Prelude to a truce, 1972-1974
William Covington | OW Contributor | 8/4/2016, midnight
A little over four decades ago, Kwaku Person-Lynn Ph.D. had an idea that he believed would make a difference. Some considered his idea as simple, yet daunting. The idea? Invite the various gang factions, to include: the Ace Deuce Parks, Brims, Crips, Outlaws, and Pueblo Bishops to convene and discuss ways to bring about peace.
A storefront located at 4311 S. Broadway Ave. that housed the Malcolm X Center, a community youth facility founded in 1968 by Person-Lynn, would accommodate the gathering.
Ironically and quite appropriately, a few months before the center’s opening that very spot on Broadway was the site of one of the last gang fights that occurred without the use of guns and other weapons. The fight was the Businessmen and the Gladiators, and one former Businessman said, “we fought with our hands; gun violence was still a rarity with gang fights.”
During the meeting at the Malcolm X Center, Herschel Jordan a former Avalon Crip remembers . . . “all these rectangular desks were rearranged to form a large square, and inside the square there was a large open space where one of the staff positioned himself during the meeting.”
According to Person-Lynn, it was likely Fred Horne, who was described as being good with youth and recruiting gang members to participate in the peace meetings.
Prior to working at the Malcolm X Center, Horne was a counselor at Thomas Jefferson High School. According to former student, Anthony Brooks, Horne counseled troubled students. Herschel remembers the Avalon Crips would go to the Malcolm X Center and get free breakfast and free afterschool meals. “ The center gave us a place to go. We were entertained by African drums, dance, amd storytelling. It was better than running the streets raising hell.”
What’s funny about the gang members at that time was you could determine way back then who was from what gang, said Jordan.
The Outlaws from the twenties off of Central Avenue wore large Brim hats or Hamburgs’, they bought their Levis extra long so they could wear large cuffs. The Ace Deuce Parks from Ross Snyder Park wore Ace Deuce hats. The Pueblos from the Pueblo Del Rio housing project all had one ear pierced.
“We would sit together and talk about Black pride and peace. It is my belief that the meetings went on for maybe two years. There was peace for a short period, but there was never a formal truce signed.”
In a phone interview, Person-Lynn said he started the peace talks about 1972 to make sure his Labor Day festivals were safe during a time when a new type of gang violence was emerging (it was more mobile, more aggressive and more organized). The festivals grew out of the Malcolm X Center. And the peace talks actually became the first gang truce.
Person-Lynn did this following his involvement in a group called the Green Coats, who were ex-Vietnam vets who wore green fatigue military-style jackets and worked in Watts and Compton trying to convince young Black men not to join a gang. His Green Coat work made Person-Lynn further realize the need for peace.
One group of OGs remember performers like the Jazz Crusaders and Nancy Wilson performing; Angela Davis speaking to a variety of different gangs. This was made possible by the peace talks. Everyone would attend a three-day festival at South Park given by the Malcolm X Center.
A former director of the Malcolm X Center, Akil (he preferred not to divulge his last name) believes more progress could have been made with the gangs had the LAPD not interfered by “planting” drugs on Fred Horne and arresting him. He believes Horne was arrested on false charges possibly due to the police fear of gang unity. Consequently, Person-Lynn lost his funding.
Additionally, Akil believes that because Horne grew up in the South Park area and knew a lot of OGs active in the 1960s (the Businessmen, the Gladiators, the Pueblos etc.) he was able to convince them to go to the center and talk peace. They, in turn, convinced the younger guys to participate.
The peace talks created an unstable which lasted only a stort time. Some believe that the inability to get Crips founder Raymond Washington was at the root of the instability.
This coupled with the inability of Person-Lynn to get additional funding led to the demise of the center and the peace talks. What was lost with the closure was the Black culture taught to young people, and the free meals offered the youth, particularly the Crips.
The gangs continued to proliferate, and the introduction of crack cocaine made them more dangerous and vicious.
Jim Brown and the Hip Hop All Stars helped Watts residents revisit the idea of gang peace talks, and two days before April 29, 1992, a tentative truce was brokered. Then came the Rodney King verdict, and that changed the langscape even more. It motivated the Crips and Bloods to declare peace throughout the City of Los Angeles.
The 1992 Gang Truce
Due to the sensitive nature of this content, many gang members spoke to OW anonymously, choosing not to use their real or street names and are therefore, referred to as OGs (old gangsters).
The first gang truce lasted exactly three months according to Marvin Clay (aka Wolfman), a former OG from Five Trey set who was active beginning in 1971, or as he referenced “back in the day.”
According to Clay, “we did not have a structured agenda, after the truce of 1992. All we did was drink 40 ounces, smoke weed slap each other five’s, trade bandanas, party and embrace each other.”
Clay also recalled that there were rumors circulating that gang members would receive money to assist getting job training and employment. “We waited and waited but no money came..”
