'The Slick Boys': Cops, gangsters, hope

August 30, 1998|By Gregory Kane | Gregory Kane,Sun staff

"The Slick Boys," by Eric Davis, James Martin, Randy Holcomb, with Luchina Fisher. Simon and Schuster. 225 pages. $25.

The appropriate response to "gangsta rap" should be "cop rap." Well, three undercover Chicago police officers thought so. They formed their group, "The Slick Boys," after hearing the NWA rap song "F*CK the Police" blasting from car stereos and the buildings in the Chicago housing projects where they worked.

Eric Davis, James Martin and Randy Holcomb have performed before school groups and community groups. They've steered gang members to G.E.D. classes and jobs and raised money for school supplies. Rapping is their day job. At night they return to Chicago's housing projects, where the street name for their jobs as undercover cops is "slick boys."

Much of their book tells us things about inner-city life in America that is already painfully obvious: education is the key to success; ghetto youth raised by responsible, loving parents who stress religion and education stand a better chance of success; kids raised by irresponsible parents are more likely to repeat the cycle of poverty and failure.

What distinguishes "The Slick Boys" is the messengers, not the message. All three are black and grew up in those very projects they now patrol as undercover cops. Each gives readers a brief biography, and it's as biography that the book is most effective.

Davis is a former gangbanger who was shot after brazenly provoking a rival gang member in a frightening display of macho stupidity. The bullet wound opened his eyes. He quit the gang, concentrated on his education. A high school All-American in both football and basketball, Davis got a scholarship in the latter to the University of Houston, where he played with future NBA stars Hakeem Olujawon and Clyde Drexler on a team that lost in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament to a North Carolina team that had future NBA stars James Worthy, Sam Perkins and some guy named Michael Jordan.

Martin's mother was a drug addict and a prostitute. Life cut him a break when his grandmother took him in and gave him an "old school" upbringing, handing out whippings when young James got out of line and giving permission to other neighborhood adults to mete out the same punishment. He performed well enough in school to get into West Point, but left after a year.

Holcomb had the roughest time of the three, landing in jail on a bogus assault charge at the age of 17. The injustice of being falsely charged by Chicago police instilled in him a buring desire to become a police officer.

Davis joined a gang after his family moved to an integrated neighborhood from a housing project. His gang was integrated. Davis made sure he cleared up the misconception that gangbanging is an exclusively black or Hispanic thing. Nor is it exclusively an urban thing.

"While we were in Iowa," Davis writes, we saw 200 to 300 Black Gangster Disciples, and 75 percent of them were white."

The Slick Boys probably intend for their book to be a "how-to" on how to alleviate the travails of inner-city life. It would probably be most effective if children could hear their message in person. But the book may be the next best thing. Theirs is a simple tale, told simply but powerfully. Principals would do well to add it to their school libraries and their required reading lists.

Gregory Kane, a columnist for The Sun, was half of a Su reporting team that last year bought two slaves in Africa, freed them and then wrote a series of articles demonstrating that slavery is still practiced.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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