Crips and Bloods: Made in America
Some people say that the United States is a violent country. The fact that 14,000 people were murdered last year seems to back it up.
However, 14,000 is fewer than any year since 1968. It’s fewer than Mexico. And, most significantly, the vast majority of murders take place in big cities and more than half of the victims are black men.
The truth about America is that it is a pretty safe place….with pockets of horrible urban violence committed by and against the most oppressed members of our society.
“Crips and Bloods” sounds like it should be an action-packed movie about gang life. Not so much. It’s actually a thoughtful documentary about the history of the black community in Los Angeles. It’s not a happy tale.
Starting in the 1940s, hundreds of thousands of black Americans fled the Jim Crow south and migrated to Los Angeles. During the war, black men found decent jobs in weapons factories. After the war, they found even better jobs in the automotive, rubber, and steel industries.
While the south segregated schools, bathrooms, and water fountains, Los Angeles segregated its neighborhoods. Black people were definitely welcome in the factories but they were not allowed to buy homes in white communities.
For a while, this situation worked out half way decently. In the 40s and 50s, Compton was a nice working class neighborhood where black families were able to enjoy a solid little slice of the American dream.
Deindustrialization hit the black community in LA every bit as hard as Detroit. When Ford, Chrysler, Firestone and Goodyear closed their factories, life for black men went from good to ghastly.
As unemployment led to crime, Los Angeles doubled down on its segregation tactics. In an informative segment of the film, director Stacy Peralta displays a map that shows how amazingly close the black district of the city is to Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. Now whenever a black man was spotted by police in a nice neighborhood, he could expect to be stopped, harassed and ordered to go back home.
The pressures of poverty, crime, and police-sanctioned apartheid led the black family structure to crumble. The rise of the prison industrial complex ensured that most black boys grew up without their fathers present. And perhaps the only thing worse than knowing your dad is in prison is seeing him get arrested while on parole and sent right back to the slammer when he was caught selling drugs because no company would hire a black ex-con.
“Crips and Bloods” convincingly and harrowingly illustrates how the streets of Compton inevitably became a war zone where young men battled each other for an increasingly small slice of space, money, and dignity.
The crips and the bloods all agree on one thing: they joined gangs because the only other option was to cower in their homes without any money or girls from puberty till death.
The only real choice was to pick a side and fight a non-stop turf war that has no winners and no end.
The truth is: United States is a remarkably peaceful country. Except for the unfortunate few who were born the wrong color in the wrong city.