When Shooting Feels
‘Like A Drug’

A middle-aged man says he’s done a lot of “evil” things, and feels he has to carry a gun to protect himself.

The first time Reed opened fire on a rival gang member, he says he got hooked on shooting.

“It’s like an adrenaline boost. Like ... I’m da man!” he says. “You know, I enjoyed it.”

Growing up on the Northwest Side of Chicago, Reed says gang members kept guns in a Crown Royal bag under his front porch. He says after he committed his first shooting, at about the age of 13, he was always chasing that rush — and would often volunteer to go with his fellow gang members when they went out looking to shoot rivals.

“It’s like a drug. You get addicted to living the lifestyle, living the gangster lifestyle,” Reed says. “Since I was a kid I always was infatuated with that type of lifestyle. Always.”

According to court records, Reed’s been charged with dozens of crimes, including domestic battery, assault, drug possession, harassing a witness and unlawful use of a weapon. He spent about three years in prison, but charges were dropped in a lot of the cases.

Reed is a pseudonym; he agreed to talk with us on the condition that we not use his real name. This is Reed’s story about his relationship with guns from those early days to now. It’s part of a WBEZ project that looks at who picks up a gun and why. Last year, 4,331 people were shot in Chicago. That’s someone shot about every other hour.

Working Security

Reed was 13 years old when a gang leader assigned him to a security detail. He says he stood in a gangway with a gun while others acted as lookouts for stick-up men, cops and “the enemy.”

Rival gang members lived just a block away, Reed says, and he was ready to shoot when he heard the lookouts shout “here they come!”

“I already know [to] come out the gangway,” Reed recalls. Two guys were riding toward them on a bike, one standing on pegs.

“I see the guy on the pegs, he getting off the bike. He got a black hoodie on. He’s going into his hoodie. I know, he pulling his pistol out.”

Reed says he shot first. He says he missed, but he scared the guys away. In addition to the adrenaline rush, he says he got a lot of praise from his friends — and the desire to shoot again.

“They congratulating me, yeah, boy you took care of business, yeah! That’s how you do it!” he says.

Carrying a ‘hockey stick’

Now Reed is 38 with two children. He says he no longer seeks out violent encounters like he did as a young man, but he says he doesn’t shy away from them either.

He still carries a gun with him everywhere he goes, usually his Ruger. It’s a small pistol, but it has an extended clip so it can hold up to 24 shots. The extended clip makes the handle much longer than the barrel of the gun. He calls it his “hockey stick” and when he holds the clip between two fingers with the gun dangling below, it does look like a hockey stick.

“Any time I leave out the door I’m taking my gun with me,” Reed says. “I’ve got older now but, my younger days, I’ve done some real evil s***, you know? I’m not ashamed of nothing that I really did, or I really don’t regret it, but I can understand why somebody would want to do something to me.”

Reed adds: “If I have to kill somebody for me to make it home at night, make it home to my kids and make it home to my peoples? I’m gonna do what I gotta do to make it home. Period. I’m not just gonna be no easy kill.”

Expressway riding with a gun

Reed says there are things he does to make sure he’s no easy kill.

When he’s driving, he says he keeps his gun in his stash, a hidden compartment built into his car. He keeps it open. If police are behind him, he says he can close the stash quickly without them being able to know that he did it, and when it’s open he can grab his pistol quickly if he needs.

“You know on the news you be seeing all these incidents where you’ll be on the expressway and guys will just ride up, shooting cars up and things like that, so now I ride with it open at all times,” he says.

“So if I see something look funny, or if I hear a shot or anything, you know, I’m able to return fire, to ... get to safety and get em up off me or whatever. Or if I have a incident to where ... I have to jump and it’s get busy time, man, it’s get busy time.”

A morning shooting

Just a few weeks ago, Reed says he was leaving his “lady friend’s” house in the morning when he was robbed at gunpoint. He says he balled up some money in his pocket and threw it on the ground. When the robber looked at it, Reed says, he brought up his gun and the two started shooting. Reed says the man ran off and no one was hurt.

“Everybody lived to fight another day, but that’s just an example of how things can just happen, that quick,” he says.

Violence as something normal

Reed doesn’t seem very concerned about the violence in Chicago — to him, it’s everyday, normal even. He says he’s not particularly concerned about dying himself. He says he didn’t expect to live this long. And he doesn’t think the violence is going away any time soon.

“People gonna do what they got to do to survive,” he says. “And then the people who are pointing the finger. Y’all ain’t never lived this life. Who are you to judge us?”

Reed says some people come from birth into “the struggle.” “We gotta survive. Period. We gonna eat and we don’t care what you all think.”

“What you gonna tell little Jojo, that’s living in poverty, broke as hell, his mom struggling to keep a roof over her head, lights fenna get cut off. He ain’t got no shoes, he going to school getting laughed at. What you think Jojo gonna do? Jojo gonna hit that corner. And then you got big boy riding past with this nice-ass car, all the women, flashing, money. What you think he gonna do? Jojo gonna say ‘f*** school! I’m out here with him. I’m gonna chase this money. And I’m gonna point the finger at him and tell him, ‘Aw, you’re wrong?’ Hell no! Get your money, young boy. That’s what I’m gonna tell him.”

Robert Wildeboer is a senior editor at WBEZ. Follow him at @robertwildeboer.

This story is part of WBEZ's Every Other Hour project. Find more stories here.

Criminal justice reporting and investigative journalism at WBEZ is supported in part by Doris and Howard Conant, The Joyce Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.