Before Crips: Fussin’, Cussin’, and Discussin’ Among South Los Angeles Juvenile Gangs delves into a criminological discussion of juvenile gangs in South Los Angeles. Authors John C. Quicker and Akil S. Batani-Khalfani, deconstruct the term “juvenile gangs” and instead recommend using “street groups.” Chapters one through nine provide a historical timeline of the various pre-Crip-and-Blood gangs in South Central Los Angeles, past and present theoretical approaches, and the origins of the Slausons, one of the established early gangs in South Los Angeles. The book features a visual description of the various clubs, street groups, and gangs that were visible in the 1950s in South Los Angeles.
The introductory chapter provides a historical timeline of the transformation of Los Angeles. White communities previously dominated Los Angeles. Alongside its expansion and growth, the city became very diverse. Alongside the racial transformation, Los Angeles was heralded as the gang capital of America. The chapter points to the structural explanations of pre-Crip and -Blood gangs in South Central Los Angeles. One of the authors, John C. Quicker, a sociologist and criminologist, shares his serendipitous experience as a professor and his engagement with California State College, Dominguez Hills. Quicker had been assigned to teach a course on criminology and gangs at California State College, located in Carson, south of Watts, where the Watts Riot (1965) had taken place. Quicker acknowledges his fortuitous interaction with a student named Bird, the book's co-author. Akil S. Batani-Khalfani is Bird’s pen name. Bird proved to be an excellent resource on street gangs because of his direct affiliation with the Slausons, a Black South Los Angeles street club.
Following the introduction, in “Insiders Become Outsiders: Methodology,” the authors describe the data collection process. The authors had considered themselves insiders, and they continued to immerse themselves in the urban landscape of South Los Angeles. The authors conducted ethnographic research and field interviews with street groups. Their goal was to derive a rich description of street groups, the complex network of groups and associated cliques and sets, and the issue of criminality. Although Bird had been affiliated with the Watts, he and Quicker struggled to build a rapport with their subjects. Nevertheless, they took risks with their research subjects in anticipation of discovering valuable findings. They were committed to their research on early street groups.
Chapter One, “When the South Came West,” initiates the discussion of South-Central Los Angeles. The early street groups had originally resided along Central Avenue. Los Angeles was transformed into a racially diverse city with the subsequent arrival of ethnic groups of immigrants, including white ethnics, migrants, Filipinos, the Japanese, and the Chinese. The Avenue was acknowledged as the artistic center of Black Angelenos, who settled in the urban region. The authors dispel the myth that the early street groups were the underclass. They assert that these communities were the original residents of areas south of downtown and in Watts for over a hundred years. The northern boundary adjoining Slauson Avenue belonged to the Klan. The Northeast of South Los Angeles was dominated by the Latino communities and referred to as the home of the Los Angeles gangs. Gangs did not fight each other. They were independent of each other. This chapter chronicles the formation of Black Angelenos against the backdrop of racial tension and conflicts between Whites and Blacks. White homeowners harbored prejudice against Black Angelenos. Communities of color learned how to defend themselves.
In Chapter Two, “Assemblies of Juveniles,” the authors explain juvenile groups' emergence. They deconstruct the term “juvenile gangs” and present several theoretical perspectives on gangs. They elaborate upon the phrase “South Los Angeles street groups” and provide a rationale for its use. They argue that these street groups were socially similar to fraternal organizations, united to help one another and share a rapport of brotherhood and friendship. They were a unit, part of a large family.
Chapter Three, “The Discovery of Gangs in Los Angeles,” discusses the complexity of street life and interesting patterns associated with street groups. The authors make visible the presence of the Slausons, Businessmen, and Gladiators in this chapter. There existed a bond of friendship between these subgroups. The chapter illustrates that the number of members determined the formation of early cliques, namely Senior, Junior, and Babies, comparable to the Businessmen.
Chapter Four advances a discussion of “Street Group Development.” This chapter discusses the characteristics of street groups in South Los Angeles. Members of street groups appeared to enjoy the company of their peers. The authors overthrow Frederic Thrasher’s referent of the play group, to argue that “hanging out” and “hang out” were appropriate terms that signified how members were united as if they were a part of one large family. Often street groups or members of cliques or sets would come together to play a sport and indulge in fussin’, cussin’, and discussin’ to promote camaraderie. This chapter intersects with chapter three because it advances a discussion of the complex network of street groups that were classified as a set. These sets became cliques, with members being classified based on age and neighborhood affiliation. The Baby Slausons formed smaller cliques of members identifying themselves as a subgroup known as the Babies. The Warlords were comprised of members who were related to the Slausons and the Babies and were identifying themselves as the Warlords of Baby Slauson. Implicit were norms of respect and loyalty that united members of street groups or cliques.
