A six-block stretch of Inglewood, directly under the approach to Los Angeles International Airport, is prisoner to drugs, guns and a gang that authorities say is supported by both of those evils.
America’s virtually free market in handguns gives the Crenshaw Mafia Gang, a subgroup of the Bloods, its deadly power, according to police. And the drug trade, investigators say, provides it revenue--enough money, in fact, for the gang to help produce a rap video portraying the members’ violent lives. The video ends with a surprising insight into the odds of their own survival, a funeral.
Inglewood’s police department has tried for years to drive the Crenshaw Mafia Gang from the “The Bottoms,” a nickname some residents have given the old Darby-Dixon neighborhood to signify its decline. But officers said the gang remains in tight control of the shabby enclave of 40-year-old two-story apartment houses, selling drugs on the streets, exchanging shots with enemies, blocking walkways and stairs, gambling, drinking and urinating outside the buildings. Gang members exert control, officers said, by tactics such as damaging the cars and apartments of neighbors who complain, and by using pit bulls as canine enforcers.
This week, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti tried another approach, one used in other gang-controlled Los Angeles County communities. Deputy Dist. Atty. Henry Kerner obtained a court order that prevents the accused gangbangers from engaging in any activity that might lead to lawbreaking. If the cops see one of them with a pager, for example, they can bust him if they suspect the beeper might be used for drug dealing.
Although the accused gang members had no lawyers, they had enough sophistication, they knew enough about the legal system to go into a Torrance courtroom, several miles south of their Inglewood base, and fight the accusations. A dozen of the young men appeared before Superior Court Judge Robert Mallano on Tuesday and several strongly denied that they are criminals.
Despite their protestations, Mallano issued a preliminary injunction against the gang, giving authorities permission to immediately begin using the new approach. He ruled that a final decision on the issue will be made in a trial later in the year.
After Garcetti’s announcement of the plan at a park near the beleaguered neighborhood, I toured Darby-Dixon with the councilman who represents the area, Garland L. Hardeman, a former Los Angeles police officer.
Young men were hanging out on the streets, and on the apartment walkways and steps at midmorning. Others were driving around in beat-up old cars that seemed to suggest the street drug business isn’t especially profitable.
We decided to talk to some of them. Outside a fast food restaurant, we encountered one of the targets of the court order, Bobby Williams, or Lil Hawk, a tall, thin young man with “Bottomsville” tattooed on his neck. Williams said the D.A. has it wrong. “I’m an ex-gang banger,” he said.
Afterward, I read a thick packet of declarations submitted to the court by Deputy Dist. Atty. Kerner. They provided the background to what Hardeman and I had seen on the streets.
They portray the Crenshaw Mafia Gang as well-organized group, with a structure resembling that of a business. Although none of the people have been charged with a crime, this is how the documents said the organization works:
At the top is the boss, or CEO, Kenneth “Kenny Boy” Riley, who takes personal charge of the gang’s drug business by supervising the street dealers and deciding, an investigator said, “who sells, who does not, who gets supplied and in what quantities.” He acts as gang historian and keeps an album of announcements of gang members’ funerals. He also recruits new members. One officer said, “He does not touch drugs himself and he avoids trouble.” When trouble breaks out in the crew, Riley smooths things over.
Under Riley is Roy “Boss Hog” Peet, who police said “was the main supplier of firearms being kept by CMG gang members in ‘The Bottoms.’ ”
In addition to guns and drugs, there is a more legitimate business operation--rap videos. In fact, Lil Hawk Williams, the young man I met in front of the fast food restaurant, is featured in one of them.
The video, according to court papers, was partially financed by Crenshaw Mafia Gang narcotics earnings and can be obtained through a cable television show and an 800 number.
With structure and a certain amount of discipline, the Crenshaw Mafia Gang, a mostly African American organization, has been able to work out a peace arrangement with the only other gang in the area, the predominantly Latino Malditos.
It’s tough going up against a well-organized foe. But what’s really making it rough on the Inglewood cops and the D.A.'s office is something beyond their control--our national inability to control guns and drugs.
Gun control opponents say criminals will obtain arms despite tough laws. If that were true, why is it that thousands of gun purchases to criminals and ex-cons have been stopped by the recent and comparatively weak federal and state control laws? We should strengthen the laws.
As for drugs, don’t think that nailing local entrepreneurs will stop them.
There are no cocaine fields in Inglewood, and I doubt whether big drug importers ship their goods to nearby LAX, which is loaded with cops and customs agents. The drugs come from somewhere else and are sent to the streets by big shots with wealth beyond the wildest dreams of some 20-year-old street dealer rattling around in an old car.
I hope the cops will now be able to make Darby-Dixon a safe place to live. But they know the real enemies are elsewhere, far from that impoverished little Inglewood neighborhood.