By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
And that was becoming very easy to find. Like Theresa, the old neighborhood had gone downhill. Five Points had fallen on hard times, the nightclubs closed and stores boarded up. Junkies and bums walked the sidewalks past yards and homes that had fallen into disrepair. It wasn't safe to be on the streets at night. And a new threat was just beginning to appear, like the first tiny cells of a cancer. California street gangs selling crack cocaine. Armed and dangerous.
Later, Theresa would realize that the drugs hid the fact that her boys were in trouble. The street gangs were metastasizing and in search of new recruits, preferably young ones so they could be indoctrinated early into the gang mentality and commit felonies with relative impunity because of their age.
The three boys--Danny, Antonio and Pancho--were perfect candidates for the gangs, which appealed to kids by professing to love them more than their own families could. They would die for them, gang members promised, and expected the same sort of unquestioned loyalty in return.
Theresa missed the first warning signs. She knew vaguely that Raquel was dating a young black man who had some sort of gang affiliation, but for her, gangs still evoked memories of her youth--nothing too dangerous.
Danny started having trouble at school and was repeatedly suspended for fighting and talking back to teachers. He'd never been a good student, but now every week he stayed home was a week he got further behind his classmates. And Antonio, who loved school and did well, complained that he was having trouble with some of the older kids in the neighborhood on his way to and from Cole Middle School.
Finally, Theresa got a sign that even she couldn't miss. Fourteen-year-old Antonio asked her, "If we give you the down payment on a car, can you keep the payments up?"
At the time, Theresa was working as a cook at a nightclub that a sister had opened. She often didn't get home until 2 a.m., and the boys worried about her taking the bus that late.
"Where would you get that kind of money?" she demanded.
"Don't worry about where it comes from," he replied.
"No," she said. "I don't want it if I can't understand where you got it."
That opened her eyes to the fact that there was more to all this "Blood this and Blood that" prattle she'd been hearing from the boys, the sort of secret language her grandparents had used when they didn't want her to understand them. She told them they were being brainwashed, but that didn't mean much coming from someone who smoked crack--the very drug that gave the gangs their power.
The boys loved their mother. They would later tell her that one of the things that first attracted them to the gangs was the money, so that they could buy her things. They'd offer her trips, cars, cash. Anything but drugs. They wanted her off the drugs.
Theresa realized her sons were right--not just for her sake, but for theirs. If she was going to talk to them, really talk to them, she was going to have to do so from a higher moral ground. So she stopped drinking, stopped smoking crack and pot. She began going to church every day and started trying to learn everything she could about this new type of gang.
The boys had been recruited by Raquel's boyfriend into the Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods run by the Locketts, a family of black brothers who'd immigrated from California and claimed the Park Hill neighborhood. But 2727 California was in the heart of Crips territory, and the Crips were the arch-enemies of the Bloods. That made her boys targets.
Theresa discovered that the gangs tended to recruit boys from families that had some means rather than the homeless or destitute. That way, if the boys were arrested, the parents could pay their bonds. Or if the boys were ripped off for the drugs they were selling for the gangs, they could get their parents to make it up. This lesson she learned firsthand after Danny came to her begging for several hundred dollars. He said he'd been ripped off and was in serious trouble with his gang if he couldn't come up with the money. She gave it to him but said it would be the last time.
Working at night, she found it even harder to keep track of her sons--especially Danny, who began staying out all night. He seemed to have given up on ever being anything but a gang member; he'd fallen so far behind his classmates at school that he dropped out of tenth grade.
Theresa would ask Antonio, who preferred to sleep in his own bed, where his brother was. But Antonio always said he didn't know.
She didn't know what to do. She demanded that they stop using gang language in the house and refused to let them listen to rap music that insulted women. "How can you listen to that around me and your sister?" she demanded.
They didn't really have an answer, other than that the music spoke to them about life on the streets. "Things are different now than when you were young," they'd tell her.