Tyrant, Draw Thy Sword

The year was 2007, and conditions in the Joke, one of the most squalid and dangerous housing projects in America, were at their worst. When its residents were displaced through a deal to sell the land to a predominantly white Christian university, tensions in the community rose to a breaking point. Finally, a televised debate about the crisis led to a Congressman’s unforgivable public slur, and a civil rights leader’s shocking act of martyrdom. It was then that the last remaining citizens of the Joke---gang members, drug dealers, and desperate men turned remorseless freedom fighters---vowed not to give up its deserted streets without a battle to the death. Told as an oral history from a distance of two decades, Tyrant, Draw Thy Sword is a grim snapshot of a December night when this country watched its troubled divide between cultures become tragically violent.









 

 

TYRANT, DRAW THY SWORD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the stories I heard and collected about the siege of the Joke since the night of December 7, 2007, the forgotten tale of a boy named Lee Good was the one that bonded me with the father of the most notorious figure in the Joke's history. A year after I started working on this book, Herbert Le Beth let me drive him to the place where the notorious slum once stood. It was November 23, 2029. On the way there, we stopped at his son's grave, the first time he had seen it in almost a decade. It was there that he told me that by some great coincidence, he had chosen the story of Lee Good to begin his own telling of those distant events to his twenty-one year old grandson, Damon. One week after his seventy-seventh birthday and a visit to a new doctor who had been quite blunt and forthright, Herbert had bought a ruled two hundred-page notebook from Walgreen's and begun to write in it, longhand, alone in his bedroom, while Damon sat outside on the back porch, watching the autumn leaves skitter across the tiny yard.

Lee Good was eight years old in 2007, and was one of the last children to leave the Joke before its night of disaster on December 7. It was Lee Good who picked up a rock ten days before all that and accidentally killed John the Baptist, becoming single-handedly responsible for bringing down all the tragedy that came next. He lived back then in a fourth story apartment on Attucks Street and Eighth with his mother and eighteen year old brother. They were going to leave the Joke forever as soon as Lee's grandmother cleared out a room for them two miles away in Shreve, but on the third they were among the last remaining stragglers in their almost empty building. Lee would never remember why he wasn't in school that day.

It was raining when he got up that morning, but it had cleared by about ten and Lee left the apartment to go play despite the chill. His brother and mother were already gone, having left by bus for their jobs in the city. Lee took an elevator whose lights had been smashed long ago to make robberies more convenient down to the ground floor, then wandered out onto the Joke's two-block central quad. There was almost no sound. Not a single car went by on any of the streets. On that day there were perhaps no more than one hundred people still living legally within the untended city blocks that comprised the Joke. In Lee's imagination the twenty shadowy, hulking apartment buildings had become one gigantic haunted house with arms and legs like a spider's, stretching in all directions down every block, and this both secretly terrified and pleased him.

He drifted past about a dozen dented, rusting rows of card tables that had never been cleared after the final Saturday flea market almost a month before. They sat in a quarter inch of mud which covered the lot from Sixth to Seventh streets, along with some scattered remnants of that last sale which no one had ever bothered to pick up. He pushed his palm through the thin cold layers of water the morning rain had left behind on the surface of those card tables and crossed to the sidewalk on Van Der Zee Street to get to the old church, looking to his left at one point at the Diary, but not for longer than a moment, because the Diary had always scared him. This was true especially since the time he and his friend Reynolds had walked past there at midnight on a Sunday and seen strange repeating flashes of bright yellow light inside a corner apartment on the eighth floor, which could perhaps have been explained away as gunshots had the flashes not been so eerily silent. They started and stopped twice, coming at odd intervals. Reynolds had said it was a poltergeist. Lee believed him.

Across the way from the Joke's original church, built in 1983, was an unfenced vacant lot, now home to a sprawling pile of debris which remained from the city's recent demolition of the YMCA. The debris, comprised of everything from drywall to old mortar to carpeting to a soda machine protruding like a zombie's hand through the wreckage, ate up a space the size of a half city block. It was an excellent junk universe, and was exactly the right distance away from the church to throw stuff at it. The side of the pre-fabricated church had been scarred by a thousand bricks, boards, beer cans, and tiny pieces of cement since the week before, and it was Lee's goal on that gray morning to scrounge around the debris for the perfect chunk of something to throw in that direction. He liked the sound of the cement hitting the aluminum siding because it echoed. He could usually only get a chunk to hit the siding one time in three because it was so far away, but he had all morning to get good. He climbed the pile two-thirds of the way, to a height of about four feet, maneuvering his way ever so carefully, avoiding the slippery parts where things that seemed stable could just as suddenly break your foot, and wound up standing on a folding chair that was perfectly upright. From there he could see down into the two miniature valleys that had been created by the random settling of debris. The bottoms of the valleys were muddy and forbidding. He had never explored them. A policeman would sustain a deep leg wound from a blind fall in one during the siege four nights later. The infection from the cut would almost kill him.

Five stained glass windows faced the debris pile and the western edge of the Joke. All of them had been already broken to some extent, and one was almost entirely gone. The little black kid Lee Good, who would one day grow up to teach in a high school just ten blocks from the center of the Joke, broke the rightmost one again with an extraordinarily strong throw which sent a rock stained with green paint directly through the forehead of a praying John the Baptist.

As soon as that happened, as soon as the small sound of the breaking glass reached Lee's ears, he froze in shock, knowing he had done something truly horrible. He had been to church just twice in his life. In his eight years he had been called 'nigger' more often than he had been called 'black', and though he didn't fully understand the difference between those particular concepts, his heart was quite clear on the difference between innocent vandalism and the unforgivable destruction of any face that looked out from the windows of the church. For all he knew, God had been watching, or God might have actually been the person he broke in two neat pieces. So he turned, descended the junk pile, and ran away, and he may have cried, but there was no one there to see it, and this detail was eventually lost to him.

He ran panting in the cold to Building O, which was closest, entered it through a perfect rectangular gap where one of two glass doors had once been, turned right, ran down a fetid hallway land-mined by the scattered bits and pieces of someone's old bicycle, and rushed into the open elevator cage. This elevator had been removed from service entirely. He scrunched himself against the rear wall, leaning his head back until it came into contact with the thin damp layer of oil coating the wall's surface in yet another futile gesture meant to prevent graffiti from becoming permanent. And there Lee stayed, the cage open and his eyes closed. He had decided that if he gave up the entire day to loneliness there in the lightless, useless elevator, God might forgive him for what he had done.

He eventually napped, and when he awoke, he changed his mind and figured that had been long enough. He emerged from the elevator and walked slowly down the unpainted corridor, which smelled to him of vinegar and burned toast, listening for any sound at all. There was a single resounding boom somewhere two or three floors above him, then nothing again. Someone taking a sledgehammer to a wall, maybe, or shoving some old wooden dresser down the stairs, like he had seen his brother's friends do once. Just as he felt daylight again, he heard the sound of an engine.

A red van had entered the Joke, and as Lee crouched to keep out of sight, peering around the corner through the gap in the front entrance, the van turned off Van Der Zee Street and stopped on Bunche, only two or three hundred feet away. Two men got out of the van, which was left running. Unlike Lee, they were bundled up against the wet chill. One of them held a large video camera. They stood in the big open tomb that used to be a train yard before it became a public housing project and checked it out for usable images.

Lee walked hesitantly out to meet them, having seen no white adults there in at least two months. The taller man, the one without the camera, was looking around and high up in the air, at the rooftops of O and S, and at the Diary, the highest of them all. When they saw Lee, they paid him no real attention. The cameraman was fat and totally bald. Lee approached in wonder, fascinated. Maybe he would be on TV.

A voice came shouting down at them almost immediately from Building S. GET THE FUCK OUT, it said, and Lee looked upwards. A man was standing daringly on a window ledge on almost the top floor. There was no glass in the window anymore. He was pointing a gun down at the men from the van. He wore a yellow kerchief around his head. Lee knew that sometimes big guys in blue kerchiefs used to hang around the Joke too, and they were the ones who had allowed families to pay less in protection money if everyone in the family wore their color every day, or at least did not ever wear the colors of the Street Spiders. But mostly the dominant color there was yellow.

The man without the camera put one nervous hand on the hood of the van and raised the other in front of him in a calming gesture. Then he yelled back up at the black man. He said it was okay, they were making a documentary for Channel 4. But the man standing precariously in the window only shouted it again, GET THE FUCK OUT, without either raising or lowering his voice, and held his pistol tightly.

The documentarian said: Can we talk to you, buddy? Lee remembered those exact words, twenty-two years later. Even being that young and small, he knew this man standing near him was completely terrified, so frightened he was not even able to think clearly enough to agree to the order he'd been given and simply back away, leave that place where no one wanted them. Lee was standing about fifteen feet from them at that moment, suddenly very afraid to get closer. The documentarian had thick black hair with gray in it, forty years old, maybe fifty.

The gunman, who was no more than thirty, and whose jeans were visibly soaking wet, yelled it just one more time: GET THE FUCK OUT. His words echoed and cracked across the dead quad where the only visible pair of footsteps had, until three minutes before, been Lee's own. We're not here to bring harm to anyone, the documentarian shouted, we're just here to get some tape, though the cameraman had finally worked up the sense to take his first steps back to the passenger's side door. He said something to his friend which Lee never really heard. Then there came a hollow splitting sound from above, and within a second of its eruption the gunman was shoving an arm out to his side for balance, and then some of the cement beneath the thin wooden beam supporting his feet gave way, and the ledge descended, and down came the gunman with it. It was as if Building S had coughed him out all at once from its toothless mouth. Lee saw him fall with his arms stretched out high all the way down to the ground, more than eight stories, wood and cement falling with him but not as fast somehow, and the sound when his back hit the sidewalk below was nothing extraordinary, just a wet thud like a bag of cat food. There was no cry of pain. Little bits of mud flew up. The man had managed to fire his pistol as soon as he began to slip. It sounded like a tiny firecracker.

In the two seconds after his body struck the ground, the three witnesses did nothing more than stare at that spot, stupefied. The van's engine idled.

"Then when I turned," Lee Good told me in a bar twenty-two years later, "I saw that yes, God had found out what I'd done, and He'd sworn that as soon as I left the elevator something awful would happen to punish me, and it was all my fault, because I threw that rock at the church when I had no right to. The man who shot at us got punished for what he'd done, and now here was my turn."

The cameraman had just started to run toward Building S when he stopped, seemed to realize something, and fell heavily to his knees. He unzipped his thick green jacket and groped his stomach and chest madly with both hands, suddenly gawking at Lee with frightened eyes, blubbering, then tilting his head to face the sick white sky as he tried to find the place where the bullet had gone into him. The expensive camera remained in the mud even after his friend had dragged him, screaming incoherently, back into the van. Lee would not go near that camera, not for the world. He had started to run east, in fear of God and what his mother might do.

By the time Herbert Le Beth was finished writing what he knew of the Lee Good story, his hand was already aching, but he went on. His grandson might never be able to read the contents of the Walgreen's notebook, but as long as there was a slight chance that he could, the work would have to be done. Damon's autism was severe and permanent, and he had spoken no more than a few hundred words since Herbert had begun to visit him when the boy turned three. At twenty-one, he was considered by all but a few to be almost uneducable. Yet the old man sat in his bedroom under a window and kept writing, in the hope that one day the boy sitting silently outside on the porch could be taught to read about his famous father. Herbert Le Beth, a mere retired taxi dispatcher, believed it was his last chance to tell the story as he wanted it told before he left this life himself. If he sometimes felt like a fraud because he had only been in the Joke on the night of December 7 for less than an hour, he tried to remind himself that he had seen more than enough living there for two and a half years, and trying to raise his only child there, to be true to its lonely grave.

I met him just a few months after he had given up writing his personal history of the Joke, in sadness and frustration, feeling simply that he didn't know enough to go on. After we spoke that first time, I called him with an idea I hoped would help us both: we would go to the ground that had once been called the Joke and spend a few days talking with the people who lived there now, in hundreds of brick townhomes comprising a fashionable neighborhood called Glen Elm. We both wanted to know what those innocent people remembered, believed, or had been taught in school about that night in 2007. I brought along a tape recorder so we wouldn't lose anything. What follows is an account of the infamous events as told by both those who lived them and those who only knew of them as history. Somehow what the citizens of Glen Elm told us was as fascinating as anything we'd heard before. They were so kind to us, unerringly patient with two strangers who wanted to ask so much about a distant past to which they owed nothing. Throughout all the interviews, Herbert himself remained almost totally silent, reluctant to tell anyone who he really was. He talked to me at length, though, after we had left those upper middle class homes for the day and gone back to Point Unity for the night, and I preserved it all.

It has now been six months since Herbert Le Beth's passing. When he died, I asked his grandson's mother if I could read the contents of the notebook he had finally completed for Damon after we'd left Glen Elm. She said yes. I could tell when I read it that our interviews there had hurt his heart. He could have let our time there corrupt his history, taint it with bitterness, but to his credit, nearly everything Herbert Le Beth wrote down about the Joke was the simple truth. In fact, he consciously deceived his afflicted grandson only once, when he purposefully omitted one thing he saw first-hand on the night of December 7 as he moved sorrowfully through the sewers beneath Gray Hill into the heart of the Joke. It was a half-finished mural of the wife of the President of the United States being raped by a lion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herbert Le Beth, age 78

Even before the orders came to the people in the Joke to move to Phoenix View, it had become a green ghetto, which meant it was a place with so little people and activity in it that big stretches of it had gotten overgrown with weeds, and even pheasants were there. You could go and shoot them easy, and you'd see their carcasses everywhere, and the bodies of squirrels and raccoons and sometimes even wild dogs. The top part of La Guma Avenue was totally overgrown because the post office that they were supposed to build there when the Joke was built, it was never put in place. They neglected that half of the road for years. Every three or four feet you saw empty bottles, parts of TVs, cereal boxes, detergent bottles, candy wrappers. Animals would go crouch there and just sit there licking them for the taste. And rats, too. Everything was thrown there, and it was never taken away.

Now when the gangs seriously moved in, the maintenance on the grounds just pretty much stopped. The crews had always been on a day schedule so they could make sure to end their work long before the sun went down, and then even that became an every-other-day thing, and then maybe weekly. As soon as Phoenix View started being constructed, the grounds got ignored, potholes never got filled, and the buildings became unlivable. There were more important worries, I guess, and as long as the crime was so terrible, they said upkeep had to wait, and no one in the Joke pushed for it much, not that the community had much organization. The Tenants' Board had no lawyers they could depend on. By 2006, I think it was around then, you'd start to read that the elderly people in the buildings, especially the Diary, they'd wait for someone they knew to be out in the hallway before they got into an elevator. They'd ride in twos and threes out of fear. When I lived there with Charles and his mother, there was one murder every six weeks. Eventually it got as high as one every three days, and a robbery every day.

 

David Faulkner, age 25, De Haven Court, Glen Elm

I saw pictures in a book once of the graffiti they had there, I think it said that most of the really interesting stuff came near the end. But there were photos in the book of all this really colorful and political graffiti all over the buildings. Like the candles they painted, someone painted one ten feet high on the side of a building, and after that they were doing them everywhere, all these giant murals of candles.

