An interview with Twilight Bey, a former gang member involved in negotiating the truce, on the LA gang truce and uprising of 1992. This interview was first conducted on the 10-year anniversary of the uprising in April 2002, and was archived at indybay.org.
Davey D: Ten years ago the city of Los Angeles erupted in reaction to the acquittal of 4 white police officers who were on trial for the beating of Rodney King. More then 50 fires burned throughout LA as all sorts of people looted stores. Numerous people were killed and hundreds were injured. The National Guard was called in. A state of emergency was declared and all sorts of drama unfolded. One of the underplayed stories surrounding the LA Uprisings was the resulting Gang Truce. First it was between the Crips and Bloods, and the truce later spread between rival Mexican Gangs.
Today we are talking to one of the key people who was deeply involved in all this… His name is Twilight Bey, a former gang member who was the inspiration for a play and a documentary by Anna Deavere Smith about the LA Uprisings called Twilight LA. First of all, welcome to our show. Second, let's acknowledge that you don’t like to refer to April 29th as the 10-year anniversary of the Rodney King verdict. Instead you prefer to say, this is a 10-year Progress Report.
Davey D: Well, that makes sense because apparently there is still a lot of work to be done. Let’s go back into time for people who don’t know. We have a lot of listeners who are 18-19 years old who were real young when all this went down. Many don’t have a complete understanding as to why and how LA erupted. What led up to the LA Uprisings of April 29 1992?
Twilight: Well in Los Angeles for quite some time, people had been subjected to various levels of police brutality. As for me I too had been a victim of police brutality on several occasions as a teenager growing up in Watts. I can remember going back to a time when I was 15-16 years of age… I’m 32 now. Back then me and my friends would be walking down the streets and the police would come through tripping. After each incident we would find ourselves saying ‘You know one day this place is going to blow up because people are getting tired of this.'
Davey D: When you say ‘the police were tripping’, exactly what do you mean? What sort of abuse were you guys dealing with?
Twilight: One of the things that would always happen is they would stop you and ask you ‘what gang are you from?’ If you told them you don’t bang they would ignore you and say…. In some cases, if you had a snappy answer and by that I mean, if you were quick and to the point and had one word answers they would get up in your face and grab your collar, push you up against the police car and choke you. Or they would call us over and tell us to put our hands up and place them on the hood of the police car. Now usually the car had been running all day, which meant that the engine was hot. So the car is burning our hands which meant that we would have to remove our hands from the car. When that happened, the police would accuse of us of not cooperating. Next thing you know you would get pushed in the back or knocked over. We would tell the police that what they were doing wasn’t necessary.
You have to remember most of us at that time were between the ages 12 and 16. Just a year ago when we were 10-11 and playing in the sheriffs' basketball league where they would treat us like little kids. A year later when we are close to being teenagers we are suddenly being treated with all this abuse.
In a lot of cases you had kids who had chosen never to be a gang member or even think about joining a gang. The police would come through and just assume because you lived in a certain area. If you told them you weren’t in a gang, they would look at whatever graffiti was written on the wall and put you on record as being a part of that gang.
Now you had other cats who were actually in gangs who the police would pick up and drop them off in a rival gang’s neighborhood. They would announce over the loud speaker so everyone would know that a rival gang member was in the neighborhood and they would drive off and leave you there. You had to make it back home the best way you know how.
This was the types of things that were taking place all the time throughout the 80s, up into the 90s. It was constant police brutality. People simply got tired of that…
You know it's funny because a lot of people look at the Rodney King verdict as the reason behind the uprisings. I always tell them, if you were on the ground here in Watts and South Central you would know that it was more than just Rodney King that led to the eruptions.
Davey D: From what you described, it sounds like there was a plan in action to make sure that young Black kids growing up in LA would be confronted by the police early on. It seems like it was some sort of sick rites of passage so that by the time you became a grown man you knew to never cross that line with the police.
