The Making of Chiraq

herb43The name Chiraq, which is frequently employed the black Chicagoans, has attracted much criticism, with some arguing that its utilization glorifies an urban culture of violence. Lil Reese, who grew up in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, describes his upbringing by forcefully testifying, “I lost so many niggas, turned into a savage […] Where I’m from? This Chiraq.” In numerous rap videos, these self-proclaimed savages residing within the enclave of Chiraq appear brandished with weapons that are suitable for military combat. Their T-shirts often have insignia that reads ”R.I.P______,” with the blank filled by the names of deceased peers. “Chiraq” is just one of many of these ghettos; the same lifestyle can be found in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and other urban communities. In Lil Bibby’s pivotal track entitled “Raised Up,”  he asserts, ”We some savages, that’s what the hood made us.” Lil Bibby and Lil Herb describe the dominant mode of life in inner-city ghettoes, which is one of pure survival where youth must  bear the brunt of a chaotic environment that consists of coping  with the stress that comes with living in and out of jail, violently protecting ones stake in the drug market, and dealing with potentially lethal run-ins with law enforcement.

In the public’s imagination, these ghettoes are home to black welfare queens who are leeches on the economic system, as well as a remberinghadiya“black criminal deviant underclass” who carry out horrific acts of violence in the form of drive-by-shootings, car jackings, and burglaries. The linguistic choice to dub their areas of the city “Chiraq” by Chicago’s youth conveys a fundamental reality about the status of black Americans; it reveals that they constitute a segregated space in  the United states, effectively challenging the commonly held belief in the post-Civil Rights era of America in which  institutional racism is said to be gradually fading as we move towards a  more progressive society, heading more towards  accomplishing  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream with every passing year. After the death of Chicago public school student Hadiya Pendleton, President Barack Obama made the tragic death a mere issue of “gun-violence” and utilized it to advocate tougher gun control legislation, without acknowledging the oppression that went into creating the violent conditions in her community.

The Violence that Created the Violence

chicagogreatmigrationThe ghetto and all of the sporadic anti-social behavior, which is a product of perpetual violence (both physical and institutional), continues to create the social conditions needed for gang conflicts. In 1870, after legal plantation slavery was abolished, 80% of black Americans resided in the rural south; these families were forced to endure an oppressive sharecropping system which had largely replaced slavery. They were marred in poverty with a lack of education while having to cope with a series of repressive black code laws which were the precursor to Jim Crow. During the great migration, African-Americans began moving to Chicago in search of better opportunities, but would instead be met with violence.


The White Circle League, formed with the mission of “keeping white neighborhoods free from negroes,” regularly terrorized Africanchicagoraceriots-Americans in Chicago.  Between 1917 and 1921, the bombing of African-American homes occurred once every twenty days on average. In 1919, an African-American boy who was swimming was killed as a result of whites throwing heavy rocks at him. When blacks sought to report the incident to police, they themselves were arrested while the white individuals who had killed this young man went unpunished.   As African-Americans began peacefully protesting, whites began to violently assault them, forming mobs that eventually sought to harm African-Americans through various avenues, from attacking patients in black hospitals to setting fire to the homes of blacks. The Irish Hamburg Athletic Club was among the groups who made an effort to kill many blacks; a man who would eventually become mayor decades later – Richard J. Daley – was an active member of this group. These violent attacks left many African-Americans homeless, causing them to lose the relatively small amount of wealth that they had come up north to accumulate. Furthermore, the Irish gangs who carried out these brutal attacks would in mass numbers be recruited to the Chicago Police Department.


cjocagpb;aclbe;tThe Chicago Housing Authority also implemented the “Neighborhood Composition Rule,” which ensured that blacks would be segregated and confined to housing in the black belt. The housing for black Americans lacked plumbing and was routinely neglected; the neighborhoods did not even receive the benefit of regular garbage disposal services. In addition to being near toxic waste dumps, the decrepit housing set aside for blacks drastically increased the levels of infant mortality.  Even after the neighborhood composition rule ended, whites would take to violence to ensure segregation.