 

Herbert Le Beth

A Street Spider named Ali Krebbs did most of them. There were a total of fourteen at the end. The biggest one was sprayed on the side of the Worship Center. People used to laugh and say you could walk around at night in the Joke even when the street lights were broken because of all the candles everywhere. Krebbs always made his red, red like blood red, with flames that had faces inside of them. He drew Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Crispus Attucks, Malcolm X, and dead rappers, you know, I don't know their names. The flames at the ends of the candles were always blown to the left by the wind, that was Krebbs's signature. The others were just imitations. On buildings where there were no candles there were a lot of angels, they were kneeling, they were praying, they were floating above the Wincopin Bridge, they were floating above the Tree, touching the heads of little kids, children. They were such sad images because of what they were drawn on, you knew from looking at the buildings those angels weren't happy ones. The radio was doing a story about the graffiti, it was public radio, they were doing a story about it when the Street Spiders nearly beat the reporter half to death with the end of a lamp. After that, no one else came into the Joke to interview anyone. Word got around fast that talking to anyone about anything meant you could die.

 

Gloria Musial, age 43, Rosette Street, Glen Elm

Our father used to tell us stories about the Joke because he worked right across the street from where it began, he was right over on Nell Street. He owned a pawn shop and he said people came in all the time trying to sell the plumbing from the buildings. He said the gangs and the drug addicts just stripped away as much as they could and tried to sell it. Then he told us that the gangs had target practice in there a lot, they'd sell guns up on the highest floors, and to test them, the people buying the guns would get up on the rooftops and fire at the building across the street. My father claimed it got so bad that the police learned just not to respond to certain calls. All the windows along the top floors were broken. I remember seeing that myself a few times. My father would say it was because of the target practice. He said the people who lived there didn't even pay any attention to it. They knew the difference between a target shot and one where someone was being killed. I don't know if it was really true.

 

Herbert Le Beth

In winter the shots would shake loose these long thick icicles and patches of snow and they'd go crashing to the sidewalks. It became a game to them.

 

Martin Sturris, age 59, Bright Cove Road, Glen Elm

I had to turn in reports to the city every two weeks about conditions in the Joke. That became my job. I'd get in the car and spend about three hours a week in there. Near the end, I wrote something like, "If no one can address the problems stated in this report within the next thirty days, I would advise accepting the worst case scenario of each of them." I didn't get any answer to that, of course. They read the reports, but the machinery was just so slow. There was a lot that I couldn't report, because the reports weren't the place for it. There was no room to write about a lot of the things I saw, I didn't tell anyone about them for years. No one in the mayor's office I talked to wanted any part of it. I remember one time I had to go into the Joke at night because I absolutely had to talk to a family about their transfer to Phoenix View, it was getting close to the deadline, early fall, and it was the only time I could go, and it scared me pretty bad, because at night, with all the street lamps busted, it was like I was standing in the shadow of a big empty castle. Now here I am, and I'm living in the Joke, technically. Not really, because you would never, ever know what was right here, just outside where my door is, but here I am.

 

David Faulkner, age 25

The graffiti book about the Joke showed all these sidewalks that were totally chipped away, and then there was a photo of a big stretch of one street where the sidewalk was just half gone. I saw that and thought, where were the pieces of sidewalk disappearing to? Who would take parts of a sidewalk, what kind of life was that in there? All the photos, there were almost never any people in them, so you got the impression it was like a movie where some plague had come through and left nobody alive. Or there'd be one person standing between two buildings, and that was the only thing in the frame that let you know someone was living there. The place looked really huge, there were huge spaces between the buildings, not like a normal apartment complex. Big amounts of dead space between everything, space that wasn't used for anything, apparently. The strangest picture was of something that was spray-painted on one of the walls in a stairwell inside the building they called the Diary. The words said THE DEVIL'S SCRUNCHED UP IN MY MOUTH. What made that so eerie was that the writing was so big, and no one had signed it. It curved all the way down the stairwell. What did that mean, I wonder. Interesting book, all real pictures from that neighborhood.

 

Martin Sturris, age 59

There were these little mysteries everywhere. There was an Asian family that was squatting in one of the buildings, the two kids were going to the local school day after day, and then the family stayed in one room all night, they never went out anywhere, they lived there illegally. Something had happened to put them there, and after about three months of living in the Joke, and being left alone more or less, supposedly, they just left in the middle of the night. A woman who lived down the hall said they left a note on her door thanking her for not telling anyone about them, and in an envelope with it was about a thousand dollars, in cash, in all denominations of crumpled bills. She swore the man and woman hadn't left that room once in all that time. No one ever reported them, or almost any of the homeless people who were there. So many of them were so far gone. It was a homeless woman who claimed there was witchcraft going on in the building. Everyone thought she was insane, but then it turned out she wasn't really wrong. How was someone supposed to report something like that in a state file? What would the point of it be?

 

Herbert Le Beth

I remember this man everyone called the Mitten Man, and I remember once coming home from work and seeing someone lying on his back in the dead center of the hallway, this was on the tenth floor of the building at noon, he was lying there totally high, with his arms held up straight up toward the ceiling. And I came back out two hours later and I saw him still there, his arms held up like before, just a piece of trash waiting to die. People from the state couldn't talk about that. It had to be seen, you understand, it had to be felt, but no one important was there to feel it.

Charles's mother and I moved into the Joke the year it was created, in 1983, and we lived there raising him until 1985, when we wanted to leave very badly and finally did. Charles was sixteen when we left, and after only about four months he left us and he went back to live in the Joke to be with his gang. I was furious at this, but I reacted badly and he hid from us there. We hadn't been able to keep him from the gangs.

We named him Charles after Charles Lindbergh, the great pilot.

 

 

Donna Briarly, age 30, Bel Air Street, Glen Elm

Do you remember the name of the TV show, the one that showed the incident between Charles Le Beth and Stephen Dunkirk?

Oh, no, I don't. I only know that it was a public access show....no, public television, the local PBS station had it. I don't remember the name, though.

But you saw the incident, when you were seven?

No, I mean, when I was seven I just watched cartoons. They showed the tape to us in school much later, it was part of a civil rights unit or something, I was in eighth or ninth grade. Before that, I was only sort of aware that something had happened in the place where my neighborhood was built, long before, something about black people fighting white people. That's all I knew.

Where else have you seen TV footage of Charles Le Beth?

Well, by now I've seen him on old shows like Meet the Press, shows like that, because I guess he was on a lot of them. In college, in history class, we saw a few tapes.

 

John Takoma, age 74

You see, I have all the dates of all the shows we did from 1996 on still written down in the booking log, and I can tell by the name "Le Beth" here that Charles Le Beth came in to tape that debate on the second. That would have been three days before the siege of the Joke, then. Look, you see I have his name pencilled in on the ninth, which would have been impossible. I got the week wrong when I wrote it down twenty years ago.

I remember very vividly when Le Beth entered the studio. Once you saw him, it was tough to forget him. You'll have people tell you that they felt something strange about that night, and mostly it's because our memories have changed over the years, and we shape things so we remember them the way we want. But I swear I felt it coming off him when he came into the studio. He wasn't right, not physically, not mentally. The Congressman, Dunkirk, he was normal, but not Le Beth. If someone had only asked me back then, "Do you feel something's wrong?" I would have said Yes, something's going to happen tonight, right in front of us.

 

Bill Mullen, age 42

We watched the show at Purdue, a group of us. We were following the whole situation with the Joke pretty carefully for the student newspaper, obviously we were coming down on the side of the people in the Joke, we just hated what the state was doing. We would print almost anything as long as it made somebody mad. We were, I don't know, freaked out a little by how Le Beth looked when he was on Here and Now. He had cancer, it just made you mad somehow.

Do you remember the name of the man he debated that night?

Sure, Stephen Dunkirk.

What do you remember about the show? Other than the moment everyone knows about?

Well, it was a weird vibe, because you just knew the two of them hated each other.

 

Thomas Sarton, age 65

Le Beth had been on Meet the Press two weeks before he did Here and Now, and while I was booking the December 2nd show, Le Beth's man hadn't given any indication that his health would be a problem, but Le Beth showed up at about six o'clock and he looked absolutely terrible. He was noticeably thinner than he had been even two weeks before, and his eyes were a kind of dark yellow. He'd just had a dialysis treatment that morning, I was told, and he was terribly weak. He got out of this small blue Cadillac and his assistant, Stoops I think was his name, had to help him into the studio. And my first thought, somewhat shamefully, was "What are we going to do about his eyes?" He was going to look quite sick on camera, but because he showed up fairly late and we were going live, there wasn't much we could do. Here he was, not even forty years old, and no one would ever say openly he was dying but he clearly wasn't getting any better.

He and Dunkirk of course did not shake hands before the show. We had Le Beth in makeup for maybe ten minutes, and Dunkirk was already on the set by then. He just sat here drumming his fingers on the table, not having a whole lot of small talk with Evan. I was sort of watching him on one of the monitors as he sat there, looking tense, no one else in the frame with him so he seemed unguarded. When we booked him we had a moment of hesitation because we thought the personality clash would be too great, but who knows why we didn't think on it more than we did.

It was an unspoken thing that Le Beth and Dunkirk were not to meet beforehand, they were given a rundown of the show individually. Evan himself talked to Le Beth, right there on the set, maybe a ninety second briefing of how things would go. Le Beth took his chair, and Dunkirk just nodded in his direction. I'd say Le Beth was in his seat and ready maybe two minutes before we went on live. So there was no time for any exchange between them beforehand.

 

Evan Viorst, age 71

I had never met Charles Le Beth before. He'd declined to come on the show twice before. Congressman Dunkirk had been on once, years before, when he was involved with the Republicans in Dallas. I'd watched a lot of video of Le Beth and he absolutely fascinated me. It seemed impossible to tell how much of his technique was false stage presence and how much of it was real. You could see the street hood inside him, it was still there though he was sick and thin. The way he physically leaned far to one side during an argument, away from his opponent, was interesting to me, and he began the show that night that way, he was already passive aggressive, confrontational. I can't even demonstrate it correctly, that extreme lean he did. Total contempt, that's what it signaled. What caused most of the tension that night, I think, was the sense right away that sitting there on the set was not a Republican Congressman and a liberal activist, both in their proper suits, but a black man and a gray-haired white man, the extreme ideologies of both races at that moment in time. They were not going to be able to talk about the Joke as politicians; it was going to be a black man and a white man squaring off, something inevitable. John had told me the night before, after he'd looked at the questions I'd prepared, he said, "It might be best on this one to just keep them off each other however you have to. Dunkirk despises him and he despises Dunkirk. You're only going to be able to ask maybe half the stuff on this list. The rest you might just have to improvise."

 

Martin Sturris, age 59

It's said that the taping of Here and Now was the last time anyone outside the Joke, in the outside world, saw Charles Le Beth alive. You saw him just before that?

Well, if my memory is right, it would have been about two or three days before he went on that show, because I went into the Joke to make my final report on the conditions and to give some help to a woman who was still living there and had no one to help her move her things out. She was on 12th Street, she was about seventy years old, she'd lived there since the beginning in the eighties, and she'd called Human Services and given them hell, because she'd been expecting someone to just magically drop by at some point unannounced and help her move. Six months had gone by and nobody had come, and she was, you know, unhappy. So I was going there to do this, and on the way to her apartment I saw Charles Le Beth standing on the first floor in the central community room, the doors were open. This was building G, I think. The community room was just a big empty room where the tenants were supposed to meet. It was kind of a shock, seeing him there, because he had a little celebrity status back then, at least if you followed politics. He was standing there sweating in a suit with no jacket, standing there talking to this giant, this huge black guy, he wore a T-shirt and jeans, he was just the most muscular guy. And I know he was wearing a long necklace that was meant to look like a snake. Le Beth saw me and he said, "Whoa, whoa," and he came out to talk to me and ask me if I was from Human Services and had come to help Mrs. Deck. He said that Mrs. Deck had Alzheimer's and sometimes she imagined she owned things that weren't really there, and that if there was a problem, he could come help, I should walk back down and get him. I left with the impression that this man really did know everyone in the Joke.

Do you think the big man with the necklace was Rod Baker?

You know, the pictures I've seen of him, I really do think it was him. It's easy to say that looking back, but I really do.

So in all likelihood, you saw both Charles Le Beth and Rod Baker, the man who commanded the Street Spiders during the siege of the Joke, talking together about a week before it all happened. And both of them were dead by Sunday night.

I would say so, that it's true.

This man with me here today, you've never seen him before, correct?

No, I don't believe so.

This is Charles Le Beth's father.

Oh, my. That is really amazing. Hello, it's good to meet you. That is really educational. Incredible, to meet that man's father.

 

 

 

 

Corrected transcript from the December 2nd live taping of the public affairs program Here and Now, hosted by Evan Viorst, Indiana Public Television, Tuesday, 8:00 p.m., 2007:

 

EVAN VIORST

Good evening, this is Here and Now. I'm Evan Viorst. This Friday is the deadline for the remaining residents of the public housing project of Bello Gardens to leave their homes in east Indianapolis and move into Phoenix View, a new $110 million project two miles to the north. The city's sale of the property on which Bello Gardens was built has caused a storm of controversy within the African-American community, with the revelation last week that the sale stands to benefit the Chapelwaite Foundation, an organization with the stated purpose of constructing a private Christian university on that land. With us tonight are Republican Congressman Stephen Dunkirk, representing Indiana's eighth district after the August resignation of Lowell Baird, and activist Charles Le Beth, founder of the Socialist Ascendancy Party and an advocate for the city's African-American population. Gentlemen, welcome.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Thank you for the opportunity.

EVAN VIORST

Congressman Dunkirk, it was you who finally brought to public light the deal with the Chapelwaite Foundation, in which the city has committed to sell the bulk of the Bello Gardens acreage so that a private, and it appears predominantly white, Christian university can begin construction there sometime after 2009. Was this a voluntary disclosure on the state's part, or would it not have been fully revealed, had a city audit not done it, for quite some time?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Well, let me take this opportunity to again erase the misconception that the Chapelwaite Foundation deal and the state's decision to move the people of Bello Gardens into a new community were ever in any way related. It had been decided by the city council as early as summer of 2004 that conditions in Bello Gardens were deteriorating to a point, both with its infrastructure and its crime rate, where it would most likely have to be razed. That property was to revert to the city of Indianapolis if that were to happen, it is city property, and the worst did happen, and the state decided to spend $110 million to resettle every legal resident, giving them notice of more than six months. It wasn't until this year that Chapelwaite approached the Governor's office with their offer for that parcel of land, a parcel that would likely have gone undeveloped for upwards of five, maybe even ten years. With the money the sale will generate when it goes through, we will be able not only to pay off sixty percent of the debts the state has incurred in building Phoenix View, we will be able to approve more than two million dollars in housing vouchers so that many families can move into privately owned, or privately rented, apartments. But the assertion that this was some sort of back door deal remains quite frankly malicious, just wildly misinformed.

EVAN VIORST

Mr. Le Beth, what is your organization's objection to the city's sale of that land?

