Like must people I know, I too am elated that Ron Dellums has won the election and will be the new Mayor of Oakland. His knowledge, experience and charisma has us all excited and full of hope for the potential he brings to turn things around.
When he announced his intention to enter the mayor’s race at Laney College, the crowd chanted, “Run, Ron, Run!” and “Si Se Puede”. He laid out a vision in his unscripted remarks that promised to offer solutions to the big issues – including poverty, development and education – and to trigger national debate.
One of the biggest issues to me is still black on black crime and the terrorism that is being perpetrated in our own community, on our own neighbors and families by us. I recently shared this view to a group of young people at an employment workshop I was facilitating and they challenged me! “What do you know about the hood, gangs and growing up poor! You’ve got a job and you’re not even from Oakland!”
To those young brothers and sisters this is for you!
I was 13 years old when I first became affiliated with the “Moon” gang. Affiliated means that I didn’t want to be in a gang, didn’t like what they did, and rarely hung out with most of the guys in it. I liked math, science, reading and was actually a closet nerd. But I had to get to school! The walk from my house to Shoemaker Jr. High School was only six blocks. But in those six blocks I had to cross the turf of four different gangs, the Congoleres, Wanamaker Street, Lansdowne Avenue and the Moon. Some gang’s territory encompassed only one or two streets, fortunately for me the Moon was spread out over 100 city blocks. Unfortunately Shoemaker was not in that area. To get to school safely every day I had to walk with the Moon. We would travel in groups (packs) from 10 to 15 people, and if you missed the group you would tell your mom you were sick and stay home or either run like hell to school and back.
Once we were in school most of us got along pretty well. We played sports on the same teams, cheated off each others test and even sang doo-wop songs in the bathrooms. But after school, and in the summer when school was out, we became mortal enemies, all over again, everyday. People used to fight with banister post (clubs), car aerials, and belts with huge buckles, and occasionally zip guns that shot nails. Why? It had nothing to do with race, drugs or money! What gang you were affiliated with was solely based on where you lived. It was kind of tribal. We called the neighborhood we lived in The Village.
The Moon gang started in the late fifties, long before there were Crips and Bloods. My father told me that a lot of black groups sprung up in the forty’s and fifties to protect themselves from Irish and Italian kids who attacked them as West Philadelphia was slowly becoming desegregated. Some of these groups later became social clubs and focused their energy on parties, dances and other events, others became gangs. By the time I started school most of the Italian and Irish kids were gone!
The Moon was structured like the Roman Army. The center of the Moon was 62nd and Vine Streets. There were different sub groups: the Market Street Moon, the Race Street Moon the Vine Street, etc. There were different age groups: midgets, young boys, juniors and the old heads. Every summer all of the sub groups, who frequently fought amongst each other, would band together and attack surrounding neighborhoods to expand their territory and recruit new converts (terrorize other young kids). How Stupid!
By the time I was 15 I had graduated from shoplifting turtles from downtown department stores, and heisting car batteries (we were too young to drive), to stealing whole cars. I was running the streets, stealing and dealing, and on my way to jail or Hell.
Fortunately for me, my parents who both grew up in Philadelphia and saw the signs, sent me to a High School out of my neighborhood. In spite of all I was doing wrong I still had decent grades! In my new school I didn’t know anyone, I took three buses, and I was able to escape the grip of the Moon. In 1968, when I was 19, I moved to California.
Fifteen years later I moved back to Philadelphia to take care of my father and mother who had separated. My father had a stroke and things were worst than ever. The Moon was no more, and our gang wars with chains and clubs were replaced with automatic weapons. It reminds me of Iraq without Saddam Hussein. The Moon was bad, but at least there was some order! People respected and protected older folks, you didn’t steal – on your own block, and young women weren’t called bitches and ho’s, like some kind of term of endearment. They could be somebody’s sister! We settled disputes with a “fair-one”, one on one fisticuffs with no kicking (a.k.a. karate), and using a gun was the act of a coward.
When I returned to Philadelphia there were “Shower Posses”. Jamaican gangs that would indiscriminately shoot everyone on the corner just to get to one person. You could buy drugs for a dollar and 16 year old girls were dating sixty year old men for a crack rock. Meanwhile senior citizens that had lived in the same house for thirty and forty years were barricaded in their homes, armed with guns prepared to kill local youth whose parents they used to baby-sit. These same kids were now stealing their cars, breaking into their homes terrorizing and disrespecting them on a daily basis. I tried to reconnect with my “boys” from the past to find out what was going on, but too many of them were in jail, dead or cracked out.
When my mother’s car was vandalized, and the culprit, who lived in the same apartment building, threatened her if she told the police, I wanted to hurt somebody. Finally, my father found a young kid trying to steal his car, from in front of his house! He caught him in the act, pulled out his gun, and held him for the police. The kid he had collared grew up on the same block as us. The next day his father stormed over our house irate. “Why did you turn my kid over to the police, you know he was my son!” My father said, “Yeah, I knew he was yours, that’s why I didn’t shoot him!”
After only a year of being back in Philly I was being drawn back to the “Dark Side”, and the ways of the Moon. I wanted to hurt somebody! I knew I had to leave. We had started Town Watch, community meetings, and even midnight citizen patrols with walkie talkies. But without enough community support our efforts were not enough. Over the next several months I helped my mother pack her belongings and moved her to Arizona. I went back to California hoping my father would join me but he died three months after I left. To those who say I’m not from Oakland, and can’t relate, does any of this sound familiar!
Run, Ron Run. But I hope you’re not being chased by people in our own community that don’t realize how important you are to us. Black on black crime, who’s on who? It’s all wrong and doesn’t belong in our community. Moon up!