The American dream; white picket fences, gardens with blooming flowers, fresh cut green grass, friendly neighbors, a cozy home with a garage for the family automobile(s), children able to focus on sports, cheer leading and school gossip, streets remain clean of crime and drugs and other undesirables, yes this is the American dream, the suburbs of the United States or at least the suburbs that were originally planned nationwide back in the 1950s when suburbia was first envisioned by several teams of eager building companies looking to sell to the city dwelling middle class family a new dream life free of urban blight.
Suburbia went from rural small towns scattered around the metropolitan zones that most people had forgotten about to highly coveted and heavily protected bustling communities where people came together to choose who they wanted living in their town and how they wanted their precious community to operate.
Living in the city can have its drawbacks; loud noise, trash in the streets, high taxes, traffic, higher crime, unfriendly people, pollution, inadequate public services, lack of parking, pay for parking, expensive groceries and less housing space for more money. These annoying factors are often ignored when we are single and only have to fend for ourselves, and we still live with those woes when we meet our significant other and live together in a small one bedroom apartment inside a towering building or sectioned up 19th century home, but once the children come along that usually becomes the last straw for many families to move as they now want more living space for their growing families and although that city neighborhood might be ok for adults, the thoughts come across about how the children will be growing up on these streets, will they succumb to the cities’ negative ways and not grow up to be what mom and dad want them to be? These are factors that many families face once they start a new family and often flock to the suburbs for a new wide open life that provides a cleaner, safer and more wholesome atmosphere. More often than not you get more bang for your buck in the suburbs, as that rent payment you pay for your two bedroom apartment can actually be used to pay a mortgage payment on a three bedroom house with a yard and a garage out in the suburbs, what a deal! That bag of groceries that is marked up by $5 extra dollars’ worth of city tax will now be exchanged for a few cents to a dollar in local tax only. What a bargain; better schools, better space, better homes, better neighbors, better streets, better safety etc….. these are all the factors that potential suburbanites believe will change in their lives when they make the big decision to move out of the concrete jungle, of course these wonderful changes do not always come true especially over the past few decades but there was a time when all the suburbs were highly coveted and did offer the dream life that families wanted as elements of the city were kept away from these sparkling towns on the outskirts of the city.
Not always a pretty picture
Not all suburbs can offer the American dream or even come close; in fact, some suburbs have some really rough areas that are often almost or just as dangerous as the city. In the Chicago metropolitan suburbs such as; Joliet, Aurora, Chicago Heights, Calumet City, Cicero, Elgin, Evanston, Kankakee, Markham, Maywood, Waukegan and Zion have sections of those communities that are dangerous with violent crime that is often just as deadly as the streets of some of the toughest neighborhoods of Chicago. Some suburbs such as: Ford Heights, Harvey and Robbins are completely dangerous suburbs that have high crime in close to 100% of their streets. These three suburbs have completely collapsed long ago and have found it impossible to climb out of a hole. These blighted suburbs and ones that have dangerous areas all have a story, there is a reason why these suburbs molded into the way they became that stretches into the past.
The misconception is that wild and animalistic section 8 monsters moved into these suburbs and deliberately destroyed them and molded these communities into ghetto paradises, although that is partially true for a small percentage of those that migrated to these neighborhoods the vast majority of lower income city dwellers that came to these communities sought the American dream or at least a piece of it as well as the white middle class family that also showed up to start a new life in suburbia. The overlying cause of the depression of certain suburbs or certain sections of suburbs has a lot to do with socioeconomics, some of the same socioeconomic factors that destroyed a large portion of the south side and west side of Chicago, and of course the origin of it all traces back to old racism as the starting point then later redlining and disinvestment.
The suburbs take shape
The suburban dream took form back in the 19th century when settlement was first taking shape in the Chicago area. As the city grew, competition for land, the market and transportation became fiercer leading entrepreneurs to look outside of city limits to land that was barely sprinkled with scattered farm houses. In conjunction with railroad companies and several manufacturers opened large facilities in the rural outskirts near the city which gave them the momentum to reach a selling point with the immigrant looking for labor and a new home. The small towns offered employment, brand new houses and a small knit community where residents could escape the hardships of the city and perhaps avoid living in the slums, which was especially attractive for Italian, Jewish and Irish families that often had to resort to slum living in the city. In the small rural towns an immigrant family could afford a small house with a yard and have their children attend a decent school. The small rural towns were also appealing to some African American families that could not find employment and/or adequate housing in Chicago due to excessive housing and employment discrimination in the city, some suburbs allowed small settlements of African American families that were able to move into budget homes and shacks usually on the outskirts of town, even though this is a form of discrimination it was agreeable at the time for most white and black residents in these towns.
As the later 19th century and early 20th century rolled in, more manufacturers got the idea to build their factories near railroads and waterways in the small cities and towns in the rural outskirts of Chicago. These companies saw the success of manufacturers that already took the risk in the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s that dared to venture into these barren lands and move their manufacturing hubs to these quite plots of land, and low and behold there was great success and now more manufacturers wanted in on this. The small cities and towns warmly embraced the arrival of more factories because that meant more revenue for the small communities and a population boom that ended up consisting mainly of European immigrants and to a smaller extent Mexican immigrants. The spurt of more manufacturing facilities and more job opportunities brought about more business for private developers to lay out more subdivisions that filled up fast with many immigrant families and Chicagoans looking for a quitter life.
The 1950s urban white escape
By the 1950s very large and successful manufacturing companies landed in the Chicago suburbs which fueled a supercharged demand for more subdivisions to be constructed that could house thousands of residents. The buildup of suburban subdivisions became big business in the Chicago metropolitan area that was also big nationwide around large cities from coast to coast. The cities were becoming jam packed and housing shortages soon became a reality, not only that crime was rising in larger cities especially in Chicago where street gangs became vicious and increasingly violent. In the 1950s street gangs causing a shooting here and there and pulling out a switchblade once in a while was enough to terrify many families especially when black street gangs began swelling in numbers on the west side and south side, nothing was more frightful to middle class white families than a gang of black youths hanging out on the block.
Many urban white families began flocking to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s looking for better opportunities for themselves and their children, but another big cause that was more unsaid than others was that they simply did not want black or Latino neighbors.
Beginning in the 1940s Blacks, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans began migrating in heavier numbers than ever looking for better opportunities in Chicago and at first they were only allowed to settle in certain neighborhoods thanks to restrictive racial covenants, but in 1948 those covenants were deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme court and now people of any color could live in any neighborhood in Chicago; however, they were often subject to insults, spit, hurled stones and bottles and violent attacks.
For many white Chicagoans living in communities that were about to racially change, violence was not the answer instead the answer was to move out after listening to greedy real estate agents that come knocking door to door on the south side and west side spinning long tales of a black takeover of the neighborhood that would result in high crime and hooliganism while they paid desperate, impoverished black folk a small reward to put on an act on the targeted street for blockbusting. Such a crooked practice worked so well as terrified white families bought into the scam and sold their Chicago bungalows for rock bottom rates nearly draining their entire equities in order to flee to the new subdivisions that were recommended by the block busting real estate agent that collaborated with the builder company execs of suburban subdivisions as they shook hands and perhaps had a cigar celebrating taking people’s money as both capitalistic parties shared the benefit.
White flight was not something that just began in the 1950s, it was a phenomena that started in the 1890s when white people first began fleeing in droves out of the Bronzeville area of Chicago once a successful and hardworking black community was taking shape in that area. As I explained in my chapters about the Douglas and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods, the white flight caused an economic drain on those communities because it left the neighborhoods with less wealth, lower revenue and lower income wages of residents due to the fact that African Americans were provided lesser wages than their white counterparts even if they were harder workers or had seniority over fellow white workers.
