Sipping a 40-ounce bottle of Old English 800 at the Nickerson Gardens housing project last week, Dale Marks stood among scores of celebrating Crips and Bloods--once deadly rivals in Los Angeles' street-gang warfare. For the first time in his life, he was partying in the name of peace.
From throughout the county, Bloods and Crips had converged on the project in Watts, as they had on a number of previous nights, swapping high fives and trading gang colors in a display of unity that would have been almost unfathomable before the riots.
The 24-year-old Marks, a longtime member of the Bloods and a father of three, said he doesn't doubt the resolve of various factions of the two gangs to end the pay-back killings that have claimed hundreds of lives of gang members and bystanders. But he said that, unless economic conditions improve for gang members, some may continue to engage in criminality.
"The average black person I know is just like me and can't get a job," Marks said. "Most of us don't have another way of being somebody other than being in a gang.
"One thing for sure," he said, without admitting or denying that he had engaged in criminal acts, "I have a family and I am going to take care of my family."
Police say they are wary of the accord--a surprising development in a city victimized by record increases in gang-related murders--because of reports that the Crips and Bloods may be joining forces to attack law enforcement officers. Gang members involved in the truce deny that contention.
"If in fact the two major factions want to bury the hatchet and they don't want to go against the police, the department is all for that," said LAPD spokesman Cmdr. Robert Gil. "Some of the things they're saying now are positive and some tend to be negative and we want to assess both sides of it."
Community activists say it is crucial for political leaders, business owners and neighborhood residents to quickly develop programs that will help ease the poverty and despair that give rise to gangs.
They worry that the positive energy from the truce already is dissipating in the nightly celebrations in South Los Angeles housing projects--one of which ended in two severe beatings and another with wild shooting in the air.
Compton Mayor Walter R. Tucker, former football star Jim Brown and 30 current and former Crips and Bloods this week challenged elected officials and corporations to create jobs for jobless gang members as part of the city's rebuilding effort.
Without an infusion of jobs, they said, youths can be expected to slide back into trouble. And without support, they said, the truce is unlikely to spread beyond South Los Angeles--home to the Crips and Bloods--and into other areas of the county where Latino gangs are based.
Authorities contend that there are an estimated 150,000 gang members countywide, and it is unclear how many of them are abiding by the truce. There is evidence that the feuding is continuing among some gangs: Last weekend, four people were killed and eight others injured in what police described as gang-related incidents throughout Los Angeles County.
Robert Moore, a Crenshaw area businessman and community activist, said young gang members he knows are not honoring the truce.
"They say they just don't believe in it, that it's a hoax created to keep them from doing this or that, till the anger (from the King verdict) blows over," said Moore. "They believe that no one is addressing the real issues."
Supporters of the truce contend that many gang members, who are not hardened offenders, truly want to change their lives and be included in the rebuilding of their riot-torn neighborhoods, citing a 10-page proposal by a group of Crips and Bloods outlining a $3.7-million rebuilding plan.
"If we turn our backs on these brothers there will be another riot," said Mayor Tucker, speaking Tuesday at a seven-acre site where Compton officials plan to establish a job-training center with the help of a grant from the Southern California Edison Co. "The gang truce can last if there is a foundation for the truce--that means local production and jobs."
Peter V. Ueberroth, chairman of Rebuild L.A., the nonprofit corporation created by Mayor Tom Bradley to lead the reconstruction of riot-torn areas, implied that gang members would be included in the effort.
"There is no group that will be excluded," he said. "We recognize that there is a critical need to understand problems and obstacles that young people throughout the city must deal with daily. Nobody has discounted the importance of addressing this segment of the community."
The peace movement among Crips and Bloods originated, by all accounts, with the gang members themselves. Those interviewed cited a series of incidents that they said led gang members to see black neighborhoods as besieged from without for the first time.