Twilight: Yes, that’s exactly what it was- It was some sort of social conditioning. Instilling fear is the strongest motivation that this world has to use. It’s also the most negative. It creates a conditioning that I don’t think anyone in the world should support because Fear Motivation brings about all sorts of other things that can be deemed negative. What I mean by that is, if you are constantly being pushed into a corner where you are afraid, you’re going to get to a point where you one day won’t be. Eventually one day you will fight back. Eventually one day you will push back. When you push back what is going to be the end result? How far will this go? These were the types of things people were dealing with.
Another thing that I like to always point out was that in 1988 Bloods and Crips started their peace talks.
Davey D: Man, so they started the trying to bring about a Gang Truce several years before the Rodney King verdict?
Twilight: Oh yeah. If people went back and checked the archives of local news media here in Los Angeles they would see that Bloods and Crips were talking in ‘88. The Bloods and Crips continued to talk and continued to strive for change coming forward. There were many things that took place between ‘88 and ‘92. For example, there were many ‘mysterious’ shootings that took place. There were all these mysterious shootings where the same car was described as being involved and the same description for the individuals doing the shooting inside the car. This car was always moving however who ever the individual or individuals that were doing all this shooting, was always capable of hitting his target.
When the word would go out that there was a meeting or summit taking place and cats was sitting at the table talking, you most definitely could see that the streets were a little calmer. When this was happening somebody would suddenly have to fan the flames and kick things back up.
Back then when we would bring this up, people would respond by saying if the police are behind all these shootings and instigating things, where’s the evidence? Who would’ve thought back then that the Rampart Scandal would ever be exposed? There was just so much that was taking place. Here it is, cats was constantly trying to deal with our issues and our community. Daryl Gates was in office as LA Police Chief where he instituted Operation Hammer. He would have police roll through the hood and basically beat brothas up. Brothas were getting slammed every day. Cats were trying to get their lives together, but how can you do that when you’re constantly being abused and you live in a community that has certain types of politically motivated, economic embargoes that keep you from having industry? How can you do that when these conditions results in you being locked into an underground economy where everyone wants to call you a criminal?
Davey D: Up to this point, you’ve been speaking on the types of police abuse that led up to the LA Uprisings. Was this abuse coming at the hands of all police including African American officers? I ask this because by the 1992, there had been attempts to diversify the police force, so one would think that with more Black officers there wouldn’t be as much abuse…
Twilight: If anybody ever listens to the verbal newspapers that we call rap, you would see that rappers like NWA, Ice Cube, Ice T and others clearly spelled things out when they would rap; ‘Don’t let it be a Black and a white one’...Why? Because the Black officer is going to beat you down to show off for the white cop. He wants to show that there’s no loyalty to his people. He wants to show that just because he’s Black doesn’t mean that he not going to be like everyone else on the force. It’s the greatest sense of betrayal. Not just against your own people, but against your own humanity. It’s a great betrayal not to stand up for what is decent, right and just.
Davey D: Everybody had a chance to see the footage of Rodney King being beaten. It seemed like an open and shut case. Did the people in your South Central community have the same feeling? Did they put a lot of hope and have high expectations that the system would work and justice would be served? Did they believe that these 4 officers would go to jail?
Twilight: It’s funny because when I think back, I remember being in the neighborhood kickin’ it with the homies and talking about the situation. We were like ‘Yeah, they finally caught them on tape. Now they’re gonna get what they got coming to them’. This was the attitude of people in the neighborhood. Finally they got caught on tape. For years that type of abuse had been taking place and no body outside our community would believe it. Nobody even seemed to care. A lot of us felt like something was going to happen. We felt like finally the police were going to get what they had coming.
You have to remember it wasn’t just the Rodney King situation. When that acquittal verdict came down it came on the heels of the Latasha Harlans case. It was like gasoline being tossed on something that was already simmering. Latasha Harlans was an honor roll student who was killed by a Korean grocer as she was on her way to school. She was murdered in cold blood. Not only did the grocer get a chance to be bailed out of jail, but also she was only given 5 years probation and she was allowed to leave the country. That was unheard of in any murder case I had ever seen.