 

John Takoma

I remember Le Beth waited so long to speak that the people around us in the studio thought something was wrong, but it was for effect. Then he did what he did a lot when he was on television, he spoke to the air in front of him, into space. He was talking to the top of the table they were sitting at. He didn't look at Dunkirk, and he didn't look at Evan. It was some effect. It was like he was lost in his own world, or that he couldn't even stand to look across the table at the man he was dealing with.

 

CHARLES LE BETH

What I object to, what the people of Bello Gardens object to, what all thinking men object to, is the fact that the state of Indiana never had any other intention for this housing project but to sell it to this overwhelmingly white, affluent institution. Not a single plan for the land was ever spoken of for the time after its destruction, there was not a whisper of what would ever be done with it, even when the demolition plans were set in stone. We see now that it was always going to Chapelwaite, that the people of Bello Gardens were doomed to be rushed out of their homes the second Horace Nye walked into the Governor's office, not this year as the Congressman claims, but back in February of 2004. The city council started talking about Bello Gardens's extinction two weeks after Nye showed Indiana his money. We know he met with the Governor twice three years ago; those meetings are a public record. Mr. Dunkirk can't produce a single piece of written evidence before that which ever suggested this housing project needed to come down. Today, fifty-five hundred people are out of their homes because the state thought it was expedient and profitable to shuffle them, and because they knew the objections would be quiet and easily squashed, because the public wouldn't want to hear the objections of people on welfare and people too poor to put up a fight.

EVAN VIORST

Congressman?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Well, I'd be very interested to hear how Mr. Le Beth sees any profit in the state spending $110 million to build a bigger, better housing project and getting only a $70 million payment from Chapelwaite in return. Let me first, though, point out my own column in the Indianapolis Star in May of 2004 in which I first pointed out the need to explore other options for the people of Bello Gardens, including razing it as a belated response to its terrible crime rate and giving those people a better chance to have some kind of productive life in an environment that wasn't so hostile. I re-iterated those views several times on the floor of the State Senate—

 

Thomas Sarton

Le Beth hated statistics, and Dunkirk knew that. Charles Le Beth wanted to talk about emotions, he wanted to talk about history, because he knew how to cut people with it. He would make eye contact with Dunkirk only every ten seconds or so when he spoke. It was so much more interesting seeing it live than people who had to see it later. So much more visceral. And Evan didn't even seem to exist, it was like he wasn't even there. The feeling in the control room was palpable. The nervousness.

 

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

I re-iterated those views several times on the floor of the State Senate—

CHARLES LE BETH

Congressman, you know very well that so-called deficit you're talking about vanishes in a heartbeat when you suddenly eliminate city funding for the upkeep of Bello Gardens, when you wipe out the paltry seven social service programs that still remained there, and charge Chapelwaite upwards of three million dollars a year in city services to keep that pretty university going strong. And it will go strong, because it was guaranteed a long life years ago, but nobody knew it. The land was good as sold and nobody knew it, but now they do, and we're going to get as many people out of office because of it as we can, including yourself, who was never even elected to the eighth district.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Well, we can....we can debate finances and debate the reasons for those meetings in 2004, which had nothing to do with Bello Gardens, actually, they were about the legality of a possible campaign contribution made by Mr. Nye. Or we can step back a second and look at the bigger picture. We had a situation in Bello Gardens that was, really, a death spiral. When it was first populated in 1983, its crime rate was seven points higher than in the areas right outside its boundaries, north, south, east, and west. That doubled within a year as the drug trade insinuated itself. Last year, the homicide rate in Bello Gardens was forty points higher than any other single district in the city. We know that no less than four major gangs were fighting for business there. We know that the homicide rate was still climbing, and beyond that, that the infrastructure of the residences was beyond repair in many cases. So the city was confronted with a choice, to rebuild and resettle, or let the situation go on indefinitely. I don't think even Mr. Le Beth can argue that moving those residents to a place where tenancy is more closely scrutinized, where the facilities are new, where the citizens will have a guaranteed Tenants' Board already in place....ah—

CHARLES LE BETH

Five percent of the people who are being evicted from Bello Gardens won't be getting any of these mythical vouchers, they won't be going anywhere because there's not enough room for them in the same vertical cement slabs as were built before. Nowhere are there row houses, townhouses, or mixed income residences as mandated by Hope IV years ago for ending the cycle of poverty. There is no child care facility yet in Phoenix View, there is no post office, there is fifty percent less green space than in Bello Gardens. Phoenix View is the same demon in a different suit. But I won't talk about its specifics, not while this hideous lie has come to light. I will talk about hate.

EVAN VIORST

What do you mean by that phrase?

CHARLES LE BETH

What am I talking about, I'm talking about the hate that causes people to be sold like properties on a Monopoly board. Chapelwaite will build its college on the place where misery festered for twenty-four years, and it will be allowed to build there because Bello Gardens is an embarrassment to the city. It hates the people who live there, it hates them for living in a place people have to stay away from at night, that they have to look away from when they go past. Chapelwaite gave the city the reason to destroy it and push the people there two miles north where there is no affordable plan for revitalization, where the river naturally separates its business district from the ones that actually work, where they won't be an eyesore anymore. Do you understand, Congressman, that in Bello Gardens, on the street, that it is known why they have to move, that there's not a second of debate about it? They know they're hated, they know you and the Governor sold them out?

CONGRESSMAN

If I may.....I can't tell you how many cases I know of where citizens of Bello Gardens will be closer to their jobs, have better access to three new bus lines, and a proposed light rail stop; I can't tell you the relief expressed by Marjorie Adams, the head of the Tenants' Board, and Charles Eads, the State Commissioner of Human Services, that there will no longer be such an easy venue for gangs to sell drugs and battle each other over the drug market and do harm to those people. This has nothing to do with public perception, or the city's perception, of any one group. It's about a social responsibility, it's about economic necessity.

CHARLES LE BETH

What it's about, Congressman, is blind men who don't understand the monster they've created, so they decide to kill it however they have to. This time, you got lucky and turned a profit on it all, but you made a terrible mistake and tried to conceal the deal until it was too late for anyone to object, but it didn't work because of a freak chance, a city audit you never saw coming. That was where you lost control of the lie, with the audit. And you've been caught. You've been caught in that hate.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Ah, I can't even respond to that allegation, and it's an allegation which has distorted the issue here and caused me to have to spend time I should be spending representing the people of my district on responding to baseless innuendo.

EVAN VIORST

Let's shift the topic just a bit. Mr. Le Beth, you and others have long written of—

 

Herbert Le Beth

When they arrested my son the very first time, he was seventeen years old. He'd become a member of the very first gang that set up in the Joke. That was the Dark Reds. The police had something called Operation First Strike or something, which was basically them accumulating lots of search warrants, warrants for everything they could get. The point was to make their presence known to everyone on their watch list. Part of it too was them going in on dates they had scheduled and arresting certain names on a list. They wanted this person and this person and this person arrested, and they had almost nothing to charge them with except very minor parole violations or suspicion of drug possession. It was more a way to get information about who else was entering the gang. They were hoping to scare the younger ones with jail terms. At that time, the Reds had no organization, and they weren't even selling drugs on a big scale yet. They did graffiti and they would break in and rob the same two or three places month after month, and they were getting into the crack business, selling a little here and there, but there was no open market for it yet that you could see on the street as you drove past. A year later they were the scariest gang in the city, but this was before the revenge murder of Ci Carter. What the police would do was go looking for the names on the list on that certain day, it was always a Tuesday, and they had pencilled in next to their names the charge they were supposed to use for the arrest. So beside a person's name they would have written the word "possession", even though they didn't have any sort of case on them for it. They just had to have a reason for the arrest and the questioning, which would give them information.

When Charles was arrested, he didn't even have a nickname, a gang name. They found him at the Chinese take-out place the kids in the Joke used to go to on Chalice Street, Tasty Bowl. They took him out, drove him to the station to be questioned. He didn't put up a fuss. They told him they were arresting him on suspicion of possession, that someone had turned him in.

He was questioned all alone. But he wouldn't say a single thing, not one word, not even his name. They threatened him just a little, but it didn't do any good. He just stared into space. They told him he could make a phone call, but still, no reaction. He made a motion, kind of a scribbling motion, so they gave him a pad and pen, and they actually thought for a minute that he might have been deaf. He took the pad and pen and at first they thought he was writing something for them, but no, he started to draw. They asked him a few more questions, like who had he been hanging out with, if he knew about some robbery from the week before, but he kept his head down, he totally ignored them, he kept drawing. What he was drawing was some kind of a tunnel, and he drew himself standing inside of it, looking out, and it was very well done, I'm sure, he'd had some classes. The police just let him do it and finally they let him go. Not even the threat of holding him for a few days until he answered them worked. He left, but he didn't take his drawing with him. He'd finished it while the police were talking about him in the next room. They gave it to me when they came to talk to me. Charles was just a shadow standing in that dark tunnel, except he'd made it seem like a light was glowing around his head, and it was by that light you could see his face by. And below the drawing he'd written one word: SOON.

 

EVAN VIORST

Mr. Le Beth, you and others have long written of what you call the cruelty of the welfare state you see being created inside impoverished housing projects. Do you see the construction of Phoenix View as just another slum perpetuating that, or—

CHARLES LE BETH

Of course it's perpetuating that, and when Phoenix View is infested with drugs and unemployment and despair, Congressman Dunkirk will tear it down and resettle the next generation somewhere else. And then they'll be evicted from whatever hell has been made in another thirty years. You take a black baby born to a welfare mother and a father with no job, he grows up in a place where he's made to feel an outcast by his playmates if he does well in school, the peers who he has an innate desire to be accepted by as an adolescent are pushing him to try and sell drugs, the world outside the slum is disgusted at the idea of even setting foot in his community, treats it like a leprous dog, and everything outside those walls is foreign and populated by a culture that until fifty years ago segregated his race from their own out of their distaste for his kind....tell me what's going to happen to that child, Congressman. Tell me what happens when he has a child of his own, not when he's married and twenty-five, but as a teenager in a gang who represents the only loyal family he's ever known, the only people in the world who listen to him and talk his language and treat him with respect.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

It's a tragic cycle, I grant you—

CHARLES LE BETH

And it ends how?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

—and that is why we have to try to break it.

CHARLES LE BETH

Break it how? By kicking that child out of his home so you can sell it to people who won't shame the city so much?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

No....no, we break that cycle by creating a community that can be a home for a struggling family but not its prison. Phoenix View is a unique project which is going to be supported by—

CHARLES LE BETH

Oh, you've—

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

—no less—

CHARLES LE BETH

Hey, you've found a way to magically fix the sense of helplessness that infected that slum baby from birth?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

If I could finish, supported by fourteen new pilot programs created specifically for Phoenix View by the Department of Human Services. We're going to see things like—

CHARLES LE BETH

Congressman, what do you think you would have become if you had been that baby?

EVAN VIORST

Let's let him finish, please....

CHARLES LE BETH

You think you'd be here in this studio today?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Let me just outline some of what Phoenix View is going to do for five thousand people, and then I'll respond.

CHARLES LE BETH

I don't want to hear it, Congressman, I really don't. You've sent out pretty information packets to everyone in the Joke along with their eviction notices, they all know what they're going to get, and none of that has the slightest effect on anyone who isn't living there, so I'm not going to let you speak to anyone else about it and PR your way past your lies. I'm asking you, what do you think you would be today if you had been born in the Joke to one or maybe even both parents who didn't give a damn about you?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Okay, I will respond, if you want to get into a discussion that is so wildly off topic—

CHARLES LE BETH

Yes.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

—and since your organization has been so vehemently opposed to any sensible dialogue about the sale of Bello Gardens, and is interested only in threats and public character assassination, I will answer your question. The way you go—

CHARLES LE BETH

How about—

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

The way you go about giving that child a chance to compete in this world is to provide an atmosphere, using Section Eight, using housing vouchers, using everything at our disposal, where he is made to feel like he can contribute, and that he is not just a poor African-American child, but a person who is welcome in any classroom, in any job—

CHARLES LE BETH

You want me to tell you about the atmosphere in the Joke? Thirty people were shot to death this year. The elementary school has the word 'nigger' sprayed on it in ten different places.

EVAN VIORST

Let's allow him some time to answer your question.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Well, let me ask you, Mr. Le Beth, who is ultimately responsible for the conditions inside a community?

CHARLES LE BETH

You mean who spray-painted the word 'nigger' on the school, and forty times inside the Diary? The people who live there.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Not the city of Indianapolis, and not the state of Indiana.

CHARLES LE BETH

That's right, people who look around this city and feel that if everyone else is thinking it, and has since before this country collected slaves, they might as well say it. Now I ask you again, what do you think you'd be today if you grew up inside the Joke?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

I would hope that I would take a look at the world around me, and see that if others have escaped poverty, it is within me as well, I am the one who ultimately holds the key, and though it may be far more difficult—

CHARLES LE BETH

Difficult? When your textbooks are getting ripped from your hands and grown men three times your age are intimidating you daily not to go to school at all? Did you say difficult?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Mr. Le Beth, we as a nation are built on certain principles. Our government is obligated, not by law but by a tradition of compassion, to assist those in need, with the understanding that it is incumbent on all of us to help ourselves. We're not a socialist country but we are the most compassionate democracy in the civilized world. In the case of Bello Gardens—

CHARLES LE BETH

Come with me into the Joke tonight and read that right off your notes to however many children are still left.

EVAN VIORST

All right, we don't want this to become a shouting match, Mr. Le Beth. Congressman—

CHARLES LE BETH

Then I'll tell you what happens after you turn your back.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Mr. Le Beth, who exactly are you blaming for Bello Gardens becoming totally unlivable in the space of two decades?

CHARLES LE BETH

You want me to blame the city, Mr. Dunkirk, or white people, or the federal government, I'm not going to do it, the fact is none of these entities has the intelligence enough or the compassion enough to understand what happens to a human being's mind when they're trapped in complete despair. Your solution for a hundred years has been to wall these people into the slums and hand them a couple hundred dollars a month to not be a problem for anyone at Fountain Square or any of the other nice places in town where they might make white people nervous. I'm telling you that's all part of the collective idiocy of people in charge and I'm not so stupid to think that's going to change with me. But what I am telling you is that the anger that you thought was wrapped up so nicely inside the Joke isn't wrapped up anymore, because they know what you think of them now just as if you wrote it on the sidewalks. You sold the Joke to Chapelwaite. You might as well have said, "Niggers get out."

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Those people, those African-Americans, sir—

 

Evan Viorst

Now I could look at this transcript today and I look for places where I could have stepped in. It seems somewhat shameful that I didn't do it, when I was sitting three feet from them both, and I wonder if part of it was the spectacle I began to see taking place, and being in a kind of awe of it. When people in power begin to lose control and speak from their gut, it is so extraordinary that my first temptation, even today, even twenty years since I've done any sort of serious journalism, my first instinct is to let myself become mesmerized. But I should have stepped in, I've always known it, because what happened at some point is that the public wasn't watching an exchange of honesty anymore. They had begun to watch something that had been corrupted. It was poisonous.

