Black Disciple

Black Disciple

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The gang's genesis dates to 1960, with a South Side gang called the Devil's Disciples had become sufficiently large to warrant being given an outreach worker by the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago Youth Services (source: Chicago Historical Society). The Devil's Disciples were mostly male African-Americans, 15-18 years of age, frequenting the intersection of 53rd St. and Kimbark Ave., and operated from 53rd and Woodlawn to 49th St. and Dorchester Ave. In the early 1960s this gang known as the Devils Disciples became the "Black Disciples" (see Explosion of Chicago's Black Street Gangs: 1900 to Present, 1990, by Useni Perkins). The three major players in the Devils Disciples were David Barksdale, Shorty Freeman, and Don Derky.

Most accounts date the founding of the Black Disciples to the year 1966 as a southside gang. The founding leader of the Black Disciples was David Barksdale, referred to in gang materials as "King David." As a boy, Barksdale trained as a boxer at the Better Boys Foundation, later making an unsuccessful attempt to turn pro in New York City before returning to Chicago.

Even in the 1960's, the Black Disciples were enemies or rivals of the Black P. Stone Rangers led by Jeff Fort.

The center of their influence in the 1960's appeared to be in the Englewood community of Chicago, where "to raise money to fund their illegal enterprises Disciple leaders staged fundraising parties at the Maryland Theatre, located at 63rd and Maryland" (See Illinois Police and Sheriffs News, "Paying the Price of Our Neglect: Street Gangs are the New Organized Crime", Spring, 1994).

Barksdale, seriously wounded by gunfire from a rival gang member in 1969, died in 1974 of kidney failure related to those injuries.

Barksdale's arrests consisted mostly of disorderly conduct, weapons and drug possession (i.e., marijuana), with no actual convictions of drug pushing, according to one relative interviewed in July 1995.

Regardless of Barksdale's own arrest record, by the early 70's it was clear that his gang was involved in narcotics trafficking. And when he died, the narcotics territory and leadership of the Black Disciples was up for grabs.

Two men attempted to fill the power void: Jerome "Shorty" Freeman rose to become the leader of the existing Black Disciples; and Larry "King" Hoover created his own thing --- the Black Gangster Disciples.

Freeman tried to secure Barksdale's territory for the benefit of his gang, the Black Disciples or BD's (which continues today as a separate organization with its own unique by-laws and constitution.

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From prison, Hoover fused remnants of Barksdale's organization with that of his own gang, "The Family." Hoover had founded "The Family" at age 23, about a year before Barksdale's death. (See Chicago Tribune, Dec.11, 1973). Members of the Supreme Gangsters, a transition gang identity, became the Gangster Disciples.

Mississippi-born Hoover lived at 121 E. 104th St., in what today is called the "hundreds" area of Chicago's southside.

His gang's territory stretched from Chicago to Gary, Ind. On Nov. 5, 1973 Hoover was found guilty of the kidnap murder of reputed addict William Young. Joshua Shaw was prepared to testify against Hoover, but he too was murdered Sept. 27, 1974.

But Shaw had already given his deposition at a preliminary hearing, detailing how he saw Hoover and his lieutenant, Andrew Howard, kidnap Young from 69th Street and Wentworth Avenue on Feb. 26, 1973. Young, whom Hoover suspected of stealing from The Family's narcotics supply, was found shot to death in an alley at 6814 S. Lowe St. later that day.

Both Howard and Hoover received sentences of 150 to 200 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. When Barksdale died in 1974, Hoover was ideally positioned to begin organizing his own gang following.

Howard, later known as "Dee Dee" was to continue his association with Hoover, and would himself be included in the Aug. 31 indictments.

Hoover flourished in his quarters at the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), growing in influence and power.

How powerful? Hoover was indicted for ordering the inmate uprising in Pontiac Correctional Center in 1978 in which three officers died. Charges against Hoover were dropped because of the difficulty of getting other GD's to testify against their leader.