What was really cold about the whole thing was that on the same day of the Latasha Harlan’s verdict, on a different floor in the courtroom, a white man was sentenced to more time for abusing his dog than this woman got for killing this young Black girl. This man had to do jail time. This woman got probation and was allowed to leave the country. It said to us that a dog’s life was worth more than a Black child’s life. This is what people were looking at. This is what people were paying attention to. So people were hot but willing to wait and see how things played out with the Rodney King verdict. We wanted to see if they were going to continue to push this line of no respect and true understanding of humanity when it comes to dealing with African Americans. After the verdict we saw exactly what they felt about us.
I tell people all the time, that’s one of the things we have to look at in regards to the unresolved Black question of African people in America. Who are we? What are we? Do we not have the right to determine our own future and our own destiny? I think we have to re-look at these things because we continue to exist in a country that has no respect or loyalty towards us. Yet they wanna use us for everything—to fight in their wars, prison labor. We’re used as bullet catchers in their military. This is the reality of our existence here. How long are we going to continue to deal with that? All of those years of abuse, The Latasha Harlans situation and the Rodney King verdict are all the things that galvanized the community.
Nowhere in the media did you hear about the Bloods and Crips marching into Los Angeles’ City Council meeting the night before the verdict. The day before the Civil unrest, 500 Bloods and Crips from all over LA county went down to City Hall to address the city council and demand the right to be respected. We demanded a fair opportunity to participate in the mainstream so we could be better fathers for our children and provide for our families. We demanded that the type of demonization that we had been subjected to had to stop.
Davey D: Wow, I had not heard about the march on City Hall. What was the City Council’s reaction to seeing all those Bloods and Crips united? Also why didn’t the local papers cover it?
Twilight: I’m not sure why the local newspapers didn’t cover it. One thing I do know is that when it comes to this 10-Year Progress Report, I have to give the whole situation a D minus and that’s being nice. Because even back then the City Council acted like they did not have a concern in the world. It didn’t matter to them. They were like ‘Ok so you guys want access?’ But no access was ever given. So the next day after they showed their unconcern and the verdict comes down and the community blows up and everything goes crazy, people acted on their frustrations. People showed their discontent.
You know it’s interesting because today people talk about Palestine and the war tactic they use of suicide bombings. It’s the ultimate level of showing your discontent. The disbelief of the conditions that you are living in leads you to destroy yourself, let alone your own community. So what I seen taking place back then and what I see taking place today in Palestine, to me it’s the same thing. When people have no other way to show their discontent then they use whatever is most effective. And what is most effective in some cases is theoretic acts of outrage and tearing down and destroying everything that is around you to let people know that if I can’t have peace, if I can’t have access and participate in the mainstream then there is nothing else here for me. Nothing else matters.
Davey D: Explain what happened with the gangs after the LA Uprisings. Did it accelerate the peace process?
Twilight: Well as I said before, in the community that I’m from which is Watts, peace talks had been taking place since ‘88. I was one of the ambassadors if I can be called that, who was at the meetings representing my community. In fact I was one who extended my hand to my so-called rivals and said ‘yes we can have peace’, that sent shock waves through the community, the prison system and the rest of the country. At that time it wasn’t a popular thing to do. There was a lot of backlash to it. There were a lot of guys in prison who had their objections to it. But my point in doing this was the fact that we had been living this lifestyle under certain conditions and it hadn’t shown anything that was being productive.
After learning and studying and coming to a greater understanding of who and what I was, I realized that I had been manipulated into a culture. I had been manipulated into destroying myself. It’s sort of like the children of South Africa who are kidnapped from their villages and trained by the South African regime and then sent back into their community as agents to destroy the movement of the South Africans for liberation. Today it’s the same situation except they didn’t take our physical bodies, but they took our mental minds.
So here we are fighting and trying to build peace and bring things forward. The community of Watts established this communication. Bloods and Crips were marching through one another’s neighborhoods. There was a core group of individuals Dawul Sherrel, Akila Sherrel, cats from Nickerson Gardens and all these other big powerful neighborhoods in Watts were basically working together and communicating. This was starting to spill over into Compton and South Central Los Angeles where leadership from those neighborhoods were coming to the table and giving this peace process a chance.
