At the intersection of Florence and Normandie, where television cameras caught the violent early moments of the Los Angeles riots, the 8-Trey Gangster Crips have established their stronghold.
From this corner, where trucker Reginald O. Denny was brutally beaten, the loose affiliation of about 350 gang members claims an impoverished territory that runs roughly from Gage Avenue on the North to Manchester Avenue on the South and from Van Ness Avenue on the West to Vermont Avenue on the East.
While its preoccupation with turf wars and dress is not unlike all 400 gangs that terrorize Los Angeles, authorities say this gang differs from some others in the severity of its crimes--murder, rape, kidnaping and gunrunning. The brutal beating of Denny--broadcast live from a news helicopter, brought its violence to a national audience, they say.
The gang members are seen on videotape yanking Denny from his 18-wheeler, repeatedly kicking him and striking him in the face, once with a brick, and then picking his pocket as he lay unconscious.
"This is one of the most violent gangs in the entire city," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls. "There is a malignancy in their hearts that is chilling."
The last time the 8-Treys made headlines, five of their members were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of two innocent teen-age girls. It turned out to be a tragic case of mistaken identity.
Their intended target was the sister of a drug dealer who sold them two pounds of white flour as part of a $14,000 "cocaine" deal, said detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Street Division.
As the gang members left the court after being sentenced to life in prison, one of them, Deautri Denard, cursed the mother of one girl, flashed the gang sign and shouted, "Gangsterism continues."
The gang also has earned a reputation for mobilizing bloody drive-by attacks on neighboring archrivals. Among those are the Rolling 60s Crips, with whom the 8-Trey Gangster Crips have been at war for at least seven years, authorities said.
The 8-Treys' brand of wanton violence continued when the city was ravaged by rioting on April 29 after the not guilty verdicts in the beating of motorist Rodney G. King.
Eight-Trey member Trynon Lee Jefferson, 21, ambushed a police car, inflicting minor gunshot wounds on three officers, authorities said. Moments later, he was shot once in the head by police, and is in critical condition.
Authorities believe 8-Treys looted clean a gun shop near Western and Florence avenues and are heavily armed.
Tuesday's arrest of Damian (Football) Williams, Henry Watson, Antoine Miller and Gary Williams in the Denny beating comes as police are cracking down on weapons and narcotics violations. Three of the suspects were identified by the FBI as members of the gang and one as a gang associate.
Meanwhile, some gang leaders have been meeting among themselves and with public officials in an attempt to forge peace treaties with rival gangs and to protect themselves from what the gang members characterize as police harassment.
Police have been surprised in recent weeks to see 8-Trey Crips, Rolling 60s Crips and other rivals hanging out and partying together.
"We feel we have to protect ourselves because the police are riding three deep in patrol cars with shotguns on their laps--we think they are a gang with badges," said a 74 Hoover Crip gang member known as Oz Dog. "They are sweatin' us in front of our homes and on our streets so there is a sense of rage. . . . "
Gang members and gang counselors fear that the highly publicized arrests in the Denny beating might threaten the effort.
"There is a real truce going on that started a couple of weeks prior to the riots," said Jim Galipeau, a Los Angeles County probation officer who works in the gang unit in South Los Angeles. Galipeau said he feared publicity over the arrests could anger other gangs and strain any tenuous alliances.
"Now the whole world knows that these guys are tough," said Ken Bell, an investigator for the Los Angeles district attorney's office, who objected to law enforcement authorities publicly identifying the gang. "It validates . . . a value system based on violence and being known as notorious criminals."
The 8-Treys trace their origins to the early 1970s and have expanded their arsenal and their criminal activities largely as the result of their years-long war with the Rolling 60s, an adjacent gang nearly twice its size, Galipeau said.
Its members have claimed as their own a style of dress already popular among many Los Angeles youths--Georgetown University hats and T-shirts, which are highlighted with the insignia of a bulldog wearing a hat emblazoned with the letter "G" for gangster. Authorities say the gang also is set apart by the fact that its leaders are somewhat older than those of other gangs; many 8-Trey members are in their late 20s and 30s.
In gang folklore, the arms race between the two groups intensified in the 1970s after the Rolling 60s robbed a National Guard armory of its ammunition and guns, he added.
The gang gained communitywide attention in January, 1981, after a gun battle between the 8-Treys and the 9-0 Hoover Crips in which an 8-year-old boy was killed in a cross-fire on West 87th Street. In that case, five 8-Trey gang members were sentenced to terms ranging from three to 15 years for the murder of Moses Hamilton.
But it was Tuesday's arrests, one made by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, that stand as the 8-Treys' most notorious moment, gang experts said.
"This is a sad story and an affront to the 8-Treys. But they messed up," Galipeau said. They cannot justify what they did."