"You have African-Americans who resent the fact that she wrote the book (first). But they could have done the same thing," Tamu says, noting that the Crips and Bloods have been around for at least 15 years. "Talking doesn't get you places. Leon did her homework."
Bing approached the toughest homeboys without fear, but her enthusiasm for her homework was not without risk. At one point, she vividly describes an incident in which she drifted into Blood territory with G Roc, a member of the Crips--a violation of gang code that could have meant instant death for both of them.
"We got in the wrong territory, and these were my friends in the Bloods. But as G Roc says, 'You gonna drop a name to a bullet flying in the window?' Right then we were at a stoplight and here's this car next to us full of Bloods. I was petrified, \o7 petrified\f7 . I felt like I could have read the combined works of Dickens while I sat there."
"She took a lot of chances, but the fact is the woman cared, and she has a lot of fortitude," says Jim Galipeau, whose work as a deputy probation officer for L.A. County is described in "Do or Die." "And she'll do what's necessary to get the story."
Galipeau would take her on his rounds, dealing with some of the toughest gang members in Los Angeles, and Bing would later return on her own, her dog, Woofer, in tow.
When she began in 1986, Bing found virtually no takers for her reporting on gangs. Now, "Do or Die" is leading off a string of books about L.A. gangs, which are also turning out to be big fodder for the box office, most notably with John Singleton's "Boyz N the Hood." Bing traces the growing interest in her subject to the violence in the 'hood.
As for her own interest, Bing knows that she's not what you might expect of a reporter on such a gritty beat. She grew up in the Bay Area, raised by her grandparents after her parents divorced. Her grandfather was an executive for Steinway pianos.
"It was like the Waltons, only very much to the right," she says in an interview in her home, where a baby grand commands a big chunk of her living room.
Bing attended USC and moved to New York, where she became a bride and mother. (Her daughter, Lisa Bing, is a 33-year-old actress in Los Angeles.) Bing's marriage was short-lived, though, and she soon fell into modeling. She modeled for Oleg Cassini and Norma Norell. But it was her association with Gernreich that landed her on the cover of Time in 1968. Bing was wearing a heliotrope pullover with a revealing plastic panel that inspired the press to nickname her "Nouveau Navel."
"My background does not indicate that I would do this," Bing says, with some understatement.
When Bing decided to try her hand at journalism six years ago, she found herself drawn to stories about troubled teen-agers. Her first piece looked at kids who squat on Venice Beach.
"This country has an enormous appetite for its young," she says with fervor. "Just eats it right up, especially minorities."
She was drawn to reporting on gangs because they were among the most troubled teen-agers of all. She wanted to know why they were killing each other.
When teen-agers are "told in many ways how worthless you are and having that proven to you in thought and deed in the country in which you live--and by the white society that rules it--then you begin to hate that thing that keeps you in that position, and so you kill someone who is like you and that rings true.
"We as a society give more than permission. We approve and abet this by our apathy, by our complete lack of concern . . . (and) by making them 'they' and 'them,' by dehumanizing them."
Bing's book gives "them" faces, names, hearts and minds.
"Communicating," Bing says, "that's the way to maybe get it to stop."