In Englewood, the  birthplace of rappers Chief Keef & Lil Reese, was once a bastion of white supremacy. After African-Americans had
 merely visited the neighborhood, due to fears that a home was going to be “sold to niggers,” neighborhood associations campaigned with slogans like “America for whites, Africa is the onl y place for niggers.” One white person being interviewed argued that, “We don’t want them, we don’t want to live with them. I think they’re savages. ” With protest signs stating, ”Negroes Invading,” whites began the ‘Englewood Race Riots of 1949,’ not only carrying brutal acts of violence against African-American citizens, but also finding black residential homes to arson, which left many blacks dead, homeless, and losing all of their property. All of this set the precedence of the creation of the ghettos within the city due to the huge wealth loss that black families had struggled to gain. White Flight  took place and years later Lil reese would rap,”I lost so many niggas, turned into a savage. In real life, no movie shit, bitch we clap. Where I’m from? Chiraq.”

The Failure of Civil Rights

tenants A week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Richard J. Daley, who was part of an Irish Club which routinely terrorized blacks, would become the Mayor, and his racism would be backed with institutional support. Daley ordered his police force and U.S. army troops to cripple and maim outraged black citizens. Nonetheless, African-Americans won some concessions; the Fair Housing Act was passed, allegedly attempting to address housing discrimination.Under the Fair Housing Act, African-Americans could sue if they were subjected to housing discrimination. However, such legislation did nothing on a practical level to restructure American society. Indeed, think about the capitol, time, and effort that the average African-American single parent would have to expend to pursue such a case in ‘job discrimination’ or ‘housing discrimination,’ all while struggling with what comes from living in the ghetto.


While the “No Niggers” signs and overt visible signs of racism declined, the act could do nothing to change the everyday racially discriminatory practices of realtors and city planners who would routinely blackhousign4operate along radicalized lines. Douglas S. Massey points out that realtors had unspoken assumptions in their clients’ interest which kept “unwanted” elements (blacks) out of affluent neighborhoods, fearing the professional repercussions from their clientele. This confirms that, despite legislative changes ending overt signs of racism, such legislation would have no effect in transforming the cultural attitudes and daily practices of institutions of city planning and realtors who would continue to operate along racist lines; in summation, relators were found to, and have continued to, keep African-Americans away from white neighborhoods despite the passing of the Fair Housing Act. The sociologist Douglas S. Massey concluded, “Since the passing of the Fair Housing Act, the level of black-white segregation has hardly changed.”

In fact, according to the current trend, blacks in Chicago will still compromise a segregated group as far into the future as 2042. Douglas Massey, states, ”Ironically, within a large, diverse, and highly mobile post-industrial society such as the United States, blacks living in the heart of the ghetto are among the most isolated people on earth.” Born witlilreesehout a silver spoon, in the ghetto, the typical lifestyle of a resident consists of languishing in run down areas, being pressured to hustle on the streets, carrying out “hits” to protect their block as a result of the lethal underground drug economy, all resulting in a continuous cycle of going in and out of jail; many individuals born in these areas know they may  face an early death, and they do not expect to live past eighteen.



The segregated status of black Americans, which separates them from white America, protects white Americans from the social violenceLeondore Draperproblems, drugs, gang wars, and violence, which are a result of an unjust social order. Meanwhile, innocent  African-American women, such as Chicago Public School Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot down by stray bullets on her way home from school, and Leondore Draper, who was shot coming back home from an anti-violence  campaign that she helped to organize, bear the brunt of a racially segregated society. The complicity and perpetration of this racial segregation includes both conservative right wing forces, many of whom deny racism is even a viable factor in the social mobility of blacks, often blaming “immoral black culture.” Also complicit are  liberal left wing forces seeking to liberalize America while  reinforcing the violence against African-American  by spreading the narrative of “steady progress” for blacks and thus obfuscating their true plight and the desperate living conditions they live within.



American Apartheid, Segregation and the making of the Underclass by Douglass S. Massey A. Denton

Making of the Second Ghetto, Race * Housing in Chicago 1940-1960 by Arnold R. Hirsch



Blood in the Streets: Chicago Gang Violence!

Joseph Coleman was an aspiring rapper. In his amateur rap videos, he can be seen brandishing automatic weapons better suited for military combat zones in Iraq. His style of rap involved promoting his gang life and threatening his rivals. He was only a teenager when his life abruptly ended; he had been fatally shot as he was riding his bike in his neighborhood. Why had his music been so violent and hardcore? Why did Joseph Coleman have to die?


Jonylah Watkins was a six-month-old infant. In one of the few pictures available of her online, she was smiling. She was not a “gangsta rapper,” only an innocent bystander, yet her life would be cut short; she, too, would be shot. Why was her neighborhood such a violent place to live in? Why did Jonylah Watkins have to die?

Hadiya Pendleton was a high school honor roll student. She dreamed of becoming a politician. She performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration. When she returned to her hometown and was hanging out with her friends at the park, she was killed. Why was this teenage girl targeted? Why did Hadiya Pendleton have to die?

