The Black Gangster Disciples (GD) were formed in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood in the 1960's. The organization has traditionally portrayed itself to the public as a legitimate yet aggressive agent of social and political reform. Indeed, some members today claim to pursue Larry Hoover's new public title for the gang, "Growth and Development" exclusively, denying further involvement in criminal activity and instead focusing on community development. Police argue, however, that the name is simply a public-friendly disguise for illicit operations.
During the 1960's, the Gangster Disciples, alongside the Blackstone Rangers (which were later renamed the Black P. Stones), received substantial public funds from Chicago's municipal government to set up and operate community service programs targeting delinquent street youth. Police argued that these programs were strengthening the gang's criminal operations, while giving legitimacy to their politics of radicalization. In 1967, the Office of Economic Opportunity, with the help of the General Motors Company, gave $50,000 to fund the Youth Manpower Project, a program whose goal was to get black, inner-city teenagers off the street and into academic training programs and, eventually, work-placements. The program was run jointly by the Gangster Disciples and the Black P. Stones, under the leadership of The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), a controversial grassroots organization that was often in conflict with Chicago's City Hall. Since the training and placement were carried out by the gang leaders, themselves, (two leaders from the Disciples and two leaders from the Black P. Stones), critics argued that the Youth Manpower Project also allowed the gangs to fund their own drug-trade operations, prostitution rings and gambling establishments, and to stockpile weapons (Jacobs, 1983).
Three years before the beginning of the TWO project, however, Chicago had already received a $685,000 federal grant from the Kennedy administration to fund street youth programs (called "Streets"). This program had also backfired on the city, and instead, had channeled gang members and street youth into the civil rights movement under the charismatic leadership of a select few Disciples and P. Stone leaders.
In any case, the reorganization of the Chicago Police Department's Gang Intelligence Unit that occurred during this time in respone to the renewed financial power of the two gangs (and later the Vice Lords, on Chicago's West Side) resulted in a sharp spike in arrests and prison sentences in Illinois' state prisons and county jails. The Cook County Jail, for instance, was thought to house roughly 275-300 Gangster Disciples each year between 1967 and 1975, including about 100 that had been convicted of serious felonies and another 20 convicted of murder. Researchers argue that the prison environments within the Cook County Jail, Pontiac, Stateville, and Joliet Prisons during this time contributed to the political radicalization, militarization, and community-mobilization that characterized the Disciples during the 1960's and 1970's. Between 25% and 50% of the gang's membership at this time was recruited from inside prison.
Despite being considered the least organized of the four Chicago "supergangs" at the time (the Vice Lords, Black P. Stones, Latin Kings, and the Disciples), the Disciples maintained smooth operations in Stateville in the 1970's, electing 9 cell house chiefs, to represent each of the organization's branches, to jointly run operations of the facility.
Today, some 30,000 members have been reported on the street, however by the 1990's reports estimated that approximately 50,000 members were active in 35 states. In the 1960s, the GD were a dominant force and were the first street gang to appear in Memphis Tennessee in the 1980s.
Current chairman Larry Hoover, also known as Old Man, or "the King," ran the gang for several years from inside his prison cell in the super max facility in Colorado. He is serving a 150- to 200-year sentence for a murder in 1973, where he shot a man six times in the head and once in the arm. Hoover once praised the Black Panthers, as being efficient, strong, and powerful, and "the most beneficial organization in the 20th century." His efforts towards parole have arguably been responsible for many truces and peace talks within the organization.
Hoover was born in Jackson, Miss., in 1950, later moving to the South Side of Chicago with his mother when he was 4. He joined a gang called the Gangsters when he was twleve, and had later recruited over 30 members by his late teens. His followers quickly grew to reach the thousands.
Inside prison Larry Hoover merged his Gangsters with another gang, the Black Disciples, allowing greater economic flexibility and control over the drug market.
The Gangster Disciples have a corporatelike structure that allows drug dealing and extortion rackets, violence, and murder. As a street gang, the Gangster Disciples had a board of directors, governors, regents, coordinators and, of course, soldiers to do the dirty work. They are heavily organized, using code language to communicate, and have been reported in the news to use children as young as 8 years old to smuggle guns and drugs and carry out gang executions. In all cases, members who show disrespect, or who fail to honour their obligations or debts, are fined or beaten, sometimes murdered. Punishment for gang disloyalty usually is death.
GD members have been reported to teach gang literature and gang history to potential recruits, as well as collect fines and distribute drugs to other incarcerated members.
The Associated Press characterized the gang's structure concisely:
"Hoover at the top; then two boards of directors - one in prison, one on the street; a set of governors and associate governors; a layer of regents; and literally thousands of lower-level members, most of them street-corner drug peddlers." (Associated Press 24 Feb 1996)
In 1996, executive managers distributed narcotics to roughly 6,000 salespeople a year, allocating $300,000, the proceeds for one predetermined day's of work, to the gang leaders at headquarters.
Several leaders have run in community elections, and the wife of leader Larry Hoover opened her own fashion line called Ghetto Prisoner that includes jackets stitched with Hoover's prison number. They have often infiltrated community politics, at one point running a group called Save the Children Promotions Inc., which sponsored concerts.
In the 1990s there was significant tension between the Bloomington-Normal Gangster Disciples and the Harvey-Markam branch of the GDs, however both factions worked out the conflict internally without resorting to warfare. During the 1990s GD members had been charged with drug conspiracy, narcotics racketeering and criminal drug conspiracy as part of Illinois' gang investigation entitled Operation Southern Passage. At the time drug dealers for the gang had moved operations to the Twin Cities, where profits could be doubled or even tripled compared to what they could earn in Chicago's markets.
The organization has been reported in:
"Gangster Disciples exposed in trial," 2 July 1997,The
"Big 4: Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Crips, Bloods," 23 March 2008, The Commercial Appeal
"Hoover tapes reveal details of gang life," 25 March 1997, Chicago Sun-Times
"GANGSTER INFESTATION," Violent Chicago gang spreading its tentacles, 18 February 1996,
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
Jacobs, JB. 1983. Stateville: the Penitentiary in Mass Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press