The men arrived in twos and threes, Crips and Bloods, young and middle-aged, gathering around a picnic table in a Compton park to confront their sworn enemies.
After two hours of negotiations on a chilly, overcast Saturday in April, they came to an agreement — not a truce, exactly, but a tentative cease-fire.
The losses had been heavy, with nearly a dozen dead on each side. It was too soon to talk friendship.
But at least the Swamp Crips and the Bloods-affiliated Campanella Park Pirus could agree to stay away from each other’s territory and stop shooting at people.
“It’s a troubled past. A lot occurred, and we can’t heal that fast,” said Lamar “Crocodile” Robinson, 46, a Swamp Crip. “But it’s important for us to take the initiative and school the youngsters on what’s at stake and what they can gain.”
The cease-fire talks in Compton were part of an audacious effort by Los Angeles-area gang leaders to curtail violence in their own ranks following the killing of rapper, activist and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle, whose influence extended beyond hip-hop culture to the realms of business and politics.
Unique among artists of his stature, Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, remained embedded in his South Los Angeles community, and his biography — a gang-affiliated, tattooed black man pulled into street life before attaining stardom — resonated with young gang members.
Hussle spoke openly of his membership in the widely feared Rollin’ 60s Crips while setting an example by performing with rappers who were Bloods.
Leaders of the peace movement say the outpouring of grief after Hussle’s March 31 death has made it easier to convince others that the cycle of violence needs to stop.
Not since the landmark truces of 1992, which followed the devastation of the L.A. riots, has such a concerted wave of peacemaking swept through the area’s hundreds of black gangs.
“We’re going to carry what Nipsey wanted, what he was trying to preach in his songs,” said Shamond “Lil AD” Bennett, 38, of the Rollin’ 60s. “It don’t make no sense that you’re fighting over a block that you don’t own.”
Starting with a cross-section of gangs marching together at a memorial for Hussle and continuing with summits in L.A. and Compton attended by dozens of gang leaders, the movement has already yielded tangible results.
The Rollin’ 40s Crips are deep into cease-fire talks with the Rollin’ 60s, despite a war dating to 2013 and the killing of a prominent 40s elder last summer.
The Van Ness Gangsters recently held a family-friendly “hood day,” including bounce houses for kids — a departure from the unruly color-strutting that is characteristic of such celebrations.
As with world diplomacy, there is no such thing as global peace among L.A. gangs, with their long-running feuds and complex alliances. Advocates for peace say that even if only a few beefs are put to rest for a short time, lives will be saved.
“We’re going to still be Bloods. They’re going to still be Crips,” said Melinda Lockhart, 49, an organizer of the May 4 hood day at Van Ness Park. “But put the guns down and let’s live.”
The spark that ignites a war can be small — a disrespectful word or jealousy over a woman. Someone is killed, grief fuels revenge, and the back-and-forth begins.
To create peace, each gang must broker agreements with its main enemies while building a critical mass of support within its own ranks. In the L.A. area, Crips and Bloods war among themselves as much as with the opposing color.
Among the questions that have arisen: Should gas stations and 7-Elevens in rival territory be off-limits? What is the punishment for violating a cease-fire?
For the Swamp Crips and Campanella Park Pirus, the meeting in the park was just the beginning.
When Laurence “Boogalue” Cartwright’s phone rang, it was someone from the Swamps. People were talking crazy on the internet.
“The other side’s been hitting me, like, ‘I got my homies under control. What’s wrong with your little homies?’” recalled Cartwright, a Campanella Park Piru.
Cartwright told the Swamps to let the man vent and see if the provocative social media posts would subside.
Among the Campanellas, some people wanted to teach the young man a lesson by beating him up. Cartwright stopped them, then convinced the man that real gangsters don’t put their business on the internet.
“Killing Nipsey Hussle only birthed a hundred more,” Cartwright raps on his debut mixtape, released earlier this month. “Imagine if black people didn’t kill each other no more.”
As with the truces of the early 1990s, the peace movement this time appears to be largely confined to black gangs. Most Latino gang members do not strongly identify with Hussle and are proceeding with “business as usual,” said Ever A. Linares, who works with Latino gangs as part of a city program to reduce gang violence.
A key to peace, many say, is to get buy-in from gang members in their teens and early 20s who are not inclined to bow to authority, even within their own organizations.
To that end, a new generation of gang leaders has come to the fore.
Lil AD from the 60s, Blue from the 40s, LaTanya from the Black P. Stones, Kne-Hi from the Raymond Avenue Crips, Boogy from Campanella Park — all are millennials in their 30s.
Older “OGs” still play a vital role, often using the relationships they built in prison, where black gangs are generally united against Latinos, to make initial overtures to an enemy.
But millennials who live on Instagram have a better chance of getting through to the youngsters on their side than OGs, who might come across more like grandparents.
“All the people that you say you want to get revenge for — is that going to bring them back to life, bro?” Bennett tells fellow Rollin’ 60s members. “Is that going to bring them out of the grave? Are they going to rise once you kill this person?
As mourners thronged Hussle’s Marathon Clothing store the Friday after his death, Eugene “Big U” Henley issued an invitation.
All gang members, Crips and Bloods alike, were welcome to attend a vigil at the store that afternoon, the well-known rap impresario, community activist and Rollin’ 60s OG said in an Instagram video.
Members of rival gangs, including the East Coast Crips, the Hoovers and the Eight Trays, had already met several times in the days after Hussle’s death, Big U noted in the video.
A video of the vigil shows dozens of gang members marching somberly toward the store. Afterward, people in red posed for photos next to others in blue.
Gang members throughout the region drew inspiration from the sight of enemies coming together to pay tribute to Hussle, who was shot outside the Hyde Park clothing shop in what police have described as a personal dispute.
Another aspiring rapper affiliated with the Rollin’ 60s, Eric Holder, 29, was indicted on one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and other charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
The peacemaking has continued since then, with large-scale meetings as well as behind-the-scenes negotiations between warring sets.
An online flyer advertising weekly Thursday meetings for L.A. gang members states that the goal is to “orchestrate a non-aggression agreement, NOT a truce or peace treaty.” The flyer includes a hashtag that can be summarized as, “If someone isn’t messing with you, then don’t mess with them.”
In gang culture, the difference between a cease-fire and a truce is crucial. A truce implies friendship beyond the mere cessation of violence. Some who are not ready to accept a truce may accept a cease-fire.
“Some people say, ‘It’s good you’re doing that, but I’m not there yet,’” said LaTanya Ward, 38, an organizer of the Thursday meetings. “I tell them, ‘If you wind up being the one that’s on the ground taking your last … breaths, you’re going to wish that this treaty would have … worked.’”
Weekly peace meetings are also taking place among gangs east of the Harbor Freeway, with leaders trying to stem provocative actions such as gang graffiti, said Charles “Bear” Spratley of the East Coast Crips.
Because the cease-fire talks are just beginning and the number of gang conflicts is so immense, it is too soon to establish a link to recent decreases in violence.
This year in L.A., homicides have dipped slightly, while shootings were up 12% from the same time last year. Gun violence has lessened since a surge in March that stemmed primarily from gang feuds in South L.A. But the city is entering the summer months, when conflicts often heat up.
The Compton area has been relatively quiet in the last few months, in a year that began violently. Through the end of April, there were 11 homicides in Compton, compared with seven in the same period last year.
To some gang leaders and observers, the talks between warring sets represent major progress.
Source: Herald Mail Media