The Transformers

They created Denver's gang life. A generation later, can they break free?

But once Asberry was inside the ambulance, a police officer handcuffed him to the gurney and placed him under arrest for assaulting the younger brother earlier that day.

That November, Asberry was arrested in connection with a beef with another Crip; he was accused of breaking into his house with a loaded .32. On June 1, 1990, Asberry's twentieth birthday, he was sentenced to four years in prison for that crime.

While Asberry was away, crack hit Denver's streets, and some 30s got in the game. And by the time he was released in 1992, drug money had unleashed an arsenal of weapons in this town.

Michael Asberry (left), Fredrick Abram and Cedric Watkins faced the cameras for the cops.
Michael Asberry (left), Fredrick Abram and Cedric Watkins faced the cameras for the cops.
Terrance Roberts gave up banging in jail, and now tries to keep kids out of gangs.
Jim J. Narcy
Terrance Roberts gave up banging in jail, and now tries to keep kids out of gangs.

But after a couple of years in prison, Asberry says he was ready to start preaching peace. He moderated at a gathering of Crips and Bloods where the gang members aired their grievances and declared the truce of Nine-Deuce, as it became known. Nobody was talking about quitting the gangs, though; it was all about co-existing.

By then, a lot of kids didn't know life without gangs. Kids like Fredrick Abram, for example.

Abram's father was in prison, and his brother, George McClane, was the person who really raised him. But then McClane and a cousin started hanging blue rags out of their back pockets. In the Rollin' 30s, McClane went by "GC."

Abram was street-christened "F-Bone" after he was jumped into the Tre Tre's at the age of fourteen. After that initiation, Abram endured a second beating -- this one from his sixteen-year-old brother, who refused to recognize Abram as a Tre Tre.

"But when you don't see nothing else or know nothing else, what else you gonna do, what else you got?" Abram asks. "There was nothing else even to run to."

On March 24, 1993, gunshots were reported in the 2400 block of Emerson Street. Police arrived and spotted Abram's cousin running into a house. Out front, a dead Blood was slouched over in his car. Abram's cousin told the cops that he'd called the Blood over so that he could buy drugs -- and then, he said, Abram had run up to the car with a gun in each hand and blasted four or five shots, killing the Blood. A week shy of his eighteenth birthday, Abram was charged with murder -- as an adult. He took a plea bargain and was sentenced to eight years in the penitentiary for manslaughter. (His cousin was found not guilty at trial.)

In prison, Abram got word that his brother GC had been murdered by some other Crips.

As the streets erupted, Asberry completed his parole and started working with Operation Reconstruction, a new program designed to steer teens away from gangs and into jobs. But in May 1994, police pulled over a blue Caddy with Asberry inside. They found crack and arrested him.

A year later, officers rolled up on Asberry in a parked car. One cop recognized him from previous encounters. After Asberry was handcuffed and put into the back seat of the patrol car, he kicked at the window and broke out all the glass. Officer Paul Baca reported that Asberry started spitting at him so that he'd move out of the way and Asberry could climb out of the broken window. Baca maced Asberry to subdue him.

Asberry denied spitting, just as he'd denied ever dealing dope.

Baca wrote the judge, requesting that Asberry be kept locked up. He was a threat to the community, Baca said, and crimes like assault and narcotics trafficking increased when Asberry was free. Besides, Asberry had threatened the officer's family.

After Asberry pleaded guilty to assaulting the officer, the crack case was dismissed. And Asberry, who insisted he'd quit gang-banging, was sent to live in a California mansion where former NFL-great-turned-actor Jim Brown ran an anti-gang group. Asberry would be paid to do outreach work, steering youths away from the gangster path.

Ten years after he first started claiming Crips, Asberry was known throughout Los Angeles, thanks to a newspaper article that featured his picture. Since his outreach work took him into Crips and Bloods war zones, he started carrying. And when the LAPD encountered Asberry in a notorious Crip neighborhood in August of 1996, they busted him with a loaded chrome .380.

The deal was off. Asberry was sent back to Colorado to serve the rest of his sentence.

In June 1999, Fredrick Abram was 24 years old, out of prison after six years, driving a forklift and working as a janitor. By the following February, he'd completed parole and was a free man. But not for long.

In March, the cops pulled him over for driving down California Street in a 1986 Monte Carlo with no license plate on the front. They found crack in his pants. In April, he was riding shotgun in a car when Denver officers tried to pull it over. Instead, the driver of the car, Asberry's half-brother Gintear Howard, crashed it into a house, then attempted to evade the cops on foot. As he ran one way, firing his weapon at a gang-unit cop, Abram ran the other way. Another cop saw him throw away a gun.

In September 2001, locked up in county and facing serious time on both the crack and gun cases, Abram confronted a fellow inmate -- a 39-year-old Crip -- in the library and accused him of murdering his brother. The inmate threw a punch at Abram. Howard jumped in and smashed a coffeepot over the inmate's head as Abram punched and stabbed the inmate in the head, neck and upper torso. (Abram refused to discuss the crimes leading to his convictions; Howard, who is serving a fifty-year sentence for shooting at a cop, declined Westword's request for an interview.)

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