All of these tragic events took place in Chicago, and all of the victims were African-Americans. I grew up in the south side of Chicago and I’m an alumnus of the same high school that Hadiya Pendleton attended. My personal connection with the location that these tragedies occurred in has made me ponder why my community is so violent and why so many innocent lives have been taken. I have often thought about what could be done to create a safer environment in which people would not have to fear for their lives.

     When considering where this violence stems from, many people would say that it is the result of a lack of morals that has contributed to juvenile delinquency among blacks. The rampant violence in the south side of Chicago is not caused by any sort of innate problem among African-Americans; rather, it stems from the remains of institutionalized racism in America. The African-American community originally came to Chicago in search of better jobs and a better life. Instead, they were met with bigotry from the Chicago housing authority, who restricted them to the south side of town, which later became known as the “black belt.” The community was neglected, not even given the benefit of regular garbage disposal services or having other basic needs met, which caused the infant mortality rate to skyrocket.

After these segregation laws to keep the black community “in their place” were overturned, Irish gangs participated in riots to terrorize and bomb innocent black people. One of the participants in these riots was a young Richard J. Daley, who later became mayor. During this time, many black youth banded together to defend their community.

Along with the outsourcing of factory jobs, this situation led the African-American community to become devastated; the resulting poverty caused many blacks to develop detrimental socio-political habits that are exemplified in gangs across Chicago. The very same groups of people who once defended their community from violence became gangs that inflicted violence on others. Many people turned to drug dealing, as that was the only way to obtain a viable source of income under the impoverished social conditions. Gangs became rivals over who would get which drug corners, and this territorial competition became a pretext for violence, with the ensuing conflicts often leading to casualties.


It’s important to realize what the origin of gang violence is so that we can, as a community, work to eliminate it. As an African-American who calls Chicago home, I plan to work tirelessly to change the bad habits that are prevalent in the black community, such as drugs, violence, and out-of-wedlock births. My goal is to improve the black community by teaching youth to choose a better lifestyle than that of a gang member or a drug dealer. I believe that Chicago will become more prosperous once its decadence is overcome and a more productive sector of society. No one should condemn or pass moral judgment on the African-American community for the natural result of the legacy of Jim Crow. Instead, we should accept the challenge of helping our community evolve into a more balanced, peaceful part of society. Education is the key to changing society for the better, and as we put forth effort to engage youth in adopting a better lifestyle, we will eventually see how much of a positive effect good morals and teachings can have on the community as a whole.


Arnold Richard Hirsch, “Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960″, University of Chicago,1998,,M1


On Gun Control: A Critical Look at the Southside of Chicago PT 2

Listen to the music that fills the Chicago Rap Scene. Not since the ‘Gangsta Rap’ era of N.W.A have we heard music so violent. A quick youtube search for “Chiraq Music” yields numerous amateur rappers affiliated with rival gangs taunting each other. They trade lyrical disses while wielding automatic weapons more suited to the deadly combat zones of Iraq. Money, power, desires for respect fuel the numerous gangs of Chicago to battle, steadily pushing the homicide rate ever higher. What is Rahm Emanuel’s plan to confront this violence?

While republicans nonsensically blame “a lack of morals” as a cause for this violence, the so-called progressive Democrats like Rahm Emanuel  are too busy pushing for tougher Gun Control Laws and Police Occupation of Black neighborhoods. But can increased Police Occupation and tougher gun control laws of Black Communities in Chicago really address the violence?

“BrickSquad! The police can’t control us!”, chants Lil Jojo proudly in one of his songs. In another he threatens the police, stating that the Cops are “Gonna Catch the whole 30.”

Chief Keef, another Chicago rapper also voices his disagreement with the increased police occupation of black neighborhoods. In his track, “Aimed At You’, (referring to his guns of course) he talks about his daily adventures and criminal pursuits in the streets of Chicago. He seems to laugh at the idea of police stopping him when he boldly states, “You Call the Cops? You gonna get a Cop dropped.”

Even as the Democrats push for tougher Gun-Control Laws, Black Gang Youth are out in the streets breaking the per-existing laws. Lil Mister describes in his track, ‘No Lackin”, what it takes for Chicago gang youth to survive in the streets, the constant vigilance required to avoid tragedy. He warns to “Keep them eyes open ain’t no slacking homie” and follows it up with “We do this shit for real, you a actor homie”, clearly a jab at studio gangsters who don’t live what they rap about. He brags about his ability to shoot when he boasts that if “That chopper hit your ass you’ll do a backflip homie. Nigga say they drilling they need practice homie.”