In 1940, South Los Angeles was even more racially diverse. Blacks and Mexican youth were coexisting as groups, becoming members of the same sets. Slauson and Florence, respectively, were the existing Black and Chicano sets in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood. Racial conflict and tensions were absent in the region, although infighting between cliques occasionally took place. In the 1930s, Watts was referred to as the Black ghetto of Los Angeles-characterized by public housing projects, high unemployment, low educational attainment, and high rates of public dependency. Additionally, the presence of the local Ku Klux Klan members contributed to the “ghettoization” of Watts, which led to the construction of public housing projects and the high concentration of Black families in the area. Delinquency, poverty, and violence became visible in Watts. Juveniles attending the same middle school and high school took to forming groups and products of socialization that resulted in their affiliation with the street.
Chapter Five, “Slaus Angeles, Villa Fornia 90001: Gang Capital of the World,” presents insights into the formation of the Slauson Village, Slauson Park, which is recognized as the birthplace of the twenty-five different Crip and Blood gangs. This chapter narrates the meeting of the original members of the set. Bird, Chinaman, and Roach met in Slauson Park, with the Park becoming an oasis for Bird and the Slausons. The Slauson community was tightly knit, creating a strong sense of place and pride for its residents. Juveniles in Slauson identified this area as their City. Slauson Park was referred to as Slaus Angeles, Villa Fornia. Chinaman was the hero and prominent member of the Slausons. Roach was the president of the Little Slauson, Wild Willie Poo Poo was a founder of the Slausons. Bobby Moore belonged to the Little Slauson, and later, he joined the Babies. Bird, a Slauson, had initially joined the Babies. Bird was charismatic and showed exemplary leadership qualities. He displayed loyalty to the Slausons. On his travels, he would promote his group and profess his loyalty by inking his name. Roach was another impressionable member of the Slausons. From the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, Chinaman, Roach, Jerome, Poop, Eugene, Bobby Moore participated in “altercations” with the Watts. Bird rose to prominence in the late 1950s. He became involved in disruptive and problematic behavior and was sent to Riis Developmental School and then juvenile probation camp later. Bird became associated with forms of problematic juvenile behavior as a Slauson.
The authors describe how juveniles become involved in problematic behaviors and their association with their street group shaped their involvement in street crime. Bunchy Carter was another member of the Slausons and the Black Panther Party contributing to its indomitable strength. The Slausons were a powerful clique of juveniles who continued to regroup over time. As the Slausons matured, they acknowledged the presence of other juvenile cliques. As Bird grew older, he participated in other activities, and he moved away from street crime, however, he maintained his ties with the Slausons. The authors deconstruct the term juvenile gangs to advocate that street groups of youths in South Central Los Angeles had evolved over time and negotiated a space for themselves in the city.
Chapter Six, “The Big Three: Social Class, Gender, and Race,” discusses the intersections of social class, gender, and race. The authors adumbrate the value of ethnographic research and experiential associations to present a complex understanding of phenomena such as street groups that were an intricate part of society. The authors make visible the presence of female street groups. Quicker refers to his research on the existence of female gangs in East Los Angeles. The chapter highlights the limited attention paid to the role of race in the study of street groups. South Los Angeles had been at the center of the discussion of racial tension and discrimination. Ignoring race's role in street groups would be unjust because that would deny its members any agency.
An investigation of the use of weaponry in pre-1965 groups is elaborated upon in Chapter Seven, “Comin’ from the Shoulders: Ethics, Weapons, Fights, and Violence.” Early gangs opposed using weapons and emphasized participating in a fair fight. Early members of street groups commanded respect when they approached their opponents using their hands or fists and to “come-from -the shoulders” (p. 213). Chapter Eight, “Malicious Mopery on A Public Highway,” discusses the lack of data on juvenile crime before 1965 and the subsequent exaggeration of juvenile crime. The authors rely on their research to show that only street crimes and less serious offenses ranging from juvenile statute violations to petty property crimes existed. The authors rely on Durkheim’s theory to articulate that crime is normal and elaborate that it is a social fact.
The final chapter focuses on the Watts Rebellion to discuss how youth were criminalized in Watts. The authors theorize how members of street groups desisted from delinquency as they matured out of street activities and opted to prioritize other goals over their previous fussin’ and cussin’ lifestyles. Gradually many members became involved in the Black Power Movement (BPM). Few Businessmen and set members were drawn to the BPM and developed an interest in the Nation of Islam. The chapter discusses the formation of a new street group in South Los Angeles known as the Avenues, who later integrated or formed part of the nascent Crips.
Before Crips is a prolific study of early street groups in South Los Angeles. It provides additional theoretical insights into the formation of street gangs. Quicker and Batani-Khalfani’s research on pre-Crip -and-Blood gangs and the effects of racism on street groups is a valuable guide to researchers interested in studying street gangs. The authors dismantle the concept of “gangs” to bring the discussion of early “street groups” within the scope of criminology. New researchers, academics, and criminologists interested in field research involving street groups might derive insights from this study that utilized oral histories emanating from their own lived experiences.