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."
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."
I asked Mickey Cogwell if the Rangers would like to patrol their neighborhoods as a kind of community police force similar in some respects to the Black Panthers on the West Coast. "There is quite a difference between the power structure on the West Coast and the power structure in Chicago," he replied. "Mayor Daley is the most powerful man in America. He can tell the President what to do. On the Coast the Panthers can ride around in cars with guns, but not here. Mayor Daley is a powerful cat, very powerful. And dangerous, very dangerous."
While the Rangers can, in many instances, be considered a kind of spontaneous para-police force in their efforts to show the strength of their organization, there is another consideration to place in focus: are the police, specifically the members of the Gang Intelligence Unit, themselves a para-political force? This question is important in a very singular respect. It is evident that the Blackstone Ranger Nation is not interested in voluntarily helping the police: all of their activities which may be called helpful to the police seem to arise, unavoidably, from their efforts to keep the name of the Ranger organization safe from adverse publicity or else to demonstrate the tremendous power and community appeal, at least among the young, of the Blackstone Ranger Nation. In both of these areas the activities of the Gang Intelligence Unit seem to contribute the necessary pressure or motivation. The relative ease with which its members operate within the police department and cooperation they receive from the State's Attorney’s Office and the Cook County jail, the influence they seem to have in the courts, and the easy willingness of the press to publicize incidents about the Rangers all suggest that members of the Unit have more than ordinary police powers.
For example, in December of 1968 after Jeff Fort was found guilty of contempt of Congress and released on $5000 bond, he was arrested by members of the G.I.U. on an old charge: failure to pay a S50 fine for a previous disorderly conduct arrest. The arrest warrant was issued on March 17, 1967. The eight G.I.U. officers who arrested Fort arrived at his home carrying axes, prepared to break down the door. They had no search warrant, but they searched his apartment and found a .22 caliber gun. Fort was charged with failure to register the gun.
Marshall Patner, the white Chicago lawyer who walked out of Senator McClellan's investigation of Poverty Program funding of a Ranger project with his client Jeff Fort last summer, has been in a position which enabled him to observe the activities of the Gang Intelligence Unit firsthand. "The question is," he says, "whether the police run the whole show. The G.I.U. can say 'no bond' to the judges, and no bond is given. Judges listen to them. State's attorneys listen to them."
Patner is paid by the Kettering Foundation to provide legal counsel for Rangers in general and Jeff Fort in particular. A 1956 University of Chicago Law School graduate, he quit his job as head of the appellate and test case division of the Legal Aid Bureau of Chicago to help William W. Brackett, who served as counsel for the Reverend John Fry before the McClellan Committee. Fry is a white clergyman whose church, the First Presbyterian, housed one of the Rangers' training centers funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity through a local grass roots group, The Woodlawn Organization (T.W.O.). The church thought Fort should have a black lawyer, but Fort preferred Marshall Patner.
"As a lawyer," Patner says, "I don't see my function as looking over a client to see what he's doing. I see these people as needing defense because they are being picked on for offenses which other people wouldn't be charged with, and subject to high bond just because they are Rangers." Since the McClellan hearings, Marshall Patner has received angry letters and telephone calls suggesting that he should be put into a concentration camp.
In Ranger cases, according to Patner, the judges set very high bonds. In one arrest for aggravated assault, the night judge set bond at $4000 and the morning judge reset bond at $5000. For a fight in the jail, Fort's bond was set at $10,000, and for a charge of resisting arrest, Jeff Fort's bond was again set at S10, 000. He estimates that Fort has been picked up over one hundred and eighty times. Sometimes he will be arrested, processed, and released in a few minutes. Patner is bringing a suit in federal court for injunctive relief. The suit is against Mayor Daley, Captain Buckney, the State's Attorney, and certain judges, and is on behalf of Jeff Fort, Mickey Cogwell, and the Black P. Stone Nation.
