By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
For the 200 vatos gathered in this Rosemead park, a July sunset in the San Gabriel Valley is a chance to chill, compare new tatts and blast out the banda. All the local heavies, the klikas, are there, all keeping a wary eye on each other, because maybe, for a past transgression, they might be taken out.
At the peripheries, lookouts are scanning the streets for the dumb-assed porkies who might be a little too curious as to why so many Youth Authority-bound teens are assembled.
As the sky turns from blood red into that powdery, never-all-the-way-black L.A. night, the man of the hour pulls up in his cherry-red, ground-scraping 1965 Buick Riviera. Slowly, and with the exaggerated macho of a man twice his age, 18-year-old Ronnie D. Bone disembarks his chariot. A sea of chinos, Ben Davises and Dickies surrounds him and his pair of pit bulls.
Mr. Bone, who has called this meeting, climbs onto the hood of the low rider, spits on the dirt to clear his throat, and lays it out.
"I'm really pissed off at you," he tells the vatos. "While I was away in the pen, I see my old neighborhood taken away from our people by these fuckin' Asians. What used to be ours is theirs. If they can take what's ours, then they should be paying us rent!" he says.
Every head is nodding.
"Every Asian business on Garvey Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard, I want their windows busted out, and I want you to tag the shit out of 'em, too. Do this till I give you the word to stop, okay?"
The troops say nothing. They just turn and leave. An order from Bone is an order to be followed, period. But to be sure, there are some who don't know what's really going on.
For at this moment, which took place in the mid-1980s, Ronnie D. Bone was not inaugurating the dreaded apocalypse of open race wars in L.A. No, his game plan was more opportunistic and more profitable. Bone was launching one of the Southland's more blatant and successful extortion schemes. Ronnie Bone is not his real name, but, as they say, the events themselves are a matter of record, so much so that Ronnie could still suffer bad if somebody figured out too much about him from this account. At least that's what Ronnie says, and there're some fairly reliable homeboys who back him up on that one.
The day after the gathering, like a cyclone, the barrio boys descend upon the hapless Asian merchants, breaking and rebreaking windows, spraying and respraying tags. Like roaches on speed, they keep on coming.
Three weeks pass, and it is then that Bone makes his first appearance amongst the sons and daughters of Asia, decked out in a double-breasted number from the Wearhouse.
With exaggerated civility, he struts into a dry cleaners, a dumpling house, a pharmacy. At every stop on Garvey Avenue, his rap is the same. He asks for the owner or manager and commences:
"Hirsch" then produces a business card that proclaims him a "gang coordinator," which, in a perverse way, he is. Immediately, the middle-aged Asian mom or pop is nodding furiously, or chattering insanely about broken windows, the police, the graffiti, the city, everything. Bone lets this go in one ear and out the other; he's halfway home.
"I can help you," he intones reassuringly. "Show me your damage reports, give me half of the total, and I can cut your losses down to nothing. I've been given the authority from the state of California to do this."
Bone is recounting this tale to me in a tiny Glendale one-bedroom belonging to a porn-actress friend. He doesn't often speak so directly about this caper, but when he does, he can't help but begin to smile when he gets to the state of California part. "These people don't know their feet from fried duck," he says to me. Maybe not, but his marks got the drift.
Making a cursory check of the damage reports, Bone lists his terms. "I'll need $3,000 to start the process," he says, sending the business owner into a backroom for a cannonball-size wad of cash.
As Bone pockets the money, and offers a gracious thank-you, he notes, "If there is trouble, I'll take care of it out of my own pocket, or bring the perpetrators to justice."
He then struts confidently out to his Riviera, where his 30-year-old driver awaits.
Bone estimates that he had 22 businesses paying tribute in his Monterey Park zone. That brought in 35 to 40 grand a month plus a variety of complimentary services - free dry cleaning, drinks, a car here or there, whatever he needed. To pay his little army of hooligans, he'd spring for a keg or two of beer, a bottle of PCP - it was party time.
"I was a kid, but they were less wise than me," he recalls. "So I could buy them off with a suit, a $2,000 car, guns, heroin, whatever they needed."
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