Gangs, Capitalism and Race
The documentary 'Crips and Bloods: Made in
The film excels in its examination of Los Angeles’ gang conflict between Crips and Bloods by emphasizing the underlying and continuing economic and racial elements that have led to the vicious cycle of gang violence that has seen the deaths of over 15,000 people in the last 30 years.
The film puts LA's gangs within the context of dominant American culture and race relations; the deindustrialization of the economy and subsequent job losses along with the removal of meaningful economic and social options; and the destruction of the Black Power movement and other avenues of community organizing and support, all helping to create and fuel the Frankenstein-like creature of gang culture and violence.
Stacy Peralta’s film starts by examining post WW2 Los Angeles where racial segregation while not as pronounced as Southern US states still had profoundly negative effects on the African American population of
This focused, angry, razor sharp commentary and history is told via interviews with LA's earliest gang members who became involved in the Black Power movement. The segments and clarity of analysis of Ron Wilkins, Bird and
The establishment’s crack down on the Black Panther/Black Power movement, saw the destruction of the self-determination and community organizing efforts and leadership that grew out the 1960s leaving a void and lack of direction and leadership that was to be filled by gangs. The result of this history was that mostly young male anger, frustration and desperation that had been channeled into radical directions previously found expression in cyclical violence of gang war and culture. Thus the film paints a clear picture and history that highlights how gang culture and violence is a raw, stripped bare, outcome of the self-hatred and self-despair that is directly created from class and racial divisions.
Peralta effectively shows that the perversion that is gang violence was the outcome of the history of racial and economic conflict inflicted upon African American populations, specifically those in
It is with this context that the tragedy of gang culture emerges. The film seeks to touch upon how gang violence impacts upon the communities around it. One important area that is touched upon is the disproportional rates of incarceration of black males in comparison to the rest of the population. This in turn further fuels the dysfunctional and strenuous family life of those living in South Central Los Angeles communities, adding to the pressures and structural injustices that create the conditions for gangs to thrive. One of the more telling commentaries on this aspect of the situation comes from the films soundtrack, the Ice Cube song “The Nigga Trap”-
"The ghetto is a nigga trap, take the cheese
Soon as you do it here come the police
Invented and designed fo' us to fail
Where you gon' end up, dead or in jail...
Concrete slave ships, never move
Where niggaz like us get used like a mule
Don't let 'em catch you, arrest you
Strip and undress you, throw you in a cesspool
You wanna know the crime of the century
A ghetto elementary, a mental penitentiary"
The documentary examines the reality and culture that perpetuates and drives gang involvement through interviews with current and former Crips and Bloods members. These first hand accounts paint a stark and clear picture of what daily life is like in these impoverished, systemically run down neighborhoods. The picture is one of a lack of hope, absent of a future or alternatives, leaving gang culture as the de-facto way of life. This way of life is then perpetuated across generations not only due to the continuation of the circumstances but the continuation of gang culture as normality, or the only achievable normality. What is strikingly cognizant with interviewees is the desirability and need for alternatives, for community funding, organizations and programs. There is recognition that gang life is a tragic mode of life, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a fatalistic trap.
Peralta’s documentary doesn’t seek to provide convenient answers, nor does it seek to place judgment on those within gangs. Instead it seeks to draw attention to the issues involved, to highlight the injustice not only of the situation these South Central communities find themselves in, but the hypocrisy of nation-wide indifference, as Peralta asks- “if affluent, middle-class white American teenagers were forming gangs, arming themselves with automatic weapons and killing one another, how would our country respond? Would our government step in to investigate the crisis, counsel the victims, heal the community, and direct funds towards a lasting solution? Or would our government allow this violence to continue unabated, decade after decade after decade?”
The film though is not without hope. It does not seek to create a feel good moment, but it does show what seem to be an increasing grassroots gang-invention efforts and organizing seeking to find community based responses and solutions to the problems of gang violence and its causes. Such efforts should be supported, but will always be limited in effect, hamstrung in their ability to create meaningful or lasting change, until the underlying structural and institutional causes of gang violence- poverty, economic inequality, social and political disenfranchisement, racism- are addressed not only in Los Angeles but across the United States and elsewhere.
For more information on the film and some of the organizations working within these