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Roots that started in L.A.'s street gangs

Documentary examines how the genesis of the Crips and Bloods stretches back decades.

February 06, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

The sectarian violence between L.A.'s Crips and the Bloods is the stuff of oral history in "Bastards of the Party," an HBO documentary debuting tonight.

The 97-minute film, disjointed at times and a little dated-feeling cinematically, un-spools from the point of view of the director, Cle Sloan, 34, a member of the Bloods since he was 12.

He's known as "Bone From Athens Park," or "Bone From the Jungle." It's Sloan's journey of discovery that we're on, his roots tour, even if many of the gang members interviewed in the film appear bemused by the idea of a shared history that stretches back decades and links them to the first migration of blacks to the city from the Deep South.

The forebears were looking for jobs; older men recount how the train that passed through small towns in Mississippi and Louisiana and Texas stopped, in L.A., at Central Avenue -- to disgorge black passengers and keep them segregated -- before continuing on into Union Station.

"Bastards of the Party" was produced by Sloan and Antoine Fuqua; according to HBO's media materials, Sloan helped wrangle gang members when Fuqua was making his 2001 film "Training Day."

"Bastards of the Party" takes its title from Mike Davis' 1988 socio-historical book about Los Angeles, "City of Quartz" -- specifically the chapter in which Davis explicates today's gangs as the "bastard" children of the Black Panthers and other '60s empowerment groups that failed to sustain themselves as influential political entities.

Sloan describes how he first realized he was part of something bigger when, thumbing through Davis' book, he saw a 1972 LAPD map of gang-infested areas that included his own Athens Park.

"I got proud," he says.

And then he got curious.

The documentary is carved up into decades, presenting a pastiche of the social, economic and political forces that have perpetuated gang life in Southern California -- and kept it a distant spectacle for most of the city. Sloan interviews current gang members and gets stories from ex-veterans of "the game" when the game wasn't as permeated with AK-47s, and emerging political power players like Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, onetime member of the Slauson street gang turned founder of the Southern California branch of the Panthers, emerged.

Sloan is a product of a generation removed from political action, upwardly mobile thanks to the drug trade of the '90s; the heroes of his youth were "Greek gods" of the formative years of the Crips and Bloods in the 1970s, legendary figures such as Raymond Washington, Jamel Barnes and Stanley "Tookie" Williams. "Bastards of the Party" is, ultimately, more elegy to what-might-have-come from the '60s movements than an examination of where gang violence stands today. But it's a reminder that the way forward starts a ways back.



'Bastards of the Party'

Where: HBO

When: 10 to 11:45 tonight

Rating: TV-MA VL (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17 with advisories for violence and coarse language)

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