Sheikh Donald Bakeer
Los Angeles, CA
The Solutions to gang murders are simple but not easy to apply. The cure for gang banging is mass dosages of 2 vitamins, Vitamin A, and Vitamin L – ATTENTION and LOVE. Mass doses of these vitamins reduce the tendency for youth to choose violent solutions to problems because adults are able intercede in those critical fat seconds with better decisions, lifesaving alternatives . Of course, a condition that has festered since Slavery and Beyond will not be easily eradicated. First, you must make a lifetime commitment, (the sick tradition has been going on for decades, maybe even to pre-slavery tribal roots). Secondly, it must be properly analyzed, neutralized, then eliminated in stages.
I have been working with gangs since 1979 as an English teacher, a Muslim father, author, and filmmaker in South Central L.A. and Inglewood, my neighborhood. I am pleased to say gang murders (which surpassed 1000 per year in the bloody gang/drug wars of the 1980’s and ‘90’s) have subsided to pre-CRIP and BLOOD levels. The L.A. Black gang wars are, predominantly, over.
In Los Angeles our Black gangs (CRIPS and BLOODS) were greatly influenced by the local militant Black organizations in the 1960’s – US Organization, L.A. Black Panther Party, and the Nation of Islam. The anti-establishment, anti-White, unabashed belief in violence as a primary solution philosophy appealed to pubescent wannabe heroes attending Junior and Senior High Schools in the early 1970’s, now, Black, Bold, and Proud.
But, these powerful organizations, all of whom were avid readers and many who were intellectuals, left their bastard children a legacy of hatred for and resistance to society, but did not pass on their own positive tradition of literacy, i.e., the Black literature in the evolving Black Revolutionary canon: How to Eat to Live (parts 1 & 2); and, Message to the Black Man by the sagacious Elijah Muhammad; the, Wretched of the Earth by Fanon; the Red Book (for some); the
African writers, Diop, Soyinke, Achebe and, his prescient, Things Fall Apart; the Black poets - the militant Langston Hughes, the genius and General in the Art and Culture War, Amiri Baraka, Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti), and his strident, Don’t Cry, SCREAM…, Gwen Brook’s, “We Real Cool”; Eldridge Cleaver’s prison diatribe, Soul on Ice;, and, The Spook that Sat by the Door, by Charles Greenlee, were just a few of the must-attempt-to-reads in those days.
All of the Revolutionary organizations in the 1960’s were refining philosophies through their study and writing. Ironically, CRIPS and BLOODS admired Malcolm, Huey, Bunche, Geronimo, et al, and, often dressed like them, at first, and the CRIP Constitution (1973) was written by U.C.L.A.’s BSU in the revolutionary jargon i.e., Community Revolution In Progress –CRIP- of the Black Panther Party).
But, the makeshift new tradition of the emerging gangs eschewed reading and writing. The tradition of voluntary illiteracy was so rooted in their culture that not one CRIP or BLOOD graduated from college until the late 1990’s because it was considered “slippin’” to attend.
The average gangbanger in L.A. is functionally illiterate, very sophisticated at hiding it, but reads at the 5th or 6th grade level. I know because I taught them in high school English classes for over 30 years in South Central L.A. I know from experience that there is a direct correlation between illiteracy and violence. The less literate children are, the more likely they will be to perpetrate extreme violence. “Smart gangbanger” is an oxymoron. If they become smart, they stop gangbanging. By the Grace and Mercy of Allah (SWA) we were able to bust a hole in that ignorant tradition, and a critical mass of them are escaping into literacy since we created a new literature that speaks to their specific needs.
In 1986 when I published my first novel, South Central L.A. CRIPS (The Story of an L.A. Street Gang -1971 to 1986), it was the first book written to the CRIPS. In fact, even though “crippin” was at least 16 years old, it was the first book to even use the word CRIPS. I gave away dozens of hardbacks, fortunately, it sold like hotcakes, too, and they stole it out of every library in South
Central. And, I could never recoup a full set whenever we read it in class. But, these were 10th and 11th grade gangsters who read at the 5th and 6th grade levels and were slipping backward for lack of practice. The “anti-literates” who did not have the will to refine their reading skills, the ones who proudly called themselves “N*gg*s”, in class, not knowing it signaled their failure to graduate and likely doomed them to jail or death.
I was overjoyed. I had accomplished my goal of writing a contemporary Huckleberry Finn for Black youth, a doorway into reading, and gangsters went from getting caught slippin’ and laughed at for reading a book to everybody reading/wanting to read/or, claiming to have read the book South Central L.A. CRIPS... It was the late 1980’s and the ubiquitous, ignorant tradition of illiteracy began to die. It was not the “skill” but the “will” that was keeping them illiterate.