Marshall Patner feels that the peacekeeping role of the Rangers is a "funny" one. "I would guess that as a matter of defiance and as a show of power Rangers exert all the energy possible to see that police prophecies about them are not fulfilled. In contrast, they do this in areas where interests are common to their own. I believe that they keep a lot of ghetto kids out of trouble by giving them something with which they can identify."
The police are definitely out to get the Stones," Carl Banks, a Ranger teacher, tells me at the Black P. Stone Youth Center, "especially since Nixon got in. Every time a black gets arrested, if he's from this neighborhood he's treated like a Stone. His is bond is hiked up, he's harassed." Banks's voice changes to anger. "They don't want the Stones to have anything." He crushes a cigarette butt with his foot. "They want to keep us right down here on the ground."
"Why do you think they're out to get you?" I ask him.
Banks lights up another cigarette. "Some people in the area are still scared of us. This neighborhood used to be terrible, especially for strangers. Now all that's changed."
"How has it changed?"
"Stone run it," he says. "There's less fighting now. Stones are keeping dope and faggots out of the neighborhood. We even try to keep prostitutes out."
I follow Carl Banks over to the stage where the drums are assembled. It is time for his practice session. We want to represent to the kids that this is our neighborhood," he continues; "we love it, it's all we got. We want the kids to feel the same way. We try to instill some dignity and pride in them. That's what the P. stands for."
"Are the kids forced to join?" I ask.
Carl considers this. He beats out a roll on one of the drums before answering. "It might have been that way in the old days," he admits. "But there's no pressure now. That's why we're going slow now. The older brothers aren't as active as they should be, some of them are drifting away. Having the peewees with us is OK, but we really need the adults to get our program going good."
"How do you get the kids to join?" I ask.
"They just come in," Banks says. "This is the only place open at night for kids to attend. There's nothing else in the area that's open except the Y.M.C.A. on Seventy-first Street."
Black children, at least those from the Woodlawn area, do come to the Center. They wander in and out of the broken door from the time it is unlocked in the morning until after ten every night. Except for the percussion class, there are few organized activities available for them. For the most part, they stand around the office, expectantly, waiting for something to develop; or else they wander back into the main room and sit in the metal chairs against the walls, under the painted faces of Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Muhammad All, Martin Luther King, and Frederick Douglass. All of the walls in the main room are painted black. And the historical faces are on the right wall. On the left wall, also against a black background, there is a skillfully drawn mural of cosmic forces, the universe in motion, flaming comets, and the overall suggestion of pure energy.
The wall has its symbolic significance, although the children seem to favor the right side of the room and the faces on its wall, behind the metal chairs where they sit. Young people are only barred from the back room when the older Rangers come in—Jeff Fort, Edward Bey, Mickey Cogwell, and other Main leaders—and secret meetings are held. At these times the children wait in the small office, under orders to remain silent, or else they go outside. And whenever they do leave the Center, many of them, especially the younger ones, are quick to call back to anyone still standing in the room: "Stone Run It!"
Congressman Abner Mikva, a white reformer who has fought the Daley machine, was elected to his first term in Congress last November from the Second Congressional District of Chicago, which encompasses the Woodlawn part of the South Side. He is considered by many people in Chicago to be something of an expert on Ranger affairs. Over coffee in his home on South Kenwood Avenue, Mikva offers some of his impressions of the group.
"I'm not a pro-Ranger. If someone commits a crime in the area and if he is a kid, the victim will assume that lie's a Ranger, but if the Rangers had committed all the crimes they have been charged with, there would probably have to be at least 100, 000 of them, or they would have to be some of the most energetic criminals who ever lived," he says. "I don't think they are civic-minded young reformers. I think that many of them are so alienated that it will be a hard job trying to bring them back into the mainstream. But even if you could bust up the gang structure, it would cost more to keep these kids apart than it would cost to help them do something constructive."
