If it was a good idea for a warring corner of the Middle East, it just might work for the Bloods and Crips.
So figures a group of ex-gang members who are seeking to cement the ongoing truce in South Los Angeles by looking to another seemingly intractable conflict--the 1948 war between Israel and Egypt that briefly ended in 1949 with a United Nations treaty.
As Los Angeles was erupting in flames, these young men were digging up a copy of the armistice agreement, translating the stilted diplomatic language into street terms and adding a few of their own rules prohibiting such things as profanity, graffiti and the brandishing of weapons on rival turf.
A section of the Egyptian-Israeli accord banning “aggressive action by the armed forces” was changed to “no aggressive action by the leading influential gang members.” A reference to stopping attacks by land, sea or air became a prohibition on “drive-by shootings and random slayings.”
“In both cases, you have two peoples who are basically related but divided,” said Anthony Perry, 30, a former gang member who helped adapt the accord to the rules of the streets. “To me, that was profound.”
Although the document is being fine-tuned and has not been circulated among most gang members, Perry and his colleagues are hopeful that the treaty will formalize what so far has been only a verbal agreement between some Bloods and Crips factions.
By next month, they plan to present the accord to the four principal gangs in Watts, where the first link in the truce was forged between the Grape Street Crips at the Jordan Downs housing project and the PJs at Imperial Courts weeks before the riot.
“Many of them are very intelligent and some are very sophisticated,” said VG Guinses, director of Save Every Youngster Youth Enterprise Society, one of the oldest gang counseling centers in the city. “If they can’t do anything but bring the projects together, that is a blessing.”
While police have generally tended to view the truce with suspicion, the public should regard the treaty as an honest attempt to codify rules for a new set of behavior, said Cal State Los Angeles political scientist Byran O. Jackson.
“We should take them seriously,” said Jackson, who specializes in African-American and urban issues. “It is just another indication of their depth of understanding of how to come together and do something right.”
Even international relations experts applauded the effort. Although the Egyptian-Israeli General Armistice Agreement signed on the Island of Rhodes in 1949 ultimately did little to end that dispute, specialists in world law said the U.N.-sanctioned accord still represents a good model for ending bloodshed.
“The bad thing is the armistice did not last--it led to the 1956 war, which led to the 1967 war, which led to the 1973 war,” said Richard H. Dekmejian, a USC professor of political science who specializes in the Middle East. “But as an opener, it’s a good initial step. It reflects a significant intellectual strength on the part of (the gangs’) leadership.”
Perry, like many other architects of the truce, is a member of the Amer-I-Can program, a self-esteem course for gang members and convicts created by former National Football League star Jim Brown. Once the truce had surfaced in South Los Angeles, Perry’s task was to find a document that could serve as the basis for a formal peace treaty.
Perry, who has no college education, found himself at USC’s Von Kleinsmid Center for International and Public Affairs. In the basement library, amid stacks of documents chronicling efforts to reconcile international disputes, he came across a tattered collection of United Nations treaties.
After scanning through the book--filled with accords between Norway and Argentina, the United States and Siam--he stumbled across the cease-fire between Israel and Egypt. He copied the 10-page agreement and, in neat block letters, began translating it into gang terms on a yellow legal pad.
He ended up with a document called “Multi-Peace Treaty,” which is divided into several articles and amendments. “The right of each party to its security and freedom from fear of attack by each other shall be fully respected,” one of the tenets reads.
“The establishment of a cease-fire between the armed gangs of all parties is accepted as a necessary step toward the renewal of peace in Watts, California,” another says.
“It was like here’s two famous nations that everybody hears about in the news,” Perry said. “I figured if they could establish peace in the Middle East, certainly we as neighbors in one city could try.”
When he was finished, Perry handed the document to Daude Sherrills, 24, a lifelong resident of Jordan Downs, who is widely considered the key figure in hammering out the truce with Imperial Courts.
Sherrills, chief of staff in the Amer-I-Can program, added a special section titled the “United Black Community Code"--a list of do’s and don’ts for gang members.
Its preamble begins: “I accept the duty to honor, uphold and defend the spirit of the red, blue and purple (the three gang colors in Watts), to teach the black family its legacy and protracted struggle for freedom and justice.”
Among its many guidelines, the code encourages literacy programs, school attendance, voter registration, investment pools, cultural events, a food bank and hardship funds created by annual dues of $100 per gang member.
It also frowns on alcohol and drug abuse (a sober person should always be around to settle disputes), use of the “N-word and B-word” (derogatory terms for black people and women) and “hoo-riding” (the practice of raiding rival turf and “throwing” gang signs). When outside one’s own community, another rule says, gang rags can be worn only three inches out of the rear pants pocket as a show of respect.
“That’s technical language on our level,” said Sherrills, adding the code would be considered valid in any neighborhood if at least 10 members of a gang signed it.
Jackson said the proposed treaty bears some similarities to the so-called Black Manifesto, a document written in the 1960s by the founders of the now-defunct Black Panther Party.
The principle difference is that the Panthers based much of their demands on radical Marxist treatises, while the Crips and Bloods seem to be pursuing remarkably traditional goals.
“I see the gangs as emerging to fill a leadership void,” Jackson said. “Some of them have a lot of respect in the poorest communities.”
A Blueprint for Peace Here are excerpts from an original draft of a peace treaty being proposed by a group of ex-gang members from Watts and the 1949 Egyptian-Israeli General Armistice Agreement on which it is based. The gang treaty is an attempt to formalize an ongoing truce between the Bloods and Crips. The 1949 agreement was aimed at ending fighting in Palestine, although that cease-fire did not hold.