor to calm some folks but others like the aforementioned Gene, he beat into submission. The opportunities to use our street smarts and strength were manifold. Tiny taught me that if you have to mete out a whooping, make sure you do so convincingly thus do you discourage comeback. He taught me to refrain from making threats of revenge, because you increase the probability of getting caught while getting said revenge. He said, “do not threaten, just do”.

It was new years eve about 1971 when I accompanied Tiny and another older pal, Butch, on their first hallucinogenic LSD trip. It started in Hyde Park at a party at my friend Norman Nakama’s apartment, with a bunch of drunk, stoned and tripping hippies. My friend Preston somehow talked my 2 pals, definitely not hippie, into taking the LSD. I joined in, but it was far from my first trip.

We left HP and headed to downtown Chicago for the holiday celebration. It was a horror show with drunks fighting, the crowd swelling, and the police pushing back on the surging crowd as you neared the epicenter at the corner of State and Randolph, by the Marshall Field building.  The crowd was so big it swallowed Tiny up, beyond my grasp. That freaked me out, so I grabbed Butch till the clock struck midnight and the crowd dispersed. After most people had walked off, there was Tiny, his eyes closed and swaying with the crowd that was no longer there. I remember Chicago was so cold that night and Tiny was generating so much heat that when he took off his cap his head was smoking.

Having recovered Tiny, we headed back to my Hyde Park apartment. I lived alone at the end of a parking lot of a supermarket. My furniture consisted of 3 chairs and a piece of foam rubber that I slept on and a stereo. We had a few hours of hallucinogenic chat as Tiny and Butch strolled through their minds now turned psychedelic.

Many a night of fun like this was followed by our usual morning ritual. Breakfast(!) at some ghetto shack for large amounts of bacon, eggs and toast or the 3 of us would buy and cook a couple of pounds of bacon, 2 loaves of bread and a couple of dozen eggs to cook up.

 

But, one night he took his new found affection for whites and headed with some pals to a neighborhood carnival in a white community known as Back of the Yards. BOYs was a white stronghold in Chicago. VERY racist. Tiny described for me the next day how that turned out.  Some white guys started trouble and when the fight started it “seemed like the entire place jumped on us”. He said that, “I was continually throwing guys off my back and constantly fighting my way to the others to help them”.  He said it took a while before the police could push back the crowd and escort our friends from the carnival. I chastised him for going off on his own to such a hostile place. Tiny, delightfully naive in his own way, declared that he would be more selective in the future about what white people he hung around. 

Gosh, we sure had a bunch of adventures. Tiny taught me how to power shift my 1965 Chevy Impala 396 Super Sport. That is shifting through all gears with the accelerator pedal held continuously to the floor. A mutual friend of ours had personally stitched together my car interior in a white leather, diamond, tuck and roll design. diamond interior.

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It had a custom green paint job with gold flakes shot in and a white vinyl top and tinted windows. I do not have any photos of my ride but included the photos as samples of the style .

He knew I had his back and I knew he had mine I relied upon his size and he upon my wits. He knew I exploited his size to our advantage and he used my whiteness to gain admission to situations he could then exploit. So we explored a lot of dangerous territory together with our merry band of fellow criminal pranksters.

We went separate ways eventually, but kept in touch. Years later he told me that he and some of the guys had talked about kidnapping me for ransom since my family had money. We never discussed whether they planned to kill me to protect their identities but I am sure it was part of the discussion. He also admitted he had harbored a grudging respect and even fear of some other street pals I ran with occasionally who had a propensity for violence. 

When Tiny was in his 40s, he got caught and prosecuted for a bank robbery in Uptown. By then I was a social worker with street kids. We hung out some before he went off to prison. He was very stoic about his fate,  wouldn’t give the names of his accomplices in exchange for a lighter sentence. He was sent to a federal hospital prison because he had diabetes and suffered from chronic pain which was the result of a stomach bypass back when the stapled your stomach. 

 

When he came out of prison he was older, calmer and sicker. He took a job as a janitor at the Museum of Science and Industry and bought a used funeral hearse and painted it bright yellow as his daily transport. He slowly started to lose his battle with his diabetes. In his early 50s,  his right leg was amputated because his circulation suffered.

I was now a lawyer and he my client because a Chicago transit authority bus improperly secured him on a return trip from the hospital. A sudden stop by the transport, threw him to the ground and ruptured his stitches where he had just had his leg amputated.