Unlike most groups of young, organized blacks, the Rangers do not seem to be primarily racially oriented. If they believe in any form of black power at all, it's the physical energy which they are attempting to harness in the black community and the economic power which, they believe, will come through constructive uses of that energy. If they hold any political philosophy at all, it is truly a grass roots one: they want to wrest control of their community not so much from the power structure as from the control of an older generation of blacks. They have a large number of the young people; now they are attempting to expand their source of energy by moving into the black, middle-class neighborhoods. And it is in such areas that the limitations of the Ranger appeal are tested. It is within these areas that class lines become more apparent.
Abner Mikva admits the reality of these class lines which contribute to polarization in the black community. "In other neighborhoods they really are recruiting, but these are different kinds of kids. They're middle-class, with two parents in the home—home-owning parents—not kids from broken families. The Rangers are scaring the daylights out of them. And unfortunately, some of the white churchmen are helping them. I get violent mail, more from the black community than from the white, asking: 'What are you doing defending the Rangers?'
"Some people in the South Woodlawn and Oakland areas would say that the police are too easy on the Rangers," he observes. "Some parents believe that they should crack some skulls. They're scared to death. And these are black people. This shows that it's not so much a color thing between the police and the Rangers. I can't recall any time over the last two years when I saw two white policemen alone in a car in the community. They're mostly black and white teams now. Or, if there are two white policemen, they don't respond to street calls. A good part of the G.I.U. is black, and some of these men have done community work in Woodlawn or with Operation Breadbasket. Some of them are militant, but they're against the Rangers because they're policemen and for obeying the law." Mikva feels, however, that the police do create a problem in the black community, in spite of the sameness of color. "The police insist on using direct, terrorist, violent methods and only succeed in polarizing people. They force people like myself to come out pro-Ranger because of their tactics. I come out saying more in defense of the Rangers than I would like to. Other people come out being more anti-Ranger than they would ordinarily be."
In spite of whatever constructive things they are attempting to do, Mikva says, the Rangers are unpredictable. He recognizes that the community has to deal with them, but, he says, "If they weren't here, I wouldn't invent them."
There was a birthday party given for Joyce Green at the Black P. Stone Youth Center one Saturday night in late November. The girls brought homemade cake and potato chips, a bowl of punch, balloons, some cookies, and a few records. Fifteen or so boys, ranging in age from nine to fourteen, sat on the metal chairs against the wall, under the pictures of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Muhammad Au, Martin Luther King, Du Bois, and the others, waiting for the party to start. They sat quietly, waiting for the girls to start the record player. And when the music finally began, the boys cut the lights out and proceeded to select dancing partners. Art Richardson, director of the Center, put the lights on. One of the boys cut them off again. "The lights have to stay on, little brother," Richardson told him.
"We want them out," some of the other boys said.
Richardson motioned for all the boys to come closer to him. "If it's not worth doing in the light," he said, "then it's not worth doing at all." Then he added: "That's what Stone is all about."
The boys considered this, and when Art left the room again one of them cut the lights off. Art came back into the room, put the lights on again, and stood next to the switch. All of the boys left the Center. And after gathering the cakes and the punch and the chips and records, and after breaking all the balloons, the girls followed them.
On Sunday morning before ten o'clock the boy who had made the last effort to darken the room leaned against the locked door of the Center, waiting for it to open. I waited with him.
"Art will be here in a while," I told him.
"I don't like Art," the boy said. "He's mean."
"Do you know what he was trying to tell you last night?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he said. "I know. But nobody wants to dance with girls with the lights on. If the other guys see it, they'll talk about you."
To get out of the wind, while we waited, we went across Sixty-seventh Street to a restaurant and played records and drank Cokes. The boy's name is Danny Jackson. He is in Carl Banks's percussion class. He is fourteen, an eighth-grader, has semi processed hair, and he never smiles. He wants to be a musician because his father is a musician. He wants to finish high school and then work in a factory because his father works in a factory. He has never thought about college. He does not know much about what it means to be a Blackstone Ranger, but he knows that he is one because he is allowed to walk in and out of the Center whenever he wants. Asked why he likes being a Ranger and living in Woodlawn, he says, "Because Stone Run It!"