After Bronzeville fell into a slum full of poverty and depression, other Chicago communities would devolve once thousands of black residents arrived simply because the same process kept repeating itself where wealthier whites would move away to avoid black neighbors then businesses, banks and other revenue sources would fail and the neighborhoods would devolve into urban ghettos. Racism toward the black race in the United States was long ground into this country since hundreds of years ago as slaves were treated as lesser men, then when “freed,” they were stripped of opportunity for an equally successful life for many years to come and forced to live in slum shacks in the southern states, this is what led to lower wages and unequal housing opportunities in urban areas because black was to be treated cheaply and, in turn, offered lower wages and lessor education opportunities. The lower wages and lack of education then led to disinvestment in black communities which then turned into high rates of poverty, which then led to criminal activity and gangs by the 1950s. After all this molding of a race of people to be more inclined toward being less educated, less paid and engaging in criminal activity by the 1950s, many white residents did not want to live among black neighbors; however, there were still many white families that could have lived with it and those neighborhoods would have indeed prospered in racial harmony if it was not for greedy blockbusting tactics that pushed those white families toward the exit and caused neighborhoods to become unequal racially and fall into a ghetto. As you can see there was a massive domino effect over time, one thing led to another throughout history that created black ghettos in Chicago and all across the United States.
In the 1950s and 1960s, scores of white families packed up heading for the Promised Land in white suburbia. This was a place where schools were good for children, streets were clean, grass was green, homes were brand new and large, the neighborhood was quite, and neighbors were closer knit. Suburbia was a perfect paradise to these families where the only fear to deal with was boredom. It felt great for families to leave their doors unlocked at night, walk the neighborhood at 3 A.M. without being mugged. Dad had a garage where he could drink beer with his neighbors and work on his hot rod all day after mowing the lawn. Mom could keep house and cook excellent family meals while she sewed a new garment while being entertained by the Television or radio. Little Sally could play with her dolls with the girls in the neighborhood and play house. Little Johnny could play cowboys and Indians or throw around a baseball with the neighborhood kids. Life was excellent for these suburbanites and it soon become known around the world how nice the suburbs of America are for the 1950s and 1960s families.
Not just a white dream
It soon became the American dream not just for white families but also for Latino and black families that wanted a piece of this better life for their children. These families would be grateful to live such a life with their own home, yard and better schools. These were hard working families from impoverished areas of Chicago or from the southern United States that now had mustered up enough money to make their way to suburbia as they were hoping to join the many happy white families in picket fence and green grass neighborhoods; however, for most Chicago suburbs this was looked at as a life for whites and only for whites. Racial strife soon showed its ugly head once black and Latino families began settling in larger numbers in Bellwood, Chicago Heights, Evanston, Harvey, Maywood and Zion. These communities had always had a black population since the earlier 20th century; however, now many more black families were headed for these suburbs to make a better life for themselves much to the disapproval of several white residents that were ok with the select few black families that had always lived in the suburbs but now there were black families from the ghettos of Chicago or the slums of the south. There were fears that the southern families would turn the community into a black southern slum like what happened to the suburb of Robbins, or they feared the hardships and criminal element from the toughest black communities in Chicago would spread to this precious suburbia. The fears were truly unfounded because these black families had no intentions of changing the communities instead they wanted to assimilate into the suburban lifestyle and looked to escape their old lifestyle but this was not acceptable to many white families in these communities and soon the same behaviors that were seen in the city prevailed in the suburbs like rock throwing, spitting, beating and firing off racial slurs. The mostly white suburbs would then spin into an uproar once public housing arrived in the suburbs for the first time.
The beginning of suburban public housing
In the 1950s public housing projects were rapidly being built in the form of high rise towers and low rise row houses in Chicago in some of the hardest and most run down neighborhoods. There was a demand for these project buildings because a housing crisis was very real in Chicago for southern blacks that were arriving in large numbers in the 1950s, but soon the city was not enough and public housing was needed in the suburbs especially in the suburbs of Joliet and Robbins. Joliet was a booming industrial city where many southern blacks were flocking to after World War II looking for the best opportunities, and the industries had a great demand for unskilled labor, and the many positions could not all be filled quick enough, the city of Joliet then brought about one of the suburbs’ first public housing projects the Poole Gardens projects that was built in 1954.
The suburb of Robbins was a hard up community since it first took form in the 1890s as it became home to impoverished southern blacks that moved to the community to take part in the many industries in the south suburbs. Robbins became one of the first black governed suburbs in the United States, but from the start the community never had much financing to develop and maintain the village, making it become one of the poorest suburbs in the United States. In the early days of the village’s development, southern blacks that migrated to the community wanted to create a home that reflected the southern life they left behind, living with simple things in life and often lacking electricity and running water while they raised their own livestock and produce on their land. By the early 1950s Robbins was looked at as a community was several sub substandard slum houses that were not fit for living, this brought about the decision to tear many of those houses down and replace them with public housing projects that unfortunately, the village could not really afford to build. The Richard Flowers projects were built in 1954 regardless of any objection by the village as these provided a much better living than the slum houses they replaced.
Between the years 1959 to 1973 several more suburban projects were constructed in Joliet, Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, North Chicago, Waukegan, Zion and Aurora. The projects in the suburbs were all constructed as two story row houses that mainly aimed to house impoverished black families that were employed within the many manufacturing plants in these suburbs. The projects in the suburbs of Zion and Joliet were perhaps the only projects that housed impoverished white and Latino families as the rest of the Chicago area projects were for lower income black families.
The projects of North Chicago that became known as the Marion Jones projects were actually a positive thing for the community, just like Robbins, North Chicago had slum houses with no heat, electricity or running water that were occupied by southern blacks. In the early 1960s these slums were cleared out and replaced by the Marion Jones public housing projects. Besides the North Chicago and Robbins projects all other suburban projects were built on vacant land and in some communities like Aurora, Chicago Heights and Joliet the projects were built away from where most of the white residents lived.
In Aurora the Jericho Circle projects that were built in the early 1970s came under scrutiny for being built on isolated farmland away from any subdivisions as it gave a feel that residents of the project were outcasts of society. Emergency services and public transportation would take much longer to reach Jericho Circle due to the distance from the rest of Aurora but many Aurora residents did not want those projects near them anyway.
The projects were heavily contested in Aurora due to the increase in tax dollars to the community and most of all the almost white community of Aurora did not want these projects coming to their village that would generally house low income black families from Chicago. Ford Heights had a similar dilemma in the early 1960s but not because of racial issues because this community was an almost all black community by the early 1960s, the issue was the fact that these public housing units were going to cost the village and the tax payers dearly and this impoverished village could not afford such a cost, regardless, the projects were built anyway.
Blacks fight back and the first suburban gangs
It was now April 1968, much of the south side and west side black neighborhoods had been nearly burned to the ground in Chicago after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The death of Dr. King caused deep sadness across the black community that soon turned into violent anger as rioting across the city caused businesses to be looted and destroyed and buildings and other property was destroyed. The riots became intense on the west side of Chicago especially in the North Lawndale neighborhood where fears spread through the all-white suburb of Cicero that soon the angry mob was going to come in and tear apart Cicero especially since Cicero was the site of the 1951 riot that occurred when a black family attempted to move into the suburb and was chased out by an angry mob, or the 1966 beating death of a 17 year old black teenager as he was simply roaming the streets of the suburb seeking employment that caused a major march on the suburb around Labor Day weekend of that year. There were fears of retaliation after the 1966 march and white youths began cliquing up together in these streets and by the time the riots were happening the white youths of Cicero were at the ready running with gangs that were created right there in Cicero and they were ready to fight Vice Lords that bordered the Grant Works section and they were at the ready on the southern part of the border to fight growing Mexican gangs from Little Village like Latin Kings and Two Six.
South of the city near the far south side of Chicago racial unrest was growing in the south suburbs of Chicago Heights and Harvey along with increased black poverty by 1968. The south suburbs of Robbins and East Chicago Heights (Ford Heights) were so deep into poverty that black families were barely able to keep their heads above water.
The frustration of heavy poverty accompanied by unfair racial treatment in Harvey and Chicago Heights brought the need for the militant style street gang the Black P Stones or more specifically the Black Stone Rangers. The Rangers spread all over the suburbs of Harvey, Ford Heights, Chicago Heights, Dixmoor, Markham, Phoenix and Robbins because they saw opportunity in recruiting angry black youths. In just a short time later, the Black Gangster Disciples landed in these same south suburbs and also the Vice Lords did some recruitment in these suburbs as well.
