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Monster: Autobiography of an LA Gang Member

Review by Larry Taylor at: http://www.globaldialog.com/~larryt/monster.htm

This first hand account shows the cycle of violence between gangs in south central Los Angeles during the late nineteen seventies and eighties. From age 11 to 27, a young black man lived the life of a gangbanger. Monster Kody, or more accurately "Monsta", repeatedly killed his hood's bordering territorial enemies. As Kody matured, he increasingly questioned this racial suicide and eventually found a way out. Today, he is a father, husband, author and leader promoting Afro-American self-identity and unity.

Chapter one is "Initiation". This included getting high with the other gang members, then getting beaten by his new comrades, then going out with a 12 gauge shotgun and ambushing a rival "set". Sets are subsets of larger gangs like the Crips or the Bloods. Most gang violence occurs within these gangs between neighborhood "sets". For example, Kody's gang, the "Eight Trays" are Crips and mortal enemies to the "Rollin' Sixties" Crips. Not only must each set fight their neighboring rivals, but also they are expected to respect the larger scale wars. If a group of sets declare war on another group of sets then your set may be expected to take a side. This can result in some very awkward diplomatic situations with Crip sets allied with Blood sets against Crip sets and their allied Blood sets. At one point in the book, the Eight Trays found themselves at war with a previously good ally, because of these larger conflicts.

Kody took to the violence. He saw it as the step from childhood into manhood. He was good at it and soon received the gang name, "Monster". He willingly and joyfully joined "Fly", "Tray Ball", "Huckabuck", "Lep", "Crazy D" and "Gangster Cool". These youths were very much aware of the gangster legends, who had gone before them. This older members were mostly either dead or in jail. They seldom appear in the book, but when they do, there is respect and admiration from the younger members. Kody's goal was to build such a reputation. He even had a three point plan to reach his goal. First, he had to build his personal reputation by effectively using violence. Second, he had to build his name in association with his set, so that when his name is spoken his set is spoken of "in the same breath". Third, he must establish himself as a promoter of Crip.

Weapons were easily obtained from older members. 12 gauge, .44, 9mm, .38 were common. A "banger" seldom moved about without being "strapped" with his "gat". The war was financed by thievery and drug sales. This was before crack and its associated money made full automatic the weapons of choice. Kody would patrol his neighborhood on his bicycle carrying a .44.

They shot their enemies on sight. I was frightened at times by the fearlessness, ferocity and cold bloodedness of some of the armed guiltless homicides. Avenging assaults, initiation attacks and a peppering of random acts of murder accompany this proclaiming of manhood. One gang member, challenged to a private duel, responded, "I'm a killer, not a gunfighter."

I have read quite a bit of military history, so I was struck by the similarity between accounts of small infantry units and these sets. I have read that soldiers will sometimes take on the attitude that "I am already dead" so as to lessen the effects of mortal fear from interfering with their combat efficiency. This same attitude was present in this book. Kody quotes J. Glenn Gray, author of one of the best accounts of men in combat, THE WARRIORS. "The more lives the soldier succeeds in accounting for, the prouder he is likely to feel. To his people he is a genuine hero and himself, as well. For him, war is a mission, a holy cause, his chance to prove himself and gain a supreme purpose in living. His hatred of the enemy makes this soldier feel supremely real, and in combat his hatred finds its only appropriate appeasement."

Once, I had a conversation with a woman, whose son was a LAPD officer for a year. She said that he had post combat stress disorder when he returned home to Wisconsin. From behind closed curtains, he would watch any strange car parked in front of the house. He tensed up around black people. He was easily startled to adrenaline by loud noise. There is a war in this country, going on right now! Kody believes that there are LAPD people who are promoting the fighting between sets. He recounted an occasion when police actually tipped him off as to where his rivals could be located. Kody proceeded there and attacked.

Monster's reputation built quickly. He was a very effective killer. Kody found himself the target of older gang members who wanted him dead. He was ambushed, shot six times. He survived and went right back to banging. It all seemed quite normal to him. He couldn't imagine living life as a "hook", a civilian, a victim. He was at war for control of the civilians, the hood, their turf. Killing civilians was frowned upon. There was no glory in civilians, too easy. Some civilians even welcomed and protected the hood's bangers as defenders.

Later in the book, while in prison, Kody was recruited into an army of bangers, the Consolidated Crips Organization. That's CRIPS, as in Clandestine Revolutionary International Party Soldiers, defender of the C-Nation, unifier of the warring sets with claim to the Crips name. The older gang members were very aware of the need for more unity between gang members to reduce the crippling infighting. There is much talk and effort placed in creating a Gangster Syndicate. The primary motivation to such unity was surviving the larger scale wars. The Crips were allied with gangs of Southern Mexicans against the Aryan Nazis with their Northern Mexican allies. California prison reads like a race war. This causes me to have nightmare visions of a possible Earth, where the racial and tribal lines of loyalty and disloyalty exists on a bloody worldwide scale. I took comfort in the fact that this book is the story of transformation, from a boy killer to a mature man.

Older gangsters set the example, cultivate and train the younger boys, children. It's a good idea to save the children from recruitment into this kind of street power, political brinksmanship, butchering game for status. Sanyika Shakur would probably agree, with the twist that, these youth should be recruited into the black nationalist movement that he currently advocates. The gang membership burns out without new recruits. Death, jail and maturing take away available solders for the killing. At least once in the book, peace broke out on the street because all the solders of the authors set, the Eight Trays, and all the soldiers of the enemy set, the Sixties, were either in jail, in the hospital or in the ground. Maybe a United Nation peace keeping force should be sent into the area?

I date the beginning of Kody's transformation from gangbanger to a day he was playing with his daughter. He realized that he could not marry the mother or help raise the child because the gang required most of his time. He felt less of a man because he could not help bring up his child. He started to have serious doubt about his self-identity. He flirted with Islam, but despite the fact that he has great respect for his Muslim friends, he could not buy into their religion. He eventually made contact with a black nationalist, who promoted his education. Kody slowly withdrew from gang activity. It is a tricky business to pull away from people you have fought beside without seeming like a traitor. He took the time necessary and with the final brake changed his name to Sanyika Shakur.

Saving the children will not be easy. If you don't believe me, ask Sanyika Shakur, his mother or his wife or read this book.

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