street gangs Lights, Camera … Murder?

street gangs Lights, Camera … Murder?
Ominous video of a drive-by shooting circulating on the Internet proves to be as real as a Hollywood movie

Aug 18, 2005, City Beat

Click Image to play video
~ Web Evidence or showbiz? The making of A drive-by ~

It appears to be an urban snuff film, L.A. gangster-style.

Three black male thugs in an SUV crawling down a graffiti-tagged side-street spot a rival gang member pausing to light a cigarette on the sidewalk. With startling swiftness they pull alongside him shouting “You want a cigarette, mutha …?” and open fire with two semiautomatic handguns.

As the victim hits the ground, the gunman in the front seat leaps from the vehicle and empties his clip into the dying man. As he jumps back into the SUV, the driver proclaims gleefully “Let’s roll, nigga! Let’s roll!”

Amid the escalating national debate over hyper-violent video games and the avalanche of gratuitous bloodletting in film and television, the chilling 20-second video clip has ironically offered gritty ammunition to both sides of the cultural divide.

It came to my attention last week, when a cop asked me over beers if I had seen the “drive-by video” that had just popped up on the Internet. He’d seen it at work. “It’s a trip, the young blood in the back seat looks nervous, and seems to aim and fire haphazardly, as if he is hoping to miss the dude,” my friend said. “The O.G. up front is hardcore, ready to put some work in.”

I went home and found the video. Having covered crime for a variety of newspapers in greater Los Angeles for almost two decades, I was caught by what appeared to be a brutal gang murder.

Looks like I am not the only one. As I started calling various police sources and sending the link of the clip to journalist colleagues, the consensus was the shooting was the real deal. Several officers told me the video had been discussed during briefings. Two officers who evaluated the clip numerous times pointed to a variety of nuance that led them to believe the video was of a real shooting, including what appear to be sparks from the bullets striking the sidewalk.

An online forum for the Nation of Riflemen – a group dedicated to “turning America back into a nation of riflemen, one citizen at a time” – heralds the video clip as proof positive that banning assault rifles doesn’t prevent crime or casualties. One online post claimed the tape had been uncovered by LAPD while serving a search warrant during a homicide investigation. The shooting had purportedly occurred on the streets of Compton.

Detective Peter Hecht, who works in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Operation Safe Streets bureau at the Compton station, said he first saw the video months ago. “All the gang investigators looked at it and we don’t think it is Compton,” Hecht said. “On the other hand, we can’t rule it out. We have lots of gangs and lots of gang shootings in Compton, 49 gang-related homicides so far this year.”

Fortunately for Hecht, the residents of Compton, and the rest of us, this video doesn’t depict another wanton act of slaughter by L.A. gang members. Deputy Victor Zavala, who works under the Department of Homeland Security division of LASD, determined the video clip may depict Compton, but was in fact made by Hollywood. Helmed by director Adam Ripp, the shooting is a scene from the film Gang Tapes, a straight-to-DVD release from Lions Gate Films in 2002.

Billed as a “coming of rage” story, the movie is essentially an urban play off The Blair Witch Project, with gang members using a stolen video camera to document their lives and crimes. The movie’s cover jacket quotes The New York Times as heralding the film as “engrossing” and Daily Variety calling it “relentless.” But Ripp’s film is getting the ultimate thumbs up from cops and civilians alike: “Real.”

Mark Cromer can be reached at


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