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October 31, 2003

The Loyalty of Hard Men

Quite some time ago, I used to hang out at the Aquarian Bookstore. Sometime after I read City of Quartz by Mike Davis and became intrigued about the origins of the Crips and Bloods, I ran into Donald Bakeer at the Aquarian.

Bakeer wrote a book called 'Crips', and he was involved in some deep hateration of the white woman, Leon Bing, who first broke the big story on Kody Scott aka Monster Kody, now Sanyika Shakur. Kody was a killer and he grew up near 54th Street and Kenniston, where my best friend used to live. This was a neighborhood that was nicer than any one you saw in the film 'Boyz N The Hood' and Kody was harder than any thug in that film. But it was not that contrast that interested me, it was the politics.

Kody finally wrote his own book. While I never read 'Do or Die', I did read Monster and didn't have to undo some notion not from the horse's mouth. Some years later I had a brief correspondance with Kody (which is always how I think of him, the sharp kid who was impossible to contain, the manchild trying to contain the rage). We are both autodidacts and we come from the same neighborhoods, we have a kind of strange bond. He wrote to me of his theory.

What Kody was trying to explain actually makes the most sense when it's done simply and it has remained with me in that simple form. The essence of it is this. Young men - the way they think - they will do anything to prove something. I beleive he called it his theory of Adherence. A boy needs a man to follow. Loyalty is a young man's most precious value. I know this to be true and I know it of my own son. I know he will do anything including destroying himself to retain respect in my eyes. And he will do so until I respect him as a man. Loyalty and Respect.

I have added S-Train to my blogroll tonight. I thought I may have already but I hadn't. He reminds me of what it's like to be in that zone.

Once upon a time when I was a skinny kid in a knuckle-up neighborhood, I found a palm branch with huge thorns. It made a great big stick. And in those days when kids got jacked for grocery money, walking the alleys was a risk. In the days before the Crips sold crack, knives and guns weren't used. Besides, I lived in neutral turf and only the occasional Blackstone or Brim strolled through. Still, for that afternoon, I had the biggest baddest stick, and I just wished somebody would try something.

I retain a solid amount of street smarts. Up until 1980, I was in them. I walked alone at night through the infamous Jungle at the foot of Baldwin Hills, all the way to Crenshaw and Jefferson from time to time. That was well in my range. I lived on the cusp of the devolution but I still had the senses and the reflexes. By the time the game became more serious, I was gone. I don't know how to read the eyes of a man and tell that he's carrying a gun, but I'm sure I could learn in short order. I know when a man is acting a fool, I know the difference between a loud conversation that will end quietly and one that will end bloody, and on more than one occasion my intervention has made the difference. My brother is a cop and I understand his humor. Funny when I think of it, I was harder than he was. But I had to be, I was the big brother.

When you have a little brother to protect or a family and especially if you have the big stick and even more especially when you are being loyal to a man from whom you desire respect, you can be the most dangerously single-minded creature on the planet. Its the same for armies as it is for gangs. This is what Kody discovered upon reflection at Pelican Bay. It came across loud and clear in his book.

Once you have your crew, your team, your platoon, your road dogs, and you are bonded by pain and violence, there are very few forces that can break that bond. But when you are your own dog and you're only trying to inspire that fear and respect in other people, that is when you go beyond dangerous. You know things. You could do things. The only one to stop you is you.

What Kody and S-Train represent to me (whether or not they want to) is the absolute necessity of brotherhood. There is no thing out there called civilization. Ultimately, there is loyalty and respect that must be forged between men who can do damage. That bond must be made before we all become our own dogs. Wherever the slot for the missing man is, it must be filled, like a control rod before the reactor goes critical and unstoppable. If you were ever that sharp kid, impossible to contain, you know what I mean. You had to develop that discipline, you had to be mastered and commanded if only by yourself. You have to control that monster, you can't follow demons and shadows in your own head, but real men who care about where you land.

This is not an essential violence in men. It is the battle we must do, but it is responsive to our environment. I always had love and respect at home, and I had mental and ethical challenges from my father. Still do, dammit. I had to fight on the street but it was not that singular dimension. I felt the thug life, I walked out into it, but I didn't have to live it because I always had a safe home. I was owned and protected by the right kind of man; he makes me the kind of fighter I am. We should all be so fortunate all of our lives. Whatever our past, we need to get it sooner or later.

I'll say one more thing. My friend Charles who grew up partially in South Africa told me today that I need to do some writing before he is gone. I cannot wait until I retire. I need to start saying what I need to say today. I don't know how to respond to that, but I must. And I have to get to know his son as well.

As I write all this at 2 in the morning, I feel that I must complete it, but I don't know precisely how. I understand something about the care and feeding of a man's soul and I understand how important it is that we are linked in some way. To know someone has got your back across the distances is something we need to hear and it's something we need to say. I hope this says so.

Posted by mbowen at October 31, 2003 01:04 AM

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