In 1988, two notorious criminal cases affect Horner residents in particular. The first one involves an eight-year-old girl, Urica, who saw a man named Lawrence and his friend Bobbie stab Lawrence’s girlfriend—a friend of Urica’s family—to death. They also killed Urica’s mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and her four-year-old sister in the building across from the Riverses’. Lawrence and Bobbie then stabbed Urica forty-eight times, leaving her for dead, before a cousin found her and realized that the young girl was not only alive and conscious, but surprisingly calm.
The viciousness of this first crime seems extreme and almost unbelievable, even for a community like Horner where acts of violence are commonplace, since it does not seem motivated by gang rivalry or self-protection, but by the pure desire to kill. Urica’s survival is impressive not only from a physical perspective, but also because she has retained her calm in a situation in which other people might have gone insane.
The crime’s gruesome details leave the Horner community shaken. Everyone considers Urica a “miracle child,” not only because she survived such an attack, but because she had the courage to testify, which many would not have dared to do. After the murderers are convicted, though, no one at Horner dares celebrate publicly or even talk about the murder, out of fear that they might be punished for talking.
Despite celebrating Urica’s courage, Horner residents find themselves unable to display the same commitment to truth and justice—not because they reject these principles, but because defending them would involve potentially sacrificing their own life, which Urica’s example demonstrates so vividly.
A few weeks earlier, Jimmie Lee was arrested for possession of a large quantity of heroin. Despite escaping law enforcement for many years and even having an agreement with policeman Charles Toussas to have gang members protect his car when he is at Horner, Lee is finally caught in possession of a large quantity of drugs and of a semi-automatic rifle.
This second crime shows that even seemingly all-powerful figures such as Jimmie Lee are not immune to the authority of the law. At the same time, the law has failed for many years to actually protect Horner residents from gang violence, and it remains uncertain whether it will be able to do so now.
At the trial, the prosecution attempts to prove that Jimmie Lee is the head of the Vice Lords. Charlie Toussas recounts Lee’s plan to take revenge on Bird Leg’s death by leading gang members to fight the Disciples. A police veteran expert on the Vice Lords organization describes the Vice Lords’ power. While the prosecutor wants to condemn Lee to a long sentence so that he might become an example of the dangers of drug trafficking, Jimmie Lee’s lawyer argues that his conviction would not change the narcotics problem, which is a structural problem rather than a matter of individual action.
Even though Lee’s attorney is undoubtedly moved by the necessity to defend his client, he makes a strong point when arguing that Lee’s removal from Horner will not necessarily put an end to violence. While Lee is a crucial part of the Vice Lords, he is not the gang’s driving force. Like big businesses, gangs are driven by the need to make profits but do so through illegal activities such as drug trafficking. Without destroying such illegal networks, Lee’s arrest will probably only have a small effect on drug-related activity at Horner.
In the end, the judge sentences Lee to the maximum sentence, thirty years in prison. News travels fast from the court room to Horner, but LaJoe tells her children not to talk about it, since doing so could get them killed. Indeed, it soon becomes evident that the Vice Lords are willing to defend their power and to fight internally for Jimmie Lee’s position.
Once again, Horner residents find themselves unable to celebrate justice, as they need to think about protecting their own lives first. Lee’s lawyer’s prediction seemingly proves true, as gangs do not disappear but, instead, engage in a new competition for power and territory, which only invites more violence.