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Commentary on local issues, viewpoints of residents and community leaders, and letters : An On-Air Peace Entreaty : Current and Former Gang Members Use Radio to Urge Listeners to Remain Calm Following King Verdicts

April 18, 1993|CAROLYN PATRICIA SCOTT | Current and former members of the Bloods and Crips gangs of Watts and South-Central met Easter Sunday on "Peace Treaty," a call-in talk show on KJLH-FM 102.3 that recently won a Peabody Award for its coverage of last year's riots. The program, which airs Sunday evenings, offers a forum for callers' insights and opinions. The Easter show focused on the prospect of keeping the peace in the days following the verdicts in the Rodney G. King civil rights case. and

As the young men crammed into the radio station's control room, there was just enough time before the "on-air" sign flashed for station program manager Frankie Ross to briefly explain that he saw a need for a program like this in the community, and contacted Michael Concepcion, one of the original Crips.

Concepcion, now a paraplegic because of gang violence, quickly acknowledged that it hadn't occurred to him to use radio to reach those still in gangs. But, when Ross suggested the open-mike program, he said he didn't hesitate: "It made me feel real happy, especially since I'd been involved with Hands Across Watts, (a nonprofit organization founded to expand gang peace). This was a chance for them to get involved."

The show opened with an impassioned call to the community from Ty-Stick: "Don't go out and do nothing negative." And then he shared a personal bit of history from the riots: "I was out there on the front line . . . . I watched three of my homies die."

The first caller introduced a theme that would be repeated throughout the night: "Stay in the house because, you know, when the verdict come out, it's going to be open season on black people!" All agreed that staying out of harm's way in the days after the verdicts are handed down is the best bet.

Big Lump, a former gang member, was in the studio and explained his transformation: "I've seen brothers, sisters . . . children get killed over nothing. I done been to prison. I done did time. I done sold drugs." He passionately affirms that he found religion and entrepreneurship and they, not violence or drugs, are his salvation. "God has blessed me, as a man."

Though there are indications that a few gang factions have continued to resist the truce, most of the people gathered around the microphone said they do not expect widespread rioting in the aftermath of the King verdicts. Off the air, some wondered aloud how well the peace would hold through the summer and the impending trial of the three defendants accused of beating trucker Reginald O. Denny on the first night of last spring's riots. But when the mike was open, they offered hope to callers.

One caller who identified himself as a black police officer pleaded with gang members: "Don't judge us!" The in-studio group countered with a call for mutual respect and equal treatment under the law.

Another caller suggested that these young men pressure drug dealers to open their operations up to profit-sharing. As with all of the calls, the assembled listened carefully, then steered the conversation back to the theme of the program: peace.

There were calls that gave evidence of another mood. One anxious caller demanded: "Are you going to be in my neighborhood keeping the peace?"

The assembled answered: yes.

The caller snapped back: "Well, I don't see you on my block!"

The assembled shared the hot line numbers for Hands Across Watts and invited the caller to be in touch; they vowed they will help keep peace in the neighborhood.

"I'm always out there," Tony Bogard says.

Only a few callers advocated or intimated that violence should follow the verdicts, but again the response is peace. The peace advocates suggested that the opportunity to attain stability and economic freedom is reason enough for avoiding a repeat of last year's unrest.

"It's all about getting paid," Concepcion said.

Big Al agreed: "We got to do our share."

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