T. Rodgers speaks on Gangs, the Past, and his New Book
By Alex A. Alonso
February 26, 2005
AA: Whenever I read about gangs in articles, magazines, and books, about the history of LA bangin’, gangs in LA, whether its Crippin’ or Bloods, 1969 is always that critical year and that is the same year you came to Los Angeles from Chicago.
AA: Can you take me back to 1969 and tell me what is was like in LA?
TR: In 1969, it was a times when the Panther had just fell off, dissipated, city life was laid back, you can get high, you can trip, you can be “flower power,” “love, peace, and hair grease,” it was a mellow time, a time of coolin out. I had came to LA in 1969 directly from Chicago with the “hustle & bustle,” because there are four seasons in Chicago so I knew that what ever I needed to do in the summer I need to get it done so that I can be comfortable in the winter. That’s how my mentality was, so I was always on the go, all the time, all the time.
What I found out was that people were afraid of a man that acts wisely, that tripped me out. I was much wiser than my years. Even in the bangin’ part of it, we were in the 6th grade and they would send junior high school kids to jump on me, when we got to junior high, they would send high school kids, when we got into high school, they would send grown-ups, what ever it was, there was always something older and supposed to be worse than what we were, but I was able to maintain and keep my respect.
AA: When you first came to LA you were in the area that is commonly known as “The City” [a reference to a neighborhood of the Black P Stones]?
AA: Where the Stones are at?
AA: Back then that was the early foundation of what later became known as the City. Can you tell me specifically about that neighborhood over there, by Crenshaw, Adams, 2nd Ave Park, that we now call the City?
TR: It’s a historic place, it’s a lovely place, and a beautiful place to be. We weren’t aware of the value of the architecture that was there. It’s a residential area, it makes it hard to protect, unlike over here in the Jungles, its kind of closed off with side streets and dead ends it makes it hard to travel in and out of here. Over in the Bity[City], you can go right through a street and end up in another place. Plus the boundary area of the Bity was kind of jagged, 7th Avenue was the cut-off line we run from 7th Ave to Crenshaw, it was a beautiful place to be, we owned a home, most of the people over there owned a home, it’s not that many apartments over there.
AA: Now the City was known before the Jungles was known as a Black Stone headquarters.
AA: When did the Jungles get known as being associated with the Stones. How did the area from the City get transferred over into the Jungles.
TR: I want to say about 1971 when everything jumped off. The gang war between the Crips and us jumped off. We were at Dorsey High School and we hooked up with the Jungle Boys and actually made them Black Stones. They knew about us and some of them were already Black Stones, so it was an easy transformation and from that point on it was the Black Stone City, who were the thinkers, and Black Stone Jungles, who were the strong hold.
AA: Now in 1970, the Rollin 20s were not known, although today the Rollin 20s and the City are adjacent to each other. When did the Rollin 20s or the NeighborHood Bloods get known to be associated with this Blood alliance?
TR: I am not from the 20s, so I can’t really speak when their thing came about. We were on a big, massive recruiting; we had 5 parks, we controlled 5 parks, we were 500 men strong. The police came in on one of our meetings and we backed the police up. …. But to answer your question we had a meeting with the 20s and we wanted them to become Black Stone, but there was a guy named Coco who I respected and loved and Coco said that they wanted to stay 20s. I can’t really give you an answer as to when they became Blood but we had a meeting with the Brims about coming up under one umbrella but when that occurred slips my mind. But it was all about the same time we came up with the word Blood, the Crips came up with Crips and we had to come up with a word, we came up with Blood.
AA: You mentioned some of the parks that you guys occupied in the early 70s, and when reading some of the stuff on the early history, in another interview you mentioned Queen Anne Park, areas today that are outside of Blood area. I think today, Queen Anne Park is closer to School Yard Crips. What was going on then that allowed you to dominate and control such a big area to where today these areas have been reduced in size?
TR: Well two things had happened. We were not feared, we were respected that allowed us to cover such a large area. We had rules and regulations to Black Stone– it was unheard of out here on the West Coast. There had been gangs out here before, but none of them with the ideology and philosophy that we had. What had happened, the gang bangin’ had started. We believed in being a man first, so as a man, you fight your own battles. If they jump on you and you can’t handle it then you can go get somebody, but for the most part if you got whipped, you just take a whipping. But what would happen, guys would instigate a fight and come get us for help. At the meeting we told them to tell us what happened, and the guy would say “I got hit in the back of the head” and I would be like “how did you get hit in the back of the head,” and the guy would say, “I got hit in the back of the head because I was running to come get you.” So from that point we didn’t help them, and once we didn’t help them, they succumb to being Crips.
