The funeral of Bo Taylor a few weeks ago last was a testament to the gang peace process he helped inspire in Los Angeles.
Bo died of cancer in August. One thousand people attended his “homegoing” at the City of Refuge church in Gardena, a neighborhood long accustomed to gang-related funerals vastly different from this one.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lamented the loss of “this invisible guardian of hope.” Former police chief Bernard Parks recalled chuckling with Bo about the old days when he chased him on the streets. Sheriff Lee Baca spoke of working with Bo on violence reduction programs in the county jails. The LAPD provided a full-dress motorcade. Over the open coffin, USC football coach Pete Carroll vowed to Bo that “we’re not backing down for nothing. This is a movement.” The Board of Supervisors and the Legislature adjourned in his memory, too.
It was not always so. The idea of deploying former gang members as street workers has been met with deep skepticism by law enforcement. Bo was an icebreaker, convincing key members of the LAPD hierarchy that street workers with credibility can be useful in sometimes preventing homicides.
When I first met Bo Taylor over a decade ago, he showed me black-and-white footage of the famous 1992 truce between Crips and Bloods which ended, for a significant time, the street wars in Watts. Gang members took buses funded by Jim Brown to City Hall to propose taking up shovels to rebuild the neighborhoods they were terrorizing. A parallel peace process was unfolding in East LA and the north San Fernando Valley, as described in Luis Rodriguez’s best-selling La Vida Loca.
The police and the Times reported in the nineties that drive-by slayings drastically declined in the first years of the truce. But there was no economic peace dividend for Bo’s generation. In perhaps the greatest moral default in Los Angeles’s history, the city’s leaders failed to deliver on a promise of $6 billion to create 57,000 jobs in five years. The reverse happened; the South Central area lost a net 50,000 jobs in the next decade. As hope turned into hoax, a new generation of young gangsters took to the streets.
As Bo and I later watched the documentary of truce marchers waving their blue and red bandannas in peace, Bo rubbed his balding head and softly described their fates: he’s dead, he’s in prison, he got shot, dead, still alive, in prison. In the absence of a peace dividend, the truce began unraveling.
The human legacy of 1992 was Bo’s generation of self-invented peacemakers, a few hundred gang members who became skilled in mediating truces, squashing dangerous rumors, counseling their younger homeboys, and navigating the institutions in search of what they called “jobs, not jails.” Then a state senator, I hired several on my staff and tried to legislate a statewide peace process initiative, with some success. The core ideas were to create a roundtable including former gang members, law enforcement and business leaders, to identify three violent neighborhoods for a pilot project in mediating tensions through deploying former gang members, and a think tank to recommend rehab, training and jobs policies to the politicians. A few Republicans and state law enforcement officials endorsed the bills, but two governors–Pete Wilson and Gray Davis–vetoed them for fear of being tainted by association.