A man in Wichita, Kansas, one of the author’s friends, was born in Missouri and as a young boy was transplanted to South Central Los Angeles, where during the 1980s and early 1990s, he became a feared member of one of the most notorious LA gangs. Because he’s in the process of writing his story, his name isn’t mentioned.
He’s now a devoted husband and proud father of two children who attend private Christian schools. He wishes he’d never done the things he did while a gang member. He’s one of the lucky ones able to break free and make a good life. Many other men and women aren’t so lucky.
Why did gangs appear in the first place? It’s a social phenomenon with many layers. What follows should give the reader the general feel for the issue.
Gangs have existed since the advent of the human race but the street gangs we think of today had their start in the late 1960s. Many of the gangs we know are composed of African-Americans. Gang formation can be partly understood by reason of the 300 year history of American slavery; another by the fact of the African-American migration out of the American south during the period 1940-1970.
During that 30 year period five million African-Americans, those with the wherewithal to do it, left the southern states. They of course had good reason to leave the south with its Jim CrowLaws and its long history of oppressing black Americans. Any of us under the same conditions and with the means to do so would have left too.
By the late 1960s millions of young African-Americans found themselves out of the rural south and in the big cities of the North and West. As it’d been to millions of whites during the 18th century, California was the “promised land” for millions of blacks. Although it was infinitely better than the south, for many blacks it wasn’t as promising as they’d hoped. For thousands of young African-Americans, it was a jungle. For that reason, for survival, they formed gangs.
The most famous of gangs, the Crips, had its beginning in 1969 when a Louisiana born boy Stanley “Tookie” Williams and another boy, Raymond Washington, joined forces. They did it initially for protection not crime. It “evolved” into violent criminal activity or rather escalated into it as gangs competed for supremacy in prestige, territory, money, and survival.
By the early 70s gang violence was on the rise in Los Angeles. In addition to the Crips there were the Bloods, along with numerous Asian and Hispanic gangs. By the 1980s many of those gangs were also being transplanted across the nation as they became more sophisticated in means and method; notably the drug trades. With illegal drugs came money and violence; revenge and murder.
Raymond Washington and Tookie Williams
Raymond Washington was murdered in 1979 at the hands of an unknown shooter who used a sawed-off shotgun. It’s widely known that Washington never wanted his gang to use firearms but events were out of his control.
Tookie Williams was convicted of murder in 1979 and spent the remainder of his life in prison; most on death row. He was executed in 2005. His story is told in books and in the 2004 movie Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story. In the movie Williams is play by who is perhaps the most brilliant actor of our day, Jamie Foxx.
It’s a movie worth renting and watching.
In 1997 Tookie Williams said…
Twenty-five years ago when I created the Crips youth gang with Raymond Lee Washington in South Central Los Angeles, I never imagined Crips membership would one day spread throughout California, would spread to much of the rest of the nation and to cities in South Africa, where Crips copycat gangs have formed. I also didn’t expect the Crips to end up ruining the lives of so many young people, especially young black men who have hurt other young black men.
Raymond was murdered in 1979. But if he were here, I believe he would be as troubled as I am by the Crips legacy.
So today I apologize to you all — the children of America and South Africa — who must cope every day with dangerous street gangs. I no longer participate in the so-called gangster lifestyle, and I deeply regret that I ever did.
As a contribution to the struggle to end child-on-child brutality and black-on-black brutality, I have written the Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence children’s book series. My goal is to reach as many young minds as possible to warn you about the perils of a gang lifestyle.
I am no longer “dys-educated” (disease educated). I am no longer part of the problem. Thanks to the Almighty, I am no longer sleepwalking through life.
I pray that one day my apology will be accepted. I also pray that your suffering, caused by gang violence, will soon come to an end as more gang members wake up and stop hurting themselves and others.
I vow to spend the rest of my life working toward solutions.
LA Gangs Today
In 2006 gang-related crime rose 14% over 2005 while all other crime declined 7%.
California’s Governor Schwarzenegger is fighting one of the state’s most serious threats to public safety with an anti-ganginitiative to combat gang violence in California. The California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention Program (CalGRIP) will target more than $48 million in state and federal funding toward local anti-gang efforts, including job training, education and intervention programs, and will give law enforcement the tools to closely track gang leaders both inside state prisons and when they are released on parole.
There are probably organizations in your area dedicated to helping at-risk kids avoid and quit gangs. Get involved if you can.
The Author Spent 10 years a weekly volunteer at a county juvenile detention facility
New York Times
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Police Department
Stanley Tookie Williams, Tavis Smiley Blue rage, black redemption: a memoir
Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story- FX Original Movie
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Pew Center on the States
Bureau of Justice Statistics
US Justice Department
Federal Bureau of Prisons
BOP: The Influence of Prison Gang Affiliation on Violence and Other Prison Misconduct
A National Assessment of Gangs and Security Threat Groups In Adult Correctional Institutions: Results of the 1999 Adult Corrections Survey
The Facts About Gang Life in America Today: A National Study of Over 4000 Gang Members, .
Florida Department of Corrections
Prison Fellowship Ministries
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation