Chicago's Blackstone Rangers (II)

Last month Mr. McPherson described how a group of black Chicago street gangs evolved into the controversial "Ranger Nation," funded by the Poverty Program, investigated by the Senate, and hunted by the police. Here he completes his report and explains why—as a onetime Chicago policeman puts it—the Rangers "started as kids, but with all the pressures, they don't even know themselves now."
More

Click here to go to part I of this article.

Few uniformed policemen walk the streets in the Woodlawn area. Those who do are black. Most white policemen drive through the area in cars, usually accompanied by a black officer. Most of the policemen in the area seem to be young. They are, for the most part, polite, and a little cold. On occasion one notices a parked patrol car with two hard-faced white officers in the front seat and the barrel of a shotgun framed in the window between them. Only then does one remember the tension which is supposed to exist between the police and the black community. It is present, but it is not racial; at least not in the traditional—black-white—sense of the word.

Black people, if Blackstone Rangers can be called representative of black people, feel a tension between black policemen and themselves. It is a feeling of mistrust, of discomfort. Rangers do not seem to be under continual harassment from the police, but it is a fair assumption that they, or at least their leaders, are being watched by other blacks. It one sits too long in a restaurant with a Ranger of any status within the organization, he will eventually become aware of another black sitting in the next booth, sipping an eternal cup of coffee. Perhaps he is merely enjoying his coffee; perhaps he is a plainclothesman on the job. In any case, Rangers find it more relaxing to converse inside the Center or in one of their other meeting places.

"It shouldn't be called the Police Gang Intelligence Unit," says Mickey Cogwell, one of the Main 21 (the leadership of the Blackstone Rangers). "It should be called the Gang Stupid Unit because they are so stupid. If they really wanted to get us, they would wait until we commit crimes and then arrest us. Instead, they try to stop us from doing anything."

Mickey Cogwell is another busy man. Among the Main 21, he is recognized as the Ranger leader with the most business ability. For this reason Ranger president Jeff Fort put him in charge of West Side business operations of the Blackstone Nation. Cogwell is intelligent, and his directness suggests honesty and candor. He wears a black derby and a blue turtleneck sweater and talks very fast. He has had considerable experience with the Gang Intelligence Unit. He has been arrested more than sixty times.

"Every time people do things for us the G.I.U. tries to publicize it so that donators get bad publicity," Cogwell says. "It doesn't want the Rangers and Disciples to have a peace treaty because it threatens the security of their jobs. I feel that the G.I.U.—black men—use the Rangers and the rivalry between us and the D's to make their work more important to the system."

Cogwell believes that the members of the G.I.U. have extra-police powers. According to him, they can go into the Cook County jail whenever they want; they have easy access to the press whenever they want to publicize stories about the Rangers; they have the help of the power structure in Chicago; and they can even influence judges. "Suppose one of the younger cats go out and does something and is put in the Cook County Jail. They will be offered a chance to get out if they swear that they were told to do something by one of the older Rangers, by one of the Main," he says. "The police have realized that they can't break up the Stones now. They might have done it four or five years ago, but now all they can do is arrest the Main. But Stone will still go on. In order to break us up, they will have to arrest everyone from the Main down to the peewees.

"If the police pick up a Stone, we take the number of the car, call a lawyer, and follow the car to the station," Cogwell states. "We wait in the halls until the lawyer comes. Then we try to find out what the bond is. If it's not too high, we try to raise it. But most bonds are set too high." He attributes the high bonds to intervention by members of the G.LU. and the influence they seem to have over judges.

Cogwell denies that there was a payoff behind the November "Don't Vote" campaign. He says that it was an expression of the dissatisfaction of the Rangers with the local political structure. He observes that just after their campaign, G.I.U. chief Edward Buckney was promoted to captain and plans were made to increase the G.I.U. from 38 to 200 men. He believes that the campaign frightened the Chicago power structure. And the Rangers, he says, are now planning for 1971, the year of the next mayoralty election. Winston Moore, the black warden of the Cook County jail and a critic of the Rangers, called the campaign "outright stupid," but whether or not the activity was politically naïve, it seems that the Chicago power structure is presently attempting to tighten up its control of the Blackstone Rangers.

Still, the Rangers appear to be growing, in both number and the scope of their business ventures. Besides the restaurant, they have obtained the use of a building from Humble Oil Company for $1 a year. The building, Co-well says, will be used for Ranger businesses which will be operated by the eight Blackstone Rangers who are presently receiving training from the Chicago Small Businessmen's Association. Also, the Westinghouse Corporation has donated to the Rangers, through the University of Chicago's Firman House, fourteen washers and three dryers. The corporation will teach the Rangers how to operate them so they will be able to start their own laundromat. They have received two car-wash units from other sources, and have been given an interest in the Sammy Davis, Jr. Liquor Store, a pilot project owned by the famous entertainer and managed by the Rangers. The profits from the store go into a "slush fund" against the time when the Rangers are prepared to set up other businesses. Finally, an unnamed manufacturer has supplied them with 20, 000 "All Mighty Black P. Stone" sweat shirts with the phrase "black is beautiful" printed on their backs in every major language. Lamar Bell, a Ranger leader, wears one with the phrase written in Greek.

"We want the Stones to be able to know something when they go into business," Mickey Cogwell says. He is not pleased with his attempts to run the West Side operation, he notes, because of what he calls attempts of the G.I.U. to stop Ranger business development by finding violations of the building and zoning codes, and reporting them to city agencies. At one point, he says, the Rangers had $800 worth of violations against them.

Mickey Cogwell claims that the Rangers made a genuine effort to keep the South Side cool during the April riots. "Jeff sent word out all over the Nation to keep peace," he says, "because King was killed and everybody was hurting. All the Main leaders went out into the streets to keep peace. Plus, the G.I.U. was out too, to provoke the Rangers into rioting. We feel that the city was out to get us to burn down our own community. But since we need the stores—our babies need milk—Jeff decided that all the stores in the area were part of the Ranger Nation."

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

This Short Film Skewers Hollywood, Probably Predicts Disney's Next Hit

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

How Will Climate Change Affect Cities?

Urban planners and environmentalists predict the future of city life.

Video

The Inner Life of a Drag Queen

A short documentary about cross-dressing, masculinity, identity, and performance

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In