Youth Action, a Chicago youth organization funded by the Y.M.C.A. and the Chicago Boys' Club, opened the center on Sixty-seventh and Blackstone as an outpost early in 1968. There was a one-year lease taken on the building. Last September, according to Art Richardson, Youth Action abandoned the outpost. "In October," he says, '1 just walked in the Center off the street, pulled the desks out of the basement, and got the Stones to clean up and paint the place. Then the kids started coming in."
Richardson believes that Youth Action abandoned the outpost because it could not reach the youth in the community. I asked Richardson why he thought the Center was more successful under his direction than it was under the administration of Youth Action.
"I'm a legitimate person from the community," he replied. "They were outsiders. The most important thing in this work is understanding the needs of the community. I don't profess to be able to teach, but I do come from the community. I know the needs. If I had the resources, I would be able to get peoples who are capable of carrying out my program. I'll always welcome agency peoples to come in, and I'll always welcome their ideas, but we have to run it."
"How do you know you can run it?" I asked him.
Art nodded toward the mural of the solar system on the left side of the main room. "That's energy," he said. "It only responds to the right vibrations. It's that way in nature. An outsider comes in projecting an outside vibration, communicating over the heads of the younger, grass roots brothers. That's wrong. You have to relate to young brothers simply, give off simple vibrations. Otherwise, the little brothers will not respond energetically."
I asked him if any black, and not just Rangers, could produce the right vibrations.
"No," he said. "A lot of Afro brothers don't know how to respond on the street level. So a lot of the little brothers here don't relate to and don't respect some of the outside brothers."
When Art Richardson speaks of "universal vibrations," he seems to imply that the Ranger Nation is not necessarily organized along racial lines; and the fact that many black residents of areas in which they operate condemn their activities serves to support this assumption. Subtle, almost imperceptible class lines are slowly being drawn. And the Rangers seem to be aware of this. "The Chief [Jeff Fort] wants to have white Stones and Mexican Stones and any other kind of person who has the ability to be a Stone," Richardson told me. "He's already extended the invitation."
The directors of the Center have worked out a "Performing Arts Program," with a selected schedule of classes running from Monday through Saturday. Among the classes listed are history, job training, dancing, speeches by interested religious leaders, businessmen, teachers, and entertainers, a class in percussion, boxing, current events, and a class in the importance of education. All these classes are still on paper. So far only one class, the percussion class taught by Lamar Bell and Carl Banks, has started. The others are waiting, like the children who come in every evening, perhaps for financial backing, perhaps for the trust and the enthusiasm of the adult community to grow.
In the middle of November Art Richardson and Lamar Bell began to make plans for the Ranger Thanksgiving show, to draw the interest of the Woodlawn communiiy to the Black P. Stone Youth Center. The floors were cleaned, spotlights were rented or borrowed, posters were distributed over the Woodlawn, Hyde Park, Oakland, and Kenwood areas. Then they went out into the black community to recruit talent.
On the Friday evening just before Thanksgiving the Blackstone Rangers presented their show. It was well attended, but the young people in the audience far outnumbered the adults. A fair contingent of whites from the university areas came, and a TV newsman also came to film the first part of the show. Some of them, the whites, looked puzzled as they tried to comprehend the significance of the mural on the left wall of the auditorium room.
All of those who had volunteered to perform kept their promise. Darlene Blackburn even put on a small fashion show of female African clothing. And although Youth Action provided the microphone and helped the Rangers transport chairs from the Saint Ambrose Church, the show, for the most part, was an independent Ranger accomplishment. Visitors to the Center were asked, but not required, to make a contribution. Raffle tickets for a Thanksgiving turkey were given in exchange for the contributions. The Rangers collected almost seventy dollars.