 

Thomas Sarton

The next day people were saying that things escalated so fast because Le Beth knew he wouldn't be alive much longer, even then. How's that for gruesome? But I can't disagree with that. If you looked at his public career, which was only, what, three years long or so, he had been building toward something, but inside of five minutes he had thrown his image away and become....not an activist suddenly, more like a wolf or something. He wasn't staring at the table anymore, and he wasn't leaning back in his chair. It looked like he wanted to hit Dunkirk, I mean actually hit him, just erase him from the earth. No one had ever seen that from him before, I don't think. So I had the cameras hold on the both of them and didn't cut to Evan much at all.

 

Herbert Le Beth

Maybe he was spending the last part of a whole life of being angry before he died. I won't deny it.

 

John Takoma

But about Dunkirk's breakdown that night, that's something that people....no, people still don't totally understand.

 

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Those people, those African-Americans, sir—

CHARLES LE BETH

Mr. Dunkirk, I don't want to hear you speak about those people, not individually, not collectively, because you have never, not for one moment—

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

—who I am paid to represent—

CHARLES LE BETH

—not for one moment walked any of those streets unless it was with cameras watching you and aides telling you what to say. I am not going to let you claim those people as your constituents or your friends. You wouldn't touch their hands unless there was a ballot in it.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Mr. Le Beth, you have slandered me in public before and I turned my head, you have tried to get me to remove myself from office over the Chapelwaite matter, which I was only tangentially involved in, and you have called me a racist in print. Yet I am the one trying to help the people of Bello Gardens get a new start while you are stuck in finger-pointing over a perfectly legal and ethical land sale. Would you like me to explain that sale to you, or do you want to call me a racist again and again?

CHARLES LE BETH

There's nothing to talk about, this criminal sale is done.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

The sale is not done, despite what you say and despite the ridiculous ads your group has taken out in the newspapers, despite you calling for my resignation in every media appearance. You are not doing any favors to your followers by distorting the facts so that you can feed off your own venom. The process of the sale—

CHARLES LE BETH

I am doing you a favor, Mr. Dunkirk, by warning you that a community of angry, desperate people who haven't ever had anything to lose has now been slapped in the face with a reason to become angrier and more desperate—

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

And who is fanning those flames, not just here, but in every city you go to, every housing project you visit on the grounds of increasing voter registration and homeless advocacy, but which turns out to be nothing more than fear-mongering? That is you, Mr. Le Beth, not me!

CHARLES LE BETH

Be ready for a crime rate that's higher than you ever thought possible. Be ready to have your police force on constant overtime to deal with it. You think different application forms are going to keep the drug dealers out of Phoenix View? The Cleans and the Water Street Dracs are already there. They walked there.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Well, I'm sure you'll be there to help things along with your message to blacks that anger comes before anything, anger before achievement, anger before self-policing. But for someone who grew up with all that in the Joke, you don't seem to have done so badly for yourself, Mr. Le Beth. It seems

 

 

that he couldn't possibly have said that, it was too much a loaded gun to hold out, a member of Congress would never have provoked this man in this way unless he was subconsciously headed out of office and wanted out as quickly as he could, unless he was just giving up and didn't care what happened to his image anymore. Le Beth had gone after him with such hostility in the previous three weeks, Dunkirk had people on his lawn, at his home, protesting him, people who didn't even have the name of the Socialist Ascendancy Party right on their signs, their placards. The eighth district was Dunkirk's and he really had no idea how to talk to them, so I think he wanted out, and it was cracking through. I seem to remember signaling a cut to Le Beth's face on the word "yourself" because I could sense Le Beth's response would be so, so deadly, and he did speak then in such a menacing way that I

 

 

was shot at twice inside the Joke, Mr. Dunkirk. Twice. I can't work two finger joints because I got a bullet in the hand twenty years ago. And I turned my share of teenagers into drug addicts and felons before I got so scared for my stupid, wasted life that I got the hell out, and looking back I know I became exactly what I should have become, that I couldn't have possibly turned out any differently.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Well, forgive me for thinking the public might be more interested, ah, in hearing from someone who was dealing with this issue before you ever even decided to join a gang, to join a gang and perpetuate that misery the police force now has to deal with every day.

CHARLES LE BETH

You think anyone would start selling crack if they saw any other option for themselves, Mr. Dunkirk? You think they plan for it when they're six years old? You want to know what I wanted to be when I grew up? I wanted to be a train conductor. Ten years later I was molded. I was becoming a killer.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

What sort of options did you want, sir? You couldn't have walked outside the Joke and gotten a job, the young people of Bello Gardens aren't physically able to go to work? I wasn't aware—

CHARLES LE BETH

No one in their right mind would have hired what I had been made into back then. You think you're frightened of me now? Ask the police who remember the Dark Reds what we were like.

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Whose fault was that? Whose—

CHARLES LE BETH

It's not about fault anymore, don't you understand that, you fucking lied to those people, and you're going to do nothing while their home becomes another ghetto!

EVAN VIORST

I'm going to ask that we—

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Why don't they stop that from happening? We gave them Bello Gardens and we are giving them Phoenix View, tens of millions of dollars spent because they're not helping themselves, what more do they want from us? Tell me, Mr. Le Beth! Do these adults want to be babysat all their lives?

CHARLES LE BETH

They want to live in a fair world, they want the right to have been born into a fair world, the most basic human right, and no one in the Joke has that from the very first day of their lives, they're born pressed down by a stone, that's all you can call it—

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

My world is everywhere around them, Mr. Le Beth, it's right outside the boundaries of Bello Gardens, they're welcome to it any time, I'm not keeping them from it. Bello Gardens is part of the city of Indianapolis, one of the most thriving cities in the United States.

CHARLES LE BETH

You're not keeping them from it? A hundred and forty years after the end of slavery and millions of blacks stay locked inside the inner cities destroying and killing themselves? You think they feel your arms are open to them?

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

You've got to—you've got to give to get, and if you give nothing, only God can help you, because it's most certainly not in my hands anymore. If all you want is a handout, for the state to feed and provide for you, you're not choosing life, you're choosing death.

CHARLES LE BETH

What free will do you have when everything around you is death? Bello Gardens is death, Phoenix View is death, and I'm going to show it to you, I'm going to shove it into your face until you admit it!

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

I won't listen to a madman, it's death only if they want that for themselves.

CHARLES LE BETH

They want for the people outside those walls to tell them they're human beings and not a dirty secret, and for a hundred years this—

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

Listen—

CHARLES LE BETH

—for a hundred years this sociopathic country has never bothered to do it!

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

They're not human beings, they're sows taking from the trough! I refuse to believe

 

it could happen that way, but it did, it was over at the exact halfway point, and you'll never find anyone who was in the control room with me who can remember what he said right after that, the thing that almost sounded like an immediate apology but which wouldn't have possibly been good enough anyway. And then there was that freakish silence when he stopped talking, and something in his eyes that almost made it seem like he realized he had not just murdered his career, but that Le Beth was solely the one who had managed to draw that venom out of him, like some horrible magic trick had been pulled on him. He might still be on Capitol Hill today had he not sat across from that one man for those fourteen minutes. It was that silence that Le Beth used as the stake. He seemed totally flabbergasted that a man could say such a thing on the air, true, but his silence in the seconds afterwards was a conscious choice, a conscious choice to frame the words and drive them right into the stomachs of everyone watching. Now Dunkirk had been pushed and prodded by Le Beth in the press over an issue he was never supposed to deal with, and right after the taping that night we all said to each other: Of course this is what was going to happen, it was there all along, waiting below the surface, but what we still thought was, My God, how could Dunkirk really have said that, on the air, live, when just fourteen minutes before he had been so calm, so seasoned on the air. It was unthinkable. I can't even watch the tape today. I last saw it ten years ago. That moment is just too hideous.

 

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

They're not human beings, they're sows taking from the trough! I refuse to believe that given the examples of—what I mean to say is that when I

 

realized that Le Beth wasn't going to say a single word after that, that he was going to let that sentence be the last one to be heard, I responded automatically, as if I was on auto-pilot, and that's what no one ever saw. I had actually begun to announce that we were changing the topic entirely, to what I had no idea, but first came those awful three seconds when there was just total silence. No speech at all. Then I saw Le Beth physically get up from his chair on my left, which was when Tom cut the feed altogether, so no one heard me say that. It was unprecedented on the one hand because I was essentially cutting the planned show off in the middle, something that I still have never seen done on that kind of television, and secondly because Tom literally beat me to it and took it farther. He threw up a station ID screen and pretty quickly rolled a promo reel, which he was entitled to do even earlier, when Le Beth had used that profanity. So the last thing the audience saw was Dunkirk's face. Le Beth's reaction, those three seconds of dead nothingness, was actually only seen by the people on the studio floor and in the booth, and people watching on the IFH affiliate, which is how the clip got out to the world. Then Le Beth was gone, just like that. Vanished from the room. Dunkirk literally didn't move until his aide came for him. If the aide hadn't come for him, I don't know if he would have had the strength to even turn in his direction.

 

CONGRESSMAN DUNKIRK

What I mean to say is that when I think of what African-Americans are capable of, that to endanger an entire community which, ah, which has been built not to—

 

Cy Stoops. age 54

I was ten feet away from the stage when Dunkirk said what he said. And I know there was nothing conscious about the way Charles just stopped and couldn't say anything. It was genuine. He was just so stunned. He had seen the worst of people all his life, and when out of the mouth of a Congressman came that, when he'd almost run out of people to listen to him and gone all the way up high into the government, and even there it turned out that what he believed about people was true, it broke him. That's what I believe today. You can't get how he was feeling up to then from reading a transcript of it somebody has. He was at the end of everything.

He was really weak and he was able to get up out of the chair himself, go across the stage, and come up to me, but I had to hold a hand out to keep him steady. Not one single person approached us. We walked right down a hallway past the green room and out of the building. There were about ten people on the studio floor who watched us go. We walked to the car together. No one came out. It was just us, alone. We got into the car, and Charles just collapsed in there, in the front seat. We started to drive away, and still he hadn't said anything to me. Finally I asked him where we were going, and Charles said that he needed to go to the Joke. Now there was nothing that unusual about that back then. It was the way he said it, I suppose, that made me not ask why.

When it was all over there was actually talk about trying to get a conspiracy charge against me, because they figured Charles must have told me more than that in the car, and in the weeks before that show, but especially in the car, on the drive to the Joke. But no, he didn't discuss anything with me, at any point. He just sat there and thought with his eyes closed. I asked him if he needed some food and he said yes, so we stopped at a Boston Market and I brought him out something to eat because he was weak. Other than that, we didn't speak. It was like he'd had one last chance to make himself heard, and it was obvious now that it was useless. More than useless even. He had underestimated what he was really up against, Charles who was always on guard against the worst. We went into the Joke at about 8:30, and I let him out near the Diary. He told me to go home, he said he was all right, and that he would call me the next day or the day after that. He was going to stay there working. He had an apartment set up there, a ratty little thing with decent running water, someone else in the S.A.P. had set it up. When I drove out of the Joke, that's the last time he ever saw him.

 

Ed Kidman, age 60, Pioneer Street, Glen Elm

You said you watched a lot of news back then. How much was Charles Le Beth on the news after that, what did they do with it?

A lot, because everyone was looking for him. That was the second or third story the next day on the national news, because everyone wanted to know where he had gone to, everyone wanted him to say something, nothing's changed. But nobody ever went into Bello Gardens looking for him, it seemed like. All these reporters wanting to talk to him and blow up the story even more, but no one wanted to go into that neighborhood, boy, especially not after that show. Everyone was more afraid of it than ever. There was old video of it all over the evening news, just quick clips. Then Dunkirk resigned from Congress almost right away and that was the lead story for a day or so. Then that Kendi guy, that real radical guy, was on a lot saying he was going to get the people who had already moved out of there to stage some kind of a mass disruption.

Kojo Kendi, the leader of the Resistance Intent.

That's him.

What kind of a mass disruption?

I'm not sure. I had forgotten about him. He was a character, he was one serious guy.

More serious than Charles Le Beth?

Well, you can't compare them, really. But I was thinking back then that Kendi was the one who was going to start riots somewhere, he was the one who was going to get people in a really bad way. So, he was on a lot. if you watched TV back then, every channel ran pretty much the same thing on the news. They would show one clip of Dunkirk saying what he said, and then Le Beth's reaction, then they would talk about the Chapelwaite thing for a minute, and the reaction to that, and then you'd hear a lot of crime statistics, and then all this old video of that slum, nothing too new. To go into that neighborhood and dig up more, it seemed like none of the networks were too anxious to do it. They probably thought they'd be shot at since it had happened before.

What were you doing for a living back then?

I was mailroom supervisor, at the University of Evansville.

 

Senator John D'Acquisto, Indiana

The Joke had four thousand, two hundred people in the beginning, on April 4 of 1983, and five thousand, eight hundred people on June 2, when the general eviction notice was announced. No more units were ever built since 1990. The Joke actually lost units. More people were living in the same space, minus one building, building U on Bearden. It burned out in 1994. That‘s legal residents, people who actually signed on to live at a certain address. The population rose to eight thousand and some almost every Sunday during the winters, when the Worship Center would pack in three thousand people, people from Livingsong and Gray Hill and Point Unity. For a while the weekends made it a fairly lively place, with the flea market and the Worship Center crowds.

When Bello Gardens began accepting applications to live there based on what they called a strict code of conduct, no one was doing serious background checks on the people who applied. The leases said that only the primary householder had to be run for a record. Women moved in with their sons, and the sons might all have had criminal records, but as long as the mothers were all right, no one noticed. The sons had to put their names down as a resident of that address, but not their ages. So if they had criminal records they wouldn't put down their real age and they wouldn't be run for a check. Their information then wasn't used for anything. It was factored in for the census, and to report to the state. But many people should not have been living there. The crime came with the people the day they moved in.

What was your official position on the investigating committee, the one that submitted the report on the siege?

I formed the committee, I was the chairperson.

 

Herbert Le Beth

When they put me in the Lurps in 1969 we went on patrol after patrol after patrol, so many we didn't even know where we were sometimes, it was all just grid points on a map. But we came across some real poverty in the countryside, places that weren't even destroyed by the war, but sad, sad, these people in these tiny villages had nothing. And once, somewhere in the Highlands, we went through a village of Montagnards, seven or eight huts, that had no sewage, no electricity like usual, but things were far worse there in that little place. It was filthy, there was no food and no evidence of any food, these people were barely able to keep going. They looked at us like they would do anything if we just gave them a candy bar or some rations. And a guy who had been in Vietnam for more than a year said to me, "It just takes a certain level of humanity for me to think of these people as human beings. They're not even at that level. Look at them. I can't think of them as people. I'm sorry, I can't do it." And it's terrible to say, but I thought of what he said sometimes when I went back to the Joke in 2004. That was when I had to drive a cab part-time and I had to go there sometimes. Once on a Saturday a group of people from Americorps was building a playground, and I watched that for a while, then I walked through one hallway of one building and saw all these bags of trash that were supposed to be put outside but weren't, and beer cans on the floor, stuff that no one was going to touch, and I remembered what was said to me in the Lurps, and I went home that night and I almost cried. Things had gotten even worse than when we lived there. Charles was living in Los Angeles during the time I was driving the cab, so I never saw him in the Joke or at all in 2004 or 2005. Sometimes I think about how I missed almost the first two years of his life because of Vietnam, and if that had anything to do with how rebelling he was. But I was there from then on, so probably not.

