From his own words
Published Monday, September 27, 2004
From his own words
By Tracy Manzer, Staff writer, LA Daily News
“I was 13 when I got jumped in,” says James, a former Crip who would not disclose his last name. “I was tired of never having nothing, and the gang seemed like the best way, the only way, to get ahead.”
Now, some 30 years later, James says he can see the same hunger in the kids growing up near 20th Street and Alamitos Avenue in central Long Beach, his old stomping grounds. One group gains power, over drugs or just the right to walk down a street, and terrorizes those who don’t belong.
In time, he says, kids in the other groups realize that if they work together they can fight back. That’s what he says he and a group of friends decided to do.
“I didn’t want any part of killing of anybody; I just wanted to be able to walk down my street or go to the store without worrying about what was waiting for me around the corner,” he says.
“I knew I wasn’t going to college, and there was no job waiting for me out of school, so I figured I would just take what I needed. I didn’t think about how it affected other people. I didn’t care. I just knew that everybody had new clothes and cars and girls, and I didn’t have s—.”
Hitting ‘the haves’
Those bitter feelings were common among his fellow gang bangers, he says. They began hustling whatever they could on the streets, taking whatever they wanted from “the haves.” He has had a gun put to his head, and has been shot at several times and hit once.
One time, he says, he nearly shot his sister when he thought he was being stalked by a rival gang member. She had tried to find him after she heard that someone was looking to kill him as payback for an earlier shooting.
“I had a son while I was in prison, and when I finally saw him in person he was 5 years old,” James says. “He cried because he didn’t know who I was.
“You can never understand how much that hurt, but it was good for me, too. That was what got me to stop with all the bulls—. If it wasn’t for my son, I would probably be dead.”
Out of the mix, life still isn’t easy. You never know when a former rival might find you or if another gang might decide you’re still a threat, he says. It’s impossible to sever all ties, unless you leave the area.
“My whole family is here,” he says. “This is where I was born and raised, and it’s probably where I will die.”
But the new generation of gangbangers scares him in a way that he was never frightened as a youth. When he was young, the shootings and fights were almost always over girls and money, he says.
“Now, they don’t need a reason. It’s like they go looking to kill each other now, then come up with a reason later.”
The drive for some young gan members to make a name for themselves seems stronger than ever, he adds.
“In my day, you didn’t go looking to shoot cops,” James adds. “If you did, you were looking for a death sentence. So these guys are either fearless or stupid … or maybe both.”