A while back, a video surfaced of Lil Reese physically abusing a young woman. After outraged ensued Lil Reese felt that these critics were just ‘ hatin cause im getting money’.  He has recently been arrested on an unrelated charge for mob action and battery. In Lil Reese’s song, “Us”, he shares his sentiment on on the police, “Fuck a opp we send shots nigga. Bullets coming non-stop nigga.”The Chicago Police Department (colloquially the “opps” don’t seem to deter Chicago Gang Youth in the slightest, nor the Gun Control laws which consume the attention of the Democrats.

The reality is, lack of gun control legislation or police in neighborhoods are not to blame for Chicago’s drastic levels of gang violence. Instead, this can be attributed to the legacy of Jim Crow: institutionalized racism, disenfranchisement and poverty resulting from an unjust social system When you look past all the macho-posturing in the rap videos of the Chicago youth, you’ll see people who are profoundly oppressed and disenfranchised. As Lil Reese raps,”On my block, if we ain’t got it then we gotta take it.” What exactly don’t these black youth have? Basic necessities including life, food, clothing and shelter. Thus, in order to obtain the rights that they are entitled to, they are forced to enter an underground drug economy to afford food, clothing and shelter.

In Lil Reese’s “Rob Who” he states, “I gotta get this money man, there’s nothing else… Im going hard, stomachache, bitch I need a meal. Think I’m playing?The whole Lam gotta eat for real…. A body getting droped everyday this shit is real.”

“Lam” refers to the Lamron Faction of the Black Disciples whom have been lured into an underground drug economy due to impoverished economic conditions imposed on their neighborhood. In Englewood, these heavily impoverished households are mostly headed by single parent females. As they struggle to provide for their families, kids are forced to find a way to bring in quick money.

By joining a gang, these youths obtain access to money via the drug economy. As the children of broken families and fatherless homes, youths come together into various functional organizations as a surrogate to the nuclear family and as a way for oppressed youth to form bonds –which helps them cope with such a hard life.

This is why Chief Keef and Lil Reese open up their tracks with “L’S Up” or “300” which is a reference to these Lamron 300 Faction of the Black Disciples.This is why Lil Jojo and Lil Minster often begin their tracks with “Bricksquad” and “Insane”: both factions of the Gangsta Disciples.

As youths get accustomed to the trials of the drug market—having a gang infringe or take over your territory where you sell drugs, which is the only source of income for youth — competition becomes a matter of starving or eating, of life or death. Thus it’s carried out not through marketing campaigns to neighborhood friends but through the barrel of the gun.

Even when gangs assume hegemony over a drug corner, many of the conflicts becomes retaliatory with gang members wanting to avenge the deaths of fallen friends. This violence and conflict is the result of years of oppression and disenfranchisement, and the introduction of ‘gun control laws’ will not severely impact upon this. These issues must be attacked at the roots, for as long as oppression exists, youths will rebel against the laws that bar them from access to food, clothing, and shelter.

Hadiya Pendleton & The Civil War in Chicago.

There is a war occurring in the South Side of Chicago. A war between various street organizations desperate to overtake an illegal economy and carry out retaliatory hits. A war that is the result of past and systemic oppression by the Government. If one goes on Twitter and looks up the trending topics for Chicago, they will see a reference to this on-going war. Chicago’s trending Twitter topics is in reference to the phrases that Chicago residents are using most. Two of the ten are “BDK” and “GDK.”  BDK stands for Black Disciple Killer and Gangsta Disciple Killer, respectively. It is not uncommon to see these phrases also engraved on the cement, street poles and other areas within Chicago. All Gangs are essentially a product of institutionalized  racism(


Wikipedia, describes the Black Disciples as, “a large African American street Gang based in Chicago Illinois. The Gang is considered extremely violent and is known to engage in drug trafficking.

96px-Robert_sandiferOne notable Black Disciple is Robert “Yummy” Sandifer. When Robert ‘Yummy’ Sandifer was only nine years old, he had already been in and out of jail multiple times, deeply involved in the Chicago street life, committing a series of armed robberies and murders. One day Robert Sandifer was sent on a mission to shoot members of the Gangsta Disciples. He accomplished in shooting Gangsta Disciple members but in the process of doing so accidently shot Shavon Dean, a 14 year old innocent girl who happened to be caught in the cross fire.

