The Gun

A poor white boy – a cracka’ – as most in this area are called (the slums and tenement halls of Chicago) seventeen years old, awakens to the pop and rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire in a unit below his.  A new day begins here in Paris on the Prairie (a nickname used by some) whose gun laws are some of the strictest in the country.  And the cracka’ wonders how to get a gun for protection? One that he does not have to register.

“The thought of owning a gun scares me,” Cracka’ Levon said to me. “I fear the gun bein’ stolen, used in a robbery or burglary or even as a weapon killin’ someone. I’d be the registered owner, so who d’ya you think they’d go after? I don’t want any jail time especially for a crime I din’t commit.”

I live across the hall from Levon and my name is “Shaker” ok that’s my nickname, but it will suffice.  I have a pistol from my dead father’s belongings when he died. I knew of the pistol when he was alive…he kept it under his seat, in a holster, and inside of his van.  It was special in that the gun had no registered owner so it could never be traced.  He told me it was won in a craps game.

The beneficiaries of his property, my sister and I divvied everything up evenly – tables, chairs, appliances et cetera everything except for…that gun; that was mine alone with nobody else knowing about it.  I felt justified taking it because of our disparate living conditions. She lived in a mansion, to me, on Chicago’s North Side. Sophia, knew nothing about it, and for sure I didn’t mention it.

I was with Dad when he passed; we were watching his favorite T.V. show, “Judge Judy” and it was about a man suing his male neighbor for causing a divorce between his wife and himself when the men were caught having sex with one another.  That sounds like something that would go on here in these homes and for sure not in the green grassed suburbs where Dad lived.

I called to the nurse and she came running but when she got to his bed (seconds later) there was nothing to be done. I cried because Dad was my hero and my hero died on my birthday, he will forever be missed.

The Robert Taylor Homes from 1973 to 1979 when Levon and I lived there were some of the worst years that project ever had. Terrible things happened including: The Mickey Cobras (MC’s) and Gangster Diciple’s (GD’s) those gangs dominated the housing project. Police intelligence sources say that the elevated number of murders was the result of gang “turf wars”, as gang members and drug dealers fought over control of given neighborhoods.

The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) estimated that $45,000 in drug deals took place daily. Former residents of the Robert Taylor Homes have said that the drug dealers fought for control of the buildings. In one weekend, more than 300 separate shooting incidents were reported in the vicinity of the Robert Taylor Homes.Twenty-eight people were killed during the same weekend, with 26 of the 28 incidents believed to be gang-related.

Many crimes occurred in the R T Homes, reaching an all–time high in the mid–1970’s. Most crimes committed at the housing project were drug and street gang violence related. In October 1976, 22–year-old Denise Dozier was thrown from a 15th floor apartment window at the project; she survived the incident.  On June 25, 1983, an infant, Vinyette Teague, was abducted from the project after her grandmother left her alone in the hallway for a few minutes to answer a phone call. An estimated 50 people were in the hallway at the time of the abduction, but police were unable to gather enough evidence to make any arrests. She has never been seen or heard from since.On August 15, 1991, shortly before midnight, CHA police officer Jimmie Haynes was fatally wounded by sniper fire from a high powered rifle at the project. He died two days later.  Three suspects were charged with his murder. A maintenance worker at the project was beaten to death by gang members after he allowed police officers access to a building where a gang meeting was taking place in February 1993.  It was a diff’rent time and an obscene, nauseating, and repugnant place. Thank, God, those terrible homes no longer exist. The last of the disgusting places were demolished in 2005.

And d’ya’ wanna talk ‘bout bein’ a minority? There were ninety six percent blacks there. Levon and I were part of the remaining four percent and we are white. That four percent includes a multitude o’ races. Except for each other, our acquaintances were black.  One became a celebrity…Kirby Puckett of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. So many more wound up in prisons across the land.

I sold Dad’s unregistered pistol to Levon when I finally made it outta’ there in 1993. Six months after I moved out, Levon was caught in the middle of a gang shoot out – he was unarmed and heading back to his apartment. Maybe the gun won in a crap game was only imagined…no it wasn’t because I still have the $50 bill marked with Levon’s phone number in red ink.


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