During the late afternoon and evening there was a steady flow of people in and out of the Center. The Rangers estimate that they had between 300 and 400 people in the Center during the event. The whites who came in the early evening left, almost in a group, when the major part of the show was over. Jeff Fort, Edward Bey, Mickey Cogwell, all in leather jackets, came with some of the other older Rangers, some of them new faces in the Center. They walked, almost nervously, back and forth between the office and the auditorium during most of the show, watching. Occasionally they conferred together at the back of the auditorium, and occasionally they called Art Richardson aside and whispered to him.
Late into the evening, the real Ranger show began.
"We want to present now some Stones who have been on nationwide television," the M. C. said. "They've been on the Smothers Brothers. And they're here, back with us now: The Blackstone Singers!"
There were cries of Stone! Stone! from the young people in the audience. Most of the adults had already left.
"We haven't appeared much this year," the spokesman for the group began, "because of what went on in Washington, D.C., and because of what's going on with the Gang Intelligence Unit and with Uncle Toms and Aunt Sallys. And because of what Stones are like in the newspapers and radio and TV. We have not appeared."
The young people, who had been noisy all through the performance of a progressive jazz group some five or six minutes before, were silent as the spokesman finished his introduction. Then there were again cries of "Stone! Stone! Stone Run It!" And after the voices had subsided, the spokesman for the Blackstone Singers made the observation that: "They're in trouble, but we're together because Stone is going to run it!" Then he announced their first song, a variation of an old Temptations piece, rewritten by the Blackstone Singers. The song was called "You're in Trouble," and they asked everyone to sing along. Everyone did. The young people in the metal chairs, in the dark room, clapped their hands in time to the music and kept yelling "Stone! Stone!" or "Stone Run It!" during places in the song where they did not know the lyrics. The singing went on a long time.
When Jeff Fort moves around, people scatter to make connections with him. He is always moving. And when the word comes that he will eventually be at a certain place, a crowd of people—Rangers and non-Rangers alike—gather at that point to wait for him. He never arrives on time, but everyone waits. And when he does come, all activities and conversations and eyes stop moving and focus on him. Jeff Fort is a man completely aware of himself, and of what he represents. He is playful, full of laughter and good humor with his men. But there is a tenseness and a seriousness behind it all, and his men seem to guard their laughter and movements when he is about. It is obvious that each Ranger has great respect for him. Even the small boys, the "peewees," imitate his hairstyle and the way he walks.
Fort may call a single man aside to converse in secret, but one is aware that, somehow, he is always conscious of the movements of everyone else in the room. He had been aware of me, of my movements in and out of the Center, for over four months. It was necessary to have his permission to talk with the Rangers. Then, when the talking was done and the Rangers who had spoken had read in type what they had said to me, I waited, patiently like the others in the Center, for Jeff to give me a few minutes of his time.
"What future plans have you made for the Nation?" I asked him when he walked close to me.
"Did you rap to him, Bop?" he said to Lamar Bell:
"Yeah, Chief," Bell said.
"How is it?"
"It's cool, Chief."
"You got everything I have to say," Jeff said to me.
Perhaps one of the few white men who can claim to have some close associations with the Blackstone Rangers is Charles Lapaglia, the youth worker whom McClellan called to testify to certain allegations made against him and the First Presbyterian Church where he is employed. He lives in Hyde Park and is planning to write a book about the Ranger Nation. Lapaglia is not an easy man to talk to because, like Reverend Fry, he has been subjected to adverse publicity and is suspicious of people who take notes of what he says. But when he begins to talk, he can relate a wealth of detail about the Rangers.