AA: Now when I read about the early history of T. Rodgers, sometimes your brother is mentioned. I think you mentioned him in a couple of writings, and I heard his name associated with Black Stone early on. You brother is older than you, right?
AA: But your name comes up more so than your older brother’s name. What role did your older brother play in the early days?
TR: When we left Chicago, he wasn’t really affiliated with Black Stone. He was a Black Stone in Chicago, but he gave all that up. When we came out here, he was basically a hustler and a damn good hustler, but they associated him with Black Stone because of me, because we were both from Chicago. I have another brother too, I have a younger brother that…it behooves me because he is a Harlem Crip, so I don’t know how he did that, but I love him, but the unfortunate part about it is that both my brothers got life. My oldest brother been in the penitentiary for 20 something odd years, and my baby brother has been in there for one, but he’s go double life plus 40 years and that’s a heart breaker to me.
AA: By the time the 1980s come, bangin is at an all time high in terms of killing and violence, but at the same time you always appeared at these functions, whether it was on TV, or if it was in a movie, you were on a whole other venture, appearing on documentaries, television shows; how did you get involved in television and movie projects throughout the 1980s?
TR: Contrary to popular belief, not all gang members are stupid. I didn’t want to go to my grave as a slave to the minimum wage. I didn’t want my tomb stone to read, “here lies T. Rodgers, leader and founder of the Black Stones in Los Angeles.” I was multi-faceted, multi-talented, I produced movies, I produced television shows, I wrote books, I starred in plays, I starred in television shows, movies, its unlimited of what I can do, my resume is quite impressive and its not over, but I didn’t want to go to my grave as a slave to the minimum wage.
AA: Now you recently appeared in the F.E.D.S. documentary this year, which was released in May. Tell me a little bit about working on that project and your opinion of the final product.
TR: Do you want the truth?
TR: F.E.D.S., I didn’t mind doing the F.E.D.S., it was a pleasure for me to do it, number one, I was fresh out the hospital and I still looked like I was sick. I couldn’t see it in the mirror, but I could see it in the DVD that they did. The magazine article was fine, except for they put me in crime, ya know, but I will take that with a grain of salt because that’s what it was at that particular time, crime. What I didn’t like, was how the DVD came about. I was fresh out the hospital looking sick, looking tore-up with the cloths that I had on. Looking like I am rough and ready and after I did my interview they did Michael Concepcion whose living in this mansion with Bentleys and Benzes all over the place, and it’s a contrast to how we are living, and I really didn’t like the way that came about.
AA: Do you think the message that the people might have received was that the Bloods are still living a lower life style and the Crips are the ballers living in multi-million dollar homes?
TR: With out a doubt!!
AA: So, did you ever express your opinion on the final cut, or …..
TR: I just took it with a grain a salt.
AA: What did you think though of the substance of what people had to say? Mike Concepcion, Antione Clarke, because it seemed like everyone had their own message, from this is a life style that people need to stay away from to…..
TR: You are going to get with that, if I told you the honest to God truth, you would really get me in trouble.
AA: Ok, we don’t want to get you in trouble. Were you satisfied with the message you were able to convey? Did they edit too much out, or if you could say more what would you say?
TR: Let me put it to you this way, with the things that I have done so far, I am going to put together my own DVD and tell my story, and that way it will be precise about what I am talking about.
AA: Now recently you came out with a new book called “50 Most Asked Questions about Gangs” and this is probably an accumulation of, I don’t know, about 30 years of your knowledge of the streets here in LA, some of your youth in Chicago. Tell me what motivated you to write this book, because this is not your typical gang book, this is more from a social, family community perspective. Tell me a little bit about that.
TR: When I told people that I was writing a book, everybody thought I was going to write a Monster Kody book. That wasn’t the case. I saw what happened to Monster Kody, and I have to respect the homies. The first thing is you have to respect your homies or your homies won’t respect you. I live in the neighborhood, and I still want to be respected and cared about and loved in the neighborhood. The book I put together was an accumulation of years of questions that were asked of me through parent discussions, lecture speaking engagements, etc, etc, etc. And it is a combination of all those things that I did over the years that I put together that gave some insight and some understanding to people about gangs.
