Gangster cop case suggests ‘Killer Joe’ film not far from reality

Federal Courthouse, Northern District of Georgia

Every profession has its bad actors, and law enforcement is no exception. The US Department of Justice recently announced the conviction and sentencing of a former DeKalb County (GA) policeman “ for racketeering conspiracy involving murder.” Vancito Gumbs, 28, of Stone Mountain worked as a law enforcement officer, and by his own admission, as a hitman for the Gangster Disciples. The film ‘Killer Joe’ seemed a bit preposterous to me until I read the DOJ news release.

In the film Killer Joe, Matthew McConaughey plays a dirty rogue cop who works as a professional hit man. The film contained nothing about gang activity—McConaughey was apparently a lone wolf.  In real life Gumbs worked as a cop and as a professional hit man but he also “relayed sensitive law enforcement information to the gang and provided a firearm to a fellow gang member.” The DOJ announcement detailed Gumbs’ double life:

“According to the charges and other information presented in court, the Gangster Disciples are a national gang with roots in Chicago dating back to the 1970s.  The gang is highly structured, with a hierarchy of leadership positions known as “Positions of Authority” or “POAs.”  The gang strictly enforces rules for its members, the most important of which is “Silence and Secrecy” – a prohibition on cooperating with law enforcement.  Violations of the rule are punishable by death.

Evidence at trial showed that the Gangster Disciples were responsible for 24 shootings from 2011 through 2015, including 12 murders.  Gumbs, who had been photographed flashing a hand sign used by the Gangster Disciples, was a self-professed “hitman” for the gang while serving as a police officer.  While he was employed as a DeKalb County police officer, federal agents captured Gumbs on recorded phone calls with the “Chief Enforcer” for the Georgia Gangster Disciples.  Evidence showed that during these calls, Gumbs relayed law enforcement information to the gang and provided a firearm to a fellow gang member. On later calls, the Chief Enforcer noted that he had Gangster Disciples police officers at his disposal.”

The case was handled by a number of law enforcement agencies, including the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia.

The Gangster Disciples have a nationwide network. The National Gang Intelligence Center, in an archived report, provided an estimate:

“The Gangster Disciples street gang was formed in Chicago, Illinois, in the mid-1960s. It is structured like a corporation and is led by a chairman of the board. Gang membership is estimated at 25,000 to 50,000; most members are African American males from the Chicago metropolitan area. The gang is active in 110 cities in 31 states. Its main source of income is the street-level distribution of cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. The gang also is involved in other criminal activity, including assault, auto theft, firearms violations, fraud, homicide, the operation of prostitution rings, and money laundering.”

The US military has also been infiltrated by the gang. In 2010  near Ramstein Air Base in 2005 the gang initiated a US Army sergeant into membership, and the initiation beating killed him.  Five members of the US military received prison sentences for participating in the beating.

Records in the FBI vault about the Gangster Disciples contain multiple redactions, but what is available to the public illustrates the dangers to the communities where these gang members operate.

The film Killer Joe contains graphic violence, and to many viewers, including me, it seemed entirely fictional. Real life upends fiction sometimes, as is illustrated by the case of the gangster cop.

Every gang in America could be considered an extremist group, but this concept is routinely ignored by media.

Featured photo: Federal courthouse, Northern District of Georgia; US Dept. of Justice

(Kay B. Day/Nov. 17, 2020)

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