Blood Brothers

Sal Martinez wants the homeboys to know that he isn't talkin' to 5-0. Never has. Never will.

His talkin' to 5-0--a gang-slang reference to the television police drama Hawaii 5-0--was just a vicious rumor put out on the streets by his enemies. The same enemies who tried to silence him last July, but instead shot and killed Venus Montoya, the nineteen-year-old mother of a four-year-old boy ("The Gang's All Here," July 17). Spreading the rumor, Sal adds, are the cops, who don't mind sowing a little dissension among gang members.

Like Venus Montoya, Salvino Michael Martinez was raised by his grandmother. Born in February 1975, he was handed over to the old woman when he was just four by a mother he couldn't get along with.

His father was in prison. For what? "Ahhhh, so much shit, I don't remember what for," says Sal, a beefy six-footer with dark tattoos accenting the brown skin of his arms and neck. His black hair is shaved close to his round head, and a heavy gold chain circles his thick neck.

Sal was his grandmother's favorite. She tried hard to keep him on the right track, always wanting to know where he was going, what he was doing and who would be with him. He grew up in a number of westside projects, playing with friends like "Smug" and "Baby G." Everyone was poor. Everyone dreamed of getting ahead. Few knew how to go about it.

In those days, the gangs weren't so prevalent. Sal would hear about them, but they didn't control the streets like they would someday.

If there was a single person Sal looked up to besides his grandmother, it was his brother, Davey Angelo Martinez. Three years older, Davey was everything Sal thought was cool. But when Sal was thirteen, his brother was killed. "By his so-called best friend," Sal recalls. "His friend thought he was seeing his lady, so he stabbed him in the heart."

Three months later his grandmother died. Sal had to move back in with his mother, who lived in Lakewood. Away from the 'hood, Sal became a loner. And for reasons he says he can't explain, the police picked on him.

"I'd be walking down the block and they'd call the dogs out on me," he says. "Or I'd be at school standing around by myself...there'd be ten kids fuckin' around over there, but the cops would pull me over."

Around the neighborhood, he began to notice that the homeboys were "flamed up"--wearing bright red, the color of the Bloods, a gang that had started in the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Sal says he didn't feel pressure from gang members, because he wasn't afraid to stand up to them. At a party, if gang members showed up and demanded money, he'd tell them where to get off. "'What the fuck,'" says Sal, recalling his response to the strong-arm tactics. "'You can't come in here and punk me.' I wouldn't put up with it, but some did."

Still, Sal hung out at the park with the Westside CMG Bloods, "drinkin' and smokin' grass." He had dropped out of school; there was nothing there that interested him. One day when he was seventeen, the Bloods said, 'Hey homie, you been hangin' with us, it's time we put you in.'"

Sal describes his decision to join the gang as something that "just happened...I knew it would mean trouble down the line...but it was good to have a 'set' to be with, somebody who would back you up."

Those first few years, Sal was a regular banger. Sometimes that just meant chillin' with the homies, drinking and smoking. Sometimes it meant cruising, looking for rival gang members to shoot.

As a Blood, he was indoctrinated into the ways of a gang. Surrounded by the rival Crips, he was to "go out like a soldier," claiming his loyalty to the Bloods. But the number-one rule was never to talk to the police, even about rivals.

Sal's adult arrest record began in 1994 with a charge of misdemeanor assault. Some other members of the gang had nearly pistol-whipped a fifteen-year-old boy to death, he says, "but I took the rap for that."

Sal's arrest record continued through 1994 and 1995 with a series of minor violations: public urination, vandalism, curfew violations and traffic offenses. The most serious charge came in February 1995, when he was arrested for distributing marijuana. He served six months in jail for that.

After that, there would be no more arrests for two years. Sal found himself "floatin' away" from the bangin' life.

He wanted "things," and the bangin' lifestyle did not lend itself to upward mobility. Whatever money was made through robbery, theft, drug-dealing or extortion would be "pissed away" on booze, drugs and "bitches."