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
“He was into the peace treaty,” said his cousin Teka Harris, 25. “There’s just too many innocent people getting killed.”
On December 27, Darshay Harris, 25, from the Westside visited his girlfriend in Nickerson Gardens. For the last time. He was shot to death on 113th Street and Compton Avenue, allegedly by Grape Street.
On January 8, Tarrell Joseph, 18, was standing near Ace Hi Liquors at 115th Street and Wilmington Avenue, a few blocks from the Nickersons, when he was shot multiple times. He died the next day.
On January 9, Rayfton Morrison, 41, was shot and killed while standing in a playground on 105th Street near Gonzaque Village, a smaller project whose gang, the Village Boys, has ties with the Bounty Hunters.
On January 15, Ronald Belton, 16, was walking in the Nickersons in a parking area known as “the Folsom Lot” when he was struck down in a hail of gunfire.
“Ronald wasn’t about gangbanging at all,” said his uncle Willie “Lil Nut” Williams. “He was about sports, and he was trying to get into Verbum Dei [High School]. He was just a good kid. Never hurt nobody.”
“Most of the shootings have targeted the Bounty Hunters,” said Detective LaBarbera. “Though the actual victims often are not Bounty Hunters.”
Part of the reason there have not been more Grape Street victims is the intense effort by respected men in the Nickersons to rein in the troops. It’s an extremely difficult task.
One of them is Ronald “Kartoon” Antwine. “You can’t tell them what to do, but I tell them to think. Think. You make a split-second decision and you can spend the rest of your life in prison.”
The Grape Street Watts Crips, Bounty Hunters and PJs have a decades-old history of violence. But on April 28, 1992, the day before the city blew up after the acquittal of the policemen accused of beating Rodney King, the gangs of the Watts housing projects signed a peace treaty that was the most successful of all the city’s gang truces. Though there were individual clashes, for more than a decade the gangs got along in relative peace.
Last year, several shootings and deaths led many to state the peace treaty was officially dead. But for months there was an uneasy calm, until Christmas.
USING A CANE TO SUPPORT his bullet-riddled body, Elvonzo “Redmann” Cromwell from Grape Street reflected on the meeting with Councilwoman Hahn. Of all those in attendance, Redmann probably found it the most traumatic. Last spring he was shot three times by PJ Crips and lost a kidney. Now he was in the same room with members of the gang that nearly killed him.
“Man, it was super hard to be in that room with them,” Redmann, 26, said in Jordan Downs later that night. “For me to even be in a room with some PJs, that’s a huge step. I’m biting the bullet. I got a lot of pain and after I got shot I wasn’t really for peace.”
He said he was doing it for his five kids who live with their mother in Bakersfield.
“When I hear that my kids are afraid to come visit me because of where I live and my lifestyle, it’s time for me to change,” he said. “I’m doing this for my 10-year-old son.”
Redmann, who had a PJ bullet removed from his torso last week, said street gangs were not his biggest fear.
“Tell the truth, I’m more scared of the police than the gangs,” he said. “I guess they doing their job, but they come in with M-16s and tactics. And the courts, they giving out years in prison like it’s free candy at Halloween time,” he said. “I got 18 of my homies from Grape Street that are between 18 to 20 years old doing life sentences. Eighteen.”
The LAPD has made more than 100 arrests in response to the shootings, two on suspicion of murder and 40 for violation of the gang injunctions, according to Lt. Paul Vernon.
After the meetings, Lil Nut and PJ Steve and a few others went to Jordan Downs in hopes of getting some of the youngsters to come to the table.
“It was a little shaky at first, but then it was cool,” said Lil Nut. “They said they gonna come to the next meeting. That’s a good sign. Plus nobody got shot today.”
More than anything, people in Watts just want the gunfire to stop. Like Redmann said, “I don’t wanna be living like I’m in Iraq when I’m living in Los Angeles.”