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Black Disciples leader who ran drug, gun trade, dead at 60

Jerome Freeman spent much his adult life prison.  |  Al Podgorski

Jerome Freeman spent much of his adult life in prison. | Al Podgorski

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Updated: February 10, 2012 9:05AM

On the street, Jerome Freeman was king.

They called him “King Shorty,” reputed leader of the Black Disciples street gang. At just over 5-feet tall, the moniker fit.

The Black Disciples criminal organization stretched across the South Side and into the south suburbs. Mr. Freeman allegedly led the gang’s drugs and gun trade. He was suspected, but never convicted, of ordering dozens of murders, authorities said.

Mr. Freeman was a “smooth character” who often wore platform shoes, blue jogging suits, gold chains around his neck and a Rolex watch on his wrist. He preferred to drive late-model Cadillacs. And people who knew him best say that off the street, Mr. Freeman was a kind, family man.

On Friday, Mr. Freeman died of natural causes at Ingalls Hospital in Harvey. He was 60.

Mr. Freeman, born in November 1951, allegedly became a gang member in the 1960s and was a close associate of Black Gangster Disciple Nation founder David “King David” Barksdale.

After Barksdale’s death, Mr. Freeman took over in 1974 as “crowned king” of the Black Disciples, a faction of the “nation.” Drug dealing and violence allegedly became his lifelong vocation.

Drug sales were Mr. Freeman’s livelihood. He dealt up to 50 kilograms of cocaine a month and received most of the drugs “on consignment” because he was “always good for it,” according to a report by the National Gang Crime Research Center.

Being king was not always easy. Mr. Freeman spent much of his adult life in prison.

In 1977, Mr. Freeman was convicted of armed robbery and served five years in prison. In 1985, Freeman was locked up only to be later acquitted on federal weapons charges stemming from a raid of his home at 114th and Vincennes that turned up a sawed-off shotgun. In 1989, Freeman was sentenced to 28 years on drug charges.

Being locked up did not deter Mr. Freeman, who allegedly continued to give gang orders from inside maximum-security prisons. Inside, he was followed around by gang body guards and held gang meetings in the prison chapel.

In 2001, Mr. Freeman told law enforcement authorities he retired from gang life. He was released on parole in March 2005.

Some people doubt “King Shorty” ever truly relinquished his Black Disciples crown. But Tio Hardiman, head of Ceasefire Illinois, said Mr. Freeman became a peace advocate, especially in Englewood, which for decades was the center of his criminal operation.

“He told me he had an awakening in prison,” Hardiman said. “He understood all the carnage he was involved in for decades, but he got tired of seeing all the young brothers ending up in the penitentiary. Before he left planet Earth he wanted to make a positive difference.”

Mr. Freeman helped Ceasefire organize several gang summits promoting peace in Englewood and was involved in more than 30 conflict-resolution interventions, Hardiman said.

“Shorty Freeman’s life went full circle,” Hardiman said. “At the end, he became an “absolute peacemaker.”

A funeral service is scheduled for Saturday at St. Andrews Temple at 67th and Hermitage in Chicago.

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