That article was what the Bee considered one of its deep studies of an issue – in this case, Bloods and Crips and their expansion up the Interstate 5 corridor through Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle. The article painted a picture of a highly organized street organization network that sold large quantities of drugs. As I mentioned, we had just returned from L.A. where we had done some community organizing work in South L.A., or what popular culture deems “South Central.” I knew from my personal exposure and experience that 99.9% of these L.A. street organizations lacked the experience, resources, or capacity to organize anything even closely resembling what was being described in that newspaper article. I remember having a huge laugh with the comrades I was with when I read to them how the article claimed that Bloods and/or Crips in Portland had the ability to communicate in sign language in such a sophisticated fashion that police were unable to understand what they were saying. Yes, we laughed at that. The level of organization described there was the type of organization we strived and worked for, and yet we were no where close to having those capabilities. We certainly knew that these street organizations didn’t possess that in L.A., not to mention Sacramento or Portland. In fact, the more we thought about that, the less funny it became. Without knowing anything about Portland at that time, it was clear to me then that the objective of that article was to set up something against African people, but just what that something was, I didn’t know.
Today, 30+ years of organizing experience later, and with 10 years of that experience living and organizing in Oregon (70% of that time in Portland) under my belt, I have a much better understanding of what was at play in that 1987 article. Ironically, I ended up doing quite a bit of intensive housing justice work during my initial years in Oregon. This work permitted me to gain a very deep understanding of the foreclosure and eviction industries, how those industries are connected to Bloods and Crips, and how institutional racism is used to make profits for development companies.
Since we are talking about a span of almost 40 years between my initial visit to Portland and my move there, I can’t say for certain that I’m right about this next part, but I’m pretty sure that the neighborhood where my family lived in 1974 is the very same N.E. Portland neighborhood that I lived and did the bulk of that housing justice work in 2012, 2013. I’m also not certain about this, but I’m pretty sure that the park that 1987 article claimed these “gang members” were speaking in sign language in front of police was and is Woodlawn park in N.E. Portland. Today, Woodlawn Park and most of N.E. Portland is primarily inhabited by yuppie, petti-bourgeois, European urban professionals. There are approximately 50,000 Africans in Portland and historically, most of them lived in N.E. Portland. Although the King neighborhood in Portland is still the most densely populated area of African people in all of Oregon (according to the 2010 Census), no where in N.E. Portland are African people the majority any longer. And, I know from the countless doors we knocked on in those neighborhoods while doing the housing justice work that a large percentage of those yuppie white people bought those properties sight unseen while living in Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, Montana, etc. Nowadays, Africans are arrested from so-called “stop and frisk” activities in N.E. Portland at a rate of hundreds per month. Having lived in this “traditionally African neighborhood” I can tell you that the actions of city institutions and their message is clear to us there – “you may have been here longer, but you don’t belong here now!”
If you haven’t caught on yet, what all of this has to do with Bloods and Crips is that starting in the early 90s, city officials in Portland were exposed for having worked out deals with private development companies. Their strategy was for the city development commissions and agencies to secure funding for city projects. The role of the developers was to tap into that money in order to help finance their efforts to seize as many properties as they could so that they could “flip” them and make handsome profits. Their methodology for doing that would require property values to sink at an alarming rate in order to make these transactions profitable. The way these public agencies and private companies, along with a strong assist from the capitalist media, were able to accomplish this was to create this image that African youth e.g. street organizations – Bloods and Crips – were taking over N.E. Portland. And as Boots Riley raps in the classic anti-gentrification song “Fat Cats and Bigga Fish” – “We’ll say that gangs run the streets…Then we bring in the police fleets, to beat and harass people until they look inebriated…Pretty soon people will appreciate it!” This was the basic strategy in Portland, Sacramento, L.A., San Francisco and cities all across the world, including Accra, Ghana, West Africa. Move African people around like pawns to make profits for big capitalist corporations with assistance from municipal agencies which are basically government appendages for capitalism.
As was just mentioned, its important to understand that the model used in Portland isn’t new. It was perfected in larger cities like L.A. long before it happened in Portland. Even the development of the Bloods and Crips is rooted in this gentrification model of moving African people around in very racist and systemically oppressive ways.
