On L.A. streets, precarious peace // Gang unity faces tough test of time
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
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
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
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
CUTLINE:JOINING RANKS IN SOUTH CENTRAL: De'Andra, left, of the
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