Black P Stones were very possessive and competitive over these south suburbs and not only battled Black Gangster Disciples over this turf but they also viciously battled Vice Lords and even killed Vice Lords if needed. Black P Stones turned the gun on each other in these coveted suburbs as factions of the gang disputed one another for who was going to control each town; this resulted in serious violence among Black P Stone factions. In suburbs like Harvey, Chicago Heights and Markham members of black street gangs often targeted white youths, many of times white youths that wanted nothing to do with the racial violence but they were attacked and harassed anyway because they were of the white race. I stated earlier how terrible black residents were treated in the suburbs they were moving into, but the issue was no way completely one sided, there were several incidents of black gang members and groups of black youths that would gang up on white youths and taunt and attack them for no reason. The suburb of Harvey was well known for groups of whites attacking innocent black youths and also groups of blacks attacking innocent white youths, there was a vicious race war in the south suburbs and this provided opportunity for Chicago based black street gangs to infiltrate these suburbs.
Law enforcement in the south suburbs was new to Chicago based street gangs and now had to learn to fight against these gangs; however, suburbs like Ford Heights and Robbins just did not have the adequate police force to fight the gangs due to severe budgeting reasons, the gangs severely outnumbered and outgunned these police departments.
In Chicago Heights, residents on the north side and west side of town were ok with the gangs of the east side and south side as long as they stayed over there, and there was even an unwritten rule that blacks were expected to stay on the east and south sides too. As long as the west siders and north siders’ suburban paradise was left alone they stayed out of the gang issues in and near the public housing projects.
Chicago based gangs arrive in western and northern Cook County
Chicago and all the metropolitan area greatly prospered from the manufacturing and steel era that brought several unskilled factory labor positions all across this great city and suburbs. The suburbs experienced their fair share of many industries that could be found in Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, Chicago Heights, Harvey, Kankakee, Maywood, North Chicago and Waukegan as working class families were able to own homes or at least rent property while putting food on the table and leading a law abiding existence. All the bustle in the manufacturing districts across suburbia came to a screeching halt in the late 1970s as one factory after another shut their doors permanently leaving thousands of unskilled laborers out of work. Thousands of south siders and west siders of Chicago were singing the same blues as their jobs were taken from them as well. The unemployment lines filled up fast, many impoverished families sought any Salvation Army or church handouts just to make it through the next few days. Soon after the mass layoffs, many families moved out of the Chicago area desperately seeking employment elsewhere as houses and buildings went vacant as economic devastation swept through whole suburbs or parts of some suburbs. Older homes within sections of town that formerly housed factory workers now sunk in value and in the midst of a real estate collapse of the early 1980s the homes were rented or purchased by low income or no income families from Chicago seeking to run away from a life near crime and gangs while trying to get their teenage children to forget all about their gang ties that were established on the wild streets of Chicago. The collapse of the economy was terrible for many long time suburbanites but was a new opportunity for lower income city-dwellers that wanted a better life for their families.
In Maywood American Can closed their doors in 1975 and throughout the rest of the decade several more manufacturers closed their doors in the community. The collapse of the industries of Maywood devastated the community and neighboring Bellwood and parts of Melrose Park.
As the industries of Maywood continued to shut down, more and more long time Maywood residents packed their bags and left, and they left behind property that instantly depreciated in value, which of course is great news for low income, Chicago residents. As the former Chicago residents moved into the western suburbs of Maywood, Bellwood and Melrose Park some of the children of these families had very strong gang ties as this was accompanied by several hard core gang members also taking up residence in these suburbs in the late 1970s. Maywood and Melrose Park soon had hard core elements of the Latin Kings while Maywood also became heavily infiltrated by Black P Stones, Black Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords. By the early 1980s Maywood became a very violent suburb with several robberies, shootings and even murders as gangs hit the ground running in this community and for the most part in Bellwood as well. Because of the sudden heavy gang activity and high crime developing in these suburbs that little phenomenon well practiced in the Chicago area known as White Flight soon took its hold on Maywood and Bellwood as whites were moving out in droves and blacks were moving into the communities in heavy volumes. The two suburbs were soon redlined and suffered disinvestment as poverty grew which, in turn, caused higher gang activity and crime. Law enforcement in these communities was soon overwhelmed with this sudden spike in crime.
The northern Cook County suburb of Evanston soon fell victim to the same hard times sweeping all across Chicago land as much of the manufacturing strip on the west side of the village began to close down leaving the largely African American west side out of work and devastated. Eastern European families were a little more able to pack up and move out of the west side while black families were less able to leave the area. As the European families packed up and left, their old houses were occupied by Chicago inner city families looking for a better life in this community that was heavily recommended, but soon old gang ties and the colonization of hardened Chicago gang members brought the Black P Stones, Black Gangster Disciples and various Vice Lord gangs to Evanston’s west side in 1980, that soon brought the heroin trade to this community and severe gang violence that escalated fast.
Chicago based gangs arrive in Lake County
The Lake County suburbs of Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion have always had long standing issues with poverty and run down areas that dated back to right before and right after World War II. Slum clearance in these suburbs brought about the need for public housing projects for severely impoverished African American families in the early 1960s that effectively brought about the clearance of several dilapidated slum houses in these suburbs. After the slum clearance, everything was on the right track for these communities to have fully functioning communities for lower income residents; this would all collapse in the late 1970s. Waukegan lost several manufacturing companies in the late 1970s that devastated Waukegan and Zion, Zion especially relied on employment in Waukegan due to the fact that Zion had no major employers of their own. Both Waukegan and North Chicago were devastated by the collapse of many North Chicago manufacturing companies such as: Ocean Spray, Johnson Motor, American Motor, Washburn Moen Manufacturing and the Goodyear plant. Similar trends happened in these three Lake County suburbs that happened in Cook County suburbs, as manufacturers closed their doors, former workers moved out if they could which freed up their homes that had decreased in value due to the crumbling economy, this attracted lower income Chicagoans that could leave all of Cook County area behind them, many took up residence in the various housing projects these three suburbs offered. Just like in Cook County white flight soon took shape on the south side of Waukegan, the east side of Zion and the north side and south east sides of North Chicago as mostly low income black Chicago families moved into those areas attracted to the low rent opportunities. Hardened and high ranking members of Chicago street gangs also took up residence in these three suburbs and began spreading the word of their gang and taking in recruits especially in the housing projects.
The gang activity of Lake County all started in Waukegan when Waukegan based street gangs formed in and around the Whispering Oaks projects, then soon after Chicago based street gangs infiltrated this area and converted these homemade gangs into members of gangs like the Vice Lords and Black Gangster Disciples by 1980. Chicago based street gang activity spread into North Chicago and Zion by 1980 very easily as Chicago based street gangs found these suburbs to be ripe areas to begin a drug empire.
Chicago based gangs arrive in Will County
Will County is a heavily rural County just south of Cook and Du Page Counties that consisted of mostly small farming towns in the early years mostly nestled in the southern and central parts of the county. The buildup of Will County was mainly in northern Will County in suburbs like Joliet, Lockport, Romeoville, Bolingbrook, Plainfield, Crest Hill, Shorewood, New Lenox, Mokena and Frankfort while the southern part of the county was mostly smaller towns with a larger farming industry. Will County was always appealing because it provided a rural type of escape from the immediate hustle and bustle of the tri County area which brought about a rural feeling suburban paradise that was only a stone throw away from the bustling Cook County and Du Page County area where many jobs were located for Will County commuters.
The Will County region was heavily prosperous thanks to the roar of manufacturing in the City of Joliet that provided thousands of jobs for Joliet residents and neighboring communities. The prosperity of Joliet came to a major slowdown when many of those jobs disappeared for unskilled laborers as many Joliet residents were left as unemployable. The suburbs that seemed to be affected the most were Joliet, Fairmont and Bolingbrook as these communities had the highest amount of low income residents, many of which were African American. When the factories first closed in the late 1970s, White Flight took its course in these three suburban areas as more of the white residents had the means to move away and find work elsewhere while many black residents did not have that ability due to making lower incomes at the same manufacturers. Just like many other Cook County and Lake County suburbs the east side of Joliet, the south side of Fairmont and scattered parts of Bolingbrook became attractive to lower income Latino and Black Chicagoans looking to escape the violence and crime of the south side and west side of Chicago, but many of their children were not looking to escape the life and instead wanted to be big shots in the Will County area.
