Free Study Guide for There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

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On a warm day that July, two cars pull up to the high-rises just across the street from the Rivers’ apartment. Out steps Jimmie Lee, a barrel-chested man of only five feet seven. The children know to keep away from him, because he and no one else rules Henry Horner. He heads a gang called the Conservative Vice Lords, and he walks with a gang that controls everything that happens, especially with drugs, at Horner. He even has an “enforcer” whose sole job is to maim and kill at Jimmie’s behest. However, he rules with more than fear. He sometimes is a positive force in the projects. He doesn’t take drugs himself, and he drinks only in moderation. He brings food for various families in need, and he keeps the “peewees” of thirteen and fourteen out of his gang. To some, as a result, he is a role model. He is often in and out of trouble with the police, but he seems able to meet his bail and go back about his business. He seems able to operate with impunity.

Jimmie’s gang is one of three that emerged in the early 1960’s: the Vice Lords, the Disciples, and the El Rukns. They had been fighting over turf ever since. They had actually won some legitimacy when liberals came to believe that given proper guidance, they might turn their energies to bettering the neighborhoods. One of the El Rukns was actually invited at the behest of a US senator to President Nixon’s inauguration. However, efforts to change the gangs quickly and miserably failed. There was too much money to be made in marketing and selling narcotics. The gangs became so powerful in Chicago that they even managed to keep crack out of the city, something the police were unable to do.

At the age of ten, Lafeyette had his first encounter with death when he saw someone killed. This was the beginning of the brutal drugs wars at Henry Horner when Jimmie Lee made his move to take control of the projects. The first death in the war was a young Disciple named Baby Al who, after being shot, collapsed outside the Rivers’ apartment. Two years after he bled to death, his blood still stains the stairwell. A few weeks later, as the two brothers played on the jungle gym, shots rang out again. Lafeyette grabbed the triplets while Pharoah ran in panic. He and Porkchop hid in a mound of foul smelling garbage until they were sure it was safe to come out. They saw as they ran a little girl collapse from being shot. It was later learned that she had a leg wound and would be all right. This was the first time that Pharoah told his mother that he didn’t want to know what was happening.

To add to the deteriorating conditions there, the Vice Lords knocked out all the lights around Horner, set up wandering sentries, and communicated on walkie-talkies. They wore their baseball caps with the bill turned to the left, made the Playboy Bunny their symbol along with a five-pointed star. Their other symbols included a top hat for shelter, a cane for strength, a glove for purity and a champagne glass for conservatism or propriety. Most of their recruits came from prison where they learned the meaning of the symbols. Jimmie Lee’s business grossed $50,000 to $100,000 a week.

On December 13, 1986, a frenzy began that would last through the summer. Larry Wallace, a member of a rival gang was viciously shot from every conceivable angle and died in the halls of Horner. It was the beginning of what the residents there began to call the “death train” that had driven smack through their community.


This chapter serves to explain how the drug trade brought nothing but misery to the people who lived at Henry Horner Homes. Jimmie may have seemed like a Godsend to some people there, but in truth, he brought horror and death and drove the already hopeless residents into a lower state of existence.

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