AA: Now give us an example, in this first book you got 50 most asked questions, can you give us an example of one of the questions you answer in this book and how you derive that answer?
TR: What is a gang? It is answered two fold. It gives Webster’s Dictionary answer, “What is a Gang?” and it gives my answer, which is a gang is a groups of people that come together for a common cause. Not only for the cause of breaking the law, but they dress the same, the use the same language, they have a rallying point, they have a common denominator. It’s like the Raiders, what I just described to you is just like the Lakers or the Raiders. You can put them in the category of being in a gang if you wanted to. I mean there is a lot of violence in sports, that’s the way I look at it.
AA: If people wanted to get your book, what’s the best way to either contact you or a way to get this book, because I want you to talk about how you published this book, and how you did it. This was also not done traditionally either. Tell me how you put the book together from the publishing side of it.
TR: Me and a guy named Yusef Jah, he edited the book for me, I wrote down all the questions and all the answers, and I turned it over to him. He is a computer wiz, so he put it on the computer for me and we would take it and edit it, little bit by little bit. Believe it or not, the first printing of the book was done at Kinko’s, the first 20 books that was done was at Kinko’s. We done 200 books at a time, and we will have a mass production, it was a labor of love, it was something that was quite easy for me to do, I love what I did, as a matter if fact I am going to write a series of books. The next book that I plan to write is called “How Not to Be a Professional Victim” and I had an officer to do it with a police commander, “How Not to Be a Professional Victim.”
AA: So how do people get a copy your book? What’s the best to contact you or get the book?
TR: There are two ways. One way is trodgers.com, and you can write me, if you send me $22.21 (covers postage), you can write PO Box 191795, Los Angeles,CA 90019 to get the book. And you can get it at EsoWon bookstore in Los Angeles on LaBrea and Coliseum.
AA: So, back to the gang situation in LA, now, it’s been over 30 years, what do you think is the biggest problem on the streets of LA in terms of gangs today?
TR: The disrespect of youngsters, the ignorance and the disrespect. As we were coming up, generations after generations, it was dissipating, the rules of respect, and the intelligence level that we had. Nobody wanted to stand up and be a leader, nobody wanted to take rules from anybody else, take orders from anybody else. We are at point now where the blind are leading the blind, and you could walk down a street, or walk into you own apartment building and people will sit on your steps and don’t move, they will cuss you out. I mean if you are an old lady or an elderly gentleman, they would literally cuss you out. And that’s the biggest problem that we have. There was a time that if we caught a gang member with his family, he would get a pass, if he was with his baby, he would get a pass, but now, it’s so violent, viscous, and immoral, if you get caught slippin’, you caught slippin’, baby or no baby, family or no family. They’ll shoot your family down.
AA: I would imagine that over the years, you are probably cool with gang members from all different hoods all across the city.
TR: I get more respect and love from the Crips than I do from the Bloods
AA: Why do you think that is?
TR: Well because I am a Blood, and I am a cool Blood.
AA: Now, over the years Crips probably from Harlem 30s and probably from Rollin 60s have probably pretty much hated what you had started in the late 60s, early 70s. Have you met with guys from all these hoods, and how do they accept you?
TR: That’s ironic because what happened, guys my age all want the same thing. Guys my age have children, they don’t want their children to go through what they went through. So we all have a common denominator, or some of the guys lost sons, which gives us again, a common denominator to come to the table and discuss the things that are at hand, there is no bickering, no arguing, there is no disruption, and it makes it a simple task for us to get things done.
AA: Now that’s because you guys are older and more mature, but like you said earlier, there is disrespect from the youngsters.
AA: How can we change that cycle?
TR: Just like I started a gang, one person at a time. If the OGs, and double OGs, the triple OGs, would take one, just take one and put him under his wing and lace him, bless him with respect, and bless him with the things to enter into manhood forward, not into manhood backward we would be a much better society.
AA: So then that’s the responsibility is upon the triple OGs such as yourself, and other OGs that come up underneath you. Correct?
TR: Without a doubt.
AA: So what would you like to say, there is the whole nation wide bangin’, all across the country we got people that are emulating LA gang culture in cities from LA to New York. What is your view of how people in cities have copied LA culture? And there are probably Black Stones in a lot of other cities outside of LA now. What’s your message regarding the proliferation of gangs?
TR: If you Black Stone you should contact me at the address I gave, PO Box 191795, Los Angeles, California, 90019. Another thing that would help would be to buy the book, I give a lot of explanations and understanding. Another thing would be is to not believe the hype.