Another rumor among Clay and his cohorts was the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) was directly sabotaging the truce. “I do believe the LAPD had rogue officers during the time who would create problems by spreading rumors, tagging buildings, and dropping gang members into rival territories. When I say rogue officers, I believe these guys were doing certain things without the department’s knowledge. However, I place most of the blame on gang members who were just crazy and had to keep sh#t going with their enemies.”
At the same time, a number of hip hop artists and entertainers came to the inner city to support the truce including Jada Pinkett-Smith.
In fact, Clay was one of the gang members who stood on stage at South Park in solidarity with actress Jada Pinkett-Smith in the documentary, “Bastards of the Party” produced by Cle Sloan. The documentary covered the roots of the Crips and Bloods, gang warfare and mass incarceration in California.
Another former OG shotcaller from Eight Trey who now works in construction, speculated about why the 1992 truce was so brief:” no guidance, and on-going arguments initiated by gang members who were not happy with the truce and kept petty stuff going.”
Some gang members became outraged because they believed funds for jobs and training were intercepted or otherwise diverted by crooked activists and politicians, who profited from the carnage and violence of the riots by pocketing donations destined for the community.
But according to OW research, there was no official word from government sources that the gangs would directly recieve money; there was public and private funds allocated for rebuilding, after the civil unrest.
However, many gang members who were interviewed believe that the blame as to why the truce was not as effective or as long lasting as many wanted falls squarely in the laps of the gangbangers. On the other hand, about, a third of the OGs believe some police officers enjoyed the overtime and kept stuff going to undermine it; they referred to it as the gang economy.
Many OGs believe whenever there is a truce, gang members are able to make money, including: selling drugs, building and selling custom cars and Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Two emergency room physicians, Dr. Gary Ordog and Dr. William Shoemaker, also compiled research after the 1992 truce, entitled “Gunshot Wounds (GSW) Seen at a County Hospital before and after a Riot and Gang Truce.” The research focused on emergency room gunshot wound victims at south Los Angeles hospitals before and after the 1992 riots. According to the study, “During the 1992 gang truce between the Bloods and the Crips, gunshot wounds decreased in the numbers of victims seen at trauma centers in Los Angeles.
The study conducted by the two physicians revealed that the positive effects of the truce lasted only three months, after which the number of GSW victims increased beyond what it was before the truce. The study concluded that the subsequent increase in GSW victims “negated any positive effect of the gang truce and after the truce
Ed Maguire a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, who specializes in policy-relevant research focusing primarily on policing and violence both in the U.S. and abroad, in 2013 published a report for the Woodrow Wilson International for Scholars, a think tank in Washington, D.C., that found similar results. “Research, Theory, and Speculation on Gang Truces” confirmed the findings of the physicians’ study: A gang truce will last on average a total of three months, before gang members return to a level of violence higher than pre-gang truce conditions. Sometimes post-truce homicides even doubled. The study found that results were the same for truces in Chicago in 1995 and very similar internationally in Tobago and Tobago.
Another finding of the gang truce study was the violence increased after the truce. Because Maguire felt that gang dialogue during truce meetings create new rivalries between gangs members, the truce broke down.
Anthony Burnett a former Gang Reduction & Youth Development (GRYD) staff member believes gang truces do last longer than an average of three months. He referenced the Watts Treaty, which he claims lasted five years. The Watts Truce was a peace agreement among rival street gangs in the community of Watts. It was active just before the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
After 20 years, warfare waged across the public housing projects of the Grape Street Crips from the Jordan Downs Projects, the P Jay Watts Crips from the Imperial Courts, and the Bounty Hunter Bloods from the Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects leaders from the groups met in the Imperial Courts Project gym to negotiate peace. Football legend and activist Jim Brown, and hip-hop artist the West Coast Rap All-Stars helped the rivals to negotiate the peace agreement. The factions would go on to draft a formal peace treaty modeled on a previous cease fire reached between Egypt and Israel.
What’s interesting about the Watts Treaty is that an OG who lives in Watts as a youngster, may attended the same grade schools at one time or another as gangsters from another faction. It was very common for a family to live in the Nickersons, and if a better unit became available in Jordon Downs and your mother was next on the list; you moved. So, now you know kids from Jordan Downs Projects and Nickersons. “We interacted through community programs like WLCAC, we were connected,” said an OG.
“Everyone knew each other in Watts. Some rivals discovered during the Watts Truce that family members were rival gang members, and then a lot of guys were making money and gang wars are bad for business, especially due to the close proximity of Watts gangs.”
There have been several attempts to form a stable gang truce since the 1992 truce. In 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2004 however, they all turned out to be cease fires with the individuals involved being unable to reach an agreement. Many involved blame the government’s unwillingness to improve gang-infested neighborhoods.
An article ran in the New York Times (1994) described how $500 million in corporate donations were promised to rebuild L.A. and give gang-ridden neighborhoods some type of infrastructure. According to OGs interviewed, “the money did not come, and nor did peace.”