”South-Central Los Angeles does not need a domestic policy, we need a foreign policy. South-Central is as foreign to George Bush as Madagascar is.“
I made that statement at a press conference 10 years ago, a few days after the riots, back when another George Bush was president. I am Kershaun ”Li’l Monster“ Scott. You‘ve probably heard of my older brother, ”Monster“ Kody Scott, who wrote a famous memoir of gang life called Monster. I am an ex–gang member who has given over half my life to the Eight-Tray Gangster Crips. I have been shot at and I have shot and killed in return. In 1981, I and five of my homeboys were convicted of murder and four counts of attempted murder. I am not proud of my past, but without question, my past has made me who I am.
Gangbanging and gang violence have been part of the landscape here in Southern California for decades. As I write this, homicides in the city are at 614, including 75 in the past six weeks — 12 murders in my neighborhood alone in the past several weeks. More people have lost their lives to gang violence over the last 10 years than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in ”the troubles“ in Northern Ireland combined. The gang wars are back in the news.
But for the residents living in South-Central and other impoverished areas of the city, death due to gang violence is familiar. We have learned to live with it; we even embrace it as a way of life. A quick run to the corner store can very well be your last. Death can be upon us at any given moment. Why is that?
The tired line is that ”The gangs are fighting over drug turf.“ This shows how far off the mark the experts are. The gang wars are about hatred, revenge and frustration. If you wound or kill one of my homeboys, then a retaliation is in order, and it will be carried out — a childish response with very painful, complex ramifications.
For years, I had identified with what I saw in my community: the gang members, drug dealers, street hustlers and even the winos sitting in the alley. These were the people I saw on an everyday basis, and what they were doing became the norm. The streets and the people in it had a greater influence on my life than my mother, who was working two jobs trying to support six kids, a or my father, who had faded to black when I was around 10 years old. My overwhelming need to belong to something is what drew me into the Crips. My brother was my hero.
When my new son was born in 1989, I set out to change my life. Like any proud father, I wanted the best for my child. I never wanted him to have to see me behind bars or hanging out on street corners. I wanted him to be safe, but since I lacked the finances it would take to move him out of the war zone, I started trying to make the community safe. I started with myself. I shook the criminal mentality that had been the driving force in my life. I began to study history.
I first started talking with my homeboys about a ceasefire in the gang wars in 1989. I went around to the local high schools and to juvenile facilities talking to the youngsters about peace and pushing education. I would eventually expand this program to college campuses around the country. At the time, my homeboys weren’t trying to hear me. I remember a conversation with a homeboy who lost a brother in the wars. It went like this:
”The entire process of tit for tat will never end unless we take the initiative to come to the table to put an end to it,“ I said.
”Cuz, how can you even want to talk to them niggas knowing that they killed so many of our homeboys?“
”I miss all of the homies that are gone, but my main concern is for those that are still living. If we don‘t stop the madness, we’ll just continue to lose more homies. We can‘t bring the dead back, but we can insure that we won’t be going to your funeral next week, or mine the following week. We can save the lives of all of these children playing out here.“
I knew that I had driven my point home with him, yet I also knew what was coming next.
”I feel you, Monster, but them niggas took my brother, and I‘ll never stop killing them niggas until they are all dead!“
Now I felt him. My brother had been shot five times by our perceived enemies. Fortunately, he did not die, but this guy’s brother did. How could I feel or understand the depth of his loss? Hate, anger, fear and pain run deep due to the loss of lives. This guy and others like him are what perpetuate the violence. They won‘t let go of the loss or the hatred. Can it be stopped? Of course, it can.
After the riots in ’92, a truce was in place and holding. A lot of people, including myself, worked hard to make it happen. For the most part, the majority of gangs took part in the treaty. Following the peace treaty, gang violence plummeted to all-time lows.
But let‘s face the facts: The riot itself was the motivating factor behind the treaty. To be even more frank, it was common economic ground that brought us all together. Think about it. If I was in a store trying to move a huge safe, it didn’t matter to me that the man helping me was from the Rolling Sixties. It mattered more — to both of us — what was inside the safe. After three days of this sort of cooperation, gang members saw that they could get along. The reasoning behind it didn‘t matter. A sense of community had been temporarily restored.
The city of Los Angeles failed to take advantage of this golden opportunity. At a time when officials could have recognized underlying causes and helped to articulate a vision for the future, there was a resounding silence from downtown — a silence that echoes to this day. Back when Willie Williams was chief, the LAPD constantly broke up any meetings we had in our attempts to fill that silent void. Meanwhile, the media portrayed the gang truce as a unification directed at undermining police and city officials. Jobs promised by politicians never materialized. The national spotlight that had been turned briefly on South-Central extinguished. Hope was once again replaced by hopelessness.
New Police Chief William Bratton is pushing for 3,000 more police officers. He has met with so-called community leaders who really don’t have control of the community, nor leadership abilities. Could Colin Powell put an end to the violence in Israel by conversing with Vicente Fox of Mexico? He can‘t! Yet, this is exactly the mistake that Bratton is making by talking with the Nate Holdens, the Mark Ridley-Thomases and the Danny Bakewells of our world.
My advice to Mayor Hahn and Chief Bratton is this: You have a war raging in the streets of Los Angeles. Treat it as such! Acknowledge the fact that there are real human beings engaged in battle on your streets. If you want the problem stopped, go to the source of the problem — the gang members. Sit down with the combatants. Listen to the meaning of the body count. Talk to them and find out what is needed to end the war. Can you, Mayor Hahn, replace the hopelessness of 50 percent unemployment here with jobs? Can you give these men and women a chance at life? Show them that they, too, can have a stake in their community and city. The only way to achieve this is by communication.
Ask for a ceasefire while talks are going on. Get two O.G.s [original gangsters] from every major set in the city and establish a dialogue. The younger generation will listen to the O.G.s out of respect and hope. The question is, will city officials listen to the O.G.s?
We have tried everything else, and we have nothing to lose but maybe another 600 lives in the coming year.