Gangsters were not so much illiterate as anti-literate. As we wrote more books that compelled them, gang aesthetics changed, subtly. I discovered that literacy is critical for changing gang culture while I used my classroom as a laboratory.
My techniques hit the front pages of the L.A. Weekly, I became the gang expert for then emerging CNN, and CRIPS and BLOODS began to get Hollywood’s attention, prompting the Ripoff blockbuster, “COLORS”; then, John Singleton (whom I mentored when he was at USC) wrote and directed the profound homegrown and carefully crafted classic, “Boyz ‘N the Hood”(1991); followed by my own collaboration with Oliver Stone and Warner Bros. to produce the subliminal dawah movie, “SOUTH CENTRAL”(1992), adapted from my novel, South Central L.A. CRIPS…(1986), and true to the Malcolm X paradigm that prescribed reading in prison to rescue and revive the human mind and spirit.
The Solution to Gang Murders
In the 1990’s the rapper and former CRIP, Ice T, (whom I met and mentored when he headlined a concert my BSU gave) wrote the Ice Opinion for gangsters, then, Sanyinka Shakur (aka Monster Cody) (whom I was corresponding with when he was at Pelican Bay Prison) wrote the rights of passage bestseller of all in the genre, Monster, from his jail cell. Tookie Williams (who with Raymond Washington were the O.G.’s of Crippin’) wrote a series of children’s books and the rights of passage memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption from his cell on Death Row.
Before he was executed Tookie was considered and rejected twice for the Nobel Peace prize; they had no idea how many lives he had contributed to saving by recanting illiteracy with words and actions. I did a celebrity read-a-thon at Morningside H.S. in Inglewood one Saturday, back in the day, with Tu Pac who recited, “I’ve Known Rivers”, by Langston Hughes. He told me he loved my book and movie; I was aghast. But,Tu Pac was well known as a reader, and, later on, wrote his own book, The Rose that Grew Thru Concrete, that inspired many a gangster poet and galvanized the poetry/rap explosion among lower and middleclass Black youth that began in the 1990’s and continues, today.
There’s a whole lot more to it, like establishing public school uniforms in elementary and middle schools to negate the whole colors and gang insignia mania (I got that from teaching boys in Muhammad’s University, 1972-74), and getting the whole village/city to buy-in to giving Attention to our “Oops babies” (“Oops, I forgot to take my pill”, or, “Oops, I waited too late to have an abortion”) - fornication’s children doomed at birth by low expectations.
Many of the most afflicted cannot be saved, so the first focus is on the “wannabe’s” in elementary and middle schools, beginning with uniforms to take the burden of how to dress off them and to Neutralize gang attire. The singers, the rappers, the writers with street cred, and all of the artists have to create and show them Love by making “Peace Art” to validate nonviolence and subliminally change the culture of their neglected anti-literate fans.
It takes a movie or two, also, because movies are wannabes’ novels; their values and behaviors are shaped by Hollywood and the latest rap gurus. Chicago screenwriters have to write specific stories about specific gangs, functional movies that hook them on literacy with the Malcolm X and SOUTH CENTRAL paradigm. Save them from illiteracy and perpetual slavery.
Los Angeles, also, invested 10’s of millions of dollars to create an anti-gang bureaucracy that utilized reformed gangsters and neighborhood leaders to intercede in deadly conflicts, show both sides Love, counsel, inform and refer them to people who could help them.
But, to succeed wannabe gangsters still must read, copiously, and most of that specific literature must be written by those who know well their dialect and culture (as well as Standard English). In Chicago, the Commons and Kanyes, the R. Kellys and that ilk have to pen “We’re All in the Same Game” type anthems and convert some of the great rappers from the gangs and the ‘hoods to do the same. Only they can easily inspire and uplift these unique bastard-victims of our 1960’s Black militant philosophy, and fatherly neglect.
Allah (SWA) has given us a great challenge, but these are historic times, and out of great challenges come opportunities for great victories, the crucible for developing great people. And, I can guarantee you that when the wannabe’s minds are expanded, very few really want to be gangsters when they know they can be successful in life, legitimately. Remember, “with difficulty comes ease“. The Panacea is Work. Work Works!
(Donald Bakeer’s latest book is a memoir titled, I, Too, Can Create Light (From Negro to N*GG* to Muslim). The e-book is available, on most e-readers. He, also, authored the critically acclaimed novel, …CRIPS…, and adapted it into the Warner Bros. classic film, “SOUTH CENTRAL”. His books, DVD’s, and CD’s can be purchased at DonaldBakeer.com He can be reached at DBakeer107@att.net)