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

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This chapter tells the story of Bird Leg. He is a young man who loves dogs and for this reason, Lafeyette loves him. His real name is Calvin Robinson. Together, he and Lafeyette hunt for dogs in the neighborhood. They keep them in an abandoned garage, and Bird Leg scrounges through the trash bins at a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken to find them food. One night, he decides to sleep with his dogs and sets a fire to keep himself and the animals warm. Unfortunately, he sets the garage on fire as well, and this becomes the first of many brushes with the law. As he grows older, Bird Leg becomes more involved with the Vice Lords, so he and Lafeyette grow apart. Nonetheless, Lafeyette cherishes everything Bird Leg taught him about dogs, and he misses him. Bird Leg’s mother believes that he sought love from the gang in the same way he sought love from his dogs. He becomes increasingly more reckless and hardheaded. He begins raising pit bulls to fight and is later struck by a speeding, drunk driver. In the summer of 1986, he is playing dice with some friends when a man with a shotgun approaches him and demands money. When Bird Leg runs, the man empties a cartridge of buckshot into his shoulder. As a result, Bird Leg’s mother moves her son away from Horner, but he keeps coming back to visit his friends.

Sometimes, the author says, you can almost smell the coming of death at Horner. It is in the foot deep pools of fetid water draining from the fire hydrants; it is the stink of urine puddles in the hallways of the buildings; it is in soiled diapers dumped in the grass or the stench of a maggot-infested cat carcass or the rotting food in overturned trash bins. It is in short the collected scents of summer. Even though the rival gangs call a truce, Bird Leg knows that the reality is that gang members will shoot each other on sight. He is shot in the leg with buckshot one August night and tells his brothers at the emergency room that if he is killed, he wants to be buried in his white jogging suit.

Against his mother’s protestations, Bird Leg decides the very next night to visit friends at Horner. A group of young Disciples begin to taunt him while his sister begs him to come upstairs. He sends her away while he declares that either he’s going to kill these punks or they’re going to kill him. As she enters a friend’s apartment, she hears one shot. Twenty-four year old Willie Elliott steps from between two cars and shoots Bird Leg in the chest. He collapses beneath an old cottonwood tree and dies. The news quickly spreads until it reaches the Rivers’ apartment. All the children run out to see, but Lafeyette refuses to go. He has already seen enough. James later relates to Lafeyette how he saw Bird Leg sprawled under the tree with blood on his white jogging suit. His fist was wrapped around his belt, his only weapon. Jimmie Lee soon steps through the crowd, sees Bird Leg, and then assembles a militia of thirty of his young gang members and heads west looking for revenge. Charlie Toussas, a plainclothes officer who knows Jimmie well, steps up to him and tells him this isn’t a good time. However, in the weeks to come, the Disciples would be the targets of numerous gunshots.

Bird Leg’s mother buys him a new jogging suit to honor his wishes. Lafeyette, Pharoah, and James are the first to file up to the casket. Lafeyette caresses his friend’s hands and face as does James. Pharoah is barely able to see over the coffin but stands there in support of his brother. The service is held in the Zion Grove Baptist Church, which is nothing more than an old storefront, but the people arrive dressed to the nines in tight suits and fedoras. There are deep sorrowful spirituals played while Carla Palmore, a friend of Bird Leg, gives a small eulogy after the minister. She wants to be upbeat, but her speech underlines the general feeling among her peers that many of them, like Bird Leg, might not make it to adulthood. Many of the mourners are in tears, even James, but Lafeyette doesn’t cry. He says later that he cried on the inside. He didn’t have enough in him to cry on the outside. Outside the church, James says that they’re all going to die by killing or “plain out.” He and Lafeyette both hope for plain out.


Bird Leg’s story reinforces many ideas. First, it shows how dangerous life has become in the projects. Second, it shows that the drug wars will affect anyone of any age. Third, it shows that Henry Horner is no longer a community but gang turf. And of course, it shows how the horrors he is witnessing are changing Lafeyette.

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