Sunday, June 20, 2004

While I applaud Tom Hayden’s effort to bring public attention to the gang culture in his new book, STREET WARS, I’ve got some problems with a lot of what he cites as "fact" and "history" and even bigger problems with some of his baffling conclusions.

Hayden has been at the forefront of a lot of radical movements, most notably his opposition to the war in Viet Nam. In his zeal to end the war, he traveled to North Viet Nam as the bullets were flying and appeared in North Vietnamese radio making statements about America that some have characterized as treasonous. His wife, Jane Fonda, allowed herself to be photographed laughing and smiling as she sat in a VC anti-aircraft gun pointed skywards. That famous picture which millions of American citizens and soldiers found revolting forever marked her in the public consciousness as HANOI JANE.

Using the millions that Fonda made in her exercise tapes, Hayden launched a political career that eventually landed him in the California State Senate.

I don’t know as much as I should about Hayden or Fonda, but I do know a whole lot about LA street gangs. So when I first heard of his gang book project a year ago, I was keenly interested to read his take. Hayden has been teaching a course about the gang culture at Occidental College while researching the book and, given the luxury of ample research time and the human resources his vast wealth can afford, I was looking forward to a lot of fresh information and insights. As my readers know, I run inthehat as a part timer. And I can only fantasize about having the sort of money and time that Hayden can afford to spend on this subject.

So when the book showed up in the mail from Amazon, I was primed for a great read and new info. Man, was I disappointed.

Up front, Hayden tells us that "This book is about what I call inner-city peacemakers." Fair enough. But there’s precious little in it about peacemakers. When he comes to the actual brokering of a peace treaty (between Santa Monica and Culver City), he drops the ball. He gets the two factions in his office, brings in Blinky Rodriguez to act as mediator, and then walks out and closes the door to let them work it out alone. The actual mechanics of brokering a truce is left completely unexamined. The LA Times review of Street Wars cites the same flaw. The reviewer was as puzzled as I am. That should have been the heart of the book. How do you get groups who have been shooting each other for decades to drop the "get even?" Hayden doesn't outline or even suggest a plan except to provide "public sector jobs" for dropout gang members. What happened in that meeting? How do you break the cycle? If it works, put in the book so others can replicate it. Sorry kids, no game plan available from Hayden.

There are huge problems with this book beyond that. He gets stuff factually wrong. For instance, he states that "under gang injunctions, there is no right to a lawyer for the indigent." This is false. The indigent always have rights to a lawyer. In fact, at a time when the LA County DA’s office has a hiring freeze and the County closed 27 courts and laid off 250 staffers, the Public Defender’s office has had one staff loss (due to attrition and not a lay off) and the budget has remained the same. In addition, elsewhere in the book he states that indigent defendants don’t have government-paid investigators until the Federal appellate process. This is also false. In cases of sufficient gravity like murder or ADW, indigents can get free investigators right at the County level during the original court case. They don’t have to wait for the federal appeals process to qualify for an investigator.

And there are countless large and small errors, either of omission or worse. The one that really got me scratching my head was his take on the EME’s policy initiative of vertical integration that started in the early 90s.

One of Hayden’s peacemakers, Manny Lares from MS (Mara Salvatrucha) attended the famous EME come-to-Jesus meetings in September 1993 in Elysian Park organized by Ernesto "Chuco" Castro. First of all, Hayden only acknowledges that single meeting in September. The fact is, Chuco organized numerous meetings. Hayden kind of fudges the sequence of events and the purpose of the meetings.

According to Hayden, the Eme called the meetings of street gang representatives to lay down the law about ending drive-by shootings. Which is correct. But that was only one of the items on that Eme policy initiative. There were others. First off, the law was "no more drive-bys." But that didn’t mean no more killings. It was not a truce of any kind. It was the new rules of engagement. The full story was that killings, whether personal or business related, were now to be done at close range and face to face. "Walk-ups," in the language of gangs. In Hayden’s language, Chuco was sent by the EME to "manage the widening war." The key word here is "manage," not "stop."

The rest of the items on the Eme agenda Hayden covers off by quoting Lares who simply says that Chuco Castro was talking, "a lot of high-powered bullshit." Well the "bullshit" was this. Chuco told the assembled gangsters that from that day on, all gangs in Southern California had to become Surenos, which meant swearing allegiance to the Eme. Furthermore, all gangs had to pay tribute (street taxes) to Eme shot callers in their neighborhoods. The Eme wanted complete vertical integration, from the street all the way up to the SHU in Pelican Bay. It was a move to consolidate power. Hayden mentions none of this. And in one instance, distorts the purpose of the Eme meetings beyond recognition.

Hayden says that the Eme’s demand that the MS cough up $5000 to them in order to take the greenlight off MS was a "moment of inclusion." When somebody asks you to pay up or be killed, it’s not an opportunity for "inclusion," whatever that is. It’s pure extortion. This is the way Hayden describes extortion. "Lifting the greenlight meant that the first tentative ‘moment of inclusion’ (his quotes) was allowed by Mexican gangs toward their rivals among Salvadoran immigrants in places like Pico-Union." How much more wrong could Hayden get it? He makes it sound like an outreach program. It was pure and simple extortion. Pay up or get wasted.

