PJ is a former member of the Bloods. Big 20z is a former member of the Crips. In Ferguson on the now infamous West Florissant Avenue, they marched side by side chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and demanding an end to violence. They also eold a sign, which read in blue and red lettering: “NO MORE CRIPS. NO MORE BLOOD. ONE PEOPLE. NO GANG ZONE”
I asked them about rumors of there being a truce between the two gangs in the St. Louis area. Big 20z confirmed them: “The truce is real. And it is a beautiful thing.”
PJ and Big 20z have been personally holding a vigil against police brutality and for Michael Brown on a 24-hour bases, even going as far as to set up a make shift encampment in the parking lot of a furniture store, which is also right on the edge of the pre-approved protest zone established by local and state law enforcement.
Big 20z assured everything is “all love” when both sets show up at the same time to protest. In fact, he said, it’s like one big family. When I asked him who called the truce between the rival gangs he explained it was the “new generation” who were tired of what he alleges is constant brutality from the police, as well as the threat of prison.
“Young black men are dying from the police and they are dying from the gangs too, if I can be honest with you. But this is a bigger problem, so we took it upon ourselves to focus our energy on making a better solution for the community we live in. The gang don’t (sic) matter no more. We’re standing up. We need food, education, not to live in poverty. You got people in two counties away living better than we do and what exactly makes them better than me? That’s what the Crips and Bloods realized. We were fighting each other over who was better than the other when we should have been standing together and fighting together.”
Big 20z said right now the truce is limited to the St. Louis area, but he and PJ have been actively spreading the message of their union to Bloods and Crips across the country. “They were like, ‘y’all turned up for real,’ “ PJ said. “And we’ve been letting them know that they can do the same thing. They can’t beat all of us. And we’ve been taking out each other for years. So now we are focusing our energy right where it needs to go.”
I asked PJ if he thinks the truce will last? Both chuckled before PJ answered. “Why does it keep on going on? What’s the purpose in me keeping on killing somebody? For a color? I’m trying to make sure my granny, my future kids, my little brother, my little sister, my nephews and my nieces live fine. They need a good education just like everybody else. We need jobs just like everybody else. We can’t depend on them. We got to start getting our stuff back together.”
Despite what many have come to believe, folks in Missouri are clearly concerned about black on black violence. Although Ferguson itself is relatively calm — the word used by most residents to describe the area is “quiet” — St. Louis city is another story.
Wendy January has traveled to Ferguson from the notorious East St. Louis just about every single night. Her motivation to see justice in a case in which she feels the police are trying to “get over.” She was also upset over the local and state government’s militarized response to what she said were mostly peaceful protests. Since the murder and the subsequent protest began, January said she, too, has noticed a calm in the community.
“That’s why I’m really for this movement, because there has been no violence in the city. Can’t nobody touch a Black person right now. We’re not going to let it happen and nobody has gone out to do anything dumb, so I’m with this. We are for one another and we all got each other’s back. Something they said we would never do. We’re mourning but we’re all sticking together.”
Only the August crime stat numbers can confirm or deny January’s impression. Those won’t come until September; however her words reflect what many folks around St. Louis county have been saying about their respective communities: out of the racial crisis came black unity.
While the mainstream media hangs exclusively onto the words and actions of the NAACP, there are many different groups actively also organizing in Ferguson. There are numerous Black clergy groups – way too many to name individually – and the brothers and sisters from the Nation of Islam as well. There are Black liberation groups and Black Greek letter organizations too. Even the Hebrew Israelites have come to march through the streets in their purple and gold robes.
In a sense, the activism around Justice for Mike Brown has become a microcosm of Black culture. Some folks turn to the Gospel, like Cassandra Brookfield who, on the way to getting her tires rotated, stopped by one of the protest tents on South Florissant to pray for them. “I wanted to go out and protest but I work the second shift,” she shared. “So I decided to pray with them and for everybody’s safety. God’s love is key to solving all of this.”
Others like Pastor Cori Bush of Kingdom Embassy International have taken a more on-the ground approach by setting up a help tent near the memorial where Mike Brown was gunned down. She’s been on site every day with several organizations, including the People Health Center and Hope Well Center, providing crisis intervention as well as grief counseling to local residents within the apartment complex and beyond who were most affected by the unrest.