Since Nipsey Hussle’s death, the Crips and the Bloods have begun the most extensive peace talks since 1992.
BY NICOLE SANTA CRUZ AND CINDY CHANG
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
LOS ANGELES – The men arrived in twos and threes, Crips and Bloods, young and middle-aged, gathering around a picnic table in a Compton park to confront their sworn enemies.
After two hours of negotiations on a chilly, overcast Saturday in April, they came to an agreement — not a truce, exactly, but a tentative cease-fire.
The losses had been heavy, with nearly a dozen dead on each side. It was too soon to talk friendship.
But at least the Swamp Crips and the Bloods-affiliated Campanella Park Pirus could agree to stay away from each other’s territory and stop shooting at people.
“It’s a troubled past. A lot occurred, and we can’t heal that fast,” said Lamar “Crocodile” Robinson, 46, a Swamp Crip. “But it’s important for us to take the initiative and school the youngsters on what’s at stake and what they can gain.”
“Killing Nipsey Hussle only birthed a hundred more. Imagine if Black people didn’t kill each other no more.”
– Laurence “Boogalue” Cartwright
The cease-fire talks in Compton were part of an audacious effort by Los Angeles-area gang leaders to curtail violence in their own ranks following the killing of rapper, activist and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle, whose influence extended beyond hip-hop culture to the realms of business and politics.
Unique among artists of his stature, Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, remained embedded in his South Los Angeles community, and his biography — a gang-affiliated, tattooed Black man pulled into street life before attaining stardom — resonated with young gang members.
Hussle spoke openly of his membership in the widely feared Rollin’ 60s Crips while setting an example by performing with rappers who were Bloods.
Leaders of the peace movement say the outpouring of grief after Hussle’s March 31 death has made it easier to convince others that the cycle of violence needs to stop.
Not since the landmark truces of 1992, which followed the devastation of the L.A. riots, has such a concerted wave of peacemaking swept through the area’s hundreds of Black gangs.
“We’re going to carry what Nipsey wanted, what he was trying to preach in his songs,” said Shamond “Lil AD” Bennett, 38, of the Rollin’ 60s. “It don’t make no sense that you’re fighting over a block that you don’t own.”
Starting with a cross-section of gangs marching together at a memorial for Hussle and continuing with summits in L.A. and Compton attended by dozens of gang leaders, the movement has already yielded tangible results.
The Rollin’ 40s Crips are deep into cease-fire talks with the Rollin’ 60s, despite a war dating to 2013 and the killing of a prominent 40s elder last summer.
The Van Ness Gangsters recently held a family-friendly “hood day,” including bounce houses for kids — a departure from the unruly color-strutting that is characteristic of such celebrations.
As with world diplomacy, there is no such thing as global peace among L.A. gangs, with their longrunning feuds and complex alliances.
Advocates for peace say that even if only a few beefs are put to rest for a short time, lives will be saved.
“We’re going to still be Bloods. They’re going to still be Crips,” said Melinda Lockhart, 49, an organizer of the May 4 hood day at Van Ness Park. “But put the guns down and let’s live.”
A key to peace, many say, is to get buy-in from gang members in their teens and early 20s who are not inclined to bow to authority, even within their own organizations.
An open vigil
As mourners thronged Hussle’s Marathon Clothing store the Friday after his death, Eugene “Big U” Henley issued an invitation.
All gang members, Crips and Bloods alike, were welcome to attend a vigil at the store that afternoon, the well-known rap impresario, community activist and Rollin’ 60s OG said in an Instagram video.
A video of the vigil shows dozens of gang members marching somberly toward the store. Afterward, people in red posed for photos next to others in blue.
The peacemaking has continued since then, with large-scale meetings as well as behind-the-scenes negotiations between warring sets.
An online flyer advertising weekly Thursday meetings for L.A. gang members states that the goal is to “orchestrate a non-aggression agreement, NOT a truce or peace treaty.”
Weekly peace meetings are also taking place among gangs east of the Harbor Freeway, with leaders trying to stem provocative actions such as gang graffiti, said Charles “Bear” Spratley of the East Coast Crips.
Because the cease-fire talks are just beginning and the number of gang conflicts is so immense, it is too soon to establish a link to recent decreases in violence.
Dip in homicides
This year in L.A., homicides have dipped slightly, while shootings were up 12% from the same time last year. Gun violence has lessened since a surge in March that stemmed primarily from gang feuds in South L.A. But the city is entering the summer months, when conflicts often heat up.
The Compton area has been relatively quiet in the last few months, in a year that began violently. Through the end of April, there were 11 homicides in Compton, compared with seven in the same period last year.
Other experts are skeptical. The gang world is too complicated, with too many individual interests to appease, for ill feelings to be completely suppressed, said Wayne Caffey, a veteran LAPD detective.
“I just don’t have any faith,” Caffey said. “You didn’t talk to this clique or that dude — how are you going to bring anybody together?”
The toll of gun violence is apparent in Laurence “Boogalue” Cartwright’s limp.
Once a promising running back and sprinter, he was shot and paralyzed when he was 15.
After two years of physical therapy, he regained enough movement in his legs to manage a bowlegged gait. He cannot stand for long without leaning against something.
Deprived of a future as an athlete, he veered more sharply to the gang life. A few years later, he was shot again, this time outside the front gate of his Compton apartment complex. A thick scar is visible on the back of his neck.
The depth of his previous involvement in the Campanella Park Pirus gives him the credibility to advocate for peace with younger gang members.
“I used to really live this life, to really, really be out here,” said Cartwright, 30, a music producer and rapper. “So when it came to do something like this, it was only right that I was the right person to stand up for this.”
Soon after Hussle’s death, Cartwright and other Campanella Park leaders struck a cease-fire with the Nutty Blocc Crips.
Cartwright then focused on getting Compton’s many Piru sets on the same page before sitting down with more Crips.
But another leader from Campanella Park had a suggestion: Why wait? Why not kill our beef with our real enemy?
That led to the April 20 negotiations with the Swamp Crips.
“Anybody that’s real … and understand and been out here for a long time and lost people to death or lost somebody to jail, you tired of this,” Cartwright said. “Gangbanging ain’t never did nothing for none of us.
“None of us. This … ain’t never spoke up for me, got me out of situations in jail. This … done only cost me my brother’s life, my cousin’s life, my best friend’s life behind bars.”
Lamar “Crocodile” Robinson from the Swamp Crips said it was time for influential gang members to take action.
“I hear a lot of dudes saying, ‘Man, them little dudes ain’t going to go for that. Them youngsters ain’t going to go for that,’” he said. “Yes, they is. They’re either going to go for it or get the … up out of here.”
Some of the gang leaders he has tried to enlist in the peace effort have been pessimistic, claiming that their organizations aren’t structured enough to get on the same page.
“Man, look man. You dudes is main dudes,” Robinson said. “If I’m talking to you on the phone — I don’t mess with no suckers, man. If I’m talking to you on the phone, that means you’re in a position to do what’s necessary.”
Someone complained about Black gangs aligning with Latinos against other Black gangs. People stood up and began arguing.
The meeting disbanded with a suggestion that gang members should stop flashing hand signs at rivals.
Instead, they should nod and see if the other person nods back — a sign that both are onboard with the cease-fire movement.