A lot of neighborhoods resisted, including the MS. Maravilla was a long-time hold out as was Lowell, Opal and TRGs. They remained "always verde," always green and subject to "enforcement" by any Sureno that wanted to put in work and earn a stripe. Later some Maravilla sets were taken off the hit list because they became Surenos and ditufully paid their tribute.

That resistance to taxation and allegiance led to more violence, not less, because there was now an official Eme policy and failure to obey meant open season.

Hayden’s characterization of the meeting is, "The message of the day was to stop the violence, which Manny’s neighborhood already had begun to do." Wrong again, the message of the day was 1) walk ups, 2) allegiance to Eme, 3) taxation. In fact, if Hayden had done his homework, he would know that in an FBI surveillance tape, Dan "Black Dan" Barella said succinctly. "If you want to down them, down them. All I’m saying is don’t drive by." Barella and a lot of other Carnals met almost weekly with Ernie Castro in a motel in Rosemead. Castro's edicts to the street gangs came right out of these policy meetings with the Big Homies.

Hayden just barely touches on this change in the rules of engagement. "If there was business to take care of, it would follow the older tradition of one-on-one battles." Which is correct but also contradicts his earlier statement that the "message of the day was to stop the violence." Has anybody proof read this book?

In November of 1993, Chuco Castro was arrested for a parole violation that would have landed him in Federal prison for life. This is Hayden’s description of the event. "In November 1993, shortly after the Elysian Park gathering, police raided Chuco’s Alhambra home, shovels in hand, and dug up guns buried beneath the place. Perhaps the guns were his, perhaps not, but Chuco was in big trouble as an ex-con, drug addict, and active member of La Eme since 1983."

There’s some factual errors here and a thorough lack of research into the crucial event that precipitated the biggest Federal RICO case in LA history against the Eme. First of all, the cops didn’t need shovels to find the guns. The guns, along with dope, wilas, greenlight lists and thousands of dollars in cash were stashed in a cement-lined bunker under a trap door in Castro’s bedroom closet. The raid cops never had shovels. And Hayden never mentions the dope, documents and cash. And indeed the guns were Chuco’s. One of the weapons, a full-auto MAC 10, was confiscated by CHUCO at one of the Elysian Park meetings from an ARMENIAN POWER shot caller in attendance. CHUCO’s palace guard disarmed everybody before they went into the park. He didn't want any objections to taxation and allegiance by means of bullets directed at the speaker. CHUCO actually gangster-slapped the AP homie after the MAC 10 was confiscated. The cops know all this because they were there recording everything that happened. Video footage of the Elysian Park meeting showed up on local LA TV soon after. And, contrary to Hayden’s claim that information about Chuco is "shrouded in mystery," the surveillance tapes were entered into evidence at the RICO trial and are available to any citizen from the Federal Court in downtown LA for the sum of $20. It’s public information.

Worse yet, Hayden is implying that the cops planted the guns in Chuco’s house. I interviewed the cops on that raid. I’ve seen the property report of the items confiscated. I’ve seen the pictures. Again, all part of the discovery evidence used in the trial and also public information. Throwing mud at cops when it’s undeserved is just sleazy. And just to round out the picture, most of the cops on that raid were Hispanic, and a lot of them grew up in the same neighborhoods as the homies they arrest. One of those cops that Hayden implicitly accuses of planting evidence, has been a foster father to 17 at-risk kids plucked from abusive gang families. He took them into his home and with the help of his wife and natural children, steered them away from the gang life that was ready to destroy them. You know, the typical evil cop who only wants to slam kids in prison.

Hayden’s book is so chock full of this kind of misinformation, incomplete information, factual mistakes and sleazy implications that it would take a whole book to set him straight. I’ll probably post more about this book, but in general, STREET WARS does a real disservice to the reader, the cops, the genuine peacekeepers and ultimately, to the very people Hayden professes to care about, the kids catching bullets.

The gang culture is operating at full throttle. Kids -- black, brown, white, asian, innocent and not so -- are dying every day, not just in LA but all over the country. It has to stop. Everybody agrees on that. Especially the young people on the barrel end of the gun.

Gangsters aren’t born evil. They’re manufactured. The big question is by whom, why and how do we stop it. To fix the problem, let’s at least start with not distorting history. Laying out conspiracy theories, falsehoods and bogus accusations to advance a political agenda, as Hayden clearly does, should qualify as its own crime.


XCONGUY said...

Hey Wally, I have been following your spot for about a year. You have very good info, timely, and provocative. For those of us who are students of this Street/Prison Gang subculture, it's like having a front row seat to the drama. I have a spot and it comes from a different perspective. I added a link to "inthehat", hope you don't mind. I respect your writing and your research. Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

CHUCO is in Maine

Anonymous said...

those armenians are a bunch of levas! when they found that gun they shoulda used it on him!

StillNoScript said...

Wally. what 'political agenda' would Tom Hayden be trying to 'advance'?