AA: Can you talk to me about the movie Colors from the late 1980s and how you hooked up with Sean Penn and Robert Duvall?
TR: I am one of the few gang members that have gone where few gang members have gone before. I went to school, and I studied acting and that was the beginning of it all. I got me an agent, and the agent sent me in on an audition, and I read for one part and I didn’t get it, but they saw me perfect for another part and that was the beginning of my career. During the 80s, I stayed busy from one movie to the next movie. It was a beautiful time of my life.
AA: So what do you think of some of the current movies out now? One that comes to mind is Training Day. The industry has advanced since Colors was made to be a little bit more real on the visual side of it. What’s your view of how the movie Training Day came out, because actually some of it was shot right here in the Jays [Jungles].
TR: The director, Antoine, had a vision in his mind that he wanted to portray and he basically lived up to his vision, and I respect that.
AA: You mentioned another book that you are writing, Called “How Not to Be a Professional Victim.” What other projects do you have planned in the future? I think you mentioned a DVD. Can you talk about that?
TR: Those two are my next projects. I am waiting on Paul Kim from the LAPD to go over the book with him. The other project that I am doing is a CD ROM where I will explain the actual facts, how this thing got started, the things that I did, the things that I didn’t do, the things that are “myth,” I will explain all of that in the CD ROM so look out for that, I will be doing that pretty soon.
AA: So it’s going to be historical?
TR: Without a doubt.
AA: Can you give us a little taste of some rich history that maybe no one has heard about from T Rodgers on the historical side, something from 1969, 1970, or 1971?
TR: Back in 1969, everybody wore blue rags, and everybody said “cuzz.” It was shortly after that, around 1971 that we started saying Blood and wearing red rags. To go even further than that, back in the 50s, when you went to camp they would give you a red or a blue rag. Most of the kids that was there at first got a blue rag and if you came in later you got a red rag.
AA: I heard you mention about the Robert Ballou beating by the Crip back in 1972 at the Palladium. I heard about it, read about it, talked to a lot of people about it but you were here in LA when that went down. Can you tell me how big that event was in LA in terms of the gang culture.
TR: It was unbelievable, totally, totally unbelievable. We had a rivalry going on with the Crips, and the Crips would do certain things but to beat this boy to death over a leather jacket in a public venue was unheard of, it was intolerable and that’s what made people turned against the Crips.
AA: Are you familiar with a killing of a Brim named Fred, 1972 a Brim named Lil Country?
AA: That was around the same time Robert Ballou was killed.
AA: Also done probably by the same group of people. Was it those types of events that really got the Blood alliance together?
TR: I’ll tell you one thing is that perhaps they thought that they would set fear in our minds and hearts that they were the Crips and they would turn over a coffin or beat you to death, but that wasn’t the case. What it did was incite anger inside of us.
AA: To me it seems such a trip that no one can really break down the history of something that is only 30 years old. We know histories of things more precise that are 100, 200, 300 years old. Why is there so much debate, so much contradiction and confliction of the beginnings of LA gangs that are about 30 years old.
TR: Fantasy. People fantasize, they take the truth and make their own, and put their own spin on it, it’s called putting the two on the ten, and that’s pretty much what happens. I got a call the other day from New York and the guy said I heard T. Rodgers is dead, and I said you are speaking to T. Rodgers. These are the rumors that are floating around. Another rumor is that I started UBN [United Blood Nation], no I didn’t start UBN. I was one of the co-founders of the Bloods, I wasn’t the original founder of the Bloods. But what they do is they take it and make it their own history, they take it and put it in their limited education and make it an actual fact.
AA: I want to thank you for sitting down with me. Can you tell us lastly any final messages that you want to tell people that read Street Gangs that are interested in getting your book?
TR: For the parents, stop, look, and listen. Stop what you are doing, look at your children, and listen to what they are saying. That’s the best thing that I can tell them. For gang members, there is always hope, and you can be anything you want to be, and lastly to the wanna-bes, there is nothing funny, there is nothing playful about being in a gang. It’s life or death, do or die.
AA: What would you do, because I receive email from a lot of white suburban youth in America asking me about a gang in LA, and how to start a gang in their town. What would you say to them?
TR: Take his ass to school, be what his mom and dad would want him to be.
T. Rodgers is currently in need of and waiting for a type-O positive kidney transplant. If you have any information on a donor please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.trodgers.com