 

Ed Dowloin, age 45, Barnaby Street, Glen Elm

How much did you pay for this house?

This place was a little cheaper than the ones on either side of me, the walls aren't great, you can sort of hear the people on either side. You saw the yard, too, what there is of it. It was two twenty-five when we bought it.

And that was in 2011, right?

Right.

That was the first year these townhouses were built, the ones on this street?

Right.

Do you like it here?

We do like it here, we moved in because the school was so close by, and we stayed for various reasons.

What's the crime like?

Pretty much non-existent. It's a nice area, a really nice area.

 

 

 

NOTICE TO ABATE PUBLIC NUISANCE AND OF INTENT TO SEEK A PRELIMINARY AND PERMANENT INJUNCTION IN LIEU OF VOLUNTARY ABATEMENT

TO:

PERSONS KNOWN AS STREET SPIDERS, aka JOKE SPIDERS, also the WATER STREET DRACS, aka WSD, also SANDANISTA RED, UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATIONS AND STREET GANGS AS DEFINED IN CODE SECTION 180.12 OF THE INDIANA PENAL CODE, AND ALL OF ITS MEMBERS, ASSOCIATES, AGENTS AND ALL OTHER PERSONS ACTING UNDER, IN CONCERN WITH, FOR THE BENEFIT OF, AT THE DIRECTION OF, OR IN ASSOCIATION WITH THEM:

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF INDIANA, BY AND THROUGH JOHN S. DUNCAN, CITY ATTORNEY FOR THE CITY OF INDIANAPOLIS, HEREBY PUT YOU ON NOTICE THAT:

You are creating, maintaining and encouraging, and permitting others to create and maintain, a public nuisance in that you are engaging in and encouraging, and permitting others to engage in, continuing, repeated and ongoing acts of:

a. murder;

b. open and conspicuous narcotics trafficking;

c. open and conspicuous narcotics possession and use;

d. assaults and other acts of violence;

e. use and possession of dangerous weapons and ammunition;

f. vandalism to public and private property including, but not limited to, graffiti;

g. congregating at locations so as to attract persons who seek to purchase narcotics and other contraband, and attract members of rival street gangs who intend to commit acts of violence and other violations of law;

h. congregating at the Bello Gardens Public Housing Project, in sufficiently large numbers and in such a rude and threatening manner, so as to interfere with lawful law enforcement investigations and activities and threaten the safety and well-being of law abiding citizens;

i. blocking the free flow of vehicular traffic and emergency vehicles by approaching passing vehicles and engaging passengers in conversation;

j. blocking and obstructing sidewalks and pedestrian thoroughfares so as to annoy, threaten and intimidate law abiding citizens;

k. yelling of words and phrases and making certain identifiable hand and body movements in public which are intended to warn other gang members, narcotics traffickers, and potential customers of narcotics, that police officers and representatives of the Housing Authority of the City of Indianapolis are present;

l. soliciting, inducing and encouraging others, either verbally, in writing, or by hand and body movements, to commit acts of violence to law abiding citizens, police officers, and other gang members;

m. possessing paging devices (beepers) and portable and cellular telephones so as to facilitate the trafficking of narcotics by respondent street gang.

THE ABOVE DESCRIBED ACTIVITIES ARE A PUBLIC NUISANCE, ARE OFFENSIVE TO THE SENSES, ARE INJURIOUS TO HEALTH, AND ARE INDECENT, SO AS TO INTERFERE WITH THE COMFORTABLE ENJOYMENT OF LIFE AND PROPERTY BY AN ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD AND A CONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF PERSONS IN THE COMMUNITY.

THEREFORE, You are hereby commanded to halt, discontinue and abate the creation and maintenance of the public nuisance described above.

 

 

Senator John D'Acquisto

When Le Beth's disappearance continued, some people began to think that he was in the Joke talking to people and planning some kind of demonstration, maybe trying to keep the last hundred or so people who needed to leave from going anywhere. But Human Services kept counting them, and the number kept getting smaller as they got closer to the seventh. Either the people were moving into Phoenix View, or they were moving somewhere else. The final announced deadline was Friday and it held fast. So while people were looking for Le Beth, they also thought that he would come out and make a statement on his own time, so why send someone into the Joke to find him when it wasn't safe? But there was still worry, some of it because of his health, because he didn't return to the hospital. He was scheduled for another session of chemotherapy on the fifth, which was the last day of the Joke’s official being. He left some phone messages with various people before then, but none of them were about the Here and Now taping or Dunkirk. They were all about other things he had planned, and he talked about them as if they were all going to happen normally.

 

Herbert Le Beth

At about ten o'clock on the fifth, Charles called me. I hadn't talked to him in about six months. That was about how often he called. We talked in a friendly way always, and I always asked him what he was up to, I told him about the times I saw him on TV and he would ask me about what I did from day to day. We didn't talk about politics much because I didn't know much about them, or when I did talk about them I wound up irritating him. That night he asked me if I had seen him on the TV show, and I told him yes, and I asked him if he was going to say anything about it. He told me he didn't know. He told me he was going between the Joke and Phoenix View, helping people move. That last part might not have been true, because he was never seen inside Phoenix View. He had some contact with regular people in the Joke on their way out, but most of his talking was with Rod Baker about how they would resist on the seventh. He didn't mention that to me. He asked me what I was going to do for Christmas. He always spent that day alone, or working at a homeless shelter. He never came over. Our last conversation was as long as any of our other talks, about ten minutes, then he said goodbye. He sounded normal. I think he never really wanted to call, ever since he was much younger, but he did anyways. It was just once in a while. But I was always grateful for that. I would sometimes get disconnected from the feeling that I had a real son like everyone else, because he hadn't come to see me in years, but then he would call and it was all right. He was happier to be totally alone or with the people in the Joke or the homeless.

 

J.G. Harris, age 55, Indianapolis City Police, retired

We left for the Joke at about ten past six on the morning on that day, December 7. That was a Sunday. We went out in a few patrol cars and two people from Human Services went along in their own car. The idea was to have a group of people go in and get the people out however we had to without threats, if we could. If the people had nowhere to go, there were some beds set up at a homeless shelter, and we could even have taken a carload of their things into storage for a few days. But the people had six months to move, so they weren't expecting any real trouble. The seventh was actually a second deadline, an absolute deadline. Friday was for all anyone knew when they were really supposed to be gone. And I think the schedule was, the Joke was going to be demolished from the fourteenth through the end of the month. So the seventh was going to be a knocking-on-doors kind of thing all day, just to make sure not one person stayed behind. After that, we would have some cars sitting there around the clock, as a presence, you know, to make sure no one came back or there was a vacuum where the gangs could take over. The Human Services people were responsible for getting the homeless out. A bus went along and parked on one of the streets, so they expected a lot of them.

There wasn't really a correct dawn that day, because it rained the night before and it was gloomy when it got light. Everything was gray and cloudy. It took us five minutes to get from 9th Street to the Joke. The plan was, we were all going to park beside the quad, and go out from there, but then someone in the first car saw the Tree, and right away that a body was hanging from it. I was in the third car back, so I was actually one of the last people to see it.

 

Martin Sturris

The Tree was built about two years before. It started as a donation of art. It was a sculpture by a guy named Sendra Koresh. He'd never had anything to do with Bello Gardens until they unveiled his sculpture there. Before that it was in a park somewhere else. It was all part of a general beautification scheme. The city bought the sculpture and installed it on a lot on 12th Street. In the beginning, it was just a steel spiral with faces carved into the base, faces that all looked upwards. They were supposed to be a symbol of inspiration. The thing was eighteen feet tall and had to be really deeply cemented into the ground. Graffiti got to it pretty fast after they put it up, but what happened then was that a woman named Sara Queen Crown started building onto it. She wrapped it with chicken wire and fabric, which wasn't legal, it didn't belong to the people, but no one seemed to care. Then she piled onto the base and surrounded it with hundreds and hundreds of feet of wire, copper wire, which made it more solid, and then she packed it with clay over the course of God knows how many days. She lived in the Joke and had a child there, so people knew her, somehow she got away with doing this, what she told them must have worked. Then she began working on the top, and she used wire to make this enormous branch, pointing....west, and after that it was kind of a free for all. People added what they had to the spiral, it was caked with mud, always more wire, more clay, newspapers, whatever people could find to make it stronger, until about a month after it was put up they had something that looked a lot like a tree with that one branch hanging out and never torn away. That would have made it the only tree inside the Joke. It seemed like a monster to me when I saw it, a monster rising up out of the ground, it was so big, twenty feet tall.

 

J.G. Harris

We all got out of our cruisers when we saw the body hanging from the neck from that branch. We saw how it got up there, too. A pickup truck was parked underneath it. One of us, Dan Sobol, he died a few years back, he climbed on top of the truck. He had to balance himself real careful on top of the cab. And one of the people from Human Services, some woman, she couldn't stop saying "Oh my god, oh my god" again and again, until we just told her to stop. She was the one who told us that it was that guy Le Beth. He was wearing a blue suit, which was soaking wet. He looked not even really dead, his eyes just looked closed, there wasn't any sign of any trauma from when he'd done it. His skin looked all right. He's just stepped off the roof there, and done it. There were some burns on his neck which you would always see because the weight of someone's body keeps pulling on the knot, little by little.

 

Peter Spicer, age 23, Governor's Court, Glen Elm

Supposedly they had to cut him down with a knife and he was so heavy they weren't ready for it, so the body came down and the cops fell into the back of the pickup truck, the....what, the bed of the truck.

 

J.G. Harris

When the weight of the body shifted on them, Dan slipped and fell off the top of the cab and into the bed, and Le Beth fell with him. That was bad, that was our fault. The whole thing shook when the body thumped in there. The woman screamed. It echoed because of the way the place was so huge and empty. We got in there fast and tried to fix things a little. There was a piece of really thin wood nailed into the base of the tree, about halfway up it. The writing was made by a black felt tip marker. If it had rained the night before, I guess it would have been ruined. No one would have ever known what it said.

 

IF THE PEOPLE OF THIS CITY NEED SOMEONE TO DIE FIRST

I WILL GO FIRST

IF THEY NEED A REASON TO FIGHT AGAINST THE RAPE OF THEIR HOME

IT CAN BEGIN WITH MY DEATH ON THIS SPOT

LET NO ONE WHO COMES HERE SURVIVE IF THEY COME TO DISPLACE US

WITH EVERY INCH OF THESE STREETS THEY TAKE WE HAVE LESS REASON TO BE PROUD

YOU WILL BE FOUGHT WITH WHATEVER HAS BEEN LEFT US

YOU WILL NOT TAKE ANYTHING MORE FROM US

WE HAVE NOTHING TO WIN BUT WE WILL REPEL YOU TO THE LAST HOUR OF THE NIGHT

THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD

CHARLES RANDALL LE BETH

DECEMBER 6, 2007

 

J.G. Harris

We got on the radio, on a closed channel, and called in right away about we'd had found. I was really nervous. I felt like something was very wrong, and I was looking up all around us, at all the empty buildings, and all those floors. Nobody saw anyone. We were surrounded by tall buildings but it seemed like not one human soul was inside them. And Captain Brown obviously sensed it too, because he decided in about thirty seconds that we were going to take the body out right then and there, and every cruiser, and the Human Services van, we were all leaving too, at that minute. Which was strange, because we had a dead body right there, and instead of pounding on doors asking questions we were being ordered to leave. And a crime scene, too, technically. I mean, who knew right then if it was really one guy who had hung himself or if it might be something else. It was a total botch of procedure. But you know, you could feel it if you stood still for just a second and tried to listen above the sound of the radio and the woman crying, you could hear that the quiet all around was intentional. Nothing moved, there was absolutely nothing. No way would no one have called us and told us some guy had hung himself, no matter how few people were left in there, unless something was really wrong. We weren't totally safe. And Captain Brown did a quick walk around the truck and a check was run on the plates and it came back that Charles Le Beth owned it, and that was it, I think that's what told him he had enough for us to get out for now. We left the place exactly the way we found it, right down to the pickup truck, which was maybe a piece of evidence but we couldn't deal with it just then. All we took was the body and that piece of balsa wood.

So there was absolutely no police presence in the Joke for....

Fifteen minutes, a good fifteen minutes.

Who transported the body? It was in a cruiser?

No, we called an ambulance to meet us on 11th street.

And after that, no one was there.

Nope, no one. We weren't going back in until we could get some kind of a force prepared in case something happened right there and right then. That was a risky call, that could have gotten a lot of people in a lot of trouble, but if you'd been there, you would have known the feeling I'm talking about. Eyes on you, watching you, from a million little places, about to do you harm.

 

Dr. Elroy Nieman, age 66, Indiana University

Le Beth never talked about killing himself with Rod Baker or any of the other Street Spiders. No one knows exactly when he decided that he was going to end his life, but it's not the sort of thing that is decided overnight, at least not by someone like Le Beth. But there's an argument that based on his actions it was almost right away after the taping of the TV show. Because as much as he could get the Spiders together and talk to them about what they should do, it was going to be his duty to force them into it. The more those days are examined, the ones he spent in the Joke before the seventh, the more you tend to conclude that there was this grim sort of choreography going on where he was urging the Spiders to resist on the seventh, and that he knew by the fifth what he was going to do to compel them to do it. He had nothing to give them, really, not money, not fame or a better life, but at some point he must have imagined the way to get them to fight. And I don't know of any other way he could have done it. Even standing with them himself and waiting for the police to come in wouldn't have done it.

But did they think anything would really be accomplished?

Well, you have to go back. Since 2004 or so, they'd been fighting a turf war with the Water Street Dracs off and on, and twenty people had died in it. The Dracs had never stopped encroaching on their turf. The Spiders were essentially created in the Joke and they grew in the Joke, and they owned those streets, even when other gangs moved in. But when the Joke was sold and the people were slowly forced to leave, the Dracs and other gangs began to mock the Spiders for the way they had let things get so violent and so messy on their own turf that the government condemned it. You can see it in the graffiti the Dracs left on Parks Avenue, on the Joke's edge, these murals of men in suits throwing dirt on graves with yellow tombstones. It was a point of real shame, and the Spiders took it personally. The Joke was their home, just like anyone else's home, and they had lost it; the perception was that they'd corrupted it and let it become a place so dangerous for people that it had to be ended. Then it was a chain reaction. The Spiders slowly began to lose drug money because of this reputation, you just didn't go to them, people stayed away from the markets, rumors spread about spontaneous killings that never took place. Not the addicts, mind you, but the ones who could be intimidated just enough to stay away. The Spiders were forced to tread on the turf of other gangs, and there were more murders and more gunfights. They almost always lost. They were outgunned and outnumbered when they left the Joke. They lost a lot of recruits, sometimes to other gangs who were changing because of the west coast and Hispanic influx of methods of gang operations, which the Spiders were too out of control to adopt. They were isolated and almost archaic, they had few connections in other cities. So when the Joke began to die, the Spiders began to die with it. They lost the respect they had gained from other gangs. Even the police had more contempt for them because they become so erratic and desperate, and they did nothing to stem the public's belief that they had destroyed an entire community for everyone inside it. That was far too simple, really, there were numerous other reasons it died, including very shoddy policing, but the Spiders had to fight sometimes just because of who they were and what had happened with the sale of the Joke. By November of 2007, they had only a hundred or so members left. They were staring their own ending in the face when Le Beth came to them. He appealed to their pride. The rest of the city and the world thought of them as gang members and drug dealers but Le Beth knew they were men first, and wanted more than anything in this world to be thought of as men. He gave them a cause.

