Los Angeles Gangs: The Bloods and the Crips

The CRIPs were not always the gang-bangers they are known to be. The CRIPs were formed in 1969. Raymond Washington, a high school student at the time founded the organization in response to the increasing level of police harassment of the Black community.

CRIPs stood for Community Resources for Independent People. It was styled on the Black Panther Party which was formed 3 years earlier, by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, further down the west coast in Oakland.

There were many organizations springing up around the same time all over the country with the same ideas of protecting and serving the community.

Like so many of these organizations, their commitment to these basic values was not given the opportunity to run its course.

Individuals, marked out by police as leaders, were targeted and arrested on various bogus charges then convicted on the flimsiest of evidence.

Many organizations were pitted against each other through the work of informants and undercover FBI agents who would provoke confrontations as well as provide information as to the whereabouts and movements of individuals. Others were just plain murdered by the police.

The ferocity with which police departments went after the Black community, particularly young Black men, is shown by the fact that by 1971, 2 million Blacks were being arrested each year. The fear of the Black community producing any more Huey P. Newtons or Malcolm Xs, of the development of a strong revolutionary movement were the main reasons behind such police action and J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program).

Thus, any spirit of resistance was literally harassed, imprisoned or murdered out of the community. Gangs however remained, serving a different purpose.

With large amounts of Blacks being railroaded into prison, you could imagine the social impact. Virtually thousands of youths would be picked up by the police for no given reason, taken to police stations, mug-shotted, fingerprinted and then held until their families were notified and picked them up.

At a time when the availability of jobs were decreasing; to be young, Black and have a police record meant that the chances of finding a job was almost nil.

If you combine this with the steady removal of social provisions and the marginalization of whole sections of communities, it is not surprising that social relations began to suffer. The destruction of the Black family is a very real phenomenon.

It should be noted that during the very same period of the n70s, whilst Black communities were being forced into the lowest strata of society, “affirmative action” programs were working away to create a Black middle class.

Though in relation to the whole Black population they were a very small number, they occupied positions in city, state and federal government; worked inside corporate America and ran their own businesses. This class was purposefully and knowingly created by the establishment to give the impression that they could make it, if only they kept their heads down and noses clean.

In reality a culture of survival has now gripped a large section of Black America. When people cannot eat or clothe their children they will steal to survive. A person without a job who has been influenced by the rampant materialism of the dominant culture can be recruited into criminal activity. The illegal economies of crime and crack have become the only means of survival for many people.

In amongst such conditions, children are the most vulnerable. Society’s alienation of these youths means that the only place they can find respect, kinship and power is within a gang. The bond between gang members is so strong that many will kill or die for each other, no question. A gang has been described as being “your religion, your family, your college, your everything.”

However, the current level of violence cannot be explained by these factors alone. The stigma of Black people being called ‘naturally aggressive’ is over 500 years old but the explanation for violence cannot be linked to genes or biological make-up. Violence is learned behavior.

A child that is beaten frequently and unjustly will learn to resort to violence against others. Similarly, a community that is constantly visited with unjust killings and beatings at the hands of an oppressive police force can learn to settle conflicts through violent means.

The internalization of problems caused by external factors, by then, has taken place.

Los Angeles Police Department

The steady criminalization process against Blacks still rolls on today. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has earned for itself an infamous reputation under the guidance of former Chief Daryl Gates. On the streets it is looked upon as the only legalized gang. Police officers are viewed as no more than gang-bangers with badges.

On a plaque above the entrance to the LA Police Training Center are the words “through these walls walk the world’s finest officers.” By the time Chief Gates finished with them they are some of the world’s most brutal.

Between 1986 and 1991 there were 2,611 citizen allegations of excessive force against LAPD officers. This is but a tiny fraction of the total number of incidents of police brutality since filing a complaint against the police is seen as a waste of time. Between 1986 and 1990, 1,400 officers were investigated on suspicion of using excessive force, less than 1% were prosecuted. (LA Times)

Gates has been quoted as saying: “I think that people believe that the only [policing] strategy is to harass people and make arrests for inconsequential types of things. Well that’s part of our strategy, no doubt about it.”

Daryl Hicks, a resident of South Central, recalls when he was 13 or 14 years old that “police would roll through the neighborhood and ask you: ‘Have you been to jail?’ If you told them you hadn’t, they would take you to jail. They would take you to jail so they could fingerprint you, so they could take your picture, then they let you go. Now all my friends have been fingerprinted and mug-shotted for nothing. That’s just the start of the brutality.”