There was virtually no African population in L.A. until the 1950s when literally hundreds of thousands of African people packed up from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, etc., and moved out to L.A. in search of the suddenly available industrial jobs that were hiring African people as a result of their need for labor due to World War II and the Korean War. As these Africans arrived into L.A. to claim those jobs, we were brutally redlined and only permitted to live in what is today known as “South Central.” The whites who lived there when we got there were committed to continuing the institutionalized tradition of white supremacy. So, they formed brutal gangs like the “Spookhunters” who were committed to terrorizing African families in South L.A. Since the role of police is always to contain and repress African people, our folks in L.A. knew they would have to develop their own solution to the Spookhunter problem. Consequently, African street organizations like the “Gladiators, Businessmen”, and “Rabblerousers” were formed with the intent of protecting African people from these white supremacist gangs. This continued until the industrial jobs vanished in the 60s. At this point, white flight had eliminated any white people in South L.A., thus also eliminating the Spookhunters. Meanwhile, mounting poverty from the lack of employment, coupled with continued police containment and repression keeping Africans locked in South L.A., caused tensions to grow. Resources were few, opportunities non-existent. As any social experiment on these types of tensions will bear out, people will eventually turn on one another in these types of circumstances. And, as would be the case with any people, those African street organizations began to battle each other for a little piece of something, anything.
For their actions, these youth are not the real criminals. The real criminals are the agents for the system who designed redlining, the private developer industry, and all forms of systemic racism. The city government’s are complicent as is the capitalist media which has played a prominent role in presenting such consistent anti-African youth propaganda that many African people have foolishly bought into that nonsense. There were plenty of Africans who called for a “war on drugs” which ended up being a war against African people. And this discussion could never be complete without a focus on the federal government’s counter intelligence program that was designed in the 60s to target the African liberation movement for liquidation. Federal agencies like the so-called Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), under the direction of J Edgar Hoover, raised the stakes on their counter intelligence program (cointelpro) “designed to prevent the rise of a Black Messiah who can electrify the African (Black) masses.” The cold blooded objective of the FBI’s cointelpro was to create a national atmosphere with police departments in every city where the message was that any African liberation movement was anti-white with the potential of violence against police (why do you think so many primarily white people even today view the Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam, and any African liberation organization as anti-white and violent toward police). This meant it would be ok for those police to do whatever they wanted to anyone participating in the African liberation movement. When Hoover stated in 1968 that “the Black Panther Party is the greatest threat to America’s security” he wasn’t so much talking about any imagined military might the Panthers possessed. He was talking about the fact the FBI had determined that 44% of all African youth 25 and under supported the Black Panther program. It was the Panther’s potential to galvanize the African masses that scared the power structure. And, their way of addressing their fears was not only to destroy the Black Panther Party, which they did, but to also attack African communities everywhere. Besides the influx of hard addictive drugs like heroin, another way this was accomplished was by partnering with those same city commissions (yes, in the 1960s) and devising plans to “redevelop inner city communities.” In other words, what they called “urban renewal” was in fact African removal. Their objective? Break up African communities in the inner city to eliminate the potential of those communities to become breeding grounds for developing revolutionaries.
Inner city people who commit so-called crimes (nothing in comparison to the mass crimes committed by capitalist corporations) do so to survive. Until the conditions that oppress them change, they will have to continue to engage in whatever behavior is required to survive. Capitalist media is now trumpeting this tune that crime is down. Of course its down in cities like Portland and L.A. because it’s the poor who are disproportionately arrested and convicted. And, it’s the poor who have been systematically removed from those cities. So, while these bogus crime rates in L.A. decrease, the petty crime rates in smaller metropoles like Pasadena, Rosemead, and Culver City, have risen. But, we are not concerned about petty crime rates and neither should you. We are expressing the reality that this disbursement of African people was designed to eliminate African communities within the inner cities because doing so would eradicate the potential for those communities to become power bases for the African masses. And, that’s power bases on all levels.
So, gentrification isn’t just about white people buying homes in African or Indigenous neighborhoods. It isn’t just about white people taking spaces we previously occupied. Its really about breaking up the organizing potential of those neighborhoods while providing vulture capitalist developers the opportunity to make money in the process. And, as always, the African masses are used in Southern Strategy code language to justify for the racist white masses why this entire process is necessary.
Even a child could ascertain that the most dangerous gangs are always going to be the organized and resource rich police departments across this society. Those entities have been terrorizing innocent people for centuries. Any reference to African street organizations going criminal can be directly traced to the objective conditions of Africans within this racist society. That’s why Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt), one of our many victims of the FBI’s cointelpro (Geronimo spent 27 unjust years in prison) was correct when he said “all people in prison are political prisoners because if the people in prison for committing crimes had been placed in different circumstances where committing crime wasn’t necessary, they wouldn’t have done it so the fact they did is a political condition. The fact they participated in street organizations is a political situation as well. And, the fact those street organizations are criminalized, demonized, and targeted for repression is a very defined political process that is designed to continue to exploit, and oppress the African masses while making sure we never develop the capacity to come together and deal conclusively with this backward system.