The suburb of Bolingbrook became the first Will County suburb to experience Chicago based street gang activity in 1981 as gangs were able to colonize Bolingbrook’s cheap apartments and cheap town houses, soon Bolingbrook experienced an increase in crime as Bolingbrook police pointed to the gangs as much of the cause. Bolingbrook was not a severely economically depressed community where everyday living was extremely rough that is why it is a mystery that gang activity appeared in Bolingbrook before Fairmont and Joliet.
Not too long after Chicago based street gangs infiltrated Bolingbrook, they soon appeared in Joliet and Fairmont in 1982 as Black Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords arrived to recruit black youths while Latin Kings and Two Sixs arrived to recruit Mexican youths, and soon graffiti and petty crime appeared in the community, while Bolingbrook was still at a petty gang activity level by 1983, Joliet and Fairmont far surpassed that as these suburbs were experiencing violent gang activity with shootings and murders.
Joliet gang violence escalated rapidly right after the first formations as the east side of the city was ripe for gang activity. Several hardened gang members moved into the community to be closer to incarcerated family members and friends that were locked up within the Joliet area’s various prisons. The Joliet suburb was then discovered to have many cheaper properties due to lower Will County taxes, being far away from Cook County industries and older aged properties that were left aside during panicked White Flight.
Joliet had three public housing developments that were full of two parent income headed families that were employed by Joliet manufacturers, once those manufacturers collapsed in the late 1970s, many of those families left those projects and were replaced by low income or no income female headed households with young children. Just like in the meanest public housing projects of Chicago, gang members and drug dealers were easily able to muscle in on these public housing developments as these single parents were too frightened to stand up to the gang element on their own and many of their own children became swept up into the gang lifestyle. These projects became neglected by the city as they were left to deteriorate and be riddled with drugs and crime.
Chicago based gangs arrive in Kane County
Kane County is a county that has many rural parts to it. The county has a rural appeal to it and is a good distance away from the craziness of the tri county area which was a major appeal for many middle classes that looked to move to the cities of Elgin and Aurora to escape from it all while still technically being a part of the Chicago metropolitan area. Both Aurora and Elgin developed communities that were a mixture of working classes and middle classes in these cities, and for both communities they had their own industries that much of the working class relied on for stable income. Elgin was heavily supported by Elgin National Watch Company while the working class community in Aurora was heavily supported by the Burlington Roundhouse.
Elgin took their first blow in 1966 when Elgin National Watch closed their doors permanently which caused the central part of town to suffer the most devastation, soon tax dollars were not sufficient enough to modify or renovate this part of town and soon became a little more run down by the 1970s. Criminals became attracted to Elgin in the 1970s as there were incidents of robberies and other crimes in the area that mainly occurred near down town and the central part of town.
Aurora lost the Burlington Roundhouse in 1974 that employed many working class residents in the east side so this closing was devastating to this part of Aurora. Crime and local gangs would cause trouble on the east side and near downtown as early as the early 1960s but none of these factors were ever a major threat but now with the collapse of industry in the community for east siders, property values soon went down and that thing called White Flight happened again as higher income white residents packed up and left the older east side while lower income Mexican and Puerto Rican families made their way into the east side looking to escape the harsh realities of the Chicago streets.
Chicago based street gangs had hung out in Elgin and Aurora in the 1970s and many times committed various crimes in the area, but it was not until about 1981 that Chicago based gangs started recruiting in these suburbs, and by the mid-1980s the gangs became violent as shootings and murder soon ensued. While some parts of these suburbs were very affluent and of a higher income class, other parts became dangerous and violent, drugs, crime and gangs ran rampant in these streets, soon these parts of these communities became just as dangerous as certain Chicago neighborhoods.
Both police departments were not prepared for such an invasion especially Aurora that tended to down play the gang activity in the community and call it the work of “wannabes” until someone was shot and killed in 1984 in the communities’ first gang related murder. Elgin was trying to work with the youths by providing recreation and counseling as early as 1982 to prevent them from joining gangs, the programs had some mild success in the early and mid-1980s as gangs in Elgin did not develop as rapidly as Aurora in the earliest days.
Carpentersville also experienced very heavy gang activity in the earlier half of the 1990s, as gangs invaded the lower income section of the community.
Chicago based gangs arrive in Du Page County
Ah yes, the fabulous Du Page County with its high taxes, low crime, upper middle classes and exquisite suburbs like Oak Brook, Hinsdale, Elmhurst, Naperville and Burr Ridge. Du Page County is the epitome of the American Dream with rows of picket white fences, almost blindingly green grass, rows of McMansions, fine restaurants, lovely downtowns and the finest schools. For many, as long as they have the money, Du Page County is often the preferred county to live in when selecting a home in the Chicago metro area and this has been the case for many decades.
When the latest wave of White Flight happened in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s, many Chicagoans landed in Du Page County because it was everything the opposite of what Chicago is. Chicago is full of crime, drugs and gangs; these were all things frantic middle class families wanted to move their children away from. If the middle-class Chicago family had saved enough money and somehow was able to squeeze some equity out of those Chicago homes and was willing to make high mortgage and property tax payments, the promised land was now within their cross hairs as they would soon move to a community in the affluent county that had all the classic suburbanite touch and the final lure to these suburbs was, for many, the fact that most of Du Page County was white. Many families flocking away from racially changing neighborhoods in the 1970s and 1980s wanted to live in communities that were of the same skin color as them. Many suburbs in Cook County were racially changing and this struck fear in the hearts of middle class white families so Du Page County was the way to go, to be close to the city but far away enough to not deal with the cities’ woes, and for many families, to also not live among several people of color. This of course would not completely end up being the case because Mexican migration came to Du Page County by the early 1980s into parts of Villa Park, West Chicago, parts of Bensenville, parts of Addison and parts of Woodridge.
Woodridge became the first Du Page County suburb to experience the infiltration of Chicago based street gangs as the Black P Stones and/or Vice Lords and Black Gangster Disciples began recruiting in the suburb in about 1981. Many families from Chicago had migrated into the apartment complexes Timber Creek, Waterbury and Emerald Gardens in the village. Many of these families were black and Latino and were escaping from the hard neighborhoods of Chicago themselves but most middle class people already in the suburbs were thinking those families were there to cause trouble and to transform the community into a ghetto. What could not be helped was the fact that some of the children still held onto gang ties from the city and some higher up hard core adult gang members had also migrated into the suburb.
Shortly after Woodridge was infiltrated by Chicago based street gangs, the affluent suburb of Bensenville was infiltrated by the Imperial Gangsters street gang in the fall of 1982 then by Latin Kings and Harrison Gents in early 1983. Suddenly residents were terrified at the sight of gang graffiti, broken windows, gang fights and threats made against them for calling the police. Bensenville is a suburb located right next to O’Hare airport at the very edge of Du Page County it became a real shocker when Chicago based street gangs suddenly took the suburb by surprise in the early 1980s.
Gang members from Chicago’s violent streets were starting to find nice cheap homes in scattered Du Page County homes, especially in Lombard, West Chicago, Bensenville and Glendale Heights which is where the 1986 Gang Crime Task Force report, reported these four suburbs to have the highest amount of Chicago gang members living in them by January of 1986 (Chicago Tribune Patricia M. Szymczak, October 22, 1989). The Chicago gang members living in Bensenville and West Chicago launched a major recruitment drive very early in the 1980s while the suburbs of Lombard and Glendale Heights did not get as much of anything going until the 1990s.
No! Not in my town!
For several decades, many of us dream of having a stable and fruitful income, owning our own reliable vehicle, having those picket fences with the green lawns and lush gardens. For many of us that dream also includes being married and having children while living in a safe community. Is this a white thing? Or is this a shared desire by all races of people and all income levels? The answer is that this dream is shared by all races of people and all income levels of us across the nation, and surprisingly even to some gangsters that make a living selling drugs, yes even for some of them this is their dream. Ironically, higher ranked adult gang members would move to the suburbs in order to provide a better life for their children. Many of them had accumulated high profits from drug dealing and may have landed a legit job for cover. In their neighborhood they became targets by the police that were looking to take them down in major drug stings but out in the suburbs it was quite and less patrolled. Rival gang members had marked their house for shootings and even though the gang member was not afraid of his enemies he was worried what would happen to his wife and children so moving to the suburbs and snagging a piece of that American Dream was the best option.
