From left: Bobby Rush, Black Panther, in 1969; William Ayers the fugitive in 1970; Bernardine Dohrn’s mug shot in 1969
Who knew Chicago’s forgiving streak stretched as long as Western Avenue? Former street gang leaders and sixties radicals who years ago clashed with the city’s cops—or in the case of the Weatherman, bombed a statue commemorating police casualties—now find themselves part of Chicago’s cultural and political fabric. A number of them now work as professors and politicians, or hold down lucrative city contracts—in essence, becoming part of the establishment they once denounced. Apparently, rehabilitation is the Chicago Way.
BOBBY L. RUSH
Then: Cofounder and deputy defense minister of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, which clashed repeatedly with Chicago police. Two Panther leaders were shot to death by police in a 1969 raid.
Now: U.S. congressman for 15 years in Illinois’s First District
Then: Member of the Weatherman (later known as Weather Underground), a militant anti–Vietnam War organization labeled a “domestic terrorist group” by the FBI. The Weatherman bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and other government buildings, and in October 1969 staged the “Days of Rage” protest in Chicago. Federal riot and bombing conspiracy charges against Ayers were dropped in 1974 because of illegal wiretaps and other prosecutorial misconduct.
Now: Professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of 15 books
Then: Member of Weatherman and Revolutionary Youth Movement, a radical wing of Students for a Democratic Society. She pleaded guilty to aggravated battery and jumping bail in 1980, and was placed on three years’ probation. In 1982, she served seven months in jail for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigating an armored-car robbery in New York tied to the Weatherman.
Now: Associate professor and director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University
CALVIN “OMAR” JOHNSON
Then: Former leader of Conservative Vice Lords, one of Chicago’s most notorious and violent street gangs, and an “ex-dope dealer,” according to the Sun-Times
Now: GOP committeeman of the city’s 24th Ward from 1996 to 2008
Then: Security chief for the radical antiwar group Students for a Democratic Society
Now: President of MK Communications Inc., a clout-heavy consulting and public relations firm whose clients include the Chicago Housing Authority and several other city departments
Then: As a college student, a sympathizer of the FALN, the Spanish-language acronym for Armed Forces of National Liberation, a Puerto Rican separatist group that in the 1970s and 1980s claimed responsibility for bombings in Chicago and New York
Now: U.S. congressman since 1993 in Illinois’s Fourth District
Photography: (Rush) Chicago Tribune/MCT/Landov