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
The truth is that gangs are merely reflections of their communities. America’s huge pool of poorly educated urban black men was being pushed farther than ever to the fringes of mainstream society. New studies by experts at Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other institutions show how the numbers of young black American men without jobs climbed relentlessly during that period. By 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20s were jobless — unable to find work, not seeking it or in jail. By 2004, the number had climbed to 72 percent (compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts). Today, 75 percent of Watts’ adult black male population will at some point go to jail or prison.
The children of these men are born to the belief that they have no options. Impotent and hungry for family, these kids often turn to the embrace of a gang. But what the gang really represents, more than neighborhood, is nihilism.
Leaderless black gangs like the Bounty Hunters have divided into competitive cliques; inexperienced young gangbangers are fighting and killing for control. The Bounty Hunters, for instance, have become notorious for killing each other to move up in the gang. “They mistake the fear they create for respect,” says LAPD Detective Victor Ross, a gang unit detective. “Today, a Bounty Hunter gets what he thinks is respect by murdering his own.”
Recently, in Jordan Downs, a Grape Street clique rebuffed by a 14-year-old boy who refused to join gang-raped his 12-year-old sister, taped the attack, and showed the video to the boy. The boy gave in and joined. Older gang members and veteran police say the neighborhoods are codeless and anarchic. “The hood is lost because we ain’t got no guidance right now,” a hardcore Bounty Hunter Blood told me. “It’s just us young gangsters.”
The differences between black and Latino gangs are stark. And the black gang members I spoke with readily admit that the difference is fatal. Damien Hartfield, the former Bounty Hunter, explained, “Blacks do what they want. When Latinos go gangbanging they have a solid plan. Blacks don’t go to war like that. It’s spontaneous. Something just happens. Latinos make a call, make a plan. They have a structure.”
LAPD Chief Bratton admits he is bewildered by how anarchic L.A.’s black gangs have become.
“African-American violence is totally out of proportion to their numbers,” he said. “With Latinos, there is so much more family structure, while it’s not as if blacks rally around the African-American community just because they are black. They associate more with their gang colors than they do with their own color as African-Americans. It’s almost as if they lost identities as African-Americans.”
Watts and neighboring Compton, historically and famously black neighborhoods, are already roughly 70 percent Hispanic. Hispanic gangs know they don’t need to wage war against black gangs. They are happy to wait it out as black gangs sabotage themselves. Gangbangers in Watts tell me they know they can’t keep up. And they know their fate.
“Ten years from now gangs from all other races besides Hispanic are going to be pushed out of everywhere,” Andre says.
Late one night last April, a 17-year-old African-American boy named Devon Perry was jumped in South Los Angeles and shot execution style in the back of the head. Devon had grown up in Nickerson Gardens, less than a mile away from where he was shot. Devon’s family had numerous Bounty Hunter members or associates. Devon’s mother, Theresa, had sent him to live with relatives outside the project and away from the gang.
About a thousand people jammed into Devon’s funeral at a small neighborhood church in South L.A., including gangbangers from various sets of Crips and Bloods. The Perry family claimed Devon wasn’t a gang member, but many of the mourners wore T-shirts silk-screened with a photo of Devon smiling and contorting his hands in gang signs. Some in attendance wore red or blue — Blood and Crip colors — T-shirts under their clothes. A few young women had dyed their hair red.
As the crowd filed by the open coffin, Theresa Perry wept uncontrollably, screaming, “My beautiful boy! My beautiful boy!” Her friends screamed back “Jesus!” into her face. Devon’s cousins sat in the front row in pallbearers’ uniforms — bright cream suits and white gloves. The oldest, a short and muscular young man named De’Andre Perry, a hardcore Bounty Hunter, was awash in tears. Just before the mourners filed out, the pastor warned that they were in dangerous gang territory. “Go straight to your cars,” he pleaded. “Watch your backs.”
It was a wonderfully bright day. The convoy to the cemetery was more pep rally than mourners’ column. Crip and Blood gang members, festooned with red and blue hats and scarves, hung out car windows, throwing gang signs with their fingers and taunting each other. Many of the cars shuddered with gangsta rap.
Improbably, the procession swept into the gaudy Hollywood Forever Cemetery, “The Resting Place of Hollywood’s Immortals.” The cemetery shares a wall with Paramount Studios and is home to the obelisks and tombs of movie royalty like Rudolph Valentino, Jayne Mansfield and Cecil B. DeMille.
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