By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Kody and Kershaun Scott took their campaign into the world beyond South-Central's streets in 1991, when a (female) fashion-model-cum-journalist, Léon Bing, wrote Do or Die, a book about the Los Angeles gang wars that devoted a chapter to the brothers. It put their names in play, mostly Kody's, actually, for one simple reason: His picture graced the cover. He looked like the bad guy in an action blockbuster, with his movie-star shades and a Mac-10 assault pistol clutched to his muscle-bulging bare chest. Kershaun was supposed to pose with his brother, but at the last minute he couldn't make it to the photographer's studio. On such happenstance does celebrity turn. Both brothers found the photo inauthentic. The photographer, Howard Rosenberg, asked Kody to take his shirt off and pump up with some weights he had on hand. "It was not menacing enough," Rosenberg told me. "It was just a way of giving a little more edge to it." But as Kershaun observed, "My brother always wore khakis and a button-down Pendleton shirt when he was out on a mission, and he did not take his shirt off." Posing with a gun wasn't Kody's idea, either. The weapon wasn't even his; it was on loan from a Blood who had been interviewed for Bing's book. "Kind of disproves the theory that Bloods and Crips hate each other so much!" Kershaun noted archly.
Misleading or not, the photo attracted the eye of the media, and whenever reporters wanted an L.A. gangster quote, they invariably phoned Léon Bing to get in touch with Kody Scott. The cover picture drew a few Hollywood nibbles as well. When William Broyles Jr., a Vietnam vet and former editor of Newsweekturned screenwriter, wanted to research his pilot script for a prospective ABC television series about life in South-Central, he called up Bing and she took him to meet Scott in jail. The two men exchanged war stories, as Broyles recalled, and the writer sensed they were bonding over their shared "military" backgrounds. "Going through South-Central for Kody was in some ways like me going through Vietnam," Broyles, a former Marine, told me later. "It was a combat scene." In fact, both men's battle experience was limited: By Broyle's account in his memoir, Brothers in Arms, he didn't see all that much combat on his Vietnam tour of duty, half of which he spent in relative comfort, living "with the generals and colonels in permanent houses built on top of Freedom Hill," where they dined on steak and lobster and played Ping-Pong in the evenings. And while Scott's early teen years, by his book's description, sound like they were spent in nonstop shoot-'em-ups, his street-warrior days were quickly cut short by jail; since turning 16, he has rarely been outside a penitentiary for more than a few months at a time. Nonetheless, Broyles felt, "If Kody was alive in Napoleonic times, he'd be a general . . . If he'd been in my unit [in Vietnam], I would've been thrilled to have him there." In any event, the network turned down the TV drama about life in South-Central, and it looked as if Kody Scott's tiny media flame would be snuffed out as quickly as it had ignited. The 1992 Los Angeles riots rectified that.
In some respects, the riots were themselves a media event, staged with significant production assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department. With news that the jury had acquitted the police officers charged with the brutal beating of black motorist Rodney King, the LAPD knew it might be facing an uprising in South-Central. First a group of Eight-Tray Gangsters decided to protest the verdict by stealing armfuls of 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor from a package store a few blocks away from the corner of Florence and Normandie. Then, at that famous corner, young men began hurling rocks and bottles. Police officers swooped down, arresting one of the young men and hauling him over a gate and onto the ground, an act that inflamed onlookers. The LAPD notified the media of a police action in progress, then promptly pulled out of the area. The Police Department's mind-boggling decision to withdraw all law-enforcement officers for the next several hours, combined with the massing of helicopter-borne camera crews above the corner of Florence and Normandie, literally set the stage for the riots. "Once the police pulled out, that was it," recalled Kershaun Scott, who was there that day with his fellow Eight-Tray Gangsters. "Because then the media was there, broadcasting the scene live with no cops in view. And so everyone else saw it and thought it was a green light to riot." In one telling early confrontation, captured on film, a young man charged a news photographer and tried to commandeer his camera, while spectators cheered. (It was Kershaun Scott who attempted to intervene to escort him to his car.) For sets like the Eight-Tray Gangsters, it was a day for "maintaining visibility," a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get their names out.
Kody Scott missed out on the grand media event. When South-Central exploded, he was once again behind bars. As it happened, his incarceration proved to be only a temporary setback. In the aftermath of the riots, members of the media, entertainment and publishing industries swarmed around South-Central, searching for its most visible representatives. With "Monster" in prison, "Li'l Monster" inherited the mantle. Television and print reporters clamored for his time; his phone rang nonstop with interview requests. He was invited to give speeches, and soon he had a lecture agent. He fielded a number of movie offers, including one from rap star Ice Cube. A one-hour documentary was made of his life, Eight-Tray Gangster: The Making of a Crip, directed by Thomas Wright, the original screenwriter for the quintessential gunfighter-and-drug-dealing black action flick, New Jack City. (That film's script had undergone its own market-driven violence inflation: By the final cut, a screenplay that had originally called for only two deaths -- each with ramifications -- was, much to Wright's distress, a wall-to-wall meaningless bloodbath.)