Many of times young gang members that moved from the city to the suburbs had started up factions of the gang they claimed in the suburbs but because they lacked high up status and street cred their whole branch would be deemed invalid and not supported by the Chicago chapters. In the 1980s and even early in the 1990s this was a major issue in the suburbs as city kids that did not have any rank and were not well known in the gang were using their valid membership to make suburban kids supposed valid members, soon they went on a rampage spraying gang graffiti everywhere, beating up other kids, breaking into cars and houses and committing other various petty crimes while claiming to be a part of this organization, when in actuality, only the young leader was a valid member. When this gang issue reached local police departments they wrote all this gang activity off as the act of “wanna bes.” Police were determining that these youths had no connections to the Chicago chapters of the street gangs, and this was true in certain suburbs but in others it was not.
You would think that these unchartered chapters would get wiped out by legitimate Chicago chapters; however, the opposite happened. Higher ranking gang leaders and other members of the gangs with merit that had settled discreetly in the suburbs connected with youths in the suburbs that were claiming to be a part of the same organization, the higher up would inform the young suburbanites that their initiation was not valid, but would invite them to be officially taken into the gang with whatever ritual or favor was deemed necessary to make them all official members, after achieving official validity and now that there was a sanctioned and recognized branch in the suburb, all the past activities when the suburban gang members were wanna bes was now basically all considered valid accept when it came down to court proceedings, but the street cred part was intact. This is the formula of how confusing wanna be gang activity that was reported in various suburbs materialized into actual hardened gang activity, and petty crimes evolved into drug dealing and shooting all without warning. The suburban police missed the mark as they were unaware that the wanna be thing would have any chance of legitimizing.
Throughout all of my chapters on this site about the different suburbs you will see a reoccurring theme where industry generates money for the community and population growth also powered the economy when these towns and small cities were first being set up. Community safety and low crime rates are actually an economic commodity for every suburban community. The less crime and the more police equal more middle classes and working classes residents that become valuable tax payers, making more taxes that are paid, the better the police force, the better the schools, the better the public services. Everyone wants a paycheck, and everyone wants the biggest paycheck possible and this includes public servants that are all paid salaries from tax dollars, this includes firemen, policemen, village clerks, water department, mayor etc….Because village employees get their paychecks based upon the success of their community, it is in everyone’s best interest that tax revenues keep flowing in nicely. The more taxes collected the higher up those salaries are paid into. Law abiding tax payers will not live in a community that is unsafe and full of gang activity and violence, they also do not want to be victims of chronic property crimes; therefore, if they hear about a community that has a bad reputation they certainly will not move there. The problem with this happening is that housing depreciates in value in order to get ANY kind of tax payer possible to live in these dwellings even if that is someone that generates extremely low income, the property taxes then suffer that would normally pay the salaries of public servants and also pay for public services and suburban renewal projects. Soon the community becomes shabby looking and unattractive which decreases shopping and those looking for leisure in the village. Without this interest in the community businesses close down and even less taxes are brought into the village that are charged from business owner property taxes and also sales taxes. The village is not able to generate revenue from abandoned buildings and houses, in fact, those abandoned structures became a liability due to criminal activity breeding inside of those dwellings which costs tax revenue to enforce the laws broken within these abandoned structures, not only that abandoned structures become fire hazards and can attract vermin that may spill into other homes and businesses nearby, the village must pay the tab to remedy these situations. Abandoned structures also make a community look scary and uninviting making travelers not feel safe passing through that community due to the common knowledge that abandoned structures means this is a bad neighborhood.
Some suburbs in the Chicago area fell victim to low tax revenue which caused a complete breakdown in law and order in those communities, the villages of Robbins and Ford Heights are the best examples where these villages function at a small rural town capacity but experience big city crime, in fact, dangerously high big city crime, due mainly to having inadequate and often corrupt police forces. Many of the police became corrupt because of their laughably low salaries where the Chief himself would even be living close to the poverty line. When a village cannot pay their police to even eat and cannot pay officers to even work full time, you will end up with an inadequate police force and also cops that dip into the criminal lifestyle as well just to pay bills.
Some other communities simply did not have to worry about gangs and crime in the 1970s and further back, when these villages felt that their communities were naturally safe there was no need to spend large amounts of tax dollars on a highly staffed police department. When Chicago based street gangs began recruiting in their suburb these police departments were suddenly overwhelmed and did not have the means and resources to deal with this type of organized crime, this allowed gangs to gain a foothold in these communities for a number of years before the department could get on track.
Lacking of resources to fight gangs was very real in the suburbs and small cities of Chicago land when the major invasion started in the 1980s. It was widely expected that gangs were a city problem and were to never make their way to the suburban paradise accept maybe in some select south suburban communities. The suburban life was supposed to be slow and dull where the only worries were basic life worries and not survival and safety issues like in Chicago. Suburban people were not expected to be street smart and know about gang signs, know about gang colors and what areas of the community to stay away from, now this was suddenly bestowed upon the middle class and working class members of Chicagoland’s suburbia and the police force that was sworn to uphold the laws to protect these tax payers, which goes all the way back to the Mayor’s desk who then has to decide what to do about the problem.
The Mayor’s job is to protect the integrity and reputation of the community in order for the village or city to continue to be profitable or else the whole system will collapse, after all no community wants to end up like Robbins or Ford Heights. The Mayor will be up the Chief of Police’s ass continuously harping on him about how the gang and crime issue will be dealt with given the budget limits.
These are not the homemade gang bangers that hung out in the tunnels near the local forest preserve or railroad tracks that drank stolen beer while getting stoned off a rolled joint while they brandished switchblades and made empty threats against locals about how they would inflict bodily harm, no these are sophisticated syndicates of killers and drug dealers that infiltrated these sleepy quite towns turning youths into teenage nightmares while getting them hooked into the drug trafficking network of the gang in the very low street level part of the operation. While the homemade local gangs had knives in their pockets, the Chicago based street gang was armed with .38 Revolvers, .357 Magnums, nine millimeter Berettas, Glock 9s, .22 pistols, .22 rifles, AR – 15s, AK – 47s, Mac 10s, Mac 11s, UZIs and Tech Nines, sawn off shotguns along with a barrage of explosives, stabbing and bludgeoning tools in endless supply. Once the suburban branches were sanctioned by the city chapters, a call to arms could be made as the Chicago to suburb connection brought the tools of destruction that outgunned local law enforcement.
The question becomes, what drove the gangs to settle in suburbia besides laying low from law enforcement or providing a better life for their own children? The big answer by the 1980s was drugs, the supply and demand for drugs. It is not just city people that smoke rocks, snort blows, or shoot Heroin, this is also a practice loved in the suburbs and has been for a long time especially once Heroin and Cocaine became popular in the 1970s and Crack Cocaine swept the nation in 1986. The difference is, drug addicts are usually sheltered more in the suburbs than in the city. In the city you will see scores of zombified drug addicts roaming the streets, sleeping in the gutter, wacked out of their gourd on public transit muttering to themselves or getting high in the public housing high rises while they urinated and defecated on the walls. Addicts look like a nightmare with bulging eyes, crusted lips, bulging veins, mouth foam, greasy hair and rotting limbs in the city as they sleep in the streets. In suburbia that addict looks a little messed up but mostly like a normal person as they are clothed, fed and usually live with friends or family as they mooch off others, especially their own mothers that do not have the heart to get tough on their 30 or 40 year old drug addicted son or daughter even if he or she steals from them constantly. The addict in the suburb is sheltered and hidden, but they have the means to go to drug dealers to the get their dope plus they tend to have more money thanks to the kind-hearted parent that does not have the heart to tell their baby boy or baby girl, no, even though they are 35 and not so innocent anymore. Addicts in the city have no place to go and have to steal to get money or perform countless sexual favors to get high. Dealers have to find addicts or stand on corners in the freezing cold becoming targets of rival gangs and police as they sell a rock to a frothing addict that will give them a crinkled up bank note that they stole for or gave a sexual favor to some pervert. In the burbs it is different, the addict will come to the dealer at a meeting space and a comfortable exchange will happen without other killers surveying and waiting to muscle in. Sometimes the suburbs would provide easier money and lots more of it.