On Christmas Eve, in his home on Kimbark Street, Charles Lapaglia begins to talk. He is frequently interrupted by telephone calls from merchants who have unsold Christmas trees they want the Rangers to distribute in the area. He allows me to read something about the Gang Intelligence Unit he has written. "For both black militants and police," the paper states,
the issue of who runs it [the black community] is both conscious and immediate. Traditionally, the black community has been controlled by white institutions who disguise the oppressive methods of control by their own institutional rhetoric. The black community has seen through the rhetoric and is attempting to escape oppression by those institutions by asserting their will to determine their own destiny. The order establishing the G.I.U. is the establishment's response to the black community's attempt to gain control of their own destiny. It gives the G.I.U. the direct authority to exercise political control in the black community. Its scope extends far beyond the generally accepted police functions of apprehending law violators. Nor is the intent primarily to control violence through aggressive police action. Its purpose is to maintain tight control over a potentially rebellious colony, and to eliminate all significant opposition. The order deals directly with who runs it. It gives the G.I.U. the power to determine what is good and bad for the community—what services should be subverted—what laws are to be enforced and what laws are to be ignored—what groups should exist and what groups should be destroyed.
Lapaglia claims that the alleged "raid" on the First Presbyterian Church and the firing of guns in the church vault by members of the G.I.U. were a publicity stunt. He maintains that the Treasury Department had asked the church to act as a repository for the Ranger weapons when. it began its attempt, after the riots in the summer of 1966, to decrease the level of gun ownership in ghettos all over the country. "In that gun affair," he says, "we were actually a third party in gun-collection activities between the police and the Treasury Department and the Rangers."
A few of the older Rangers hang around the Black P. Stone Youth Center. There are no children. Lamar Bell is there. He is upset because, he says, since the first of December, just after the Thanksgiving show, policemen from the Gang Intelligence Unit have come into the Center at least six times. He says that they park in front of the building from time to time—four men in a car—or else they come in, searching for young boys or for certain of the Main leaders. Bell is worried about the new pop machine which the Center has acquired since the Thanksgiving show, and he says that the policemen have questioned him about it. Bell wants to go to Syracuse, New York, during the Christmas holidays to work with a band there and earn money, but he is reluctant to leave Carl Banks, who is not a union musician and who therefore cannot work with him. Jeff Fort is at home with his wife and two children on Christmas Eve. Some of the other Rangers are said to be out delivering baskets to the poor.
"They are quiet passing out Christmas baskets now," Marshall Patner told me. "At one time it was a famous thing. They solicited funds last year with a card that said 'Please Give to the Christmas Fund: Blackstone Rangers.' Some of them were arrested on an 1890 ordinance saying you can't solicit funds without disclosing the name of the organization. Their lawyer argued that signing 'Blackstone Rangers' was sufficient; The case was dismissed.
"In some areas the Rangers don't even want to take credit for the good that they do," Patner said. "They worry that it may be turned back on them."
Perhaps James Houtsma, a white, former Gang Intelligence Unit detective who gave damaging testimony against the Blackstone Rangers in Washington, was close to accurate in his assessment of the present dilemma of the group. "A lot of confusion is in their minds," he observed, "because of pressures on them from their affiliation with other groups. Organizations use them as guinea pigs in experimental projects and just brought them along too fast. They started as kids, but with all the pressures, they don't even know themselves now."
But again, perhaps the Rangers are now beginning to understand what they are, or better, the potentially creative power which they represent. Early this year Jeff Fort was invited, it is said by certain Illinois politicians, to attend one of the Inaugural Balls given for President Nixon in Washington. Characteristically, Fort did not go himself, but sent two of the Main leaders to represent the Blackstone Ranger Nation. One of the two men who dressed in tails and who mingled with political dignitaries was Mickey Cogwell. While Cogwell was having "a lovely time" at the Ball (as he later told Chicago reporters), detectives from the G.I.U. came to his house in Chicago to arrest him. After returning to Chicago, Cogwell was asked why the Rangers had accepted an invitation to celebrate the election of Richard Nixon, a man, it has been said, who did not actively court the black voter.
"We elected Nixon," Cogwell stated.
"What do you mean?" he was asked. "Do you mean that your 'Don't Vote' campaign helped him to beat Humphrey in Illinois?"
"No," said Mickey Cogwell, who talks very fast. "We are the ones who put crime in the streets."