Crips And Bloods: Black American Gangs In Los Angeles
Throughout the twentieth century, two distinct periods of black American gang formation occurred in Los Angeles. The first was in the early 1940s until 1965, the second from 1970 continuing into the early 2000s. Between the early 1970s and 2000 black American street gangs steadily increased in numbers and membership.
During World War II, large numbers of black Americans migrated from the southern United States to Los Angeles for employment in the war industries, chiefly building aircraft. All-black communities in the central part of Los Angeles expanded. The first black gangs developed in the second half of the 1940s and 1950s in defense from white teenage gangs determined to attack and harass black youth.
By 1960 the black areas of central Los Angeles—Watts, Central Avenue, and West Adams—had grown together. Whites increasingly moved to the suburbs leaving the area predominately black. The interracial violence among black and white gangs turned into black versus black gangs. The western areas of the black communities were economically better off than the eastern half, so eastside gangs resented westside youths and fought west gangs. Most scuffles were hand-to-hand fights or with knives and tire irons. Murders rarely occurred. In 1960 only six gang-related murders occurred in all of Los Angeles County.
In 1965 poverty, unemployment, harsh Los Angeles police treatment of black Americans, and continuing discrimination boiled over into the Watts race riots the summer of 1965, when the police used batons on two black men being arrested. After the riots, the Watts community directed its youth into local clubs, looking for solutions to social injustices including police brutality. In 1965 the Civil Rights movement was gathering strength in Los Angeles. To lend support to civil rights activism, the Black Panther Party, a powerful black political organization, opened a chapter in central Los Angeles.
Viewed as a threat to the security of the nation, the FBI targeted the Panthers and other black organizations. The Los Angeles Panthers were greatly weakened and their political leadership dismantled. By 1970 Los Angeles youth had lost the adult leadership that had kept them working on community issues. Filling the void was a new gang organization period.
In 1969 fifteen-year-old Raymond Washington, a high school student of central Los Angeles, and a few friends formed a gang patterned after a 1960s gang called the Avenues. They named their gang the Baby Avenues and sometimes called themselves the Avenue Cribs, a reference to their young ages. The Cribs wore black leather jackets, earrings in their left ear, and often walked with canes. Before long, stealing and assaulting became the gang's chief activities.
Because of the canes used by gang members, a Los Angeles newspaper reporting on an assault called them the "Crips" for cripples. The Cribs latched onto the name Crips because a slang word crippin' meant robbing and stealing. Gang members lived the crippin' way of life, often stealing black leather jackets. The desire to obtain black leather jackets led to the first Crips murder in 1972. Crips attacked and murdered a sixteen-year-old Los Angeles high school student, a nongang youth and son of an attorney, for the leather jacket he was wearing. The murder, in addition to continuing Crips attacks, received sensational media coverage. To youth living in poverty, the gangs seemed to be a way to attract attention and through gang activity a way to prove manliness and power over others. More and more poor black youths joined Crips.
South Los Angeles schools were soon filled with gang fights and shootings. By the end of 1972 there were eight Crip gangs and ten others, which were responsible for twenty-nine gang-related murders. The Crips and other gangs were rivals, though the Crips outnumbered the others and constantly terrorized them. As a result, the non-Crips met on Piru Street in Compton and formed an alliance that became known as the Bloods. Los Angeles County reported thirty thousand gang members and 355 deaths in 1980.
By 1996 twenty-one communities in Los Angeles County had 274 gangs. Six communities—Los Angeles, Compton, Athens, Inglewood, Carson, and Long Beach—had 225 of the 274 gangs. The gangs were highly structured and focused on making money much like the American Mafia. The business of choice was drugs. By the 1990s the Los Angeles gang epidemic had expanded into urban areas along the West Coast and across the nation. Many of the gangs were extensions of the Bloods and Crips. Wherever unemployment, poverty, and racism existed, gangs could attract members.