It is not just drug addicts that do hard drugs, it is also people that just want to party once and awhile or maybe every weekend, this is especially prevalent with the use of powder Cocaine that is generally less addictive then other hard drugs. In affluent white upper middle class communities, partying youths wanted the best drugs to do behind closed doors. That cheerleader, the star quarterback on the varsity team, that kid that has a father that does all the lawyer firm commercials and they live in a huge Hinsdale house, these kids could become customers on a Saturday night as they go to their friends parents’ $2 million house in Burr Ridge while the parents are in Bermuda for two weeks. The kids need Cocaine so who are they going to call? A friend from Joliet perhaps that knows a guy that is a member of the Latin Kings and can provide the coke. This is a much more convenient transfer than a Chicago to suburb connection; a suburb to suburb transfer is less painful and much easier. Gang members often moved to the suburbs for this very reason, to serve those upper middle class teens that were craving the drugs and had big money to buy it. There were also doctors, lawyers and even suburban housewives looking to buy large amounts of Cocaine and Crack that you would not even think do these drugs, drug slinging gang members wanted to be there to serve them. Many suburbanite teenage and young adult children of higher class society had deep pockets to finance piles of drugs for their wild parties; the demand was there in the suburbs and there still is a demand.
Drugs in the suburbs is a business for higher ranking gang members bottom line, while it means lack of business and revenue for the suburban communities and this can frustrate the public servants that rely on the function of businesses and the residency of tax payers to generate revenue. Gangs and village governments then did not have a good relationship and the only way the village could remove gangs was to spend thousands of dollars on resources to remove them. The best solution in the 1980s and 1990s was to assure the public not to panic, that everything is ok. Citizens were complaining about gang activity and graffiti to the point where it grabbed the attention of the newspapers, now the Chicago Tribune was wondering about Chicago street gang activity in the coveted suburbs where people go to escape urban blight. Police Chiefs, Sergeants and Mayors were quick to downplay the gang problems.
In a 1988 Tribune article village building administrator in Addison John Black said all the graffiti in town was the work of one person only (Chicago Tribune, Timothy Bryers, June 22, 1988).
In suburban Markham police Chief Robert Wilson stated that it was “just teenagers acting out,” in a January 1984 Chicago Tribune article, even though Markham has had heavy gang activity since 1968 (Chicago Tribune page 6, January 10, 1984). In the same article, Aurora police told the Tribune that Latin Kings and Insane Deuces were just wanna be kids and they were confused and calling themselves a gang called the Latin Crusaders the next day (Chicago Tribune page 6, January 10, 1984), but later that year Aurora experienced their first gang related homicide.
In a 1989 Tribune article Villa Park Police stated, “there is no significant gang activity in Villa Park” yet this was reported in lieu of the need of a County police helicopter to break up a gang fight with over 20 gang members (Chicago Tribune Neil H. Mehler, October 17, 1989).
In suburban Bolingbrook a shooting happened that injured three teenagers that was said to have started from a big fight at Romeoville High School in April of 1991, according to Romeoville Police Sergeant Paul Fawser he doubted the fight was gang related yet at least one of those shot was a Black P Stone, (Chicago Tribune April 27, 1991), yet both suburbs were forced to recognize their gang problems a short time later after several drive by shootings were happening in Romeoville and Bolingbrook.
The job of the local police department and county Sheriffs is to make sure communities in the county and municipalities do not become overrun by crime to the point where people do not want to live there or even worse refuse to even drive through a community. When the press comes asking about gang problems and high crime in communities, the police and the Mayor do not want to look like they are not doing their job. If the Chief is not using his resources to the max to stop crime he will attract negative attention which could lead to his dismissal. If the crime is out of control and reaching too much attention people will also complain that the Mayor is not doing his or her job which can lead to the electing of a different Mayor in the next election. The question then comes to surface on what are the Mayor and the Chief supposed to do when crime jumps high and gangs begin taking over the suburb? Law enforcement and the Mayor figuring out how to take down crime and gangs will take a long time, possibly years, these things can manifest quickly but take much longer to dismantle, but the public will not have patience to wait for law enforcement to figure it out, they want solutions immediately even if that is physically impossible, so the best course of action for the Mayor and the Chief is to act like true politicians by downplaying the truth, stretching the truth, covering up the truth or all out lying about the actual problems in the community. A Saturday night gang brawl between two opposing forces of 20 gang members on each side in the streets as they slug it out and strike each other with bats, clubs, brass knuckles and knives that sends 5 to the hospital and 10 to jail, while causing destruction of property to nearby vehicles, mailboxes and lawns, becomes downplayed when it is reported to the press and the community. Instead of 40 combatants in the brawl the Chief tells the Sergeant to say there were 20 combatants total. Instead of saying police confiscated over 20 weapons, they will say they confiscated 7 weapons. Were 10 arrested and 5 hospitalized? Yes, but the part about 25 gang members hoping fences and running away is left out, instead only 5 ran away when public reports come in, the other 20 gang members involved? What other 20 gang members involved? Those were just “onlookers.” How about the destroyed property? Eh that part is just left out. Most importantly when this is reported, it is made to sound like this is an odd occurrence and usually never happens, while the almost weekly gang fights in the streets are not mentioned because maybe those fights were not as hyped up as this one. Although this example is a fictional occurrence, very similar situations have happened over the years.
Non – lethal drive by shootings are one of the easiest violent crimes that often get overlooked especially when automatic weapons were not involved. Much of the time police do not even respond to drive by shootings if someone is not hit because they do not get reported. Most residents have untrained ears and do not know the difference between firecrackers and the popping of firearms, and if there are no squealing tires accompanying the popping sound, it will often get overlooked. When the shootings do get reported, residents will often tell police over the phone that they think they heard a shooting sound but were not sure, by then the shooters may have gotten away unless someone was looking out the window and saw the car, since most drive bys tend to happen at night which is common knowledge, most people are either sleeping or winding down at night. Even if the police do get a positive ID on the shooters, they will be arrested elsewhere and not on the block where the shooting happened causing the residents that called the police to lose track of what happened unless they call again to follow up, most do not do that. These cases can easily be swept under the rug and end up not reported to the public even if an arrest and conviction follows, this can also allow police to downplay the charge when reported to the UCR (Uniform Crime Report). A quote from Police The Law Enforcement Magazine from retired police officer Mark Cirone said “For instance, if someone reported a larceny of something off their front porch, the reporting officer correctly listed the appropriate larceny charge—petit larceny, The offense would later be changed to ‘police information.’ (Police The Law Enforcement Magazine Dean Scoville, October 9, 2013).
The UCR Report is a report compiled by the FBI that is a culmination of statistical data on crime that the FBI collects from local, county and state police agencies across the country which can paint a picture about how much crime is being committed in a geographical region in the United States, but of course the FBI must rely on honest reporting of law enforcement agencies, but to a municipality that is struggling to uphold a decent image, the truth will often get fudged because there is more pressure on suburban law enforcement to get the job done that in the city where crime is more acceptable and commonplace, the suburbs are supposed to be a safe haven and if the local government is not doing their job citizens will demand that local government needs to clean house.
Police will often have a sense of pride and do not want people to think these “punks” as they often refer gang members to, as running their town. Many people think of gang members as low lifes and sissies that need a gang to get by, so when the big man with the badge can’t keep these guys out of town he may get looked at as weak which is the last thing many hard nosed officers want as a public image. The reality is, yes there are some wimpy punks that are in the gangs that cause problems with the public, but there are also many that are hard core and operate discreetly or only commit violent crimes against other gang members, these are the leaders and the core of the gang. You will not see them spraying graffiti, hanging on the block, throwing up gang signs to random passing motorist or pedestrians, they will be conducting serious nation business discreetly which makes the officer’s job very difficult to take them down. Many of times some of the biggest threats are the young members that are usually in their late teens to early 20s that are at the point of trying to move up in the organization that will be quick to shoot guns any chance they are given, even if innocent people get hit.