How powerful? We can add the comments of a high ranking gang informant on this issue:

"I heard through the grapevine, when Mike Lane was the director of IDOC, Lane used to fly down there (to Vienna) a lot and walk the yard with Hoover; Lane is the one who put him down there (in Vienna). The rumors were that he had somebody on the outside who would deliver an envelope of money through third parties to Lane. They would use third parties so it would not come back to any of them."

"Hoover practically masterminded the riot in 1978. He ordered his members to burn the commissary down. Three guards got killed; he looted it first, then burned it. He also had one of our guys killed back in Pontiac in 1982, a kid named Smiley. Which started a big thing. One of his guys, a GD named Shannon, has a statewide hit out on him from our gang becase of it; Shannon is still alive though, he is inside, he was one of the GD hitmen."

"Hoover was hit only once, after Barksdale died, there was a guy named Nissan. Nissan was a BG. Nissan had a homosexual hit Hoover because he wanted to humiliate Hoover. The homo stabbed Hoover two or three times before Hoover's security got a hold of him. This guy Nissan is in Danville now, he made a training trape for the corrections academy on how to disarm an inmate with a weapon."

In 1993, when Hoover began serious efforts to win parole through political and public pressure, he would appear at the parole board hearing "dressed as though on a European vacation: black loafers, black pleated slacks and a white, short-sleeve shirt" (George Papajohn, "Killer Hoover Pleads to Go Free: Broker, Even Ex-Prosecutor Stand Up For Convict", Chicago Tribune, 8-11-93).

And Hoover was until the Fall of 1994 held in the Vienna Correctional Center in Vienna, Illinois --- a very comfortable, minimum security, college campus style facility with no fences. The historical issue is what major type of power brokerage was Hoover able to use to gain a transfer to this Vienna facility.

How could a gang leader serving a life sentence for murder wield such clout? One explanation is that prison officials and gang members alike believed that Hoover held the power of life and death in his hands.

Hoover was able to order all GD's incarcerated in the IDOC to not assault a correctional officer or employee without his direct authorization --- thus, any assaults against prison staff anywhere in Illinois would be considered a major "violation" in the gang laws that GD's live by behind bars.

Gang Leader's Prison Status: Ability to Lead From Behind Bars

This ability of a gang leader to operate from behind state prison walls amazes most people who do not understand modern gangs. The public is equally unaware of how in the Federal Bureau of Prisons such gang leaders would face a no human contact status facility like that of California's Pelican Bay Correctional Center. Illinois state facilities have a long history of trying to manage gangs by providing special concessions to gang leaders such as Hoover.

If the story of the Gangster Disciples and Hoover has any lesson, it is that negotiating with gangs is a futile strategy. The gang will not be coopted, it will be strengthened by the recognition and implied delegation of authority that such recognition brings.

There have been several major efforts over the years by the collective bargaining units for line staff correctional officers to stop correctional administrators from the practice of granting special favors, concessions, and privileges to gang leaders in Illinois state correctional facilities.

The Illinois Department of Corrections has a very confused and therefore politically vulnerable policy on gang issues. First, it denies it has much of a gang problem. Some background history is useful here. Secondly, the historical record is quite clear: a national pattern of serious mistakes about handling gangs behind bars was detected early in Illinois. Prison administrators did negotiate with gang leaders. Gang leaders were able to hold banquets and picnics on their "Nation days", thereby undermining the authority of the line correctional officers who dealt with these gang members on a daily basis.

The official central office administration in the Illinois Department of Corrections forbids its wardens and administrative staff from revealing information to the public, particularly researchers, about gangs. Other states having a strong gang denial syndrome at the state correctional level include: California, New York, and Virginia.


The Gangster Disciples are the leading national group in the "Folks" alliance system for gangs, which flourishes within correctional settings, but somewhat less strong when gang members operate in the larger community.

Inside a jail, juvenile or adult correctional setting, Folks gang members, including the Gangster Disciples, are mixed in with their rivals (i.e., People or Brothers), and find a powerful motive to create a mutual assistance pact.

The Gangster Disciples are also aligned with the Los Angeles-founded Crips, and both brandish the colors blue and black.

The GD ties with the Crips were evident during the series of national Gang Summit meetings held in various U.S. cities during 1993, when the gangs claimed they held the key to create "peace."
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