With the recent release of the hit film American Gangster, the focus of organized crime has moved away from the Mafia and onto the inner city-born black gang leaders. Ron Chepesiuk, who previously chronicled Harlem’s gang bangers, turns his attention to Chicago and brings out a focused and satisfying effort.
Black Gangsters of Chicago starts by examining the lives of some of the major policy kings of the 1920s. Working alongside Capone and the various other ethnic gangs in the city, these policy kings, like Daniel McKee Jackson, carved out a sizeable niche in the underworld, in an era of segregation and racism. The Outfit made its move to muscle into the policy rackets. Sam Giancana was especially instrumental in the Outfit’s attempts to bring the policy racket under their control, or at least to get a piece of the action. The last of the policy kings, Teddy Roe was gunned down outside his house.
The book traces the de-evolution from the old style dapper policy kings to the street level thugs and drug dealers that populate the gangs of the modern era, especially as the neighborhoods declined and middle class blacks moved to the suburbs. One of the earlier of the new-style gangs were the Vice Lords. Moving through the rise and fall of numerous gangs, it becomes clear that some succeeded because of a highly structured system, while others were so fraught with internal dissention that they never reached a level past corner tough guys. But even gang bosses like Jeff Fort, who structured their gangs after the Mafia, were unable to keep a lid on internal dissention. Murder was commonplace.
Though the presence of the gangs seems like an overwhelming tide of crime, Black Gangsters ends on an upbeat note, profiling former Vice Lords leader Bennie Lee, who has now turned his life around and is working to help kids on the brink of falling in with gangs.
Chepesiuk focuses the story into a nice cohesive narrative. The chronological order is a given, but the author throws in interesting asides that enhances rather than derail the writing. This is another nice addition to the true crime canon.