In the small cities like Joliet, Elgin, Aurora and Waukegan many times young kids were shot during violent gun battles or drive by shootings as the violence in these small cities often are as severe or more severe than Chicago’s gang violence, but in most suburbs that have heavy gang activity usually innocent people do not get shot because gang leaders impose strict rules on their members to watch where they shoot. A messy drive by that takes the lives of innocent children is barely tolerated in the city, but in a small suburb it will cause an uproar for many years and cause every law enforcement agency to rain down hell storms on all gang operations in the municipality. Gang leaders know that the suburbs are more concerned about violence and less tolerant about gang activity, they also know that suburban police will get angry if they are made to look bad, but gang leaders also know there is a lot of money to be made in these affluent communities and that rivals want a piece of the pie too, so a balance of violence and discreet operations is the right formula to maintain a presence in the community. The higher up leaders of the organizations feel the need to recruit suburban youths into the gangs in order to protect their investment from rival gangs even though many of those youths do not have a filter and act reckless; it is a price to pay in order to keep rival organizations from gaining an edge in the community. In the 1970s and early 1980s, a small group of hard core older members could colonize a suburb and stay free of needing suburban recruitment while still securing the drug market because rivals were not operating in that same municipality. The hard core members would sometimes operate for as much as five years or more before rivals would show up.
As police leaders were looking for a way to take down the gangs which effectively became their arch enemies, they would need to embellish the truth to the press and the community in order to justify their paychecks and to keep their pride. Denial of course if the biggest issue in the suburbs, especially in the earliest days of gang suburban migration because in these small towns the Chief and his Sergeants were the guardians of these communities and were also residents of the community many of times, and when city crime and gangs was coming into the community, it was a direct threat on personal pride, not in my town! This is just punks and wanna bes, not real crime, would be some things they may have said in the early days. But then a few years later, when the issue could not be covered up, now it was time to tell the press the truth but not all of it. The Chief or Sergeant might say “We have had a few shooting this year” (in reality there may have been 40 shootings), “We have about 25 known gang members and about 25 other fringe members” (in reality there are 100 known gang members and 200 fringe members).
Section 8 comes to share in the suburban dream
After Chicago was awarded the Hope VI grant to renovate or tear down public housing projects in 1993, preparations began for the placement of families in new homes by the Chicago Housing Authority. Between the years 1993 to 2011 many project dwellers scrambled to find new places to live with the aid of the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority would connect with property companies that would agree to accept section 8 applicants. Former public housing project residents would be given a section 8 voucher which was kind of like a license to rent on section 8 approved privately owned and operated properties. The Housing Authority would then train the section 8 residents on how to live in privately owned buildings and how to manage paying utility bills, which were all practices that were foreign to lifelong project dwellers. Once they were counseled and the family chose their place to live, an inspector would come to the projects to see how the family lived to make sure they lived up to the standards of the new property owner, if the family passed the test they were allowed to move into the new property.
Most of the section 8 placement in the 1990s took place in Chicago and suburban public housing projects, but by the 2000s decade more placements began in more affluent suburban areas. For many years section 8 made placements in suburbs like Joliet, Bolingbrook, Woodridge, Addison, Carol Stream, Zion, North Chicago, Round Lake Beach, Mundelein and several Cook County suburbs, but now with the mass tearing down of more projects in the city by the 2000s decade there not only needed to be more section 8 placement in the usual suburbs there also needed to be placement in suburbs that previously did not have section 8, this effectively scattered section 8 all over Chicago land.
When Congress passed the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, it became the program that allowed families to obtain privately owned rented property in scattered areas instead of just confined to certain areas of cities. Section 8 tenants now would pay 30% of the rent while the government would pay the rest. This program became of use in many apartment complexes across Chicagoland, like for example the newly built Timber Creek Apartments, Waterbury and Emerald Courts in Woodridge began using this program shortly after the apartments were built in 1974.
After the economy in Chicagoland took a nose dive in the late 1970s after the closing of several manufacturing companies, many long term working class renters of apartments and owners of condos and townhouses bailed out after they lost their jobs making way for section 8 renters to have the opportunity to move into those same properties. For most of these families this opportunity was a godsend and a blessing for a new life in the much safer suburbs. The public housing projects and several Chicago communities were beginning to turn into hotbeds of high crime and heavy gang activity by the late 1970s and early 1980s. The section 8 family may have just had a young son(s) that turned out into the gang lifestyle but now that the family could move away from the madness, the young mothers hoped and prayed that this move would transform their children out of that gang lifestyle that they had just entered into. At first there may have been progress but once the child would go to the city to visit friends and family that still lived in those rough Chicago neighborhoods they were reminded of the gang life and soon felt compelled to bring that life back to the suburbs and become a big shot. For most section 8 families this is not the scenario they wanted to have their children go from gang member in the dangerous city to a gang leader in the affluent suburbs. Most section 8 families came to blend in and not stand out as city dwelling ghetto maniacs; however, the child that chose to keep the gang ties had a different goal in mind that would make the whole family look bad.
A few bad apples can really spoil a bunch and this is the case with section 8 arrivals from the 1970s up until present day. All it would take as the years have passed is for a group of pre teenage or teenage section 8 children to cause problems and commit crimes, and some families that actually acted like ghetto pigs for the whole community to shun and develop a negative image of ALL section 8 families. The ghetto families and the gang affiliated youths are actually the minority among section 8 families; however, they are the loudest and most visible while law abiding classier section 8 families are often hidden from the public eye or too busy working for a living, many of times they are not even noticed because they blend in with the rest of society. This negative image causes many long time suburbanites to blame section 8 dwellers for the vast majority of crime that occurs in the suburb and to even generate racial biases toward those living in section 8 approved homes.
Now in taking the defense of the suburbanites that did not approve of section 8 arrivals, there really was some criminal activity and higher ranking gang leadership that arrived alongside section 8 migration, this is what caused the colonization of many Chicago based street gangs in the suburbs. Even though the Housing Authority carefully screened out individuals with criminal records, or any known gang members, that did not stop section 8 tenants from allowing criminals and gang members that they knew from living in their dwelling. Even though the majority of section 8 tenants are law abiding citizens, the 10-20% that are not, have been known to cause serious crime over the years and account for a large increase in the crime rates in the village they settled in. The criminal element within these section 8 areas will often invite other criminals and rival gangs to the village as well that will bring even more crime from these outsiders. Because of these crimes in the community the working classes and middle classes often do not want any section 8 residents living in their town, the actions of a few end up condemning the masses.
Law Enforcement fights back
When Chicago based street gangs first colonized the south suburbs of Harvey, Phoenix, Robbins, Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, Markham and Dixmoor in 1968 law enforcement had no clue on how to deal with these gangs but most importantly these communities severely lacked the resources to fight against the gang invasion, this resulted in Chicago based street gangs being well established in these communities all the way up until present day as generations of Gangster Disciples, Black P Stones and Vice Lords have been settled here for a very long time.
Cicero was perhaps the first suburban community to learn how to fight against gangs on a larger scale. Gang banging started in the suburb back in the 1960s as notorious suburban outfits like the Arch Dukes, Noble Knights and Twelfth Street Players took form in the community and soon became rather complex street gangs with several members, this prompted Cicero police to establish three special police units that dealt stickily with gangs in 1972 (Chicago Tribune page 14, August 19, 1984). Cicero police clamped down on street gangs even more in the mid-1980s after residents began to heavily protest about all the violence in the community, in fact, the police became so tough there were allegations of harassment against youths that were not in gangs but there was no backing down from law enforcement because the Mayor wanted to stay tough (Chicago Tribune page 14, August 19, 1984).
When Chicago based gangs first touched down in several Will County, Du Page County, Lake County and various other Cook County suburbs in the 1980s police were not equipped or informed enough about how to handle this situation. Many departments blamed “wanna be” kids on all the gang activity, even though this had some truth to it they did not think the wanna bes would connect with hard core members of the same gang discreetly living in the community, that would transform these wanna bes into official gang members while mentoring them to conduct more violent behavior. Local police departments then sought assistance from county sheriffs that were familiar with gang issues county wide and most importantly suburban police departments contacted Chicago police about the issue and learned all about how Chicago street gangs operate and how to identify them.
