MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The fate of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the former gang leader turned peace activist, now rests with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor heard arguments yesterday for and against the execution of Williams, but thus far he's had no official comment. Williams is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 12:01 AM on December 13th, next Tuesday. As the battle continues over whether the convicted murderer should be granted clemency, we thought we'd take a look at the history and the evolution of the Los Angeles street gang he founded in the 1960s, the Crips. We're joined by Alex Alonso; he's the creator of Streetgangs.com and he's a social geographer specializing in crime and gangs in Los Angeles.
Thanks for being with us.
Mr. ALEX ALONSO (Creator, Streetgangs.com; Social Geographer): You're welcome.
NORRIS: Now we're talking about Stanley "Tookie" Williams as the co-founder of the Crips, but when the gang got started back in the 1960s, they were originally known as the Baby Avenues or Baby Cribs. How did they later become known as the Crips?
Mr. ALONSO: Well, that's a question that no one has been able to really answer precisely. I think what happened was that through a mispronunciation, Cribs became Crips.
NORRIS: Give us a quick primer, if you could. How did they grow and evolve over time, and what do the Crips look like today?
Mr. ALONSO: Well, the Crips grew in the early 1970s similar to how any other gang would grow. They recruited within the community and then they spread out. And I would say, you know, in the first 10 years of the gang, they had little attention brought to them. It's not until you get to the 1980s and the rock cocaine epidemic hits the streets that the Crips start making headlines.
NORRIS: And that's when they started making money as well?
Mr. ALONSO: Yes. They started making a lot of money. Prior to 1982, 1983, the gang members during that time made very little money to no money. Mostly the gang members were, you would say, broke. But the crack cocaine, rock cocaine epidemic that started around '82, '83, really fueled an economy that made some gang members millionaires.
NORRIS: So the Crips began in South Central Los Angeles, spread to places like Compton and Inglewood and Pomona. Where does their reach extend now?
Mr. ALONSO: In terms of their reach, it's very--a vague question, because a lot of times when we talk about Crips being in other cities and other states, there's this idea that the LA Crips are connected to those gangs, and in most instances they're not. And it's because of the media culture and the rap, the gangsta rap element of hip-hop that has exported gang culture, especially during the 1990s, to pretty much all of the states, all 50 states in the US, and to many countries in Europe and west and south Africa, Central and South America as well.
NORRIS: And that's interesting because if the Crips were founded in Indianapolis instead of Los Angeles, they might not have had that influence with Hollywood and the recording industry right there.
Mr. ALONSO: You're absolutely correct. It's really the music industry and, you know, the elements of the entertainment business which is, you know, based primarily in Southern California, that has the tools and mechanisms and the power to just, you know, broadcast images to Europe in a second.
NORRIS: Mr. Alonso, I'd like to bring this back to Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Before he was catapulted to the front page of the paper in this clemency battle, if you were to sit down and talk with a group of gang members today in a place like Compton or South Central, would they see Tookie Williams as a founding father, as the OG?
Mr. ALONSO: No, I think most people know that he's not the founding father. I certainly know he's not the founding father of the Crips. But it's been a label that has been attached to him by the media and partly by himself. In his autobiography, he does claim co-founder label. But he came on around 1971, and that's about a year and a half, two years after the Crips were actually formed. So if someone comes along two years later and gets the co-founder label, you know, that's OK. But he was responsible for cripping on the West Side of LA, and that came a couple years after the Crips were actually well-established.
NORRIS: Alex Alonso, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. ALONSO: Oh, you're very much welcome.
NORRIS: Alex Alonso is the creator of Streetgangs.com. He's also a social geographer specializing in crime and gangs in Los Angeles.
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