Gang violence was at a dangerous high in the 1980s and 1990s, fueled by the crack epidemic. While former President Ronald Reagan’s White House pushed its “Just Say No” anti-drugs initiative, Black gangs had entered the drug game. With the money came violence. “Just Say No” did not curb the crack gang wars and killings. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan decided to take action on his own.
Farrakhan began to reach out directly to the gangs and their leaders. He toured the country, speaking to gang members and their communities. He launched the ″Stop the Killing″ campaign and his speeches, though some were private, drew hundreds of people. Gangs seemed to actually listen to Farrakhan’s call for an end to the violence and his challenge to rebuild their communities.
Farrakhan talked to the gangs about the need for high self-esteem and for building an economic base within Black communities. He spoke in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities. He also traveled to Washington, D.C.
In October 1989, Farrakhan spoke to nearly 900 street gang leaders in Los Angeles. It was a time when gangs were overrunning the city and devastating Black communities. In 1987, more than half of L.A.’s 205 gang-related killings in the city took place in the Black neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, according to the New York Times Magazine. There were an estimated 70,000 gang members in the city. By far the most violent were “the Black gangs, whose 25,000 or so members are often armed with automatic weapons,” the New York Times Magazine reported.
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So when Farrakhan held his private address to the city’s gang leaders, he was hoping to help quell the violence. The address was part of a “Stop the Killing” day of peace organized by Los Angeles community leaders to combat violence that has overtaken sections of the city.
In L.A., as he did in other cities, Farrakhan, explained his message of Black economic independence to the gang leaders, introducing them to a “financial freedom” plan that would give them the chance to do something positive for themselves and their communities instead of destroying them with drugs and violence, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“We have a 50-year track record of reforming, re-educating, and redeeming Black people,” Nation of Islam member Christopher X Phillips told the L.A. Times. “Malcolm X was a convict and dope seller at one time until he heard the word.”
Farrakhan, according to local community leaders, was able to connect with the gang leaders and members.
Chilton Alphonse, executive director of the Community Youth, Sports and Arts Foundation, said Farrakhan was “respected among (our) children. I don’t care what gang they’re in…if they’re in prison or wherever. When he speaks, they listen.”
Farrakhan was the one leader in the Black community with whom gang members wanted to speak most, according to Alphonse and others.
“For Black people, Farrakhan is always positive,” said Danny Bakewell, president of the Brotherhood Crusade and founder of a grass-roots movement that brought together Muslims, Christian ministers, and neighborhood activists to clean up a troubled South LA neighborhood. “And the Muslims have been an integral part of the African-American community.”
In 1990, a crowd of more than 16,000 in Los Angeles gathered to hear Farrakhan speak, following the shooting death of a Black Muslim, The New York Times reported.
”Our subject is stop the killing. Stop the killing,” Farrakhan said. ”There’s so much disrespect for the single gift of life that it is sad in 1990 that someone has to come along and ask us to stop those who have delighted in killing us.”
Farrakhan called on Black people to stop killing one another in street gang battles.
”Why can we take the trigger and pull it at each other?” he asked. ”We are killing ourselves. In the name of life, we are worshipers of death.”
In 1993, Farrakhan spoke in New York City about the increasing violence sweeping across the U.S. The message was captured by C-Span. During his speech, Farrakhan called out the hidden crimes of big business and government. “It is so sad that the little criminals… who are trying to survive from day to day are the ones who are focused on while the real criminals that are in high places, dressed in fine suits…are hiding their criminal activities behind the legalities of government rhetoric,” declared Farrakhan.
The Muslim leader also addressed gun violence and pointed out that illegal weapons “are flooding” the Black community and young people feel that guns are the solution. “The Brothers are saying when I have my piece, (gun) I feel good,” said Farrakhan.
He also called on Black leaders to examine themselves. “How did all of this get so crazy? Where did it start?” Farrakhan asked. “Our children are so cold, they don’t have consciousness…you say this is a tough generation, but you and I produced it. That’s the fruit from our tree. So if something is wrong with the fruit, don’t check the fruit, let’s check the tree. If you would be bold enough to take a critical look at our own madness as parents, as adults, then you would all have to agree that from leadership all the way down we need guidance, we need correction, we need an awakening that we might awaken our people.”