 

Herbert Le Beth

They were just as shocked as anyone to find Charles's body. They found it a few hours before the police came. The way he left that message for them, and the way he went first to die, he didn't leave them with a choice but to fight. If he hadn't kept his secret, they might have had too much time to think it over. It made up their minds for them. There was no way they could turn their backs on what he did. He lied to them first, though. He told them there was a police plan to wipe them out once and for all, this plan to sweep all the Spiders out in one major operation and break them apart. He told them arresting Akili Chones had been step one of it. None of that was true. He must have thought he needed to use anything he could to get them to come together.

 

J.G. Harris

Seeing no people on the street, none at all, that was unusual?

Oh yeah, usually if someone was arrested in the Joke, any housing project really, where they didn't trust the cops, there was always someone coming out, like five or ten people, and sometimes they were so mad at us they started shouting at us. Even a few days before when someone had to go look into that incident where a Spider fell off one of the buildings and accidentally shot a cameraman as he fell, people came out to talk to us. This time, nobody, zero, even though there were all these cruisers around. And nobody messed with that suicide note for hours, think of that. So when we came back, it wasn't going to be a few cruisers, it was going to be heavy. They actually had a plan for something like that and they went right to it and started putting it together as fast as they could.

What plan?

First they tried to block off the main streets that went into the Joke. They wanted to put a car at every intersection so that no one was allowed in. Which was perfect, really, since it wouldn't even create any suspicion that something was wrong, because the place was going to be condemned that day. They didn't want a single person to go in there for any reason. If someone came to help a relative move out, they were going to have to wait for an officer to go in with them. But there were a lot of ways to get in there, there was a major gap on the west side where the whole community was a bunch of dirt lots which connected with Gray Hill. And they just didn't have enough cars and men to cover everything anyway, so they had to leave a few streets unblocked until they got enough help to cover them.

Now you're saying "they". You weren't a part of the rest of it?

No, I never went back, I had nothing to do with it. I had to go do other things, I worked the phones to coordinate the SWAT teams.

 

Martin Sturris

They told all the cops in there not to use their lights so that it wouldn't look like a situation was developing. Now they had a real problem, though, because there were people who were expecting help to move out on that day, and also people who had no intention of going anywhere because they were homeless, or beyond hope. And no one from the state was coming in to get them out. Suddenly there was no Human Services van and no officers going door to door. Someone called me and told me to stay home. It was only about quarter to eight when they blocked most of the main intersections going in, so there would still be time to make all that happen, but if it got to around noon or early afternoon, people would start making phone calls from the Joke saying, Where is my help? So they had to figure something out fast. Which must have been tough, because they still supposedly had no clue what they were dealing with, what was really going on.

None of this was on the news right away? Were you watching TV at any point?

It wasn't on the news at all for a long while. You didn't hear that Le Beth was dead till that afternoon. Those five or six people from Human Services who went with the cruisers, none of them talked to anyone outside the station about finding Le Beth, so obviously someone must have sat them down and told them, Look, not one word to any reporters about anything you saw. How else would no one find out this news? They must have clamped down hard. Someone would have called me and told me something.

Did you know any of the Human Services people who were there that day?

No, so I don't know, I'm just talking from my limited experience.

 

 

911 DISPATCHER: Emergency services.

ROD BAKER: Yeah, this is Rod Baker, I want to talk to the chief of police, I have a message for the chief of police.

911 DISPATCHER: Sir, do you have an emergency?

ROD BAKER: I'm in the Joke and there's cops everywhere and I want to talk to someone and tell them they'd better not come in here again or there's gonna be trouble, so I want to talk to the chief.

911 DISPATCHER: Can you give me your location, sir?

ROD BAKER: No! Put someone on I can talk to, I want to tell them how this is gonna work, they were just in here taking out Charles Le Beth and if they come in here the wrong way, there's gonna be trouble, you hear me?

911 DISPATCHER: What is your name again, sir?

ROD BAKER: My name is Rod Baker. They are gonna have a major problem if they don't listen to me how it's gonna go.

911 DISPATCHER: All right....

ROD BAKER: I don't have time to play around now. Come on.

911 DISPATCHER: All right. Sir, I'm going to patch you through to someone, I need you to hold on.

ROD BAKER: I'll hold on, but they need to get this message quick, understand me?

911 DISPATCHER: Can you give me the name again, of the person the police were dealing with? The man you said?

 

Dr. Elroy Nieman

After a quick conversation between the dispatcher and the supervisor of the floor staff, they did put him through to the Deputy Chief of the East Precinct on 9th, a man named Stieb, not the chief of police of course, but he was in charge of the district. It was using Le Beth's name that got Baker through. The supervisor at 911 knew who that was but didn't know he had died yet. As soon as he heard Rod Baker's name, Stieb knew it was important, and he decided to talk to him himself as soon as Le Beth's name was brought into it too. Stieb knew about Rod Baker as well, the entire precinct did.

What did they know about him then?

They knew he was charged with murder twice since he'd joined the Street Spiders in about 1999, and both times he was let off because both times he was wrongly accused. Two different men were charged later for both those things. Rod Baker was at the top of the tai lou of the Spiders, meaning he was one of the people who gave orders. The Spiders used the slang terms that some Chinese gangs used. Baker gave orders to the ma jai, the 'little horses'. The most the police absolutely knew he was guilty of was being a steerer in one revenge shooting. He had set the whole thing up against the Water Street Dracs and ordered two Spiders to carry it out, but the police absolutely could not get anyone to testify to it, and so he stayed free except for a drug conspiracy charge which put him in jail for a year when he was twenty-five.

How old was he on December 7th?

He was twenty-eight.

Was there anyone higher up in the Spiders than he was?

Technically, Akili Chones was higher. Akili Chones and Rod Baker represented "the crown". Now, Chones was arrested for drug conspiracy the night before Le Beth went on Here and Now, and he was in jail the night of the seventh. The police had been slowly busting up the Spiders' little side business, their Oxycontin sales that they kept confined in Gray Hill until they could figure out where to take it from there. So with Chones gone, Le Beth dealt with Rod Baker directly. He was left in control of the Street Spiders for the first time. Chones couldn't get bail because he had violently evaded arrest and he didn't get out of jail for ten years. If he hadn't been arrested when he had, he would have fought in the Joke during the siege.

Okay. Take me through it, then, what Baker told the police.

He told Stieb that there were seventy Street Spiders inside the Joke, and he demanded that the police not enter, that the last few residents to leave would do it on their own, the Spiders knew who they were and they would help them. He didn't want to see any police cars or there would be a "situation". So Stieb told Baker that he didn't have the right to speak for the people left inside the Joke, and that they had to make sure everyone left by nightfall. Already he was trying to prod Baker for information about Le Beth's death, but he wouldn't talk about that. What Baker was trying to do was keep the police out until the Spiders could really organize their defense of the Joke. They were still spread out, and they needed time to dig in. Got it? Stieb first began to suspect that Baker had no intention of ever coming out when he also told him that the Spiders didn't want to see any Human Services people in there either. So do you see the issue there? What possible reason could Baker have had for not wanting Human Services inside the Joke? It didn't make sense. But Stieb didn't push him on it. He wanted Baker to believe he was going along with the deal. Besides, he saw that sending more police in could be a disaster. There were going to be news crews trying to enter the Joke soon because of Le Beth's death, and he didn't want them getting shots of people being evicted from their homes by policemen. The residents who were left were the most absolutely desperate, they hadn't been able to leave the Joke even by the supposed final deadline of the fifth. If Le Beth hadn't killed himself, maybe they could have taken care of all of it quietly. Now, everything had changed. And what Stieb feared most was Baker calling the news stations. So he made Baker a false deal which he didn't even have the authority to make anyway. He said if all the people on the Human Services list of stragglers were out of there by one o'clock, no police would come in, and Human Services itself wouldn't come in until Baker said it was okay. It was all a lie, of course. Stieb would have to call Geoff Kelvin and Kelvin would have a force go in if even an hour passed with no action. So they were deceiving each other.

But Rod Baker was actually true to his word in the beginning. wasn't he?

Yes, he actually had three of his ma jai helping a few families move their things out. The three men were all armed.

 

Janet Lincoln, age 61

They came to our door, and we kicked them right out. We didn't want their help, not after what they did to the place. I just closed my door right on their face. They had no right to come help us. When people started moving out in the summer they had all kinds of people from the state helping out, then in the fall it was just a few calls now and then, and then on the last day nobody. I figured everyone had forgotten about me, but I wasn't about to let those criminals into my house.

 

Senator John D'Acquisto

Meanwhile, Baker had begun to coordinate how exactly the Spiders in the buildings other than his own were going to position themselves for the time when the police came. When Stieb got off the phone, he called the Chief of Police, Geoff Kelvin, and the Police Commissioner, and informed both them and his staff that there might very well be a confrontation with the Street Spiders. What disturbed him most what Baker's claim that there were about seventy Spiders in the Joke. That meant they had gotten together sometime in the past few days, and the only reason for it would be a defense of some kind, either against another gang or the police themselves. It was possible that with the Joke being totally deserted, it would be a setting for the Spiders to face down the Water Street Dracs. But they'd had no indication that something like a gang war was being planned. Either way, it was time to bring in as much support as anyone could find to surround the Joke. Baker had scared the police into dropping the illusion that everything was calm inside the Joke, and at 8:30, it was decided to bring in other precincts to block all the entrances and exits they could, every single intersection.

 

Herbert Le Beth

I remember getting up that day and knowing what the date meant, December 7th, that it was the last day people were living inside the Joke. I knew it was really the 7th and not the 5th. I didn't have to be at work, so on my way back from buying groceries, I took Reagan Boulevard to F. D. Gregory Street and I drove past the western edge, that was where we used to live, in Building O. I sort of wanted it to be the last time I looked at it before it was torn down.

Sorry, what was the weather like again?

It was cold, it was very cold. A little rain. I drove past at about quarter to eight. I saw just one police car blocking off the 7th Street route in, so I suppose it had only been a half hour since they'd found Charles.

They drove him out via F.D. Gregory. So....it was possible that as you were driving past, they had just taken Charles away a couple of blocks behind you.

For all I knew he was alive and still in there, helping people. But that's not all of it, I mean, if I had taken 12th Street to La Guma, I might have been able to see the pickup truck he used to climb up to the Tree still sitting there. But I didn't see anything like that. I just looked at Building O.

How old was Charles when you lived there?

He was fourteen, fifteen, and part of sixteen.

How much time did you spend looking at the building? Just on the seventh, I mean.

Well, F. D. Gregory is a thirty mile per hour road and it doesn't have a lot of lights, so I kept moving and it was gone pretty fast.

What floor did you live on?

The fourth. Now when I went by on the seventh I could see that half the windows on that floor had been boarded up, why I don't know, they had done six windows in a line but ours was still there, right at the end of that line, still looking out to the west. I always thought that window was a big help to us, because we saw the street outside the Joke, we saw regular traffic going past, almost all black people but some white people, and it didn't seem like we were prisoners as much as the people who were on the other side of the building.

What did they see when they looked out their windows?

The quad, and Van Der Zee Street, and the other buildings. I swear, that morning when I drove past, that was actually the first time I noticed how really terrible it was to look from the street toward the Joke, how it was the exact opposite.

Wasn't there a fence of some kind that ran around the Joke? I've seen it in some photographs.

Yeah, it was this short iron fence, it just came up to about my waist. It went all the way up F. D. Gregory.

What do you think the point of it was?

I don't know. It didn't have a point, probably.

I'm sorry, I keep interrupting you. I wanted to ask you about the person you thought you saw.

I did see one person in there as I drove past. Someone was looking out on the street from the second floor. I didn't see their face very well, but I guess it was a Street Spider, since from my reading I was never able to find any mention of a family that was still living in O. So I still think it was a Street Spider.

Who was being prepared to fight at that very moment.

That makes sense, yeah.

Then you left? Or did you see more?

After I passed 8th Street, I took the first left turn and drove home. I didn't even look in the rearview mirror. I didn't need any memories of the Joke. They called me and told me Charles was dead at about 10:15, just before it went out over the news.

 

From the notebook of Herbert Le Beth, left for his grandson, Damon, after his death:

Of all the things that happened to make the siege real, the saddest thing I think was the coincidence that took place just after Charles was found. The timing was so strange and so perfect that it was almost like it was all destined to happen. So many little things could have changed the timing of the skinheads coming into the Joke that it's like God was mocking everyone. Just like it seemed that God was mocking everyone when it just happened to be that the siege took place on December 7th, which was always thought of as the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. After the siege, Pearl Harbor day had to share the day with the anniversary of what happened in the Joke. History is getting so long though that eventually every day of the year that people remember as tragic or that changed the world in some kind of way will have to be shared with some other event that makes history too.

There were two incidents with skinheads in the Joke in the previous couple of years, because the man who founded the local Aryan Brotherhood lived just a mile away in Gray Hill. His name was Drew Gamble. A few other men lived with him on Dryer Avenue. That house is a place where they groom and board pets now. The previous night one of the men who lived there at the time, whose name was Donald Gowles, went out drinking with two of his friends. One was another member of the Aryan Brotherhood. They stayed up all night at Gowles' house and at about five in the morning they began to walk along the train tracks that went east from Gray Hill. They did this a lot. No trains had used them in five years. Donald Gowles thought that December 5th was the day the Joke would be totally abandoned, like everyone else did, because that's what was in the newspaper. He was going to follow the train tracks all the way into Joke. He knew where he was going. The train tracks came into the Joke between two empty lots outside Building I, and they weren't connected to any road, so while the police were trying to block off the streets, anyone who wanted to could really walk the train tracks in. You could see them from Buildings I and O, but there was almost no one left in them to look out, except for the Street Spiders. They had almost all spent the night in Building I. That's what Rod Baker had told them to do. They slept in abandoned apartments. But three of them had gotten up very early, and they were the ones who found Charles' body and went back to Rod Baker to tell him about it. And they also happened to be the ones who saw the skinheads coming in just before eight.

