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The Nation: The Godfather in Gary

5 minute read

For all the hosannas sung to it in The Music Man, Gary, Ind., is not one of those garden spots that perennially win community-service awards. Indeed, it is in some aspects the very model of modern urban decay. Founded in 1906 by Industrialist Elbert H. Gary (who judiciously chose not to live there), it sits like an ash heap in the northwest corner of Indiana, a grimy, barren steel town. The sons and daughters of the Poles and Slovaks and Croats, who for generations have worked the foundries, form a decided white minority. Most of the blacks, who make up the town’s majority, are law-abiding citizens, but a few of them have lately terrorized Gary with mob shootouts that rival New York City’s Mafia battles in sanguinary savagery.

Duded up in wide-brimmed hats, black leather jackets, high-heeled boots and bell-bottom pants, gang members actually refer to themselves as “The Family”; their leader, Garland Jeffers, 25, has inevitably dubbed himself “the Godfather.” Comprising some 20 survivors of past street wars, The Family has two hideouts on a quiet, tree-lined family street. But they can be seen daily on the streets of Gary’s worst slum, Midtown, hanging out in front of seedy pool halls and bars. There they ply their trade: collecting protection money from the town’s pimps and pushers, who are also largely black.

This money amounts to no small tribute in a town where, among the population of 175,000, dwell an estimated 2,500 to 5,000 heroin addicts. The street-wise youngsters who make up The Family learned early that dope was where the action was and banded together to get a piece of it. Says one federal official: “They just got tired of the small stuff. They figured they could make more money in protection than by ripping off hubcaps.” Moving in on the city’s dealers led to the recent bloodbath. One dealer was found in his $13,000 gold Cadillac with two bullet holes in his head. A Family gunman and a narcotics kingpin engaged each other in a blazing battle—on the steps of police headquarters. The Family violence seems contagious. A woman who testified against another major dealer in a grand jury hearing was found slain in Indianapolis. Her common-law husband was shot five times, but lived to nail his two assailants, whose ties to The Family were at best conjectural. Said one investigator: “These guys are hardly professionals. Can you imagine a Syndicate murderer not waiting around to make sure the guy is dead?”

Good Point. In the course of the Family war, the body count has run up to 22 within the past year and caused black Mayor Richard Hatcher to call on Washington for help. It has come largely from the newly formed offices of DALE (Drug Abuse Law Enforcement Agency). When Myles Ambrose, DALE’S national director, arrived in Gary last month, he described the situation as “bordering on civil anarchy.” He was not far from wrong. The police department, which has, to say the least, a checkered history, has not done all it might to clean up Gary’s Augean stables. At one point, a police detective literally whisked away a prime suspect from the grasp of federal agents and tore through the town with him at 85 m.p.h. Earlier this year, another officer was indicted for perjury; instead of suspending him, the town’s civil service commission promoted him spectacularly from sergeant to captain.

Mayor Hatcher and Police Chief Charles Boone are quick to insist that fault lies with the commission and the Lake County courts. Both are largely controlled by the Democratic machine that Hatcher defeated in the 1967 mayoralty election. They have a good point. Several men have been arrested and charged with murder, but there have been no convictions. One judge reduced bail on Godfather Garland’s brother Nathaniel, arrested for possession of drugs and a dangerous weapon, from $5,000 to $100; the judge in the case is himself under indictment for income tax evasion. “It’s not as if these were first offenders,” says Hatcher angrily. “They all have criminal records, and they’ve all spent a lot of time in jail. But these people are getting back to Gary before the policemen who arrested them can get to court to testify.”

On the whole, Boone and his force have been cooperating with the federal authorities. They have made six raids on gang hideouts in the past six months. Each dragnet has rounded up scarifying caches of guns, ammunition and narcotics (one mob squad had reportedly even built a rudimentary tank to repel an anticipated invasion). On one of the raids police uncovered notebooks that included minutes from Family meetings and the gang’s bylaws. Said a federal official: “The whole thing seems incredibly childish. They could be Cub Scouts —except that they kill people.” Among the club tenets: members donate all earnings to The Family and do not steal from one another.

Above all, they swear allegiance to the Godfather. In fact the books contained a $40 entry for ticket money to the film The Godfather. This particularly incenses Hatcher. Says he: “Any black person who goes to see The Godfather and doesn’t come out with some kind of revulsion is the worst sort of Uncle Tom. Remember that line, ‘Let the niggers have the drugs, they’re animals anyhow’? The Family should get one of the international awards for Tomism.” On the side of the crackdown, though, is its support by the majority of the black community, who last week came into the streets to cheer a DALE raiding team.

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