Behind the boarded-up storefronts and vacant lots of downtown Englewood, on Chicago's South Side, the Gangster Disciples' drug trade is booming.
"No business in Englewood has gross proceeds that compare with the drug sales by established gangs," says police Cmdr. Ronald Evans, rattling off a list of intransigent GD drug corners within blocks of police headquarters.
The GD has flourished in Englewood by exploiting the community's idle labor and addicts. At least 1 out of 3 of Englewood's 100,000 primarily black residents are jobless, live below the poverty line, or both.
Hundreds of people "work" for the GD in Englewood, most of them earning $50 to $200 a day as drug dealers, lookouts, or "mules" (couriers), according to a computer list of the gang's territory and leaders found by federal investigators.
The GD prohibits its dealers from using hard drugs. "Once they start dippin' and dabbin' they'll end up owing the organization, and if they don't pay, they'll end up in the lake," says one Englewood drug counselor, requesting anonymity.
Walk-up and drive-by drug sales go on 24-hours a day on many corners. Gang members use cellular phones, beepers, and $60 radio scanners to monitor police frequencies and alert dealers to raids. When one "crew" is arrested, another often appears within hours, if not minutes. "You've got folks literally waiting in the wings to sell drugs," says Commander Evans.
Police make about 3,700 arrests for drug possession in Englewood each year, or 1 for every 25 to 30 residents. Most of those arrested are gang members. But since growing numbers of dealers are juveniles, many receive light sentences or are quickly released.
The GD nets millions of dollars annually from drug sales in Englewood. In one section of the neighborhood alone, McKinley Hayden, a GD coordinator, says he managed about 80 gang members in an operation that sold up to 10 kilos (22 pounds) of cocaine a week with an estimated street value of $1 million. Mr. Hayden testified in February in the first of three Gangster Disciple trials.
Sometimes drug profits flow so fast they are hard to launder. In a raid of a bungalow near Englewood last month, police found a stash of $1 million in small bills.
The impact of the drug trade here is devastating, say police. Most users live in the community, and a growing number are women, which follows a national trend.
Denise, a high school dropout from a broken home, was a mother of two and pregnant when her boyfriend introduced her to heroin in 1991. She soon became a steady customer of the GD in Englewood. "After the first couple of times I had to have it," she says.
Denise (not her real name) was more fortunate than other women drug users in Englewood - she did not lose custody of her children. Her mother cared for them and eventually she recovered.
Another longtime Englewood addict, Derrick, describes his cocaine habit as "an absolute compulsion" that destroys lives and families. Sleeping in abandoned cars and vacant buildings, he stole from relatives to buy drugs.
"If I see anyone out on the street after midnight I know they are either looking for it [drugs], taking it home, or trying to do some dirt to get it," he says.