Henry Horner started as a nice, government subsidized housing complex. It was clean and safe in its early years. As time went on, the funding for the housing was cut, and maintenance floundered. The apartments became home to gangs, and the government paid even less attention to what went on there. The building was never totally clean, and most areas were frequently dark, as the lights were knocked out so the drug dealers could work in seclusion.
Jimmy Lee was a gang leader who was in his late 30's. Unlike many gang members, he was not on drugs, and didn’t drink. Also unlike many gang members, he had high respect for women and children, and would bully people who didn’t. He made young children off limits to the gangs in the area. He also had children, and was married to their mother, and had been for many years.
Bird Leg started out as a friendly kid, who had a unique ability to communicate with animals. He had many dogs, which he kept in an abandoned garage, and fed with scraps he found in dumpsters. He got his name because he broke his leg when he was younger, and when the cast came off, his leg was very skinny. As he got older, he was around gangs more, and became more aggressive. He was shot and killed outside Horner. Lafeyette and Pharoah had both liked Bird Leg, and were shaken by his death. They were unable to talk about the incident for two years afterwards.
Pharoah was a good student, and was very eager to learn. He had good grades, and excellent attendance. He was chosen as one of the classes two representatives in the spelling bee two years in a row, placing second one year. He liked to help in class, and run errands for the teacher to make himself feel important.
Lafeyette liked to learn, but wasn’t as enthusiastic as Pharoah. His attendance was poor, and he wasn’t as eager or helpful as Pharoah.
The white schools in the area got much better funding, and better teachers than the black school. The government payed more attention to them, and cared more about what happened at the white schools. Teachers at the black schools sometimes used their own money to buy students supplies, and also to get classroom decorations.
Terence was LaJoe’s closest child. She gave him everything that he asked for. As he got older, he got into a gang, and started selling drugs. Later, he got involved in robbing vending machines. He was arrested for allegedly shooting a girl. She later came forward and admitted that Terence wasn’t the one who shot her. Terence decided to give the police a reason for putting him in jail.. He and an accomplis held up a bar on the cities north side.
At the welfare office, LaJoe loses her benefits. This is because Paul has been using her address, and they think he is living with her, which would make her ineligible for benefits.
Nicholas Corwin’s shooting received major publicity in the newspaper, which ran banner headlines. Citizens organized a crisis team of psychologists and social workers to counsel them and the children. Teachers received training about consoling children, and the governor called for increased school security.
Alonzo’s shooting only received publicity because of its contrast with Nick’s shooting. There was no counseling for Alonzo, who survived, or his friends or family.
Paul has been taking heroine for years, and also drinks. He has been suspended from work several times because of his problems. He comes around the families’ house despite his estrangement from LaJoe because he doesn’t want the children to resent him the way he resents his father.
Craig was an 18 year old boy with a virtually non-existent criminal record. The only thing on it is the alleged theft of cookies from a delivery truck. He graduated from high school, doesn’t drink, and doesn’t use drugs. He also isn’t affiliated with any gangs. Teachers all describe him favorably, and even a policeman who knew him had nothing but praise for him.
He was shot by a police officer after he was caught. Craig had run because he was afraid of police after being falsely accused of the cookie theft. He had been going to a friends house to get some speakers and turntables. He didn’t know why the police were after him, and the police didn’t know if they were after the right person.
Everyone admired him, and everyone was very upset about his death. He had been Lafeyette’s role model. Lafeyette lost hope for the future when Craig died.
The government should give more attention and funding to neighborhoods with big problems, not less. There should be increased police presence, not decreased. The government should go after and try to solve these problems, instead of resigning to them and backing out.
This book gives interesting and shocking insight into the lives of people in the inner cities. It’s hard to believe that this is a true story, because it’s so different from the lifestyle we’re used to. One really shocking thing was that Lafeyette and the other boys weren’t even sure if there was anywhere that sort of thing wasn’t going on, because they thought it was just a normal part of life.