Crips and Bloods begin the most extensive peace talks since riots
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 ceasefire.
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.”
The cease-fire talks in Compton were part of an audacious effort by Los Angelesarea 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 long-running 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.”
The spark that ignites a war can be small — a disrespectful word or jealousy over a woman. Someone is killed, grief fuels revenge, and the back-and-forth begins.
To create peace, each gang must broker agreements with its main enemies while building a critical mass of support within its own ranks. In the L.A. area, Crips and Bloods war among themselves as much as with the opposing color.
Among the questions that have arisen: Should gas stations and 7-Elevens in rival territory be off-limits? What is the punishment for violating a cease-fire?
For the Swamp Crips and Campanella Park Pirus, the meeting in the park was just the beginning.
When Laurence “Boogalue” Cartwright’s phone rang, it was someone from the Swamps. People were talking crazy on the internet.
“The other side’s been hitting me, like, ‘I got my homies under control. What’s wrong with your little homies?’” recalled Cartwright, a Campanella Park Piru.
Cartwright told the Swamps to let the man vent and see if the provocative social media posts would subside.
Among the Campanellas, some people wanted to teach the young man a lesson by beating him up. Cartwright stopped them, then convinced the man that real gangsters don’t put their business on the internet.