|The Lookout Letter to the editor|
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By Javier “Javi” Gonzalez and Rodrell “Rody” Castine
For centuries law enforcement in America enforced not only the law but also a caste racial order. As Black and Brown youth growing up in Santa Monica we were familiar with the strong arm of the law. The Santa Monica Police Department showed us every day. We knew no different to complain.
By our teenage years our rowdy little hip hop troupe was considered a gang, not just by the police, but also by the school district, the city, rival neighborhoods, and the community in general.
But we saw ourselves as different. For one, we initially rejected the use of firearms. We had to learn to throw hands and we had some of the best. We also rejected hard core drug use and routinely challenged one another in sports. We played strike out, over the line, basketball, even volleyball at the beach, and our favorite -- football -- in the hood. Some of us even maintained grades to play at Samohi.
Rody had a hood football injury that cost him his sophomore season, and a stabbing that cost him his junior year. Javier quit baseball his senior year after fights mounted on travel games and leagues and his eye turned towards chasing money and girls.
But football was for sure our favorite. As we left organized high school sports or were left off for grades or behavior we took our love to the local parks. We played the vatos from 17th st, the vatos from the “coyotera,” the local crips, and other neighborhoods. Rody’s people brought some 60s to play. Rich and Rambo brought cousins from Helms, and every thanksgiving we hooked up with the White homies to play in the turkey bowl.
We were for sure trouble makers and lost boys, but we were not hardened criminals and by no means a lost cause. But this is not how the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) saw it. Thirty (30) years ago today our group of 30 or so House Rockers, as we called ourselves, headed to Will Rogers State Park in the Palisades neighborhood to play football and hike.
Truth is we planned on putting a couple of heads on the set (initiation). Rambo, AKA Ramon, decided to play Rocky Balboa on a horse. Cat, AKA Lance, made fun of a Park Ranger and as promised we jumped two new homies on the polo fields Javi’s great grandfather once tended.
To us, it was no big deal and frankly 100% love. It was orderly, organized and posed no threat to anyone. Then we heard helicopters. Then we heard sirens. Soon a cavalry of White LAPD officers surrounded us and ordered our hands behind our heads and to go to our knees. You know, the routine.
What ensued was a two hour lecture on racial inequality, racial slurs, full-force assaults with batons and several slaps in the face -- the most disrespectful in the hood.
The LAPD did not investigate violence, nor anything else. This was pain, punishment, threats, humiliation and, most of all, a lesson in social order. As we were told several times over we were supposed to play at our own local park. The Brothers were told that “just because that nigger Mandela got out (that month) doesn’t mean you can go anywhere.” The raza was asked for our green cards (immigration status) as they mocked Spanish and made jokes about their favorite Mexican food.
For Javier, most vivid was the White bald cop who said to us, “I get a hard on when I think of the opportunity to kill one of you.” He followed that with, “I drive my kid to school each day and point at you and say -- they are the enemy.”
For Rody, it was the random sounds of groans and moans as others were hit, slapped, or tossed around. Mondo batooned, Mousie and Oscar got slapped, Gillie and David went to jail for warrants, and many others were forced to clean that section of the park while on their knees.
But the LAPD did not count on two things: One, that Lawayne’s grandfather (We just lost Mr. Williamson in 2020) was the President of the Santa Monica/Venice National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and was not having this! And two, that a White lady walking her dog would come forward and say the police had gone way too far.
Soon we filed a lawsuit, got on local news and made a stink. This was one year before Rodney King and at that time the largest such case in LA. After a few years we settled out of court. Javi says thanks for the Jeep Wrangler! Rody picked up his check with wires in his broken hands from “an incident” as he got heavier into the game.
Gillie, David, Alex and Javier were shot in a drive by soon after; GIllie did not survive (RIP). Soon Los, Sydney, David, Omar, Jessie and Jermaine went to prison. Eventually, prison politics sent word to the streets and us that Blacks and Browns could not be in the same gang and we all went on different paths.
Javier enrolled in Santa Monica College (SMC) and eventually went to UCLA, graduated and remained there in a Sociology PhD program as a Mellon Fellow. He is a successful political consultant recently carving out a niche in criminal justice reform.
Rody came home after 24 years to reignite a music career and to help further our community and work on projects and programs for youth intervention and rehabilitation. We are reconnected and working with others to become agents of change.
As we pursue these goals we also have a message for the recently woke community just catching up to fights we have had going back to the 80s. The movement for criminal justice reform must be led by those directly involved with gang life and the criminal justice system. There is unique wisdom, knowledge, relatability, communication, and the ability to motivate comrades.
The movement for fair sentencing, police reform, and anti recidivism cannot be led by foundations, politicians, nor non-profit bureaucrats alone. This movement cannot be about careers, grants, brands, celebrity, nor influencers.
This is about ending the horrible pain too many of our families have suffered, providing second life chances, and opening new doors for our youth. Happy Dead Presidents day!
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