I myself was invited to Crip meetings were I saw the rival neighborhoods to my neighborhood. I would be there incognito, dressed down so nobody could tell who I was until the dudes who invited me told the cats I was somebody who they should listen to. I would use the opportunity to try and inspire that neighborhood to get involved in the peace process. So what happened was Watts had already made its mind up. This peace thing was going to happen. Circle City Pirus, Nickerson Gardens Bounty Hunters, Imperial Courts PJ Watts Crips, The Jordan Down Grape Street Watts Crips were the 4 neighborhoods that came together. It was three housing developments and one residential community which were and still are among the most influential neighborhoods in Watts who decided to come together and say ‘Yes we gonna do this’.
After the signing of that cease-fire agreement, after coming together and going through the neighborhoods and saying this is going to be a reality, the next day the Rodney King situation blew up. What you had was individuals who had been in communication since ‘88 coming out. Those neighborhoods that were still walking a fine line as to whether or not they wanted to be with this, for a moment had to stick their hand in this. They said ‘Ok we wanna do this man. We’ve been looking at the conditions on how they are treating us and we wanna be a part of this.’ So that’s what you had taking place. There were some neighborhoods that already had the conviction in their hearts and they were dedicated to doing it. Once they made this a reality the other neighborhoods that were kind of skeptical most definitely came in after the Rodney King verdict.
Davey D: You earlier you mentioned you are 32 years old, which meant you were still pretty young back in ‘92 when the Uprisings took place. You were even younger when the initial Gang peace talks started. How did you manage to get all this knowledge so that you could turn your life around?
Twilight: I know for me the first motivation was my will to live was restored to me because in that lifestyle and being a part of it there’s a lot of hate in the hearts of the children. We had a lot of hate in our hearts. The hate was rooted in the dysfunctionalism of our families, our schools, communities and the police. We had all of this hate and nowhere to release it in a positive way. Our hate would manifest itself in the form of violence. You could only go that way but for so long.
My will to live was restored when I was told I was going to be a father. That was a key thing for me, because a large part of why I felt so much anger was because I felt betrayed by my father. At the same time I realized that if I was going to be a father then I did not wanna betray my child. I did not want to allow conditions to keep me from being productive with my child. So I knew I wanted peace, but I just couldn’t go for it. Everybody had to buy into it.
At the same time the verbal newspapers called Rap were bombarding the community with Public Enemy and groups like X-Clan. Rappers in those days did a lot to try and educate. When I say educate, I mean they did a lot to try and draw out the understanding within a person of their own abilities and the conditions in which they live in. This would help them determine ways of surviving. This is not the type of training that we get in high school and colleges. Instead it’s education that lets you know ‘This is who you are’, ‘This is the community that you live in’, ‘This is the governmental structure that you live under’ and ‘These are the conditions of that governmental structure’. Its foundation is white supremacy. If you are a non-white person then you will be targeted for various types of negative activity and pressure. How do you combat that?
After understanding some of these things I got deeper into my own knowledge as to who I was. I became even more inspired after reading ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’. I started to want to know even more so I started talking with the OGs of the different neighborhood. I began asking ‘What is the history of our neighborhoods? Where did the Bloods and Pirus come from? Where did the Crips come from?' I kept seeking all this information. It was a two-year massive study after coming out of high school at 18 up until I was 20 years old. It was constant study, constant research and constant seeking.
Davey D: The whole history of gangs in LA is rich. They just didn’t start out trying to kill one another. If I recall correctly they formed to protect their neighborhood against marauding bands of whites who would raid Black neighborhoods. Can you give a break down?
Twilight: Yes that’s exactly the facts. A lot of these gangs or social clubs as they were once called like the Gladiators, the Farmers, and Rebel Rousers, formed to protect themselves from white gangs called the Spook Hunters who would come into Watts and attack Black people. So early on these people formed these social clubs to protect themselves. Back then the violence perpetuated by the supremacist race soldiers known posing as police officers was even more extensive. So when you were in a group you felt more protected.
Davey D: Now we’re talking about t he1960s right?
Twilight: Exactly. Now here it is right around all this time you have the Martin Luther King situation and the Malcolm X situation where our people were assassinated. Then you had the Black Panthers Party for Self-Defense come on the scene. They were pushing survival programs. They were looking at the condition of the community and addressing those conditions. They soon became heroes to the people. Of course young people, who were already motivated to try and protect themselves and do what was right, gravitated toward that.