Before I could resolve his personal injury claim, he died. His brother told me he suffered badly in the end as further amputations were needed. He died in the hospital.

At the funeral I saw and sat with some of the old gang, most I had not seen in many years. We scoffed as we listened to a eulogy that was sterilized for public consumption.

Some day I will recollect more.  Nothing learned in those days ever went to waste. My skills as a social worker and lawyer were well-served by my time spent with Marshall Jackson aka Tiny. So many lived so fast and died too young.

Civil War in the United States

People who despise guns and wish to control access or ban them altogether have no idea what they are embarking on. The war over abortion and other divisive issues will be minor in contrast to the polarization of this country if you attempt to criminalize and further demonize gun owners. If you could succeed which I do not believe you can, you would lose. You would have a country that mirrors Chicago, where gun  specific courts overflow and the homicides rates are extremely high.

I marvel at how little I feel threatened in Dallas. There are areas to avoid but if I need to go there I take protection and I don’t need to get agitated that I am having to be there. I can enter communities which I could never safely enter in Chicago. There is very little graffiti here in contrast to Chicago. Poverty is always a threat to the stability of a community. Violence is always a companion of poverty it seems.

We allow people who have never had a felony convictions, who have not been convicted of a misdemeanor and who have no convictions for family violence, to carry a concealed gun here. They must pass a 10 hour class, take a shooting test and submit fingerprints to the state police. If they meet the requirements the state must issue the concealed carry license.

Blood does not run in the streets. Persons with CCWs do not randomly shoot people. They do not resolve disputes by pulling a gun on someone or shooting someone. They can defend themselves or third-persons from assaults when threatened with great bodily harm. Police officers who pull over a CCW holder, know instantly, more than they would ever know about someone who can only produce a driver’s license. A DL tells an officer that the bearer has a home address, and has passed a driver’s test. It does not speak to criminal history.

This path of criminalizing the possession of firearms will not succeed and what would be worse is if it did. If I could wave off those on this road, I surely would. If you think the people who own firearms are crazy now, wait till someone tries to disarm them.

Sadly, I am one of those who will resist if my government makes such an effort. Know who I am and where I live. It matters not. I wouldn’t be marched to an death camp given what I know about the Holocaust. I will not be disarmed even if it is mandatory and involuntary.And I am one of the nicer ones.

California governor signs bill giving juvenile prisoners a second chance

This is a story so near and dear to my heart for a few reasons. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/09/30/california-governor-signs-bill-giving-juvenile-prisoners-second-chance/?test=latestnews

 

I worked in the juvenile and criminal justice systems in Chicago, as a social worker and a lawyer. I represented kids who killed. I represented some who were killed also but that isn’t what this is about. When I got to know my clients through my representation, I discovered that almost all of them were just kids, in bad situations with bad influences and lack of impulse control without a genuine recognition of the depths of the consequences which accompany criminal acts.

The scientific evidence is undisputed, http://www.hhs.gov/opa/familylife/tech_assistance/etraining/adolescent_brain/Development/prefrontal_cortex/

“With an immature prefrontal cortex, even if teens understand that something is dangerous, they may still go ahead and engage in the risky behavior”

Bottom line, kids are not adults. It is folly to treat them “as if” they are. Juvenile killers are not culpable in the same way that the criminal justice system anticipates and identifies criminal behavior.  Known to some by the legal Latin term, “mens rea” and more commonly as culpability, criminal behavior required not only the act but the evil heart. When juvenile gang members started committing more homicides in the 70s, a group of sociologists in Chicago predicted the coming of juvenile super-criminals in the 1980s. A young, teen-age criminal was being birthed into society who would act violently without conscience or reservation. It turns out that super-criminal never materialized but the criminal statutes were already in place in anticipation.

It is against the law to impose the death penalty on someone who does not understand the nature of the punishment. Thus we do not execute the insane, the retarded and the kids. But we are locking them up and throwing away the key. People change as they age. A kid will jump out the second story bedroom window to see how it feels. A young man will jump out of an airplane to see how it feels. A man in his thirties will ride his Harley fast in violation of the law and safety. A man in his forties generally thinks that jumping out of second floor windows is crazy. A fifty year old man does not see the point of paying to risk his life jumping out of airplanes. Hell no, no way. With age comes judgement.