Traditionally, the earlier in time gangs arrive in a suburb the more rooted they become in that community and become permanent fixtures in the community. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s suburban police departments were unable to nip the gang issues in the bud during early gang development this is why significant gang factions still exist in these communities even presently and will never go away, they can only be pushed underground. It was in the early 1990s that suburban police departments were at last obtaining the right tools and methods to truly fight against street gangs through more surveillance and by the mid-1990s several raids and arrests were conducted that took down several top suburban gang leaders, police patrols were stepped up and graffiti removal reached a higher level, by the late 1990s much of the gang activity was reduced tremendously and if any new gangs tried to infiltrate the suburbs they were dismantled a short time later either by law enforcement or by rival gangs that were already established. If any communities experienced gangs for the first time in the mid-1990s or later it would be quickly put down rapidly as police were trained to nip the issue in the bud as it just started before the gang had a chance to become a permanent part of the community.
Suburban and urban difference
When it comes to gang members and gang activity in the suburbs and in Chicago there are differences and similarities, not only that it all depends on where is the suburbs you are comparing Chicago to. In suburbs and small cities like parts of Joliet, parts of Waukegan, parts of Zion, parts of North Chicago, parts of Chicago Heights, parts of Markham, parts of Elgin, parts of Aurora, parts of Cicero, parts of Calumet City, parts of Evanston and all of Robbins, Harvey, Maywood and Ford Heights you can easily compare gang activity and violence to several rougher neighborhoods of Chicago, some suburban areas are in, fact, more dangerous than the majority of Chicago neighborhoods and some suburban areas are more run down than most Chicago neighborhoods. In these suburbs gangs operate the same way as in the city, gang members carry guns, sell crack and heroin on the street corner, are ordered to carry out acts of violence or face penalties, are forced to stand on the block and sell drugs a certain amount of hours in a day just like in the city. In some of these suburban zones getting shot or shot at and seeing friends die is a part of life, joining a gang is often forced instead of being a choice. So no one should ever classify all suburban gang members in one category and say that is how they are, there are really two different worlds in Chicagoland and those worlds are not suburban and urban it should be urban/hardened suburban vs. suburban. Even in many small cities gang banging on one part of the city will be a whole different experience than gang banging on another part of the city. The gang banger from the west side of Joliet is not going to come from a hard life of ducking and dodging bullets and being forced to hustle on the block daily or be beaten or killed, but the gang banger on the east side of Joliet has to deal with these things every day and his days are often numbered, he will be lucky to see 21 years old without either being dead or in prison.
The suburban gang banger from an affluent area will usually come from a middle class or working class upbringing and comes from a comfortable home. He or she has a choice to join a gang or not, unlike many city youths or hardened suburban areas where not joining a gang is a very tough decision for youths as they will be harassed or violently assaulted for not joining the gang. In the affluent suburban area it is strictly choice and many suburban teens join because they have something to prove or simply give in to peer pressure, maybe they watched too much of the movie Menace II Society (pictured) or maybe the gangster rap music got into their heads, or maybe they want to get the girls to like them, whatever reason it is usually petty and ridiculous; however, a select few will eventually evolve into hard core members later in life but most of the affluent suburban gang members are well heard about and cause a lot of problems in their younger years but then suddenly they move away or stay in town and become regular people, just like that they snap their fingers and are out of the gang, no V-out ceremony, no consequences suffered just a clean walk out. In the city and hardened suburban areas there is a required intense beating ceremony for young gang members to leave the gang, the only time gang members can walk out is after they put in years of work and dedicated membership and move on to start families. As I did my research for this section on the suburbs it cracked me up how many times I would read in the Chicago Tribune articles many youths they interviewed that were 16 and 17 year old former gang members, dang before they were 18 years old they had already become an ex-gang member, wow, that is not heard of as much in the city or tougher suburban areas, you do not become a former member until you are well into your 20s.
Suburban gang members from affluent areas also have the option to not gang bang, yes I said it to not actually do any gang banging besides maybe some graffiti. Basically the activities of these kids are to stand around with the gang members and lean on the wall. They can be seen doing the handshake and are invited to the gang banger parties but they do not represent and do not even wear the colors, they do not sell drugs and even they even get good grades. These members of the gang are essentially useless additions to the organization and I have never understood their purpose or how they get away without committing any crimes or any acts of violence. I have personally seen gang members like this growing up and was always shocked that these kids could shake up the gang signs in the hallways at school but no one targeted them for violence and they never got in trouble with police or the schools, my theory is these kids are just recruited as filler members to make the gang look larger to potential prospects. These kids do not last long in the gang and are out as soon as high school is over with.
Because of the softer nature of affluent suburban gang members, higher up hardened members that originated from the city or hardened suburban areas often distance themselves from small time members in the affluent area because they know that when the police arrest many of these kids from good homes, these kids will be quick to trick on anyone so they can to avoid doing time even if the worst sentence is only a short stint. Higher up gang members will pass things down to an appointed leader either that moved from the city into the suburb at a young age and spread the gang in that suburb or a suburban born leader that graduated to hard core status will be chosen as the visible leader. This lower ranking leader will basically handle the direct contact with all the young ones and will often be the one that gets tricked on when those youngsters he is in charge of are facing jail time.
Stories of shootings, violent beat downs of rivals, selling lots of drugs and making big money are all glory stories that have been passed down to Chicago area suburban youths since the late 1960s that have caused many starry eyed youngsters to want to join as they are listening to the story with the loud rap music blaring in the background while they sip on Mad Dog 2020s and Old English 40 ounce beers passing a blunt back and forth. The action packed stories of Chicago street soldiers in all their glory is enough to motivate bored and sheltered suburban youth to want to join the gang and hope to become just like that hard core city member telling the story. What they are not prepared for is when the gun is actually pointed in their face by an angry rival gang member that demands they get on their knees and throw down their own nation and scream out hate for their own nation or take a bullet. He is not prepared for the reality of facing felony charges and sitting in an interrogation room with trained police detectives that know how to get under your skin and freak you out. He is not prepared for the reality of having his family members and non-gang banging friends targeted for violence by rival gang members because they are related to or hang out with him. He is not prepared for the sudden rush of six rival gang members piling on top of him with fists of fury beating him to a bloody pulp all while he could not fight back and had to hope and pray that his attackers would lose interest in beating on him as he was at their mercy then comes the crack of the baseball bat to the side of the head leaving him temporarily disfigured for a few weeks and getting large staples in his head. He is not prepared for the sudden screech of the tires from that car full of angry rival gang members that scream out in rage enemy gang slogans then a loud deafening popping sound comes out and bullets rapidly fly by or worse pierce his flesh. He is not ready for his own gang to tell him to take the fall for a felony crime committed by a fellow gang member because he has a clean record and the courts will be easier on him. He is not ready for the reality that when one of his fellow gang members jacks up a rival gang member that rival gang will target anyone in his gang for revenge it does not matter who it is, they will get someone and it could be him. He is not ready for constant drama on a daily basis as rivals will not leave him alone ever and he can’t even sleep well and worries that at any moment a drive by shooting can happen that will shatter the windows and possibly harm his parents or siblings, but at that moment while hearing those stories in that garage or basement he wants to join the gang real bad and nothing will stop him until he faces reality.
So many suburban youths from affluent areas do not last long in gangs as they retire very early or really do not even retire from a life of putting in any work, they are like the lazy employee that did not do any work but quits their job after only working there about 6 months. In the 1980s gang banging in the suburbs offered exciting gang brawls for youths which is what lured a lot of really tough and often larger sized youths into the gangs. These youths were not afraid of very much but did not play with guns or drug dealing they only joined the gang to fight because they loved taking out aggression. Some of these guys would even have long hair and listen to heavy metal music. These suburban gang members gained a lot of respect because of how tough they were, but once gun play dominated most gang activity and unfair fights by the early 1990s, these guys stepped out of the gang life and put it way behind them, no one dared to tell them they could not leave the gang because these guys would be ready to get violent if their departure was not honored and they had a lot of friends to back them up. For the most part youths end up dropping out because of fear or they may stay in the gang but hide in the shadows as just a non-gang banging member that only leans on the wall and does the handshakes.