Melvin Farmer remembers the days when Bloods and Crips openly flashed their colors. Gang members wore an evolving uniform; bandannas, T-shirts, shoes and even earrings to signal their affiliation. But Farmer, a former Crip who is now a gang intervention worker, said that for many years colors remained the key distinction.
Today, colors, so tied to gang affiliations in popular culture, are rarely at the root of street conflict. As authorities cracked down on gangs with injunctions and other new tools, the culture has become less overt.
"If you dressed in gang attire with the colors, it was pretty much a red flag for officers," said LAPD Det. Chris Barling, who has been working homicides in South Los Angeles for more than 20 years. "Gang members don't wear their colors in public anymore, so those colors don't tell as much about the individual."
This is what made the killing of 19-year-old Tavin Price stand out. Price went to a carwash in Hyde Park with his mother May 29 when a man hassled Price over his shoes: red Chuck Taylors. Police believe that the color of the shoes may have played a role in the shooting.
Price, who had a mental disability, left the man and returned to his mother. The man followed and demanded that Price take off the shoes. When he did not comply, the man opened fire and fatally shot Price, who was rushed to a hospital where he died in surgery.
"He was not a gang-banger. He did not hang out with anyone in a gang. He never did anything to even be remotely associated with that lifestyle," said Jennifer Rivers, Price's mother.
The fatal shooting was the sixth within a one-mile radius in the last year, according to recent coroner's data. The carwash is also on the dividing line between two rival gangs, Farmer said.
"It's about where you're from," Farmer said. "Crips and Bloods could be in the same area, but if someone wanders outside of their area, then they risk getting killed."
Three days after Price was killed, a 51-year old man was shot to death two miles away in Manchester Square.
Police say that Carl Betts and another person were sitting in a sedan when a dark-colored car pulled up and a person inside muttered what some would say are the most dangerous words in the county: "Where you from?"
The gunman opened fire, striking Betts, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
In the 77th Street Division, where Price and Betts were killed, the number of reported shooting victims is up by nearly 20 incidents over the same period last year. Most of the shootings involve gangs.
Wes McBride, the executive director of the California Gang Investigators Assn., said that gang crime is cyclical. After years of historic lows in crime, some areas are seeing a rise in gang shootings.
"Hopefully [it] doesn't get rolling again," McBride said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Criminal Gang Homicide Division at (323) 786-5113. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.