Former LAPD Black cop Don Jackson recalls operation CRASH which stood for Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums. “Massive sweeps ran from 1987 to 1990. In one year 50,000 people were taken to jail without a blink. The large percentage had no criminal charge sustained against them, there was no significant reduction in crime. So it was simply a massive engagement of a denial of constitutional and civil rights… they’ve continued to have sweeps ever since then.”

Currently, nearly 1 out of 4, or 25%, of black males between 18 and 25 are either on parole, probation or in jail, compared with 6% of white male. There are about 1,000,000 people incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the US, 51% are African-American, Latino or other minorities.

The rate for youth held in short-term detention of ‘boot camps’ as they are usually known, increased by 15% from 1980 to 1990. The entire criminal justice system gets into motion, criminalizing layers upon layers of Black youths day on day, year on year. There are now more Blacks caught up in the criminal justice system than go to college.

Police who enter the LAPD are given paramilitary training. Its purpose, to desensitize and dehumanize officers so that when they hit the streets they have no problem in treating people in an inhumane manner.

Part of their induction includes a training video called the “Tazer dance”. The video shows how to restrain a hostile suspect. An officer fires a 5-meter long wire at the suspect which pierces his skin. Through the wire an electrical charge is then sent, shocking the man’s nervous system and thereby causing him to lose control of his body. As he loses control and begins stumbling tike a baby another officer knees him in the groin area whilst yet another strikes him with a nightstick until he collapses to the ground. This is all part of the training to become “the world’s finest police officer”.

In an excerpt from transcripts of police walkie-talkie messages, one officer is caught saying: “Skip the broad… they just tazed this fool twice in the holding cells… Yeah, I saw them bring him in screaming… Cops love that stuff. Guys you should see these darts, it turned into a free for all.”

Officers have nothing to fear if they beat up someone who is Black, Hispanic or poor. The city of LA paid out $19,680,577 in civil liability to pay cases relating to police matters in 1992. The chances of an officer having to pay is virtually nil. In fact, if a police officer is involved in a “bad shooting incident”, where it is questionable as to whether or not it was necessary to pull the trigger, the worst that usually happens is they get signed up for further training.

The list of people shot or killed by the LA Police and Sheriffs departments reads like the ending credits of a movie. Between 1989 and 1993, 217 people were shot and killed by officers in LA alone.

It is this wanton disregard for the law by so-called law enforcers which the Rodney King beating shows. As ex-gang member Juan Longino recounts: “Chief Daryl Gates said it was an aberration and he was right. Because it is not usual that them fuckers get on camera. They got busted.”

Juan is correct in that beatings of the King type are common. Residents of the Black and Hispanic communities have become used to such levels of violence. To an extent, many have resorted to violence because they too have learnt to devalue the humanity and dignity of those individuals with whom they are in conflict.

LA is still a segregated city. Hispanics in one area, Blacks in another, poor over here, rich over there. The uprisings in April 1992, following the acquittal of the officers responsible for the King beating, however, were probable the first ‘multi-cultural’ uprising in the US.

The media portrayed it as a Black/White issue but Blacks, Latinos and Asians, who have all been affected to one extent or another by the oppressive forces at play in the inner cities, took to the streets. The acquittal sparked a 20-year long fuse that exploded on the streets of LA and across America.

The uprising was a clear sign that people were not willing to put up with that level of blatant injustice for much longer. However it didn’t tackle the issue of the self-inflicted genocide that was occurring at the same time. One brother did.

On November 19, 1991, Henry “Tiny” Peco was shot and killed by LAPD in Imperial Courts Housing Project, Watts. Peco’s cousin Dewayne Holmes explains:

“My cousin was killed by 2 LAPD officers. The police claim that he had an automatic rifle, he fired then they fired back. Yet no gun was found. There were 6 officers and 40-plus rounds were fired. 5 hit him in the back of his body. Following the incident, youths in projects rebelled, shooting out streetlights etc…”

In early December Dewayne Holmes and his family organized the Henry Peco Justice Committee and hundreds took to the streets. Dewayne says:

“The truce was planned to put an end to the violence and the false boundaries that we ourselves orientated.

“It put the focus on police brutality. In Watts, Muslim brothers helped construct a meeting. Meetings were taking place 2 or 3 months before the riots. The truce started 2 weeks before the riots. Members of each gang were present at the talks. The aim was to end brutality and create jobs and work programs. Gang members devised a plan.”

On April 26 the historic gang truce was signed, giving everyone “free passage” through Watts.

By October 1992 however, the truce leader had been sentenced to seven years imprisonment for allegedly stealing $10. Dewayne was convicted in a manner that has become common to young Black males in the US Courts: Contradictions, lack of any real evidence, coercion of witnesses, a hanging judge, an unscrupulous prosecutor, inadequate defense and a jury ready to believe “if you’re Black you’re guilty”.

