African American gangs began forming in California during the 1920s. They were not territorial; rather, they were loose associations, unorganized, and rarely violent. They did not identify with graffiti, monikers, or other gang characteristics.
These early gangs consisted generally of family members and neighborhood friends who involved themselves in limited criminal activities designed to perpetrate a "tough guy" image and to provide an easy means of obtaining money.
From 1955 to 1965, the African American gangs increased with larger memberships and operated primarily in south central Los Angeles and Compton. This was partly due to more African American youths bonding together for protection from rival gangs.
It was not until the late 1960s when the Crips and Bloods--the two most violent and criminally active African American gangs--originated. The Crips began forming in southeast Los Angeles by terrorizing local neighborhoods and schools with assaults and st rong-arm robberies. They developed a reputation for being the most fierce and feared gang in the Los Angeles area.
Other African American gangs formed at about the same time to protect themselves from the Crips. One such gang was the Bloods, which originated in and around the Piru Street area in Compton, California; thus, some Bloods gangs are referred to as Piru gan gs. The Bloods, which were outnumbered at the time by the Crips three to one, became the second, most vicious African American gang in the Los Angeles area.
Both the Crips and Bloods eventually divided into numerous, smaller gangs (or "sets") during the 1970s. They kept the Crips' and Bloods' (Piru) name, spread throughout Los Angeles County, and began to claim certain neighborhoods as their territory. Thei r gang rivalry became vicious and bloody.
By 1980, there were approximately 15,000 Crips and Bloods gang members in and around the Los Angeles area. The gangs--or sets--ranged in size from a few gang members to several hundred and had little, if any, organized leadership. The typical age of a g ang member varied from 14- to 24-years-old.
Initiation into a gang required the prospective member to "jump in" and fight some of the members already in the gang. Another initiation rite required them to commit a crime within the neighborhood or an assault against rival gang members.
They remained territorial and motivated to protect their neighborhoods from rival gang members. They established unique and basic trademarks such as colors, monikers, graffiti, and hand signs. The color blue was adopted by the Crips as a symbol of gang recognition; red became the color of the Bloods. Monikers--such as "Killer Dog," "12-Gauge," and "Cop Killer"--often reflected their criminal abilities or their ferociousness as gang members. Graffiti identified the gang and hand signs displayed symbols --usually letters--unique to the name of their gang. It was not unusual for members to "flash" hand signs at rival gang members as a challenge to fight. They took great pride in displaying their colors and defending them against rival gangs. They were willing to die for the gang, especially in defense of their colors and neighborhood. It was not until the early 1980s that the era of drive-by shootings began.
They became involved in a variety of neighborhood crimes such as burglary; robbery; assault; and the selling of marijuana, LSD, and PCP. The issue of gang involvement in narcotics trafficking was generally considered to be of a minor nature prior to the 1980s. However, by 1983, African American Los Angeles gangs seized upon the availability of narcotics, particularly crack, as a means of income. Crack had supplemented cocaine as the most popular illicit drug of choice. Prime reasons for the widespread use of crack were its ease of conversion for smoking, the rapid onset of its effect on the user, and its comparatively inexpensive price.
The migration of African American Los Angeles gang members during the 1980s to other United States cities, often for reasons other than some vast gang-inspired conspiracy, resulted in the spread of crack sales and an attendant wave of violence. This spre ad of crack sales can be traced back to the gang members' family ties in these cities and to the lure of quick profits. These two reasons provided most of the inspiration and motivation for the transplanted gang members.
Considerable diversity is displayed by Crips and Bloods gangs and their members in narcotics trafficking, which allows for different levels of involvement from narcotic selling by adolescents to the more important roles of directing narcotics trafficking activities. In the past, an individual's age, physical structure, and arrest record were often principal factors in determining gang hierarchy; money derived from narcotic sales soon became the symbol which signified power and status.
Crips and Bloods have established criminal networks throughout the country and capitalized on the enormous profits earned from the trafficking and selling of crack cocaine. In 1987, nine members of the Nine-Deuce Hoovers--a Crips gang--migrated from Los Angeles to Seattle, Washington, where they ran three crack houses, with crack .transported from California each week. One gang member was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty in 1988 to selling crack near a school and using a gun to further his narco tic enterprise. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and is currently incarcerated in Leavenworth Federal Prison, Kansas.