By Natalie Y. Moore and Lance Williams, $26.95; Lawrence Hill . Books; 294 pages
Authors Natalie Moore and Lance Williams have documented an important chapter in Chicago's history in their new book, The Almighty Black P Stone Nation. While primarily about a South Side street gang operating over several decades in Chicago, this book does an excellent job of connecting the dots of poverty, FBI and police harassment, unemployment, drugs, violence, and even anti-terrorism efforts pre- and post-9/11.
This book is not a sugary presentation about repressed and oppressed African-American male youth, but rather it links their situation to the problems of the greater society. There are no simple causes of gang participation, and there are no simple solutions. This book just provides us with a great understanding of the inner workings of the Blackstone Rangers. This was a powerful group that ultimately encompassed 21 individual gangs into their Black Stone Nation.
Across multiple generations of disaffected youth, the Rangers were a legendary gang, sometimes with notions of helping their community, other times participating in territorial bloodbaths. Lyndon Johnson's White House and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI both feared their power, worried that they would disrupt the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and cause even more trouble beyond that event. Meanwhile, the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan wanted to partner with them. The Chicago police tried to destroy them, threatened even by the good things the gang tried to do in their communities.
"In gangster lore, the Almighty Black P Stone Nation stands out among the most notorious street gangs," the authors state. "Louis Farrakhan hired the Blackstone Rangers as his Angels of Death. Fifteen years before 9/11, the U.S. government accused the Stones of plotting domestic terrorist acts with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. And currently, founding member Jeff Fort is serving a triple life sentence at the only U.S. federal supermax prison. Were the Stones criminals, brainwashed terrorists, victims of their circumstances, or champions of social change? Or were they all of these, their role perceived differently by different races and socioeconomic groups?"
Here is a short excerpt from the book, this section set in 1968: " [ Dick Gregory ] announced a plan to run for U.S. president as a write-in candidate. Gregory also said that he planned to organize massive protests leading up to and through the Democratic National Convention to be held that August in Chicago. Gregory, who lived in Chicago at the time, wanted to force the city to enact a stronger fair housing ordinance and take other steps to address civil-rights issues. Gregory's plan included recruiting the Vice Lords, the Blackstone Rangers, and the Disciples to participate in these protests.
"These kinds of announcements by black leaders, ones that encouraged alliances between gangs and Black Nationalistsnot the escalating violence between the Stones and Disciplesscared the shit out of the feds.
"The year 1968 was pivotal in U.S. history and for the Blackstone Rangers. Television news covered people protesting the Vietnam War and marching for civil rights and a wide range of radical groups vandalizing government and corporate buildings.
"And while it was never their intention, the Stones got caught up in 1968. To the Stones, their only enemies were the Disciples. To the government, the Stones were a perceived threat to local and national security. The Stones had a history of social activism and well-known associations with Black Nationalist leaders. These leaders recognized the Stones as potential allies, troops, and sometimes fodder. The Stones had already demonstrated their willingness to commit violence."
The authors ( Moore is a reporter for Chicago Public Radio and Williams is an associate professor at Northeastern Illinois University and the son of a former Vice Lord gang member ) do an excellent job of placing the gang and its leaders in the context of the larger society, thus providing an invaluable look at many important events, people and institutions in Chicago's history.
See www.blackstonebook.com .