 

Senator John D'Acquisto

Gowles was the worst of the three by far. He had been in prison three times and the two major incidents involving skinheads in the Joke had centered on him. Both had been acts of vandalism. The second one had been an attempt to burn down the Diary. A skinhead had gone to jail for two years for that crime because he refused to tell the names of anyone who helped him plan it. A policeman was patrolling the Joke in his off hours, just as a volunteer, and he'd caught him dismantling the fire alarms on the first floor. They found about....oh, I don't know how many Molotov cocktails ready and waiting in his van, bottles of Pepsi filled with diesel fuel. Gowles told many people he had helped plan that crime but it never came out in court. Now on the morning of the seventh, he was wearing an old white T-shirt which became the piece of evidence of the siege that is still shown in all the books about it. He was a fairly small man, he was only twenty-four years old, he was bald and muscular. I mention his physical appearance to point out that he didn't make any attempt to camouflage himself when he went into the Joke. The others did. They wore black. Either Gowles was still too drunk or confident to care, or he truly thought that December 7th meant there wouldn't be a human soul left in the Joke to bother him. He didn't even wear a jacket even in that kind of cold.

 

From the notebook of Herbert Le Beth

They took the tracks in at about 7:45 a.m., through the place where the Joke opened up too much into the ball fields and empty places to be blocked off. 7:45 was just after the police left for the first time and just before they blocked off most of the parts of the Joke they couldn't during the first try. Maybe no one but the Spiders would have noticed them whenever they went in. I went and stood on those tracks where they came into the Joke last week before I wrote this. I should say the remains of the tracks, because it's Glen Elm now and there's just a few places near the new houses where you can see them underneath the dirt. It's all sidewalks and grass now. What is there now at the path the skinheads walked is too different from how it used to be to tell for sure if they would have been seen if they had come a little later. One of the lots is a little park now with trees where there weren't any before, and it still seems a long way from 10th Street, where a police car was. Maybe they just would not have been stopped no matter when they came.

 

Martin Sturris

You can actually see the train tracks from here.

Yeah, it's the only window in the house you can see them from. There's like a twenty foot section that's still poking through, they didn't bother to cover it all up.

You know their significance with the history of the siege?

I think a bunch of skinheads came in walking along the tracks, and I don't know how many of them they grabbed.

Just one.

I thought it was like five or six for some reason.

Three came in, and they abducted one.

Right, right. How long had they been planning that?

To this day, the Spiders who are left claim there was no plan. It was improvised. They would have abducted almost anyone.

 

J.G. Harris

The skinheads in the area weren't a problem most of the time except on the Internet. They were all over the Internet, they tried to recruit as many new people as they could, we were always getting complaints but there literally wasn't anything we could do. But they'd have an occasional violent outburst. They had a nasty run-in with the Resistance Intent in Bloomington but nobody got hurt. They were scared of the Joke too. They knew that if they showed themselves there, it was over, they'd be messed up fast. But they still felt the need to go in there all the time and try to get away with leaving a mark. Only the craziest of them went in, usually right before dawn otherwise we would have spotted them more, and they'd spray paint that word, that RAHOWA word, on whatever building they could hit and then they'd run for it. I saw them once or twice, running for it.

RAHOWA means....

That was their war cry, or something, "Rahowa."

 

Gerry, age 42

Drew tried to plan something bigger sometimes but it never went anywhere. He was always trying to be under the radar of the police. Donald was different. He was obsessed with the Joke. We thought we were just going to go in there and do a little damage, we figured nobody was around, but Donald wanted to go in there and figure out a way to destroy it before the city brought the buildings down. He wanted to burn the whole place to the ground, not just one building, he wanted to do all of them.

We went in, it was me and Julian and Donald, we were a little drunk still, we wandered around for ten or fifteen minutes. Julian wasn't even in the Brotherhood really. He was like eighteen, he had no idea what was going on. We did graffiti on the YMCA and some place that I think was a child care place. Then we went into some building, we went up as far as the second floor and looked around. For all we knew everybody was gone. We really thought there wouldn't be anybody left, what did we know. I'm a different person today. I want to make that clear.

So, yeah, we were just messing around. At one point Donald kicked these doors in, these two apartments, and we went in and explored. There wasn't anything left to take or even look at. It was like when you go into a place before they even put in wallpaper or furniture. Donald sat on the floor in a corner and me and Julian went into the stairwell at the end of the hall and we just hung out there. It was getting really, really cold and I didn't have a jacket. I found on one of the stairs this old copy of a United States Army Survival Manual and I took it. I might still have it. After that, we spent a few minutes on the first floor, spray-painting this and that in the lobby. And then we were sobering up and it was just too cold to stay, so we went back up to get Donald, and he wasn't in the apartment where we left him. His bottle of beer was there but he wasn't. We went up and down the hallway and called out his name. There was no sign of him on the first floor either, so we went outside. We shouted his name from in front of the building. We figured we'd head back to the tracks and wait for him just outside the Joke, we felt safer there. Without Donald the place seemed like a very bad place to be. When you knew there were people around that was one thing, but when you knew they were all gone, it was different. On the way out by the tracks, Julian turned around and shouted out his name one more time, really loud. No answer. And I was like, Oh, I don't think we were alone all that time. Real bad news. Strange feeling. Somebody was watching us.

 

GEOFF KELVIN: This is Geoff Kelvin.

ROD BAKER: All right, things have changed, now nobody's coming in ever, do you hear me? The Joke is closed as of right now, no one's ever coming in here.

KELVIN: You're going to have to tell me what you're—

ROD BAKER: We have a hostage.

KELVIN: —talking about. What do you mean, you have a hostage?

ROD BAKER: His name is Donald Gowles, he came in here, and we have him, and he's dead as soon as any human being comes in. That's all.

KELVIN: All right, Mr. Baker, who is this person?

ROD BAKER: We caught him and he's ours. So you just tell me what you need me—how you need me to prove it, that we're not lying, because he belongs to us.

KELVIN: Tell me this person's name again.

ROD BAKER: I told you his name, his name is Donald.

KELVIN: Okay, I'm gonna need to speak to him, Mr. Baker.

ROD BAKER: Nope, no.

KELVIN: What do you want exactly?

ROD BAKER: What we were talking about before, none of that's gonna happen. We got a hostage, that's all you need to know, we'll prove it, and he's dead if any one of you puts one foot in here.

KELVIN: Mr. Baker, we haven't been coming in, we've been waiting for you to uphold your end of the bargain. Now we need to know when we're going to see some families leave, and we need to know how many of you are still in there, you're breaking the law by being in there, I have to tell you that.

ROD BAKER: Doesn't matter we're breaking the law. We are going to kill this person we have here. You want to call me and talk, you call me. I'm not saying I'm gonna answer. If I see one cop or one car or whatever, one person from the government, this man's gonna die.

KELVIN: Well, I have to tell you, I don't think you're doing this the way we agreed, Mr. Baker. This is completely out of line.

ROD BAKER: Hey, you can think what you want, all's you need to do is tell me how to prove it.

KELVIN: All right. I want you to stay on the line with me.

ROD BAKER: What?

KELVIN: I said I want you to stay on the line with me. Are you going to do that?

 

Senator John D'Acquisto

From that moment, it was too late to stop everything. When Rod Baker offered to prove he had a hostage, not that he had any idea what kind of hostage he really had, it was a sign to Geoff Kelvin and the entire police force that they intended to have a war. Not for a second did the police hesitate in planning for one from that moment. It was not going to be possible to keep everything quiet now, so they didn't take too much time trying to figure out how to do that. Instead they planned for an assault and they assumed that Rod Baker was telling the absolute truth.

They planned on the assumption that the Street Spiders had gathered together at full strength inside the Joke, that Charles Le Beth had gotten them to gather, and that they were heavily armed and ready to fight. The only thing they were off about was that they figured a kidnapping was part of the whole plan, which it was not. Anyway, they planned to have to go in against as many as one hundred men. It was 8:45 when Rod Baker made that call. Kelvin had someone call the Chicago and Columbus branches of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to tell them that their help might be needed in setting up an assault against the Street Spiders and collecting evidence for prosecutions. The Indianapolis SWAT unit had forty-five men in it, which wasn't enough to do what needed to be done, but they would be the first ones to go in if it became necessary. A hostage negotiator was called in Chicago and they began trying to call Rod Baker again, but he wasn't answering his cell phone yet.

How did the media get a hold of what was going on?

They tracked information coming over police scanners, they pieced it together, and that's what happened in that case. But not one of them was ever able to get into it. The cordon around the Joke got twice as heavy in no time at all. Because now it was a public safety matter.

While they tried to reach Rod Baker, they had one hundred and forty cops surround the Joke, including the part where the old train tracks entered between those two empty lots. They were told to stay as far away from the buildings as possible. They closed the sidewalks beside them. You couldn't get to within one block of any of them. The closest you could get to the Joke was the Green Rose Parkway, so you could only see those buildings at fifty miles per hour.

They were ready to send the first SWAT team in to scout the buildings when they finally got through to Rod Baker. They asked him exactly where he was, which of course he didn't answer. He wasn't an idiot, he was quite intelligent. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep the police out of the Joke entirely with just a claim of a hostage, so now he told them that he was sending someone out with evidence. And he hung up right after that. He hadn't told them who this person was or where they were coming from, or even which direction they would be walking, so there was a scramble then to spot the person on their way out, since his route would most likely tell them which building Rod Baker was in. They were slow in the beginning to send men up, they went to the tops of the Geico Insurance building and the parking garage on Bearden Street, they both gave good high views into the eastern and southern parts of the Joke, but they didn't see enough to tell exactly where the person was coming from. They had to speculate too much. Finally they spotted him coming down 14th Street, I believe it was. He was the only sign of life the police could really see. They scanned the buildings for any kind of movement, but they saw almost nothing.

 

Father Lawrence Beddis, age 56

You're so far away from the Joke now, was that intentional?

No, it really wasn't. Ten years ago I had a number of job opportunities and I chose this one without even knowing where I would physically be. So it was just coincidence.

How old were you in 2007?

Thirty-three, thirty-four..

Where were you before you came to work in the Joke?

I was doing missionary work in Sierra Leone.

So you'd seen real poverty.

Yes.

All right. Where were you actually stationed in the city back then, when you came from Sierra Leone?

I was in the Mission Church, it was just outside the Joke. But I spent most of my time inside it.

The weekly gatherings at the Worship Center, you didn't have any function in those?

No.

 

Akili Chones, age 46, Terre Haute United States Penitentiary

They called him Beds, no one even called him Father, they never did that. He was all right, you know, he never gave me any trouble. He was against us but we gave him a pass, the way I looked at it he was there doing his thing, I was there doing my thing, I wasn't gonna cause him any problems because he was doing a lot of good in there, so you couldn't make it out to seem like he was a problem to us. He was always trying to get everybody to go to work, go to school, he was getting them jobs, he was always in there making sure everyone was looking for work. He was tough but at least he would help. He was always driving these kids to job interviews. He had this deal with them where if they got a job, he'd let them take his car to work on the first day. That car was hilarious, that's why he was so funny, he had that car.

 

Father Lawrence Beddis

It was a blue Miata, a parishioner of mine had given it to me as thanks for helping him with an alcohol problem. And I kept it because I had so many errands and trips to make, it really came in handy, it was in pretty poor shape but the kids got a big kick out of it. My biggest concern was always that they should get jobs as soon as they were legally allowed to work, it was one of the only ways I knew to keep them away from the gangs.

 

Akili Chones

He'd park that thing all over the Joke and everyone knew it wasn't gonna get stolen, because they knew whose it was. Then he had these turtle races, he called them turtle races, it was like, neither car could go more than ten miles an hour to the end of the street, and once you got to the dead end you had to get out of your car and run to the stop sign on the corner.

Did you ever talk to him?

He came up and started talking to me once, I don't know what it was about, nothing happened with it, we were on opposite sides, you know. Rod talked to him sometimes. You should have seen, the kids were afraid of him, because if you saw him on the street it meant he was coming after you to ask you why you weren't looking for a job or doing your homework, and he didn't want any excuses, you know. He would be funny to them, he would do stuff like mess his hair up on purpose before he talked to them, to give them something to laugh at, right, but then he would come down hard if they were screwing up too much or if they weren't listening, really hard, he'd grab them if he felt like it. I saw him grab some kids, he was, you know, in your face, he was rough.

 

Father Lawrence Beddis

I'd been in the Joke only since seven that morning, because I'd been busy helping take care of a very sick friend up in Point Unity. I went to get some things from my little office on Bunche and make a phone call to my sister, which took longer than I thought, and in the middle of that I looked out the window and I saw a few police cars going around the Joke and I saw a couple of intersections blocked off. I went outside to see if anyone knew what was going on, but no one was around. I was going to wait for the Human Services people to come so I could go out with them around the neighborhood. Then a Spider named Luco came up to me on the street and told me that Rod Baker had an emergency. I only knew him a little, Baker I mean, I had minimal contact with the Spiders. Luco took me down the street into Building T. He told me that Charles Le Beth had killed himself inside the Joke and that the police had already taken him away. I didn't know he had hanged himself on the Tree. We went up into an empty apartment and there were seven or eight Spiders in there, and I thought Rod Baker must have been shot or hurt somehow. But then he came out of one of the bedrooms and took me in there with him. There was a man in a T-shirt and jeans there, and the T-shirt was spattered with bits of blood, and he was lying on the bed. He was conscious, he wasn't bound or gagged, but he didn't move. He just looked at me. Baker told me I needed to go tell the police what I'd seen, that they had this man and he was alive, and that no one should come into the Joke. After that, I should stay out of it. He also told me to relay to the police that there were only six families left inside the Joke, and within one hour, every one of them would come out. I tried to get more information out of him, just for myself because it was so bewildering, but he would only shake his head and then he took me out of the room. Then as an afterthought, he went back in while I stood there. I said to the other men in the room, "Do you know what's going to happen to you if this goes any further?" None of them answered me. I told them a doctor was needed here, and they still didn't answer me. When Baker came back out thirty seconds later, he gave Gowles's T-shirt to me and he led me to the door and he told me he'd talk to me later about this.

So I walked out of the Joke, and the police waited for me to come all the way out before they walked up to me and told me to identify myself. I had the T-shirt in my right hand. There was blood on it. They drove me to 9th Street and took me into the station, and they questioned me there for the rest of the morning. They asked me how many of the Spiders were armed, what kind of weapons they had, if I had any idea how many Spiders were in the building, if they had sentries watching the streets, if they had men all over the Joke. I think they always suspected me of knowing more than I told.

After the first hour I went to the men's room, and I washed my hands because a little bit of Gowles's blood had stained them. The police hadn't seen that. Then I went into one of the stalls, and I cried. I cried for ten minutes. I knew the Spider who came to take me to Rod Baker, Luco, he was about nineteen years old. The year before, I'd gotten him and two other kids a temp job at Circle Centre helping to build a skate park. He never finished the job, he didn't come back after a couple of days. And the next time I saw him was the morning of the 7th, and he was wearing a yellow bandanna and carrying a pistol in his jeans pocket.

I sometimes used to wish I'd given the police the wrong information about some of it, maybe which building the Spiders were in, but of course I told them the truth. Not because I'm an honest man, but because I was in a daze from having seen what I saw and I wasn't thinking calmly enough to mislead them. I remember thinking that every question I answered, it guaranteed that it was totally certain that everyone inside that apartment would either die or go to prison forever. Because of what I told them. If I didn't tell them so much, maybe some of the Spiders could have run for it, I don't know. I used to think like that, but now I see I couldn't have done it. I left the country again the next summer. I wasn't back in the United States for three years.