Farrakhan’s Stop the Killing efforts had major success in 1992 when he spoke at a historic Gang Summit. In the Watts section of L.A., a peace agreement was struck among rival street gangs.
During the speech, Farrakhan praised the young generation while calling for the older generation to recognize how it had failed young people. “You are young people, the strongest, most powerful generation that we have ever produced since our fathers were brought to these shores as slaves,” he said. “You are greatly misunderstood not only by your elders but oftentimes by your parents.”
Addressing the older generation, Farrakhan said, “We produced this generation and we cannot deny what we have produced. They’re different from us. They are not hope, they are fulfillment. You know we can hope for something and we can believe in something but when the thing that is hoped for and the thing that we have faith in comes along, sometimes we’re not prepared for what we hoped for.”
He continued, “You have always hoped for a generation that would not bow down to bail. You have always hoped for a generation that would stand up to the forces of injustice and oppression that we in former years bowed down…we sold out the future of these young people.”
Speaking of the historic gang truce, Farrakhan pointed out that the truce didn’t just come about due to his work or the work of community leaders, but because the leaders of the gangs decided to stop the killing.
“These brothers didn’t come together at the urging of Jane, of Jim Brown, of Louis Farrakhan or Dick Gregory…because our words to you don’t have to be effective. There’s a spirit in you bigger than all ours and that spirit that is in you is not from us,” said Farrakhan. “The spirit is from God because when you can come together over rivers of blood and embrace each other and say ‘I forgive you’…and say let’s stop the killing, these young people they are the future leaders.”
On April 28, 1992, gang members from the Imperial Courts, Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens, and Hacienda Village housing projects in L.A.’s Watts neighborhood established a peace treaty, The Final Call reported.
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The Watts Truce happened one day before an all-white jury in the L.A. suburb of Simi Valley acquitted four officers in the horrific beating of Black motorist Rodney King that triggered the L.A. uprising.
“The truce grew out of our frustration with the killing over colors and the excessive force exhibited by the Los Angeles Police Department,” Aqeela Sherrills, an architect of the truce, told The Final Call in 2017.
“The only connection (to the Rodney King beating) was that we knew that the police were not going to protect and serve us, so we decided to do it ourselves. We had been working on the peace treaty since 1988, when we connected with Minister Farrakhan’s Stop the Killing tour in ’89 and subsequently met Jim Brown,” Sherrills continued.
Farrakhan’s Stop the Killing initiative didn’t end with the Watts Truce. He continued to address gang leaders and in 1994, he took the message to D.C.
As with the other gatherings, the meeting was held with mostly Black men whom Farrakhan urged to become ″agents of salvation″ for their race, Associated Press reported.
The minister said to attendees, ″We have been programmed, brothers, for self-destruction. We want to deprogram you from self-destruction and reprogram you as agents of the salvation of Black men. It won’t be hard to do.″
The 1994 Clinton Crime Bill capitalized on the fear of crime in the country and was the beating heart of then-President Bill Clinton’s domestic policy. It was passed with bipartisan support. By then, violent crime was already decreasing in the U.S. The bill disproportionately hurt African Americans and worsened racial inequality in the justice system that persists today. Black Americans represent 13 percent of U.S residents but account for 40 percent of the incarcerated population, according to PrisonPolicy.org.
“Obama praised Biden’s work on the 1994 Clinton crime bill but: 1. When the first funding hit in 95, violent crime was already down. 2. Something big was going on: A powerful cultural wave before the Million Man March. Improper credit is nothin’ new,” The Moguldom Nation CEO Jamarlin Martin tweeted.
Clinton later apologized for the crime bill, admitting in 2015 that it made mass incarceration worse.
A 25th-anniversary celebration of Watts Gang Truce was held in 2017.
Farrakhan’s Stop The Violence movement went a lot further and accomplished more in the Black community than Reagan’s “Just Say No” initiative.