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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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1988: When I say STEP

1988: California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act passes; local law enforcement must identify and enter gang members into statewide database.    

Actions for Self-Determination:
  • 1908: Colonel Allen Allensworth and a group of African Americans form Allensworth, a utopian town based in self-sufficiency in response to continued racism and violence of post-Reconstruction America.
  • 1920: The Knights of Pythias and their sister organization, the Courts of Calanthe, are the most powerful secret societies in Florida. In spite of violence, murder and harassment by the Ku Klux Klan and other whites, the groups are central to Black Floridians' organizing campaigns to challenge racist voting laws and one-party rule in the 1920 elections.*
  • 1943: Zoot Suit riots occur in Los Angeles between Chicano and Black youth and white Marines and sailors.  The clashes stemmed from continued harassment of Chicano youth and the imprisonment of Chicano youth for murder in the Sleepy Lagoon incident. The Chavez Ravine neighborhood, home to many of these youth, is later bulldozed for the creation of Dodger Stadium.
  • 1992: The Watts Truce is made in Watts, California, through the ongoing work of ex-gang members and community organizers (among others, Jim Brown’s organization Amer-I-Can, the Sherrills brothers, Imam Mujahid, and Twilight Bey). The peace comes three days before the four cops involved in beating Rodney King are acquitted. 
  • 2011: The family of Carlos Nava, a 3-year-old murdered in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, speak out against gang injunctions in the face of politicians attempting to use the death to increase policing in their neighborhoods.  A block party is held for the unveiling of a mural for Carlitos and other victims of violence in Oakland. In honor of him and other deaths through gun violence (due to civilians and police), Life Academy students hold a rolling 74-day fast for building peace.

Discussion Questions:
  • What constitutes a gang? After reading this article on the Oakland Riders, how does your definition change (if at all)?
  • Can gangs be positive? What would help to support a "positive" gang?
  • How does incarceration promote violence in neighborhoods where there are gangs? (Consider the culture of silence, economic instability and prison culture).
  • What are the connections between gang enforcement and gentrification? Compare and contrast the effects of the Zoot Suit riots and gang injunctions in North, East and West Oakland and gentrification.
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