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
Officer Ross describes a few gang members, like Aubrey Anderson, known as "Lunatic" or simply "Tic." "He is feared in the sense that he is short-tempered and is seen as crazy enough to do anything. He is not afraid to commit violence to further the gang." Another one is Israel Jauregui, a.k.a. Izzy, who has a tattoo on his arm that says, "Kill or Be Killed." "He is a violent gang member who is not afraid to commit shootings or other violent acts for the gang." Izzy, it turns out, is in federal custody now, and attempts to contact Lunatic were unsuccessful, much to the delight of my family.
Of the three projects in Watts, Imperial Courts appears the most run-down. The blue and green buildings that house 490 units look tired. Trash is rampant, flowers are few, and packs of young men evil-eye every stranger.
Recently, on a spring afternoon at Imperial Courts Recreation Center, which has a shiny full-size basketball court, no one is in the gym. But the narrow streets are full of young men. No one wants to talk about the breakdown of the truce. The four most common responses are "I’m not from here," "I’m just visiting," "Fuck off" and "Talk to PJ Steve."
PJ Steve is Steven Myrick, a tall, well-built 39-year-old who’s been a Crip almost his entire life, did nine years for kidnapping, robbery and assault, and has 2-inch-tall letters, "P" and "J," tattooed on his throat.
When PJ Steve heard about the 1992 treaty, he had mixed emotions.
"I was locked up when the peace treaty happened, and I was confused about it for a while. I couldn’t get it," says PJ Steve. "But then you realize it was a move for the kids. Kids need a better way than the way we had it. But now you got kids going back to the same ways.
PJ Crip "Cornbread" chimes in that he doesn’t feel safe in Jordan Downs.
In Jordan Downs, a group of Grape Streeters talk about the breakdown of the treaty, and the future. "I didn’t really like the peace treaty anyway," says Scrap, 29. "If I kill you today, then one of your homies who’s like 11 or 12 now is gonna remember it, and when he gets older he’s gonna blow my head off. That’s what’s happening today."
There is some hope in Jordan Downs that the infamous Grape Street shot caller Wayne "Honcho" Day may soon be free after serving nine years in federal prison on drug distribution and conspiracy charges. Day, now 48, was sentenced to more than 19 years, but he successfully appealed on the basis that he was poorly represented, and a decision on whether to reduce his sentence will be made within a month or so, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Terrell.
In a 1997 speech by Steven R. Wiley, then chief of the Violent Crimes and Major Offenders section of the FBI, Honcho was called "the Godfather of Watts." That’s a slight exaggeration, but when told that Honcho may be getting out of prison soon, both Kartoon and PJ Steve consider it good news.
"If Honcho was here, this wouldn’t be happening," says Kartoon.
Sitting on a wooden table near the closed Jordan Downs gymnasium on a fine spring afternoon as his friends prepare to barbecue and play baseball, Honcho’s nephew Kmond Day lays part of the blame for the violence on alcohol.
"Alcohol is not for peace," he says. "But some people drink cuz there’s nothing else to do. The reality is, if we have guys from our own hood who get high and we can’t control them here, how can we expect them to go to other hoods and not act stupid?"
But Kmond says most gang members don’t even know why they bang.
"A lot of so-called gang members could win Oscars. They’re acting like gang members. They’re doing the stuff gang members do — shooting, killing — but they don’t even know the whole purpose of representing the hood. If you ask them why they bang, they say, 'To represent the hood.' Represent what? There is no point in representing the hood. What’s the purpose? There is no purpose."
Many young kids gangbang out of fear, not fear of the other hoods but fear from guys from their own block.
"You got cats that’s killing cats from other projects, and the homies that are with them are afraid of them, so they try to impress their big homies," says Kmond. "But really, they are just scared. But they think it’s the only way to survive."Making a difference: Gregory Thomas Photo by Gregory Bojorquez Some in Jordan Downs complain bitterly about what they consider the rough tactics of one LAPD officer, Christian Mrakich. They claim he harasses people and encourages the gang wars. "Mrakich is the Rafael Perez of Jordan Downs," says Daude Sherrills.
Captain Sergio Diaz says he has received several complaints about "an officer" in Jordan Downs, but nothing has been substantiated.