You're no longer a priest, is that right?

That's right.

 

Gray Morin, age 62, Indianapolis City Police, retired

It seemed to us that Baker was just trying to buy himself one more hour by telling us that families would come out, but we decided we could afford to wait an hour to go in at full strength. The ATF had enough information then to get an affidavit to allow them to go into the Joke too, their reasoning was, obviously weapons were being hoarded, but it would take a little time to get their team together. So the SWAT people began to group themselves around the Joke at certain strategic points within three blocks of Building T, but still making sure they were outside of the Joke itself, far away and out of sight. They wouldn't even let the snipers out until that one hour had gone by. They were really being very, very careful. Part of it was that they were totally in the dark about what the Spiders were capable of, since they had never staged anything like that. Part of it was the fear that the police should be seen in any way as the aggressors.

 

Akili Chones

That's what people forget, they forget the way those families were taken out of there. Who's around to tell people that's what happened? The cops had all these scouts and snipers and such on top of those buildings all around, and what did they see? They saw people coming out, they weren't harmed. Rod kept his word. Who remembers that part of it, that he did this thing he didn't have to do?

 

Gray Morin

They were carrying very little. They came out of a couple of different buildings. What happened was, they'd found out where each of those families were with Charles Le Beth's help over the past couple of days, and finally they went to them and told them they were going to be in a lot of danger if they stayed even an hour longer. Now you'd think they would have been seen going from this place to that place when the time came to get those people. But the spotters saw almost none of that activity. What they did see, they couldn't really react to. It wasn't time yet.

 

Herbert Le Beth

These people were the worst off, the ones who truly didn't know where they were going to go. Without Human Services to come in and help them, they were lost, and now they were very afraid. So they left. The Spiders didn't have to threaten any of them. They knew something was going to happen so they left as fast as they could, they just left everything behind and walked to the intersection outside the Joke that was closest to them. None of them had cars to take. They came out holding one or two of their essential things. They put one man on TV a few days later, he was a white man, a young man too, he was dying of AIDS when it all happened. He hadn't been able to leave the apartment in the Joke where he was staying, he wasn't supposed to be there, he'd moved in because no one was around. One of the families that the Spiders came to get told them about this man, he was just down the hall from them. After he made it out he told the TV people that a Spider had come into the room where he was and just said, "Time to go, man, come on, you need to walk out with these other people." That's all. No threats. He didn't even point his gun at him. And he helped him get up off the floor and to the door because he was so weak. Nobody today knows who that was. That part of it wasn't on the TV. It got into the report on what happened, though, that's where the Spider's name is. I found it. Ask people, general people, if they know who it was, and of course they don't. They just don't.

 

Senator Al D'Acquisto

One of the Spiders, who called himself Crab Killer, had told a woman and her son that the police would bring them their things later. Crab Killer was part of the "evacuation detail" that Rod Baker had put together on the spur of the moment. The people were all met by the police and driven away. By ten o'clock, the police believed that only the Spiders and their hostage, and maybe a few homeless people, were left in there, and that was going to make their invasion much, much easier. The SWAT team kept putting their plan together and could afford to do it more carefully. With the Spiders totally isolated inside the Joke, all they had to do was make sure none of them tried to get out, and make sure they were ready for any new communication from Rod Baker.

 

Dr. Elroy Nieman

At ten after 10, the forward observers on the SWAT team, two of them who were positioned on top of a retail complex on Chalice Street, saw something happen. They had binoculars trained on the east side of Building T, based on the information that Father Beddis had given them. They saw Rod Baker come out onto the balcony alone and armed.

But he wasn't the only one still in the apartment, correct, there were still a lot of men in there.

Well, there were just two Spiders left inside the apartment with him at that time. He had told the others to take the positions they had agreed upon that morning. They were travelling through the Joke in short runs to keep out of sight, and meanwhile the forward observers tracked them as much as they could track them, but it was very difficult. The way the Joke was laid out from their vantage point was not great, so they were asking for more and more spotters, always more spotters so they would have some idea what the SWAT team would be walking into. The Spiders' plan was to fan out all around, and have at least one man on the top floor of every single building. That was accomplished even before the first spotters even set up. Building T had ten guards on the lower floors. Everyone else hid where they had a good view of either the Joke's interior or the intersections where the police had positioned themselves. Rod Baker made sure one man was always in the bedroom guarding their hostage. When the police saw the movements of individual Spiders going to individual places, that should have been a sign that it was time to think about having a military presence be a backup, but again it was public relations keeping things in check. It had been decades since such a thing had been necessary in this country, and of course that had been a disaster. The military was ruled out from step one.

 

J.G. Harris

How was all this communication possible, between the Spiders?

The key guys communicated by walkie talkies, the best ones that could be bought. Charles Le Beth had told them to buy them almost as soon as he had gone there on the second. They had good stuff, too, we couldn't crack the signal. It was all gotten legally. They spent their own money on a lot of what they needed.

 

Dr. Elroy Nieman

Before he went out alone on the balcony, Rod Baker made a phone call at 9:50 to a man named Kojo Kendi. Charles Le Beth had given him the number and told him to use it only if he absolutely needed it and was prepared to go ahead with a serious defense of the Joke. Kendi and Le Beth were not friends. Kendi was the leader of the Resistance Intent, their self-appointed leader. They had ignored the legal fights against the evictions of the people in the Joke and urged people to physically obstruct the authorities when the time came. They'd vowed publicly to destroy the equipment the state would have to use to bring down the buildings in the Joke and they vowed they would be the last ones out, because they would have to be arrested. When the demolitions came, they would be there to stop them. Got it? There were about sixty people in the Resistance Intent in Indiana. The police had watched them fairly closely ever since five of their members were charged with assault and battery and illegal gun possession in Fort Wayne when they tried to stop the arrest of Jesse X. Nacks there in 2005. A policeman was almost killed. Since then the police had come to believe that Kendi was tied to two gangs in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, and that the Resistance Intent was funded with drug money. So no respectable civil rights group would touch them. They called for an end to white oppression through force if necessary. Kendi even once told a newspaper that he didn't want a race war but if the whites started one he would have no choice but to lead his people into it. That's a quote.

He had made a lot of money self-publishing a book about prison conditions, and he'd begun the Resistance Intent that way. He'd been questioned a few times about threats that had been delivered to the Governor and about inciting the RCA Dome riot in 2005. Charles Le Beth didn't like him because he never felt the Intent's anger about the Joke was real. Only Kendi's hatred for whites seemed real. Got it? Kendi had come to the Joke once years before to try to recruit people for the Resistance Intent, he was always moving around and trying to recruit. He was a Muslim but didn't promote that aspect of his plans, and without that grounding he had a tough time of it, he wasn't much trusted. Le Beth never asked Kendi for anything. He told Rod Baker not to count on them for anything. Their actions were always destructive, never constructive. The FBI didn't consider them dangerous on a large scale because they had no focus, they were a little like the skinheads in that sense. Baker called Kendi on a different cell phone than the one he had been using, to keep untraced. Le Beth had told Kendi to expect this call sometime on December 7. He was waiting for it. Baker told him exactly what the situation was, and he wanted to know if the Resistance Intent could help them.

 

KOJO KENDI: I can tell you where this house is, and it'll be there if you can get out, it'll be safe. I can give you the address, the police don't know about it.

ROD BAKER: How many people can be there?

KENDI: Not too many, but it'll be safe, I'll tell you that.

ROD BAKER: I need people, though, that's what I'm saying.

KENDI: Well by the time I get anyone together that whole place is gonna be impossible to get into. You just said they're all around you right now. Right?

ROD BAKER: Yeah.

KENDI: What does that mean?

ROD BAKER: They got people all over the streets outside but not all of them.

KENDI: Well I mean, it would take me a couple hours and by then there's no point, not if they're all over the place. But I can get them together, that I can do.

ROD BAKER: How many?

KENDI: I can get together ten, fifteen people, that's all. But they have good stuff, they can fight. They can fight from somewhere, maybe not right where you are, but they can help to confuse things, you see what I mean?

ROD BAKER: Yeah.

KENDI: I'd have to pay them and you'd have to pay me, that's how that would have to work.

ROD BAKER: That's good, do that, call 'em up.

KENDI: You want the address of the house I'm talking about?

ROD BAKER: What kind of stuff do the people have, what kind of stuff can they bring?

KENDI: You mean guns?

ROD BAKER: Yeah.

KENDI: Well, I make sure they don't tell me that, you see? I know they have some stuff, but I don't know exactly, I can't have anything to do with that part of it.

ROD BAKER: Yeah.

KENDI: If you're gonna have to call me again, you know, I won't be on this phone, and you can't be on that phone, because they're gonna hear it.

ROD BAKER: I know, I have a bunch of different numbers.

KENDI: All right, we have to coordinate which numbers we're gonna use. You're gonna have to write this down, because as soon as I hang up I have to get out of here, they're gonna come and question me.

ROD BAKER: You've gotta start calling these people now though.

KENDI: I will, but this has all gotta be safe too, you know?

 

He implicated the Resistance Intent in arms hoarding and conspiracy with that one phone call, so that was going to have to be their night to act, to be bold, because when the tape of their call surfaced, the ATF would go after them and never let up. That call made it definite: they were armed, like everyone had suspected but couldn't quite prove. Kendi evaded the police by a half hour or so. He left his apartment and started to drive toward Point Unity. He was the first one on their list of people to find and question, to see if he had any hand in what was going on inside the Joke. Up to that night his police record showed no arrests, none. He had been able to operate clear of all that. He was a college graduate, like Le Beth, but never heavily involved on the street level with criminal activity. He was brilliant at having buffers set up to protect himself. Now that was over, and the Spiders had suddenly pushed him into another realm of action.

 

From the notebook of Herbert Le Beth

When Rod Baker hung up from talking to Kojo Kendi, he went into the hostage's room for five minutes. When he came back out, he told the men with him that he was going outside on the balcony for a few minutes and he wanted to be left alone. One of the men tried to tell him he might be seen, but Baker didn't seem to care.

The spotters knew it was him on the balcony right away. It was impossible to mistake him because of his size. When he was sixteen, his mother's boyfriend had hit him in the face, just once. It was the only time he did it. Baker was a small kid back then. They were arguing and the boyfriend punched him in the face, and the hit was so hard that Baker had gotten whiplash, and then he cracked two bones in his back when he slammed into the wall behind him. He blacked out and he didn't wake up until three hours later. When he got out of the hospital he had awful headaches which the doctors told him were because of the injury to his back. He dropped out of school because of them, but he wouldn't take painkillers, he never went near drugs. He started working out in a gym before the joined the Spiders, even though the pain sometimes was terrible. He worked out every day, for hours a day, until his body got used to it and only his head hurt him, which it did bad. Some days he couldn't get out of bed because of his headaches. He got stronger and stronger. When he first went to jail, a psychiatrist at the prison he was forced to see wrote that becoming stronger was Baker's way of dealing with the old fear of his mother's boyfriend, the man who had lived with them for two years. Baker sometimes still had nightmares about the time he was punched. He tried never ever to talk about the man who had punched him. So it was his mother who had to give all this information. It told the psychiatrist that Rod Baker still lived in fear of that man on some level of his mind, even though the boyfriend had been in jail for a year and was not going to get out for another three. He died in prison in 2001 of liver cancer. Rod Baker's mother called him to tell him that. He stopped working out all those hours a day almost right away after that. He told people it hurt his back too much. Maybe he never lifted another weight. Since then he had organized the deaths of several people but didn't actually fire the shots.

When the spotters saw him come out and sit down in a plastic white chair, they called in and told their superior that they could take him out pretty easily, but they held off because it might cause an eruption of fighting. So they just watched him to see what he would do. They saw him sit and just look at the sky for a couple of minutes, and then they watched him take a .38 pistol from his boot and put it up to his head. He sat there for more than a minute. He was ready to kill himself. He held the gun perfectly still. The men in the apartment couldn't see him because the curtains were closed. One of the scouts radioed in again that Baker was going to kill himself right then, right there.

 

Sandra Loomis, age 41, Long Arrow Court, Glen Elm

Do you know what day that was, the day the siege happened?

No, I don't.

You heard about it on the news?

I almost didn't hear about it at all, because I had final exams going on, I did nothing but study, and then I had to take a train back home to my parents' house.

Where did they live?

They lived right over in Point Unity, the nice part of it. They still live there.

They weren't talking about the siege of the Joke when you came home?

They talked about it a little, since it happened only about two miles away, but not much.

How did you find out about it?

I don't know, I guess it was from the television, but you know, you don't remember how you heard about things as you get older.

When you moved into Glen Elm, did the real estate people mention where your house was, your townhouse?

No, no one mentioned anything. You mean about it being where the housing project used to be?

Actually, your townhouse and the one on the left and the two on the right are on the land where the hostage was kept, this was where Building T stood, where the police first went in. That's where the siege began.

Oh, okay, I knew we were right in the middle of it, right on the edge I mean, on the bottom edge. But I never had anyone get that specific before.

 

 

....But he didn't pull the trigger. Ninety seconds or so went by, and Rod Baker finally lowered the gun. The spotters saw him rub his hand across his face and then he got up, turned, and went back inside the apartment. The SWAT team told the people giving the orders that they were obviously dealing with a suicidal man now and that they shouldn't wait too much longer before going in. But there was still nervousness about it. No one wanted a gun battle. They wanted to wait.

Baker never committed suicide. No one ever found out what stopped him. Instead he called the police chief one more time and told him that he had seen SWAT people on the roof of the Geico Building, and that he knew they were coming in, and once again, the hostage would be killed if anyone did. He said they had their own sentries and could see everything. He was sending out more proof that the hostage was still alive. He said he was going to hurt Donald Gowles one last time to punish the police for the surveillance they were doing, and then no one would touch him anymore from that point on. The SWAT people were supposed to watch the balcony for the proof he was talking about.

Fifteen minutes went by. Even though Baker had mentioned specifically hurting Gowles, no one stormed into the Joke to try to stop things. It was a mind game. Then a little after 10:30 the sliding glass door opened again, and Gowles came out onto the balcony alone. He was wearing only his jeans, with no shirt, and no shoes. He had a bandage wrapped around his left arm, and another bandage was wrapped around his right hand. He stepped forward to the railing and tossed something out over it. The scouts saw something fall with their binoculars and they searched the ground back and forth. Gowles turned back and went back inside right away. It took a minute for the scouts to see that what he had tossed over the balcony was one of his own fingers. Some people on the police concluded right then that they had finally run out of time. But not all of them. Not enough of them.

Writing all of this has been very tiring. I'm going to stop now because my hand hurts so much. It's tiring in my mind, too, so I don't know when I'll keep going with this. I've made some mistakes and I'll probably make more if I don't wait a while. My handwriting is getting very bad too. I'll finish this all for you when I can. It's October 10.

 

 

 

 



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