“The Revolutionary Column” is our monthly series by raptivist Bella BAHHS where she spits revolutionary commentary on politics and pop culture. 

On Sept. 14, Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed a new ordinance she’s calling the Victims Justice Ordinance, designed to combat gun violence in Chicago. If voted in as is, the Victims Justice Ordinance would allow the city to file civil suits against street gangs and their members. 

The city’s South and West sides experienced another predictably violent summer and Labor Day weekend this year. News headlines tallying the count of dead and wounded children pervaded the media. I won’t list any of those numbers here because they don’t begin to quantify how much we’ve really lost.

But the numbers are out there. And Mayor Lightfoot has less than two years to do something worthy of reelection, so she’s decided she’s going to sue gang leaders. 

In a press statement released on Sept. 14, Lightfoot said, “Criminal gang activity imposes substantial costs on the city, residents and the neighborhoods where they operate. If we are successful, we will seize their assets and disrupt the financial lifelines that support this criminal activity and fuels their dominance in our city.”

The thing is, though, Chicago gangs haven’t been organized enterprises with profit motives and hierarchical authority for decades.

Lightfoot says her proposed ordinance targets high-level gang leaders who are supposedly calling the shots on the South and West sides and profiting off of the violence. But Mayor Richard J. Daley snuffed those leaders out a long time ago.

The violence that Lightfoot is choosing to blame on gang leadership is actually proof that the city’s forced removal of Black gang leaders failed to make Black communities safer.


A 2017 report on Chicago gangs and their connection to Mexican drug cartels, prepared by the DEA Chicago Field Division, FBI and the Chicago Police Department (CPD), gives us insight into their analysis of the so-called gang-related, profit-driven crime situation here.

“While a gang member would need to get approval from a gang leader to execute a rival gang member twenty years ago, today that gang member simply commits the murder without compunction or need to ask for approval,” the report reads. 

It lists out the Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples, Black P Stone Nation, Vice Lords and Latin Kings, among others, as street gangs that pose the greatest threat in Chicago. At the same time, the report acknowledged that decades-long wars among, within and against these identified gangs have left them splintered into multiple factions without authoritative leadership.

Finally, the report concluded that much of the violence in Chicago today is disorganized, not controlled by gang leaders and is not the result of profit-driven drug trafficking. 

“Once a gang member resorts to violence, retaliatory attacks against the offending gang are common and prolong the conflict,” the report continued. 

Being in a gang doesn’t make you violent; being in poverty does.

Gangs are constantly the political scapegoat for gun violence on the South and West sides of this city. But the violence came before the gangs and the guns.

Black and brown people live in some of the most impoverished wards in the city. Census data from 2008 to 2012 lists Riverdale, Fuller Park, Englewood, North Lawndale, East Garfield Park, Washington Park, West Garfield Park, Armour Square, Oakland and West Englewood as the 10 Chicago neighborhoods with the highest percentages of households below the poverty line. 

We’re dying here because of the red lines drawn around our neighborhoods, marking them designated war zones and dumping grounds for violence, pollution, malnutrition, mass incarceration, under-education, unemployment, illegal drugs and gun shipments. The people here have no choice but to make desperate attempts to migrate across the poverty line — like the revolutionary Haitians crossing the Rio Grande.

The violence is structural — infrastructural even. And the motive for joining a gang or resorting to gun violence here isn’t profit; the motive is survival. 

Once the media and criminal legal system labels someone a gang member, all their other labels — son, father, sister, daughter, mother, brother, cousin, teacher, student, lover, friend, neighbor, nephew, teenager and human — disappear. Labeling a shooting as “gang-related” sends the message that the victim deserved to be gunned down. 

And suing gangs under the pretense of doing something to alleviate gun violence enforces that message. Lightfoot should call it the Victim Blaming Ordinance instead.

Larry Hoover, the founder and former leader of the Gangster Disciples, has been called the most notorious gang leader in Chicago’s modern history. But Chicago stopped loving its home-bred gangsters when its home-bred gangsters stopped being white. 

Now 70 years old, Hoover has spent nearly 50 years in prison — having first been convicted of a murder in 1973 when he was 23, and later given six life sentences for drug conspiracy. 

During the first 20 years of his imprisonment in the Illinois penal system, Hoover, who had been functionally illiterate, learned to read and became engrossed in politics after reading Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royco’s “Boss” and being inspired by the Daley Machine’s transition from street gang to political organization.


According to a profile piece written on Hoover in the Chicago Reader, he co-created the political action group 21st Century V.O.T.E. (Voices Of Total Empowerment) in the 1990s to educate and empower Black communities to challenge machine politicians. He wrote and distributed a manifesto that encouraged literacy, spirituality, sobriety, communalism and aggressive participation in the political process. 

By the late 1980s, Hoover had outgrown his role as a gang leader and was ready to lead a movement. He officially changed the name of the Gangster Disciples to Growth and Development and began to articulate a new vision for the organization that condemned gangsterism as an unsustainable way of life for Black people in America.

The public’s reluctance to acknowledge and accept the name change underscores the public’s reluctance to acknowledge and accept that even Black boys from the bottom class — who commit acts of violence in their adolescence — can grow and change and become something greater. 

In July, a federal judge denied Hoover’s request for relief under the First Step Act, a federal law passed in December 2018 that shortens mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. The judge wrote in his July ruling that, “To the extent that any one person can deter another to commit crimes, Hoover’s life imprisonment symbolically demonstrates that the rule of law reaches even those in power who seem untouchable.”

But the rule of law in the United States of America has always been that no Black body is untouchable. And — if anything — Hoover’s life imprisonment symbolically demonstrates that the contempt this country has for poor Black youth is unrelenting and cannot be rehabilitated.

During that 1995 interview with the Chicago Reader, Hoover had this to say:

“Most Black males now come through the prison system. That’s what binds us. Guys who come from the background I come from are in a unique position to help the Black males. We have to listen to them to try and turn around the cycle. We can galvanize the sleeping giant in the Black community. Street gang members don’t trust the system, don’t use the system, because they believe it can’t work for them. By them not taking advantage of the system, things are going to keep on going in the direction that they’re going in. 

But if somebody leads them, wants to bring them in and show them that they can get involved and they can impact and they can make some changes, then they’ll listen.”

GDs, Vice Lords, Four Corner Hustlers, and Black Disciples don’t need to be sued; they need to be supported. They need free therapy and group counseling. They need anger management, conflict resolution and restorative justice training led by people they can relate to. They need dignified jobs that pay a living wage in their communities. They need city leaders who won’t close their schools and turn them into police academies. They need access to legal pathways out of poverty. No one wants to or should have to turn to crime and violence to support themselves and their families

Instead of trying to take their assets, Mayor Lightfoot should acknowledge people like Larry Hoover as community assets with invaluable wisdom and perspective.

It would behoove our city leaders and our misguided youth to learn from the lucky former gang leaders who’ve grown old enough to become grandparents. Some even went on to become violence interrupters, mentors, teachers, coaches, counselors, sobriety sponsors, athletes, artists, authors, entrepreneurs and beacons of hope.

The not-so-lucky ones became ancestors before they had time to become anything else. Many are still becoming. Many are returning to communities they no longer recognize after decades of incarceration. Many are still surviving torture behind bars.

When the city of Chicago stops pathologizing and criminalizing emergent leaders who empathize with and are committed to empowering young Black people with shared experiences of inner city trauma and PTSD, then and only then will we get closer to redressing the gun violence problem.

(Black Ancestors Here Healing Society) is a Chicago-based raptivist and revolutionary, nationally known for making sedition irresistible through her art, activism and advocacy.