Now there was one other component that was very important that led to the destruction of our communities and that was the Vietnam War. We call it the birth and the death. It was the death of the old gangs like the Gladiators and the Rebel Rousers because many of them were drafted into the war. Those who did not go away for war became Panthers or they joined The US organization. Basically you had a new breed of youth organizations coming up with the birth of The Brims, The Pirus, Crips. When these organizations started to sprout up they looked at the conditions of the community and tried to do things to change it. They were becoming more and more influenced.
Davey D: Now we’re talking about the early 70s?
Twilight: Right. They were becoming more and more influenced by the struggles of the Black Panther Party and The US Organization. One of the early members of the Crips went by the name Little Bunchy. He was Little Bunchy Carter who former president of The Watts chapter of the Black Panther Party. The crew that he came out of was the Eastside Crips and they called themselves Baby Panthers.
Now there was an infamous situation at the Palladium where Bunchy was accused of beating down some dude for a leather jacket. That’s how the newspapers reported it. But the truth of the matter was dude got smashed on because he was selling drugs wearing a leather jacket and pretending he was a panther.
Davey D: You know it's interesting that you mention Bunchy Carter who was eventually killed, because he his life seems to parallel another famous Panther who was killed that year. It was Fred Hampton who headed up the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther. From the way it appears, both Fred and Bunchy had great rapport and respect from the street gangs. It seems like just as they were gaining momentum and succeeding in re-focusing the energy of the gangs onto something positive, they both got killed. The obvious question is was that by coincidence or was there something else at play?
Twilight: Oh no it was definitely part of a bigger plan called Cointel-Pro. That was the Counter Intelligence Program that was orchestrated and put into power by the head of the FBI J Edgar Hoover. Basically all resources that America had at that time was directed to disrupt, discredit and destroy organizations like the Panthers. J Edgar Hoover used the FBI to hunt down the Panthers like dogs on the streets. They were being run out of the country.
Some were sent to jail for crimes they didn’t commit like Geronimo Pratt who just recently released from prison. The influence these guys yielded over the young people in the community at that time was unbelievable. But at the same time, this counter intelligence program was set up to come in and manipulate tension between the US organization and the Black Panther Party. There was infiltration of these organizations by FBI Agents. All this counter intelligence activity goes all the way back to the Marcus Garvey Movement where they had a Black man with the code ‘Agent 800’ who did counter intelligence. It kind of sounds like the malt liquor. He came to destroy.
So this counter intelligence program is not something new. It was all about Divide and Conquer. It was all about conceal, manipulate and displace. So this was the situation people were being subjected to. With the collapse of the Black Panther Party and the orchestrated conflict between them and the US Organization, it adversely effected the young people who were being influenced by them. You can almost go along the lines of where the US Organization and the Black Panther Party existed in the community and find some conflicts that are rooted in some of the gang situations right now. I tell people to remember that when they go back and look at the history that Bloods and Crips will come to an understanding that we were on a certain page and moving in a certain direction and someone came in, dismantled that and installed something new. They stripped out the program for liberation and freedom and inserted a program for self-destruction and distrust. The end result of all of that is what we see today with the gang phenomenon and the gang wars.
This was compounded as we went into the late 70s and had all the Blaxploitation Films, which effected the minds of the young people dramatically. You had individuals returning from the Vietnam War with drug addictions that they brought back from the battlefield where they were trying to deal all the drama. At the same time you had an influx of drugs into the community to destabilize the effects of the Black Panther Party on the community.
Finally, you had the politically motivated economic embargo against industrial urban centers of America. All of a sudden the taxes were raised so high that to function within these urban centers that all the industries moved out and onto the suburbs and rural areas. So here you had all these people who had migrated from the south into these big cities for the jobs. Now early on they didn’t have too much competition because many whites were away fighting in the war. So here it is, the whites are coming home, the war is over, people are frustrated and tired, there were lots of uprisings… Nothing is by coincidence. This was all planned.