Tookie Williams and the History of the Crips
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
In a few minutes, a new reality TV show that focuses on the lowest life-form in Hollywood, the intern.
But first, next Tuesday morning, barring a stay of execution, Stanley "Tookie" Williams will be executed by the state of California for four murders. He's also earned notoriety for his role in the creation of the Los Angeles street gang the Crips. But as NPR's Mike Pesca reports, his role has at times been distorted by both law enforcement and by Williams himself.
MIKE PESCA reporting:
In Stanley "Tookie" Williams' autobiography and his many public statements and in government filings, he is said to be the co-founder of the Crips, the largest street gang in the country, indeed in the world, as you'll find young people calling themselves Crips in England and Africa. At this point Crips has become something of a brand name, exported through lore and gangsta rap. Malcolm Klein, a professor at the University of Southern California, has been studying street gangs for almost 40 years.
Professor MALCOLM KLEIN (University of Southern California): You're much better off thinking in terms of an umbrella, a term like `Democrats' or `Republicans' or `Americans.' And everybody assumes, because of the name, that this is one gang.
PESCA: It's not. In fact, Crips kill each other at three times the rate they kill their sworn enemies, the Bloods, according to retired Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff Wes McBride. McBride, who worked the gang detail for 28 years, says you can't think of the Crips as an organized crime syndicate, like the Mafia.
Former Deputy Sheriff WES McBRIDE (Retired, Los Angeles): They kind of have a philosophy of, `What's mine's mine, and what's yours is mine if I can get it.' Four guys--let's say you have a gang of a hundred, and four of them decide to go rob a liquor store. They don't kick that money back to anybody but themselves. There's no centralized bank, as there is in some of the organized crime or Eastern gangs.
PESCA: But, still, the LA district attorney's response to Williams' clemency petition makes Williams out to be something akin to a Mafia don. In a section called Founder of the Crips Street Gang, the report lists crimes attributed to all gang activity in Los Angeles, from 291 murders to 2,616 felony assaults last year. It notes, `Although Stanley Williams is not directly responsible for every gang crime committed today, he was an integral founding member.' `Founding,' Professor Malcolm Klein says, makes it sound a lot more formal than it was. Most people today agree that the central figure in the Crips' formation was Raymond Washington, who was in his midteens in 1969.
Mr. GERALD CAVETT(ph) (Unity TWO): Raymond used to be in a--was a little guy in a gang called Avenues.
PESCA: Gerald Cavett is now a youth counselor with a group called Unity TWO in Los Angeles. He places himself there at the creation of the gang that would become the Crips.
Mr. CAVETT: There were a little disagreement there. Raymond left Avenues and started his own thing.
PESCA: That `thing' was first called the Baby Avenues. Members would frequently carry canes as an affectation. And the description of a group of assailants as `crippled' or `crips' made its way into the local paper. Two years after Raymond Washington founded the Baby Avenues, a muscular young man named Stanley Williams was establishing himself across town. Gerald Cavett remembers the time as one where the Black Panther movement was waning, and young black men in Los Angeles were searching for identity and respect.
Mr. CAVETT: Tookie formed the West Side Crips in 1971 at a Hanna Hancock record hop(ph). People were identifying with different neighborhoods, trying to hold on to something. At one point it might have been hope for something--to get better, but it definitely got worse.
PESCA: Criminality wasn't central to the gang; it was at least present even in its earliest days. But when guns began flooding into LA in the mid-'70s, things changed dramatically. Researcher Alex Alonso, who runs the Web site Streetgangs.com, says this was the time when Williams and other Crips really began to turn away from Raymond Washington's ideas.
Mr. ALEX ALONSO (Streetgangs.com): Raymond Washington was a minor, petty-type thug. He was a fighter. He believed in using your fists when you got into combat. He was anti-gun. In fact, when the guns really got on the streets of Los Angeles around '75, '76, he was completely against it, and he told a lot of his close circle that, `You shouldn't partake and purchase these weapons.' And they did anyways against his wishes.
PESCA: It's clear, Alonso says, that Tookie Williams was one of those who rejected Washington's desires. According to law enforcement, Williams bought a shotgun in 1975. In his autobiography, he writes about `packing heat' during the '70s. Raymond Washington was himself shot and killed in 1979. That same year Albert Owens and three members of a Taiwanese-American family were also shot and killed. The man responsible was Stanley "Tookie" Williams, according to the police, a jury and every court that's ever heard his appeal. Mike Pesca, NPR News, Los Angeles.
BRAND: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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