Tonight’s guests director Stacy Peralta (best known for his skate doc Dogtown and Z-Boys) and executive producer Gus Roxburgh have made one of the most thoughtful, insightful and certainly the least sensationalistic documentaries I have ever seen about gangs in Los Angeles, Crips and Bloods: Made in America. Available for viewing on Hulu.com, Crips and Bloods presents not only startling figures (from 1960 to 1998 in Northern Ireland, 3526 people were killed in sectarian violence, while in thirty years, LA gang warfare has killed 15,000), but also takes an intimate look at gang members past and present.
Released in 2008, Crips and Bloods talks to members of the Slausons, a club founded by South Central boys in the 1950s that eventually developed into a gang; they were denied the right to join the Boy Scouts because of their race. Racism is in fact at the foundation of gangs and gang violence in Los Angeles. Rather than the distinct segregation of the South, L.A. had covenants and restricted communities which denied Blacks the right to live pretty much anywhere but the section west of Alameda and only six miles south of Beverly Hills, but a whole world away.
While the area around Central Avenue was thriving pre- and post WW2, once the auto manufacturers left, so did the jobs. The downward economic spiral began, furthered by law enforcement’s brutality during the Watts riots and businesses fears of re-investing in the community. As national Black leaders were jailed or assassinated, and fathers left home (28 out 100 men incarcerated currently are Black), boys had no role models and the hopes and dreams of the earlier generations dissolved.
As one former gang member points out, the way of becoming a man once crack and guns hit South Central was to kill each other. Or at least try, and gang banging–if you survived–brought other problems–parolees had no job opportunities, and were only able to return to drug dealing and gang banging to support themselves and their families.
Many gang members past and present discuss their childhood and how hard their single mothers worked to support them, how their family members would stash drugs with them even as toddlers, and how having positive male role models around could have helped them and their community.
But things are shifting, hopefully for the best. One father in his late twenties says that when his young son told him he knew he was selling things to “dirty people, ” he made a decision to chose his family over his gang and worked to become a role model and a coach for young men.
After the 1992 riot, the city of Los Angeles made promises to South Central to help rebuild and improve the community. Despite millions of dollars pledged, nothing happened (though some nice trucks with logos were bought!). Out of that came somewhat of a truce, and a drop in gang violence; now instead of 400-500 killed annually in gang wars, the death toll for 2009 was under 200.
Private sector groups, including one led by former football great Jim Brown, are now in the communities, overcoming the red vs blue colors and gang boundaries to forge educational and economic possibilities, and most importantly, providing role models and opportunities for communication and social progress.