Dewayne believes he was targeted and framed. His family was active in peaceful but persistent protests against police tactics in South Central. They embarrassed Chief Gates and ruined Deputy Chief Hunt’s chances to become the next chief.

Shortly after Dewayne Holmes was sentenced, he wrote:

“It hurts me to think of how naive I had to be to believe that because I am innocent I would not be sent to prison; to believe that the very same laws that send thousands of innocent Black men to jail everyday would somehow become fair and impartial for me… The gang truce gave us a chance to show the world that we are not the animals that we are labeled to be, that we are not beyond help… I am writing to you hoping that you’ll understand how important it is for me and brothers like me to be out at this crucial moment and that you’ll express this importance to all who will listen.”

The gang truce is of such significance because it represents the realization by these people that although having been manipulated for years, they have the ability amongst themselves to turn the whole situation around.

Despite the conspicuous absence of any positive media attention, news has spread all over the country about the truce and is applauded and supported by large sections of the community. Organizations such as Community in Support of the Truce (CIST) have endorsed the truce pledging to support it by working for:

“the establishment of a grassroots rumor control network to counteract misinformation – a speakers’ bureau made up of active supporters of the Truce who have been taking the real story of the truce and the LA Rebellion across the country and around the world.

“Neighborhood cooperative zones as an alternative to the cruel hoax of so-called enterprise zones. Resistance against the criminalization of youth of color, especially the use of non-conviction arrest records to deny jobs to youths and young adults.

“A united front against all efforts to divide African Americans from Latino and Asian youth, or to deny the human rights of immigrants”

Other organizations such as CAPA (Coalition Against Police Abuse), spearheaded by former Black Panther Michael Zinzun, work with ex-gang members and keep them abreast of issues that are relevant to the successful advancement of the truce.

BADCO (Black Awareness Community Development Organization) targets African American men between 15 and 30, providing support through education and cultural awareness.

Mothers ROC began when the Watts gang truce leader was arrested, then convicted on a bogus charge. Hurt, angry and determined, his mother, Theresa Allison, set out on a mission. Together with Geri Silva from the Equal Rights Congress and a small group of mothers, the Los Angeles Chapter of Mothers ROC was formed.

That was in December of 1992. Since then, the chapter has grown close to one hundred members with chapters in the Inland Valley, California, Chicago, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. In the words of Theresa Allison:

“It was the longing, the anger and the need to Reclaim Our Children that gave rise to Mothers ROC. We formed it to ensure that our children are no longer alone in court at the mercy of judges and lawyers, who have no interest in justice.

“We formed it to be the voice of tens of thousands who are locked away and forgotten. Finally we formed it to take our battle into the streets, to make ourselves seen and heard, to inform the powers that control and oppress us that we will build, we will grow, we will overcome.”

On October 21, 1993, the national gang peace summit was held in Chicago. Young ex-gang members from Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Los Angeles and many other cities with no other desire than to turn back the establishment’s plan to destroy oppressed people, particularly African/Latino Americans.

After years of stagnation the spirit of resistance is returning to the section of Black America with the least to loose, and the most to gain. A distinctive factor about the truce that makes it incomparable to other “peace treaties” (such as the Arab/Israeli agreement or the IRA cease-fire) is that it has been a totally grassroots initiative, without the involvement of politicians or Black leaders. By the same measure, the responsibility for sustaining it lies with those people on the streets.

It would be foolish to be complacent and think it will be an easy road to travel. The police have already visited truce partied, breaking them up and harassing the attendants, the media’s minimal coverage has been negative and the installing of provocateurs and undercover agents to provoke confrontations and thereby break the truce should be expected.

Possibly the greatest threat however, is Bill Clinton’s newly passed Crime Bill. It has released billions of dollars to cities in order for them to take even tougher measures on crime prevention. In LA, new prisons are already being built directly opposite housing projects. Causing most concern is the new “3 Strikes” law.

The 3 Strikes law exposes large numbers of people with prior serious or violent felony convictions (including violence convictions related to workers’ strikes or political demonstrations) to mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years to life. Even if these convictions happened 10, 15 or 20 years ago, a third felony of any kind can get you life in prison.

Many believe the temptation for police to plant drugs, guns or anything to get a 3 strikes conviction will be too much to resist. It would be an effective new tool to get rid of anyone they feel represents a threat, just as they have got rid of so many others.

The supporters of the truce’s biggest strength will come through their ability to grow and influence more people.

Juan Longino understands the odds. “Right now I’m unemployed. I’ve got to be a strong Black man to keep from going back out there and dealing with the underground economy that I know so well. But the thing that keeps me from going back is my new awareness and my new found family. That I have with the people.”

Gary Brown