In early July, Brother Tony Muhammad received a call that may have helped to change the trajectory of Los Angeles gangs forever. The call occurred days after the nation witnessed videos of police killing Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The disturbing footage served as another emotional reminder of how Blacks are still more prone to lose their life for simply being the wrong color.
Bro. Muhammad, who serves as the Western Regional Representative of the Nation of Islam, attempted to bring calm to the situation as rapper The Game vented his frustrations over police brutality within the Black community. According to Bro. Muhammad, The Game was prepared to put his career and life on the line to achieve justice. “The Game was very upset and he wanted to do something negative,” Bro. Muhammad recalls of his phone conversation. “I had him call Minister [Louis] Farrakhan and said, ‘No brother, that’s not what you need to do. There is a wiser way to do what you want to do.’ So after he called the Minister Farrakhan, he called me back and I said, ‘Game, this is what I want you to do. Get some of the other entertainers and go tell the police that you want to meet with them. Go shake their hand and, like a diplomat, represent your community.’ ”
The Game, who represents the Bloods gang, took a moment to contemplate his next move. He decided to call Snoop Dogg, a member of the Crips, and they devised a plan to bring all of the gangs together to march to LAPD headquarters.
Los Angeles Gangland
The gangs of Los Angeles are embedded in the culture of urban youth. With over 40 years in existence, the Bloods and the Crips are the best known gangs within the city. Although they both began as organizations that aimed to confront injustices within urban communities, they eventually became engulfed in crime and violence. The drug epidemic of the 1980s led to an increase of violence as gangs battled for prime territory. But by the 1990s and 2000s, the Bloods and Crips became more commercialized as West Coast rappers highlighted gang culture. Rappers across the nation began claiming Bloods and Crips while being shielded from the issues that poorer gang members faced on a daily basis. According to crime statistics compiled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, over 60 percent of homicides in the L.A. area were a result of gang violence. Indeed, a change was in order. “I’ve been blessed to be able to do this work for 20 years,” Bro. Muhammad said. “Many of the street organizations called gangs, trust me. I’ve buried a lot of their homies and talked to them. And now with the police shootings, the gang members are saying, ‘It’s time to stop the killings of us by us.’ We need Black unity.”
After Bro. Muhammad’s initial conversation with The Game, he joined Snoop Dogg and 50 other men who marched to the LAPD headquarters on the morning of July 8. The Game, Snoop Dogg, and Bro. Muhammad spoke with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Chief Charlie Beck and other top police officials. They spoke for 45 minutes and both sides were able to share their thoughts on how to bring peace to the community. The LAPD has a long history of police violence and racism within their department. It was a moment for The Game, Snoop, and Muhammad to express the displeasure felt by the Black and Brown communities for years.
“We told the police that we wanted a citizen’s review board, because they cannot police themselves and they refuse to do it,” Bro. Muhammad said. “So since we are the taxpayers, we have to demand a citizens review board. We want to come up with rules that if a firearm is used in our neighborhoods by police, we want to make sure that police are drug tested, and we want access to their files to see who is under psychiatric treatment. We need an oversight because we know that LAPD and other police won’t police themselves. But we need to have reputable Black people who will help us police the police officers. So instead of going to police officers, the community can come to us. We have to come up with a committee to help the LAPD see themselves better.”
The meeting with police officers was a first step with helping community relations. However, some gang members were appalled that The Game and Snoop would sit down with the police. “It was misunderstood by the streets,” Bro. Muhammad said. “So when I heard about the things that they were saying about The Game and Snoop, I sent out a call to all of the ‘hoods that I’ve been to and said, ‘it’s time for all of us to unite.’ ”
One week following The Game and Snoop’s meeting with authorities, Muhammad and the Nation of Islam held the United Hoods plus Gangs Nation peace and unity summit at Mosque #27. When Muhammad began the program, over 3,000 Bloods and Crips were on location. With all of the leaders of the top gangs present, they decided to call a truce and pledged for peace.
“They were voicing their opinion about what was needed and wanted,” Bro. Muhammad said. “They thought that I should go on a tour of every ‘hood. So I’m going to tour over 300 hundred ‘hoods. Secondly, they said, ‘Brother Tony, we need jobs, we ain’t got nothing to do.’ It’s almost like they’re not able to be hired. So we want to help train the guys so that they are able to be qualified for jobs. Those were really the two main things. So we’re getting it together and we’re going to take a page out of the United Nations and unify. We call it the United Hoods Nation and we have a set of rules and regulations. We want to stop the shooting. They shouldn’t be allowed to shoot at a park with children or near a school. We want to go to each ‘hood and make sure every ‘hood will come together and agree with a set of rules.”
A truce between the Bloods and the Crips occurred decades ago, but it didn’t last. Following the L.A. Riots of the early 1990s, leaders of the Bloods and Crips called a truce and the unity eventually fell apart. Bro. Muhammad believes that the recent truce will have more of a lasting impact.
“If it takes 100 years, we’re going to keep trying until it catches on,” Bro. Muhammad said. “What we learned in 1992 was that the police were a part of the dismantling of the gang truce … many undercover officers are gang members. And now there are guys in jail that are saying that they were used by police. So if we can get 350 ‘hoods to unite, we want to make sure that all ‘hoods are following the rules and consequences are set for those who break the rules. If you can forgive your 400-year-old enemy, you should be able to forgive the 20-year-old enemy who looks just like you.”
The L.A. gang truce has since inspired similar acts of gang unity around the country. Bro. Muhammad seeks to use this momentum to reach out to communities across the nation to build a better a future.
“The gangs in Baltimore, New York, Philly, Kansas City, St Louis, Chicago, Detroit and Washington, D.C., have reached out to me,” Bro. Muhammad says. “I’m going to go on tour after we package this thing in L.A. The mayor of Los Angeles told me that he and the city will provide whatever is needed. I’m going to hold him to that because once we get this agreement, we’re going to celebrate this peace day in Los Angeles. We’re going to have Hollywood back us and we want them to bring all the top artists and help us celebrate. This is just the beginning. We will do all we can to stop the shootings between the Bloods and Crips.”
Story by A.R. Shaw
Photos by Malcolm Ali