Throughout There Are No Children Here, a continuous, powerful tension always lurks in the background. The tension is caused primarily by the gangs which are rampant in the housing projects of Chicago. In the Henry Horner Homes, according to Kotlowitz, one person is beaten, shot at, or stabbed due to gangs every three days. In one week during the author’s study of the projects, police confiscated 22 guns and 330 grams of cocaine in Homer alone (Kotlowitz 32).
For the children of the projects, the pressure to join a gang never waivers. Quick cash and protection are hard forces to resist in a world of poverty and violence. However, the children’s role in these gangs is inferior to that of the leaders. At first, the concept of joining is quite attractive. According to Lafeyette, one of the two brothers profiled in the book, “When you first join you think it’s good. They’ll buy you what you want ” (31). However,” “You have to do anything they tell you to do. If they tell you to kill somebody, you have to do that” (31).
What Lafayette refers to is frighteningly true. In the inner city, gangs often recruit young children to do their dirty work. Shortly after joining, a fourteen-year-old friend of Lafayette’s allegedly shoots and kills an older man in an alley half a block north of Lafayette’s building (31).
Acording to Kotlowitz, life in the Henry Homer Homes is controlled to a great extent by gangs, particularly the Conservative Vice Lords. Residents so fear and respect the Vice Lords’ control that they refuse to call 911 (34). Snitching can get a resident killed. Even though the Chicago Police Department installed a hot-line number and promise confidentiality, residents called the number only 21 times in all of 1986 (35).
The fear is bolstered by the gangs’ vast arsenal, which includes easy access to pistols, Uzis, and even grenades. Kotlowitz says that some of the members are very efficient at the technique of torture. Some members are “enforcers,” young men whose sole purpose is to maim and kill (34).
As horrible as gangs are, gang members themselves believe that they are beneficial to inner-city society. A former Gangster Disciple, for example, maintains that gang life taught him a lot: “I grew up without a father and I turned to my Disciple brothaz for love. They knew exactly how to treat a brotha and were always there for me, through thick and thin” (Douglas 162).
Even though gangs provide a sense of support, the “values” instilled in members are horribly dangerous to society. Murders and drive-by shottings go unpunished more often than not in areas like the Henry Horner Homes. Gangs have become powerful enough that high-ranking members who are forced to face the law are protected by high-priced attorneys and investigators (163).
A former Disciple explains a typical way of handling the death of a fellow gang member in inner-city Chicago: “…visiting my brothaz in coffins, then going back and getting drunk, reminiscing about the brotha. Then a cold rage would come over me.. we’d all strap up and go into enemy territory and take care of some of them” (163).
Statements like this one are horrifying testimonies to the violence that is part of the Henry Horner Homes. According to Kotlowitz, authorities have been ineffective in limiting gang activity. The objective in the investigation of street gang criminal activity is to prosecute the gang members and ultimately dismantle the gang itself (Saccente 65). However, in most cases, an arrest of one member of the gang is treated as an isolated incident. Little attention is paid to the organization’s overall activities (65). An effort must be made to stop the gang as a whole.
Many reasons have been given for why police are not efficiently cracking down on gangs. A prominent one is that crackdowns on violent gangs promotes racism because such actions often disproportionally affect black members of gangs (Kennedy 10). To many observers, it would seem that the black community would only be helped by the removal of the violent gangs that terrorize them.
For whatever reason improvements are being stalled, something needs to be done about gang activity in America’s inner cities. In the Epilogue of There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz notes that Lafeyette recently was forced to call an ambulance for a friend who had been shot in the stomach. Of course, like countless other shootings, this event went unreported in the newspapers.