On L.A. streets, precarious peace // Gang unity faces tough test of time

  Richard Price


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1992)


  LOS ANGELES - People call this the city of dreams, and maybe that explains

  what's been going on lately with Ivory Clemons.


  At 26, Clemons has spent most of his life in a war nobody much understands, a

  fight to the death between gangs of three public housing projects in south central

  Los Angeles - the Bloods of Nickerson Gardens and Crips gangs at Imperial

  Court and Jordan Downs.


  They've hated each other since they were on tricycles, slaughtered each other

  since puberty. They've killed by the hundreds and wounded by the thousands.

  They've pumped bullets into crowds of strangers. They've raced through the

  enemy's neighborhoods shooting in every house.


  Clemons, who lives at Nickerson, has been shot, stabbed, beaten and tortured.

  He's seen the other side, too.


  But something extraordinary happened April 29, the night riots broke out when

  four police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.


  While the city lay burning, hundreds of people from all three projects poured into

  the streets and walked to each others' neighborhoods in truce.


  No one is sure how long the truce might last. Drive-by shootings - like the ones

  Saturday night that left four dead - are sure to continue. But in the culture of

  these neighborhoods, it's significant any truce happened at all.


  ``It was a miracle,'' Clemons says. ``The world is a different place. We party

  together every night. I embrace fellas who tried to stab and shoot me. I go

  wherever I want. No one has to be afraid anymore.''


  Families separated for years because they lived in different projects have

  reunited. Men who killed each other's brothers share beers. The projects picnic

  together, filling fields and playgrounds by the thousands.


  They've even created new flags, linking rags of the three gang colors - red for

  Bloods, purple for Jordan Crips, blue for the Imperial Crips.


  But most significantly, the unity spirit shows signs of being infectious: In the

  days since the projects have come together, gangs from as far off as Long Beach

  have dropped in to see what unity looks like - and they like it.


  The result: In neighborhoods scattered across southern California, gangs that

  have been at war for years are starting to come together.


  ``It's definitely snowballing,'' says Charles Norman of the region's Community

  Youth Gang Services. ``Maybe these gangs are finally realizing that they have so

  much against them already - so much injustice and poverty and racism - that it

  makes no sense to fight each other, too.''


  But that underscores a sad side - maybe a dangerous one. For written in the faces

  of these gang members and their families is the expectation unity will solve their

  other problems.


  Talk is full of impending success. Maxine Russell says she'll open a child- care

  center. Anthony Jackson, a Broadway Gangster Crip, plans to do highway

  construction. Says gang member Charles Raschel: ``All we want is a part of the

  American dream.''


  Beatrice Clemons, Ivory's sister, is going to open a soul food restaurant. She'll

  call it Steven's Place, after a brother shotgunned to death last year.


  ``We're going to have something,'' she says. ``My kids aren't going to grow up as

  gang-bangers now.''


  Ivory Clemons believes so, too. ``This is a positive thing,'' he says. ``We can

  make south central Los Angeles look like Hollywood.''


  Maybe, but it's a difficult vision to grasp standing in Nickerson Gardens.


  It's a grid of fading, two-story apartment buildings, a noisy, busy, crowded place

  teeming with dirty-faced kids and weary-eyed adults. It's a place full of crime

  and drugs and dysfunctional families and despair, a place where caravans of cop

  cars are always rushing up narrow lanes, dragging somebody out, hauling them



  Fear generated by gang violence has been central to problems here, driving away

  charitable organizations, potential business investors and anyone else with a

  chance of helping. Outsiders, particularly whites, are terrified of this place and

  shun it. Police have been outmanned and outgunned.


  In many respects, gang unity offers some promise of a better life in these

  neighborhoods. But if their dreams go unfulfilled, what happens next?


  For years, the philosophies of Malcolm X and various revolutionaries have

  drifted through these neighborhoods. Message: Unite and conquer.


  ``Someday we're all gonna stop fighting among ourselves and come together,''

  promises an Avalon Garden Crip who uses the name C.K. Bone. ``And then

  we're going to rise to the top while the whites drop to the bottom.''


  Few paid much attention in the past. Now a nervous public is listening. And

  while they're hearing mostly positives from the unified gangs, there are some



  ``It's a bad time,'' says Mark Jackson, who lives on 71st Street. ``The five Crips

  gangs in our neighborhood have made peace with each other, and it's all about

  revenge against the police. They're ready to kill somebody. Somebody white.

  Somebody in a uniform.''


  Sorting through their street intelligence, the police response has been mixed. In

  the area where the original truce was born, they've mostly stayed away from the

  huge gatherings of newly united project residents.


  But on other streets, particularly in areas where rioting raged most fiercely,

  they've taken a tougher approach. Friday night, as members of two gangs were

  talking truce on 94th and Normandie, police showed up because there were open

  beer containers, and fighting broke out.


  Sunday, officers in more than a dozen squad cars stood by in case of problems at

  South Park, where gang members held a harmony picnic.


  ``We have this beautiful thing,'' gangster Rodney Beacon says. ``But the cops

  keep on hassling us, making things bad. They keep it up, and ... we're gonna bust



  Most observers bet that as riot memories fade, the unity movement will fizzle,

  too, throwing neighborhoods back into war among each other.


  But at Nickerson Gardens, at least for the moment, they're smiling.


  ``We're tired of all the killing,'' Clemons says. ``We've always wanted peace.

  Now that we have it, we won't let it go, and it will spread from here across the

  neighborhoods. I know it. I can feel it. From this moment on, only good things

  are going to happen.''


  About 12 million southern Californians hope he's right.


  Contributing: Jonathan Lovitt



  Crips and Little D, right, of the Bloods tie their gang bandanas together in a

  symbolic truce Sunday while non-gang-member Tattoo watches. CUTLINE:

  Ivory Clemons, outside Bloods housing project

  PHOTO;b/w,Chris Martinez,AP;PHOTO;b/w,Bob Riha Jr.,Gamma-Liaison