Three Bloods street gang factions are at war in Inglewood, and the Crips are mobilizing to enter the fray. But this time, the Crips, for a quarter-century the mortal enemy of the Bloods, are stepping in as peacemakers.
Although several gang peace treaties and cease-fires have been negotiated in Los Angeles County over the last six years, this marks the first time that former and current Crips have intervened between warring Bloods sets. One could liken it to Israel stepping in to stop factions of the PLO from killing each other. And like peace talks in the Middle East, these negotiations are going to be delicate.
"We are dealing with some really sensitive issues here because there's been a whole lot of blood spilled," said Brian Mustafa Long, a former Rollin '60s Crip turned peacemaker.
"We don't want the Bloods to think we're coming in with some government programs and putting them under a microscope in a laboratory. We just want the killing to stop."
On Friday at Rogers Park in Inglewood, the first in what is expected to be a series of meetings took place. The Inglewood Police Department was notified beforehand.
"We are encouraging, supporting and applauding the effort," said Lt. Hampton Cantrell. "Law enforcement alone won't solve these problems. We can do a lot, but we're hoping the gang leadership and membership come to some resolutions themselves."
Although the last two weeks have seen a decrease in flagrant hostilities, murders in Inglewood are on pace to rival the bloody days of 1990, when 33 people were killed in gang-motivated crimes.
There were 13 gang murders in Inglewood last year, the lowest total in more than a decade. But there have already been seven gang killings this year.
Police attributed the recent rash of killings to infighting among the Bloods.
"We have a great deal of concern about that," said Cantrell, who added that Inglewood's mayor, Roosevelt F. Dorn, is supporting the meetings. "The gangs need to talk."
In an activities room at Rogers Park, they did talk. Though only a single representative from each of three Bloods factions showed up, the negotiators were not discouraged.
"This is a start, a courageous start," said Long, 36, who founded the organization RISE to help troubled youths find jobs. "We're trying to create another avenue where you guys can express yourselves."
Leading the meeting was Malik Spellman, a community activist who was involved in the 1992 Watts gang peace treaty.
"We've been through what you don't need to go through," Spellman, 25, told the younger gang members. "We're not here to say who's wrong. We just want to focus on stopping the madness. We want to kill ignorance."
For the most part, the Bloods quietly listened, didn't talk to each other, and frequently nodded in agreement with what the older men said, especially when they talked of the need for jobs.
News of the meeting attracted the attention of Billy Wright, a movie producer.
"I heard about this and I just had to be here to see it with my own eyes," said Wright, who produced "Dead Homies," a documentary about gang life. "This is historic."
During one of the meeting's lighter moments, Spellman told the Bloods he would be willing to change his wardrobe to further the cause of peace.
"Can I come to your neighborhood?" Spellman asked the Bloods, who are associated with the color red. "I got red clothes for days. I got my Blood outfit. Man, I'll put on so much red you'd make me take some of it off."
Later, however, tension mounted as a 17-year-old from the Inglewood Family Bloods indicated a reluctance to work with gang members from "the other side" because he had lost too many friends to street shootings.
"Man, we've all lost homies," rumbled a voice from the rear of the room.
Kevin "Big Cat" Doucette was speaking and everyone was listening. Doucette, 38, a huge, legendary street fighter from the Rollin '60s who has spent many years at California's toughest prisons, urged the younger members in his gruff way to focus on the living, not the dead.
"I know you're upset and hurt about your dead homies, but we have to move forward," Doucette said.
"The killing's been going on since before you were born. We've got to try and show homies how to live, not die."
Doucette said older gang members need to be at the next meeting.
"A lot of the older guys are no longer actually banging, but they're like politicians now ordering the young foot soldiers to do the killing," Doucette said.
"We need to get them to the table."
As the meeting came to a close, the young Bloods said they planned to debrief their comrades.
"I'm gonna tell the homies to come check the next meeting," said Vincent Johnson, 16, from Neighborhood Piru in Inglewood.
"They're making some sense." Another Blood agreed.
"I think it's cool they're trying to help us so we won't be out killing," said Dell "O Dog" Hoy, 17.
"As long as they ain't coming over here and starting something and ordering us. If anyone wants to help stop the killing, it's cool with me."