By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Ronald “Kartoon” Antwine is sitting in his garage, looking out at the Union Pacific railroad tracks near 114th and Wilmington Avenue. Kartoon is one of the legendary Bounty Hunters. A former menace to society. A 6-foot-4½-inch, 260-pound thug who carried a pistol in one pocket and a sawed-off Winchester pump shotgun under his black leather jacket. He robbed people, shot people, beat up people in the wild days of the ’70s. He paid for his crimes by doing more than 15 years at the toughest prisons in California, including thousands of days at Folsom back when Folsom made the Pelican Bay of today seem like juvenile hall. He walked out of prison in 1992 and has not been back. Just days after he left Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe (“America’s Hottest Prison”), the peace treaty was being negotiated, and Kartoon became a key representative for the Bounty Hunters and Nickerson Gardens. He recalls that one of the biggest sticking points was that the Crips — PJs and Grape Street — were concerned about their safety in his Blood neighborhood. “One day I said, ‘Let’s find out,’ and we all started walking through the Nickersons, Bloods and Crips. The young homies were stunned, but they joined in. It was beautiful.” These days, Kartoon is a gifted writer, a Bounty Hunter historian, a community activist, and still a respected figure in Nickerson Gardens. “You see that field right there by the tracks?” he asks, pointing 50 feet away. “That used to be our Vietnam. That was the frontlines. That was the border between the Bounty Hunters and the PJs. There used to be weeds higher than me there, and we’d be sniping at them from our side and they’d be sniping at us from their side.” But now that the PJs and Bounty Hunters are getting along, the weeds are gone, and so is the fear of gunfire. “I sit in this garage and it’s a pleasure to see the people cross the tracks, crossing enemy lines. It’s like walking through a force field on Star Trek. Used to be you cross those tracks, you die. Now people walk back and forth.” Kartoon, 46, partly blames the local government and the lack of resources available to help stop the violence. But Kartoon (Bloods disdain the letter C) reserves his harshest words for those whom he considers the cause of the treaty’s demise and the latest upsurge in violence by young, reactionary gangsters. “All the projects are doing their part to stop the violence, but every project has those reactionaries who listen to no one and don’t want to participate in the peace movement,” he says. “All we ask is they don’t sabotage the peace. It’s like in Baghdad. They got that one religious sect doing all the bombing. But the other sect refuses to retaliate.” Kartoon says he’s been in the Nickersons during and after recent shootings. With other hall-of-fame Bounty Hunters Big Hank, Big Donny and Na Na, he tried to persuade the young homies not to retaliate. “Our young guys were saying, 'Fuck this. We gonna do something.' So Hank and Donny and everybody, we had to calm them. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
He doesn’t tell young Bounty Hunters what to do — to attack or not to attack — but rather emphasizes the consequences of their actions.
"All the guys getting busted, they don’t realize what a life sentence is. When the pop goes off, when their head pops out of their ass and they realize they ain’t going home after just five years. When they realize they’ll never be able to taste a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder again. To see them go crazy when they hear their moms is dying and they’re locked up and can’t go see her. When they hear their woman is pregnant by their best homeboy. When they realize they’ll never see a night sky again."
As I’m driving one evening through the 1,066-unit Nickerson Gardens, said to be the largest housing project west of the Mississippi, dozens of men and women are milling about, and children are playing near their apartment units, many of them with small, nicely tended gardens with roses in full spring bloom.
For anyone who has ever seen the nation’s worst housing projects, such as the now-destroyed, infamous Robert Taylor Homes on the South Side of Chicago, the projects in Watts look almost pleasant during a quick drive-through. They are not high-rise prisons like Robert Taylor, Cabrini Green or Rockwell Gardens, but rather two-story buildings with small patches of lawn in front of them. A closer look, however, reveals the poverty and aura of hopelessness.
The Los Angeles city attorney has imposed a gang injunction against the Bounty Hunters here that makes it a misdemeanor for any of them to be together, although it is impossible to enforce all the time. In part of the city attorney’s report, LAPD Officer Victor Ross, one of the most hated men in Nickerson Gardens, writes, "When gang members are stopped by law enforcement they will say that they are going to visit their grandmothers, but in fact they are just hanging out with a bunch of other gang members, drinking, using drugs, playing loud music, gambling, loitering to be hooks or lookouts. They are doing anything but visiting their grandmothers."