The Cancer of Crippin' Is Spreading, a Fact We Must Face to Snuff It Out : By DONALD BAKEER

Donald Bakeer is an English teacher at Manual Arts High School and author of the novel "Crips, the Story of an L.A. Street Gang, 1971-1985" (Precocious Publishers, 1988).

Not just saggin' / I'm blue raggin' / Don't you wanna look like me? --The Crip Anthem

A schoolyard conversation overheard between classes at a South-Central Los Angeles high school:

"Hey cuzz, Loco C told Mr. Bakeer he claimin' 55 BTH (Big Time Hustlers, a subgroup of Crips) and Bakeer called him a straight-out Crip. The whole class rolled."

"Craig is crazy, man. I don't even like to talk about him, cuzz. He's got jail written all over him with his attitude. Bakeer's trying to get him to go to college, but that fool ain't goin' nowhere but jail, and I'll be glad, cuzz."

"You wanna see your home boy go to camp, cuzz? Y'all from the same 'hood, Clarence."

"Yeah, but I ain't Crippin'."

But to look at Clarence, khaki pants slightly sagging, greasy Jheri-curl hair style seemingly dripping, modest earring, mouth poised for profanity, almost any adult who did not know him would consider him a Crip and treat him--or more likely avoid him--accordingly. He has the look of Crip culture, the look that will allow him to blend in just enough not to be harassed by the dominant area gang on a daily basis. The police, who count tens of thousands of young black men as members of the largest street gang in America, would find no reason to make a distinction between Clarence and the numerous Crips in his neighborhood, those he had grown up with and often found himself standing around with (though usually only momentarily). But to his mama he is simply Clarence.

I can almost envision baseball star Darryl Strawberry 10 years or so ago, living in Rollin' 60s 'hood, trying to assert himself while traipsing back and forth to Crenshaw High, or baseball star Eric Davis dodging East Coast Crips at Fremont High--perhaps being mistakenly tagged as Crips by police and others who did not know any better, or didn't care.

I know the pervasiveness of the fatal fad of gangs that swept South-Central Los Angeles' west side in the late 1970s. It turned out to be a cancer, kid cancer, an addictive aberration of a social disease that trickled down as a growing institution of welfare, an alternative to family life. Unfortunately, this is not just a Los Angeles phenomenon. There are youngsters in San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Kansas City, Tulsa and almost every city in this country who are marked to be caught up in the same growing fad.

And, though we have finally exposed ourselves via the media to the heinous effects of Crippin' (which is often indistinguishable from being a rival Blood, in effect), and we have justifiably sounded the hue and cry, Crippin' is still growing because we have not applied or even identified a tenable cure.

Sometimes I believe it is because we don't really know what Crippin' is. Oh, yes, it is easily identified in its extreme state. The jail-hardened, red- and blue-emblazoned OGs (original gang-bangers, leaders of Crips and Bloods) confessing their sins and recanting the foolishness of it all on the evening news represent a type that could be identified in a crowd by Stevie Wonder. But these, the hard core--or "shooters," as the police call them--are only 2% to 5% of the tens of thousands of gang members, according to police estimates. Crippin' is a way of life, that, though ascribed to "24-7" (24 hours a day, seven days a week) by some, occupies only a few anxious hours a week for many. It may manifest itself in mass murder for those writhing in its terminal stages. For the many "Wanna Bes," those who want to fit in for convenience and peer pressure's sake, it will manifest itself only as an angry attitude toward authority (but only in the presence of one's home boys and out of the eyesight and earshot of one's parent/guardian). This is also known as the Jekyll and Hyde complex.

"My son Clarence was never a Crip," his mother told me after the funeral. You hear this often in news stories after another life is snuffed out. "He was a good boy. Why him? Why did he have to die?"

He didn't have to. The following list may be helpful. If your son:

--Wears his hair in short pigtails, Buckwheat-style, he is almost certainly a Crip.

--Wears his pants sagging below his waist, he may possibly be Crippin'. The possibility escalates as the pants are worn lower. If he purposely exposes generous portions of his undershorts, he is definitely a Crip.

--Refers to almost everyone (male and female) as "Cuzz" over and over in conversation, he is almost certainly a Crip; the quantity of usage is in direct correlation to the probability.

--Wears blue every day, he may be Crippin' or Crips may simply be controlling his environment. If he sports a large blue handkerchief, he is definitely a Crip.

--Writes in a block calligraphy style that features several backward letters, he may be a Crip. But, if he cannot write any other way, or "Xs" out the letter B (a letter that is indelibly associated with the Bloods), he is a Crip.

These are only a few of the more significant nuances of Crip culture that have influenced the general youth culture. Its influence has become as legitimate as Michael Jackson's moon walk, which was a "top lock" (Crip dance) move known as the double backslide prior to Michael's discovery of weightless walking. From calligraphy to graffiti arts styles, from fashion statements to slang and an enlivened politic of police hatred, Crip culture has become such an influential part of inner-city adolescent culture that the chances of it being eliminated soon seem unlikely.

The cure for Crippin', however, does not lie in throwing the almost-aborted baby out with the bath water. Crippin' will be cured when we (American society) convince large groups of young black males that they have a legitimate future in America, and to do that I am convinced that we must focus on these youths' positive talents and build on that. We tend to look for flaws in them, then disqualify them accordingly, rather than evaluating their strengths and expecting them to develop a legitimate function in society. To do this, of course, will require a lot more care and attention than we have given these youth of late.

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