This event occurred in 1994, over a decade ago, which sparked much “Stop the Violence” marches and achieved much media attention since the killer and the victim were so young. Eventually, Robert Sandifer was executed by fellow members of Black Disciples. Since then, violence has continued and escalated; although many “Stop the Violence” campaigns took place, there was no change in the structural conditions causing this violence.Other Black Disciple members include Lil Reese and Chief Keef, a now incarnated rapper known for violence lyrics, one of which states that, “We don’t carry rifles cause bitch we black disciples. We just carry 30s and 50s bullets gon’ bite you.”  In another song he goes on to indicate that “Fuck a Tooka Gang bitch, I’m 3hunna. Tooka is a reference to the Gangsta Disciples, another large American street Gang in Chicago. 3hunna is a reference to the 300 faction of the Black Disciples.  Lil Jojo, now deceased, was a Gangsta Disciple rapper who carried automatic weapons in videos. In one of his songs he stated, “You Claim 3hunna? You get wacked[shot], nigga that ain’t where it’s at.”

Both Gangsta Disciple members and the “Young Money” faction of the Black Disciples are heavy in the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhood where the University of Chicago is located – and they are at war. This is precisely why the University of Chicago is alleged to have the second highest amount of security after the Vatican. Martin Luther King College Prep High-School, a school I am an alumni to, is also in this community. King College Prep was once a high-school infamous for gang-violence taking place within the school. The Chicago Public Schooling system then decided to make it a selective enrollment school giving it the ability to recruit based on standardized tests and middle school grades instead of from the neighborhood which, at the time, was facing gentrification.

The older graduation classes of King had a strong gang presence, however with each graduation class, the Gang members began to be weeded out due to the school being able to select it pool. Last weekend, I was in Evanston, Illinois for a debate tournament. My mother came out, and we had dinner and began to talk about Hadiya, a King College Prep Student, who was an innocent victim in this on-going civil war within Chicago. I’ve been deeply disturbed, and downright angry and saddened, over her death. I had become good friends with  Klyn Jones. She was a freshman while I was a senior at King. I met her when she joined the debate team and she quickly became my favorite novice due her willingness to become engaged in my rants about white supremacy and capitalism. Her best friend was Hadiya, and they were together at the scene of the crime. On her Twitter page she stated:


“I’m not ready for Saturday, and at fifteen, I shouldn’t have to ready myself to see my best friend who is literally my age in a casket.”

 “am I in Iraq? or the city the president came from?

She then began to tweet her best friend posthumously telling her, “Good Morning” and “Good-Night.”  Indeed, no one should have to experience such tragedy at such a young age. I began to talk more with my mother about this incident and the violence in Chicago. Then the television, which was on CNN, began to discuss Hadiya. They pointed out that two people who were in custody for her murder.  I wanted to see the faces of the men who killed this beautiful girl.

CNN was not showing them at the time, so later when I got to the hotel I took out my laptop and went to the Chicago Tribune  which indicated that:

“Micheal Ward, 18 Kenneth Williams 20, have been charged with first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, in the death of Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton. Authorities said Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, members of the Gangster Disciples street gang, were feuding with Gang rivals in the area where Hadiya was shot to death.”

Then they showed a picture of one of the men charged for this crime — Kenneth Williams; I knew him. He was also an alumnus of King College Prep and a part of my older brother’s graduating class.

I do not wish to absolve the two men of their personal responsibility.  Both if convicted and found guilty should be justifiably punished. They were looking to shoot down rival Gang-members, and allegedly in a totally inept and incompetent move, mistook innocent school children for those Gangs members and opened fire on them.However, it is important to realize Chicago violence will not stop and will continue to escalate unless we address the structural conditions that gave birth to them –poverty, inequality caused by social conditions created by institutional racism. Chicago’s state-sanctioned racism produces “thugs” and systematically strips the morality from people and replaces it with a stone cold heart as is necessary to survive on these mean streets.

Blacks have been systematically disempowered and live in the most violent areas, not because we are “naturally” aggressive, but because of economic conditions that have been imposed on us by malicious outside forces. The obstacles that were, and still are, put in place, to halt black socioeconomic aspirations, has resulted in black youth acquiring detrimental social, economic, and political habits that are exemplified in the Gangs that roam Chicago’s streets. The Gangs that we have in our community, the bloody knives that lay astray in the pavement, the white chalk on our sidewalks, the yellow tape surrounding vacant lots, and the rapid succession of bullets that are fired at one another are the cumulative effects of systematic institutionalized racism.