The national discussion of the LA rebellion remains incredibly one-sided because those who know the most are heard the least. For example, just a week after the National Guard occupied LA last spring, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, and other rappers had completed a pro-rebellion single, "You Can Get the Fist." Yet Mercury didn't release it until the first week of November, six months after the rebellion, and even then refused to promote it.
But three weeks later, it hardly seemed to matter. Ice Cube's new album The Predator, became the first album to ever debut at #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. "Fuck Billboard and the editor!" Ice Cube exulted in a press release, recalling that Billboard and it's editor, Timothy White, had urged the music industry to boycott Death Certificate, Ice Cube's pre-rebellion album.
The video for Predator's first single, "Whicked," shows how important it is to ignore Tim White. "April 29 was power to the people," Ice Cube raps in a voice as commanding as Malcolm's or Martin's. He goes on to call out LA's new police chief Willie Williams as "a superslave" and uses Flea and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to symbolize the thousands of whites who joined the rebellion.
But even though Ice Cube's gone platinum again, his video is seldom seen and his records are still banned in thousands of stores. But at least some people are hearing him. Almost no one is hearing the urgent message of DeWayne Holmes, a 25 year old former member of the PJ Watts Crips in LA. With a handful of others, Holmes risked his life in the early months of 1992 to negotiate a truce among the gangs in Watts, specifically those at three housing projects: Imperial Courts, Jordan Downs, and Nickerson Gardens. On April 26, three days before the rebellion jumped off, a pact was signed guaranteeing "free passage" throughout Watts. Since then, drive-by shootings in LA have dropped dramatically.
DeWayne Holmes' reward was to see the LAPD use dogs and helicopters to break up the gang peace meetings that took place across the city in the wake of the rebellion. Then, on October 8, Holmes was sentenced to seven years in prison for a $10 robbery, even though witnesses say he could not possibly have been at the scene of the alleged crime.
The work of DeWayne Holmes lives on in a record, Straight Up Watts (Big Beat, 19 W. 21st St. #501, NY, NY 10010), that has been heard by almost as few people as "You Got the Fist." Recorded by rappers Operation From the Bottom (OFTB), who live in Nickerson Gardens, it's a celebration of Watts' history of rebellion and its current gang truce. Brilliantly produced by Greg Jesse somewhat in the style of Curtis Mayfield, it features a dense mix of live guitar, bass and horns, with a few expertly chosen samples and three highly skilled rappers.
The key song, "Blacks Divided by Tracks," tells how railroad tracks between Nickerson Gardens and Jordan Downs helped keep rival gangs at each others throats. "Tracks" is also featured in 112th and Central, a film by Jim Chambers which documents the reaction to the rebellion by a cross-section of Los Angelenos. Its key scenes are of gang members in Nickerson Gardens explaining why they made war and then peace. In a highly emotional moment, the tracks are crossed for a friendly visit to Jordan Downs that would have brought death a few months earlier.
The response of city and federal officials to the rebellion has been to dismiss it as a black riot, undermine the gang truce, and try to sell the public a shoddy bill of goods known as Rebuild LA (RLA). RLA is supposedly a coalition of corporations and organizations putting together $1 billion to rebuild LA. But a November 18 report by the LA Times revealed that 19 of 68 corporations supposedly part of RLA have no plans to help out. Meanwhile, RLA has refused to accept money from Priority Records because they don't want anything to do with that label's premier artist, Ice Cube.
What RLA really doesn't want anything to do with is the gang truce, because it threatens to eliminate the "black criminal" image which allows the city's power elite to easily manipulate public opinion. That's a powerful reason why the rest of us should embrace the truce. It's not just an LA thing, as the rebellion has helped the truce spread to San Francisco, Chicago, Hartford, and other cities. It's not just a black thing either, as a gang truce turns the tables on the cops who are rapidly turning America into a police state.
Yet, even though the truce process is now national, its heart and soul remains in Watts, an isolated community under siege by the FBI, LAPD, and the real estate interest behind RLA. "Watts is the foundation of the truce," DeWayne Holmes writes from prison, "and if it fails so shall every gang that stands with it. I'm asking you to do whatever you can so that this does not happen. Don't let everything we've worked for be all for nothing. PLEASE!!"
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
1) Arrange a screening of 112th and Central by calling Fieldhand Productions (310) 652-2974 / FAX: (310) 652-9276.
2) Communicate with DeWayne Holmes through Mothers Reclaiming Our Children, c/o ERC, 4167 S. Normandy, Los Angeles, CA 90037.
3) Popularize the gang truce by reprinting or xeroxing this article.
(Lee Ballinger is the Associate Editor of ROCK & RAP CONFIDENTIAL.
For more information write: RRC, BOX 341305, Los Angeles, CA 90034, or call (310) 204-0827.)