Blood In, Blood Out

Danny Ray Lopez couldnít outrun his gang life or the police. Will his brother follow in his footsteps?

He was a handsome little boy with steady brown eyes and a habit of sucking on his top lip. He was loud and boisterous. Back then, the neighborhood was still nice. The family didn't have a lot of money, but no one else did, either. The Lopez kids, Danny, Danaia (four years younger), and Dustin (born eight years after Danny), could wander the neighborhood, play all day in the schoolyard and report home only when the last bit of sunlight had left the sky. Gloria didn't have to worry about anything worse than whether they would remember to look both ways before crossing the street. A knot of boys on the corner would have been planning nothing more hazardous than a pickup game of football.

Danny was a natural leader. The other children in the neighborhood looked up to him. He played a mean air guitar in imitation of his favorite rock bands, and the other children would play along. Someone else on bass. Another one or two on drums. Anybody could play in that band.

In particular, Danny was idolized by Dustin, who followed him everywhere almost as soon as he was able to walk.

A friendly, happy boy: Danny Lopez in kindergarten, first, third and fourth grades.
A friendly, happy boy: Danny Lopez in kindergarten, first, third and fourth grades.
The good old days: Danny and Barbara, with their new baby girl, Mariah, in 1991.
The good old days: Danny and Barbara, with their new baby girl, Mariah, in 1991.


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But the gangs started showing up on the west side when Danny was twelve, maybe thirteen. The knots of boys standing on the corner went from planning games to planning crimes. Passing by or through them was intimidating. There were shootings and police raids on the crack houses that had sprung up in the neighborhood. Graffiti on the walls of local businesses promised violence. Children like the Lopezes were afraid to walk to the local rec center because the gangs congregated nearby.

The timing couldn't have been worse. Danny's father left home about the time the gangs showed up and would be in and out of his son's life after that. Now that his father was gone, his mother told Danny, he would have to be the man of the house. "Set a good example for your brother," she'd say. "He'll be following in your footsteps."

But there were no footsteps for Danny to follow. His mother had to work hard at a lot of menial warehouse jobs to make ends meet. The pressure on a boy to join a gang was tremendous. Danny stayed out of it for a time. When younger friends like Daniel and Antonio Martinez got involved with the Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods in Park Hill, he'd tried to talk them out of it, even roughing them up a little.

But the other boys just laughed at him. They had money. And guns. And power on the streets. To them, it was a matter of survival. Their grandmother's home, at 2727 California Street, was surrounded by a gang of black Crips who gave them a hard time, made it difficult to get to school or anywhere else. The Bloods offered backup and acceptance in return for allegiance and ferocity. The Martinez brothers may have been small in stature, but their reputation as "Bang" and "Boom" (for the sounds made by a gun), as well as the violence of their childhood friend, Francisco "Pancho" Martinez, made them a force to be reckoned with.

Sometime around 1990, Danny Lopez began spending time with the 104th Street set of the CMG. His mother didn't like the idea, but this seemed fairly innocent, mostly just boys hanging out together. And Danny would tell her not to worry about it -- it was just for acceptance -- so she didn't worry, even when he kept getting into trouble with the law. Petty stuff, it seemed to her. Truancy. Shoplifting. Getting into fights with other boys. The crimes landed him in Lookout Mountain Juvenile Detention Center; each time, he would promise that when he got out he would stay out of trouble. Do good. Set an example for his younger brother.

It was on weekend passes from the center that Danny began seeing his future wife, Barbara. She was eighteen months younger than him and had first noticed him when they'd been children growing up in the neighborhood. She knew better than to get involved with someone who couldn't seem to stay on the right side of the law, but it didn't matter: She was in love. It wasn't just his movie-star good looks, the quick, flashing smile and wavy black hair that fell about his shoulders. He was just so real. She could talk to him about anything, and he was never judgmental. If he heard some rumor about her from other boys, he would ask her about it rather than jump to a conclusion. And no matter what she told him, he loved her, too. He would hold her and tell her that no matter what, "everything will be all right."

Barbara didn't like it when Danny started associating with the Bloods. Boys were getting thrown in jail or shot over the color of their clothing. But to him, it was no big deal. Just friends, partying. She saw no future in it, but he'd just laugh, hug her and tell her it would be all right.

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