"That's not gang violence," said Tariq Thompson, 22, of Inglewood, who joined several dozen peace marchers on a trek through the four Watts housing projects last week. "That's survival."
But as the months have passed, and frustration mounts over the lack of economic opportunities for young men marked by tattoos and criminal records, old wounds have begun to open. Some had never healed.
So far this summer, Aaron Heard, 19, was gunned down in front of his grandmother's South-Central home by gang members who mistook him for a rival; Salmon Daniels Jr., 18, was beaten and shot by rivals who saw him with his girlfriend on the Venice boardwalk; Robert Callaham, 36, died in AK-47 and shotgun fire in Long Beach; Rachmon Page, 16, was slain while stopped at an intersection near a notorious gang hangout in Southwest Los Angeles, and Robert Reed, 22, was gunned down by rivals at 73rd Street and Central Avenue in what police say was retaliation for a shooting earlier that day.
"F--- peace," declares freshly painted graffiti at 52nd Street and Central Avenue, a neighborhood claimed by a Bloods set. "CK (Crip-killing) season is on."
In some cases, that anger has been directed at innocent people who have nothing to do with gangs. "You know what peace is?" asked a young man in a Crips neighborhood who called himself Indo Smoke. "Sometimes I think peace is death. That's the only time you aren't worrying."
The line between peace and war can be so thin, the threshold between irritation and murder so low, that even people trying to straighten out their lives are frequently dragged over the edge.
Timothy Lamb, 24, an Eleven-deuce Broadway Crip known as Big Bam, began the night of Aug. 22 with a jubilant phone call to his father in Salinas to let him know that his girlfriend had just given birth.
Lamb told his father how much he loved him, that he realized how much heartache he must have caused in his mischievous adolescent years. He spoke of getting married, finding a job and going back to church--a practice he had abandoned as a teen-ager because the church his family attended was in Bloods turf.
"I told him I loved him and to stay out of trouble," recalled Travis Lamb Sr., who moved north 2 1/2 years ago to escape the crime of Los Angeles. "He said, 'I got to stay out of trouble now because I got to raise my children.' "
At 2 a.m., Travis Lamb's phone rang again: "They called to say he was dead."
Shortly after they had spoken, his son had gone to a party at 99th and Main streets, where nearly 300 people from at least nine Crips factions had shown up. The bash was for a Main Street Crip just released from prison and had been advertised on flyers inviting women to enter free, men for $1.
No one is quite sure what started the trouble. Some reports suggest one of the guests was trying to provoke a fight by intentionally bumping into party-goers. Other versions point to a jealous boyfriend angered when he saw his girlfriend dancing with a member of a different gang.
Detectives are sure only that a gun battle broke out about midnight and quickly spilled onto the street. When it was all over, two people had been killed, at least three were wounded, and more than 30 shell casings of various calibers littered the ground.
Lamb, who police think was the target of the initial attack, died of a gunshot wound to the chest. The other casualty, Ongelique Millner, 19, was struck in the stomach while lying on the pavement, seeking cover from the rain of bullets. Her mother, Beverly Reed, who lost a son to street violence three years ago, had worried that Ongelique was hanging out with the wrong crowd.
"Naturally," Reed said, "she wouldn't tell me if it was true."
Gang members concede that not every neighborhood is on board with the truce, but they blame that on a growing sense of disillusionment over the government's response to their peaceful achievements. Although many Bloods and Crips factions insist they united because they were tired of killing one another, there was also an expectation that they would be rewarded with increased economic, educational and recreational opportunities.
Yet, for the most part, the lives of most gang members are as bleak as before. "These brothers have done the part that society asked them to do," said Fred Williams, a former gang member who works to keep at-risk youth in school through the Cross Colours Common Ground Foundation. "We ought to be ashamed of ourselves to let such a historic event go unanswered."
In the meantime, those in the gang world fear that they are being held to an unrealistic standard, that outsiders--especially the media--are looking for excuses to say the truce is not working rather than nurturing it along.