L.A. Peacemaker Darren 'Bo' Taylor Dies At 42

The man who brokered a truce between warring Los Angeles street gangs after the city's 1992 riots has died of cancer. Darren "Bo" Taylor was a former member of the Crips and suffered multiple gunshot wounds while dealing drugs. He later became one of L.A.'s most effective voices for helping others leave gang life.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Los Angeles has lost a peacemaker, a man who saw the worst side of L.A. and tried to fix it. This week, Darren Bo Taylor died of cancer at the age of 42. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this remembrance.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: As a member of the Crips street gang, Bo Taylor dealt drugs and got shot at repeatedly, but after the L.A. riots in 1992, Taylor had what he called a spiritual awakening.

In an interview last year, he told me that's when he decided to create his group, Unity One, that helped negotiate a cease-fire between warring gang-bangers.

Mr. DARREN BO TAYLOR (Founder, Unity One): In my heart, I wanted us to all get together to stop the killing. It was just too much. You know, I was tired of it. I mean, I been to over 200 funerals. I'm just - at some point, you begin - you get numb to it. I couldn't cry no more.

DEL BARCO: Taylor worked in the streets, the jails and City Hall as a peace activist, and he had something many others didn't: street cred.

Ms. CONNIE RICE(ph) (Civil-rights Attorney): He could talk to presidents of countries, and he could talk to P Stone Crips who were still in prison, and that's rare.

DEL BARCO: Civil-rights attorney Connie Rice says Taylor helped her draft city policies to prevent gang violence. She says Taylor was an extraordinary motivator for gang-bangers.

Ms. RICE: He tried to get them to understand why they behaved the way they did, why it was wrong and how they could change because he had changed, and he was telling them grow up, stop this madness, time to be men. And he could talk to Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, police. He could cross all of those silos(ph) and bridge all of those worlds.

Sheriff LEE BACA (Los Angeles County): You know, I loved Bo Taylor. We were friends, and we worked together, as well.

DEL BARCO: L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca says he got to know Taylor's work in the county jails and prisons, where he taught life-management skills to thousands of inmates.

Sheriff BACA: I really admired his ability to balance and consider points of view, not only of the street people, but of law enforcement as well. And that's why we in the Sheriff's Department trust him. You know, we love him. We think he really stood up for what's right.

DEL BARCO: Last year, Taylor brought his mediating skills to the airwaves of a popular R&B radio station.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Unidentified Man #1: "The Bo Taylor Show."

Unidentified Woman: "The Bo Taylor Show."

Unidentified Man #2: Bo Taylor.

DEL BARCO: Bo Taylor's midnight show was part therapy session, part community hotline. His callers ranged from prisoners to victims to police, prompting some fans to call him the Dr. Phil of the gang world.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Mr. TAYLOR: Over the next two hours, we're going to take a little break. We're going to pause for the cause.

DEL BARCO: In his final days, the bald, tattooed 42-year-old faced his greatest battle - with cancer. The last time I saw him, in May, he was meeting with other veteran gang interventionists in South L.A.

Mr. TAYLOR: It's been a long time, man. Wiz(ph), Nugget(ph), I see you all.

DEL BARCO: The former rivals were forming an academy for gang interventionists, and though Taylor had just endured another bout of chemotherapy, he gave an impassioned speech.

Mr. TAYLOR: What are we going to pass down to the next generation? Is it just a world of violence and corruption and craziness, or are we going to pass down some tools that they can use to survive? Our city is waiting on us. Our city is depending on all of us.

This state, this country is depending - believe it or not, this whole country is depending on what comes out of this room. There's a lot of people dying, man, that don't have to.

DEL BARCO: When he was finished speaking, even the toughest ex-gang-banger in the room had tears in his eyes. This morning, they plan to gather once again to remember their friend, Bo Taylor. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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