A hidden history lies beneath the world where racism flattens lives by creating poverty and violence. Within this history, overlooked stories show that marginalized communities can achieve meaningful change as they seek to overcome years of neglect and discrimination. That’s what happened on the eve of the L.A. uprising 30 years ago next week.
In April 1992 — days before unrest would erupt citywide after the police officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted — a small group of gang leaders and community organizers drafted an agreement to curtail endemic violence in South Los Angeles. Several gangs accepted the truce and established a cease-fire agreement.
Local activists and even public officials eventually recognized that the 1992 Watts treaty succeeded for years in reducing gang violence throughout the community, including the major housing projects in Watts. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the L.A. uprising, and consider the upswing in homicides that L.A. has experienced the last two years, this history carries lessons for today.
The Watts treaty originated from the desire of some gang leaders to end the death and violence that plagued their community. They were motivated to protect their families and friends from indiscriminate shootings and targeted attacks.
They recognized that law enforcement could not, or would not, end the violence. These leaders — Aqeela and Daude Sherrills, Twilight Bey, Anthony Perry, Dewayne Holmes, Tony Bogard and others — saw the devastating struggle between gangs as analogous to military conflict, complete with “no-man’s land” where rivals would be shot on sight, the use of assault weapons, targeted killings and civilian casualties. They realized such violence required a diplomatic solution.
Read the op-ed by William J. Aceves in the Los Angeles Times.