OF GANGSTAS & JOURNALISM: AN APOLOGY, [Col. Writ. 8/13/05] Copyright ’05 Mumia Abu-Jamal
“The history we read, though based on facts, is, strictly speaking, not factual at all, but a series of accepted judgements.” — Geoffrey Barraclough, *History in a Changing World* (1955)
Journalists, like historians, are only as good as their sources, and reportage, like commentary, is colored by the lens of belief.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a piece called, “Keepin’ It Gangsta'” (6/18/05), where I wrote that the infamous CRIPs, Bloods, and other urban gangs had their roots in the Black Panther Party. [One] source was an article written by Black political prisoner, Sundiata Acoli and published as a pamphlet back in 1979. The article suggests these gangs had early influences in dress, and root consciousness, that flowed from the Black Panther Party, and other nationalist and revolutionary-type organizations.
This and other source materials, like a xerox copy of an August 1973 publication of a C.R.I.P. Constitution, and the autobiography of former CRIP, Sanyika Shakur (f/k/a ‘Monster’ Cody Scott), led me to the conclusion that CRIPs had roots in Black consciousness movements and had, somehow, gone awry, perhaps under the influence of the drug game.
I have come to question that conclusion.
No doubt Sundiata Acoli, a proud Panther and veteran of the Black Liberation movement, believed many of his face-to-face sources in state and federal prisons over many years, but it seems many of his sources were telling him what he wanted to hear, to give a gloss over their origins that didn’t exist in life. Perhaps because Sundiata wanted to believe their reports of BPP and nationalist influences, he believed them. Just as I wanted to believe that the Party had such influence, I too, believed such reports.
I can’t say that I do today.
I’ve re-read Shakur’s autobiography, [*Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member* (Penguin: 1993/’94)] and I must admit, it is hard to find evidence of either social, communal or nationalist consciousness in the CRIP-life that Shakur describes. What is evident is a profound nihilism.
What almost echoes the Party’s targeting under the COINTELPRO though, is the easy way L.A. cops used one group of CRIPs, the Eight Deuce Trays, against the others, Rolling Sixties.
Shakur, a teenager, is told by an LAPD ‘anti-gang’ sergeant, that the other CRIP set is out to kill him. When ‘Monster’ asks who, the cop replies:
“‘Peddie, Scoop, Kiki, and a few others. If I were you I’d keep my gun close at hand, ’cause those boys seem mighty serious.’
‘Yeah, well f— the Sixties. They know where I’m at.’
‘Yeah, but do you know where *they are*? I mean right *now*?’
Then, calling me to the car in a secretive manner he said,
‘They on Fifty-ninth Street and Third Avenue. All the ones I just mentioned who’ve been bad-mouthing you. I was just telling my partner here that if you were there they’d be scared s—less. If you get your crew and go now, I’ll make sure you are clear. But only fifteen minutes. You got that?’ he added with a wink and a click of the tongue.
‘Yeah, I got it. But how I know you ain’t settin’ me up?’
‘If I wanted to put you in jail, Monster, I’d arrest you now for that gun in your waistband.’
Surprised, I said, ‘Righteous,’ and stepped away from the car.
We mounted up and went over to Fifty-ninth and Third Avenue. Sure enough, there they were. And just as he had said, we encountered no police.” [pp. 175-176]
‘Monster’ and his crew lit the street up, with fire and blood. (Kinda gives a whole new meaning to ‘gang control’, doesn’t it?)
It would’ve been nice, reassuring even, if the CRIPs, and other Black youth gangs, had a social consciousness. But, nice ain’t right. And no amount of wishing will make it so. They were unconscious criminals, devoid of knowledge of their people’s long, hard walk to quasi-freedom.
I stand corrected.
Copyright 2005 Mumia Abu-Jamal