The Vigilantes of Chicago in '71

This week, 60 Minutes goes to Chicago's worst neighborhoods, a story the broadcast first reported on 46 years ago with Morley Safer's look at the city's vigilante groups

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The twisted formula of gangs, guns, and drugs is a story 60 Minutes has been telling from Chicago for years. But within that narrative is another story: everyday Chicagoans who have stepped up to try stamp out violence within their own communities.

This week on the broadcast, correspondent Bill Whitaker meets Father Michael Pfleger, the white pastor of St. Sabina Church on Chicago’s South Side, a neighborhood under siege with drug-related violence. Fr. Pfleger isn’t waiting for divine intervention — he has taken it upon himself to seek out criminals. He offers a $5,000 reward on anyone who has shot and killed a child. Fr. Pfleger told 60 Minutes he currently has 12 outstanding “bounties” on killers to encourage residents to share information with police to help solve murders.

Chicago priest goes after killers 06:12

Forty-six years ago, correspondent Morley Safer found a story of Chicagoans who were similarly outraged by drug-related violence — but had a different way of handling it.  

Safer’s 60 Minutes dispatch from Chicago, titled “Vigilantes,” aired on the broadcast in 1971. His story began this way: “In Chicago some black and brown Americans are trying to heal themselves, trying to root out dope pushers and addicts from their own neighborhoods. Local newspapers think they’re doing a good job. The Chicago police says it smacks of vigilantism and perhaps even a racket. We decided to go see for ourselves.”

In Safer’s report, viewers met Hosea Lindsey, an African-American former convict who tried to change life on Chicago’s West Side by driving out both drug pushers and users. He did it with the cool persuasion of a man who knew the language of the street — and he backed it up with the threat of force.

“Any means necessary means just what it means,” he told Safer. “Any means necessary in order to get him or [her] out of the community, from buying dope.”

When Safer pressed him for details, Lindsey noted that “any means” didn’t include shooting—unless someone shot at him, which someone had done 12 times, he added. He said at least three drug dealers had hits out to kill him.

A few blocks away from Lindsey’s neighborhood, a group of night riders patrolled a mostly Mexican-American community. They were led by former Marine Frank Valdes, who said he understood the necessity of selling drugs to make a living. He just didn’t want it happening in his community.

“To me, it’s just like a war zone, you know,” Valdes told Safer, “because we’re taking money out of somebody’s pocket and we’re taking the joy out of living for some people, and they don’t like it.”

Lindsey told Safer he turned in at least 20 heroin dealers to the Chicago police. The police, meanwhile, said both groups were simply looking for money and publicity.  

“I think somewhere in the law enforcement rule book it says that the community should stand up and help,” Lindsey insisted. “We’re not so much enforcing the law; we’re trying to see that no law is broken in the community.”