Though many local activists and public officials were skeptical about the peace deal, three decades on, the Watts Truce that was signed by rival Los Angeles gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, has lived up to its expectation.
There has been a significant reduction in gang violence and deaths throughout local communities since the treaty was signed. It came to many as a surprise when a small group of gang leaders and community organizers served notice in April 1992 of committing to an end to the perennial gang violence in South Los Angeles.
The truce was embraced by many of the gangs and that set the ground rules to facilitate a ceasefire. What triggered the need for this treaty was the desire of some gang leaders to end the impunity and violence they have been unleashing on the community.
Gang leaders Anthony Perry, Twilight Bey, Daude Sherrills, Dewayne Holmes, Tony Bogard and others were unhappy with the targeted killings, the growing conflict among the gangs, the shooting on sight of rival gang members who trespassed their territory and the use of offensive weapons.
They wanted to protect their families and friends from the unprovoked shootings and needless loss of lives. They recognized that law enforcement agencies could not, or would not, end the violence. If there was any tangible ceasefire, it fell on them to call the shots.
They were of the view that curing the excesses of their rivalry required a diplomatic solution. In doing so, the gang leaders conducted research to look for best practices for resolving their conflict. The gang leaders found a 1949 Armistice Agreement adopted by Egypt and Israel to resolve the protracted Arab-Israeli War. They found inspiration in the blueprint on how it brought peace through the exchange of prisoners and established an armistice line.
The gang leaders were happy that the lead actor in drafting the agreement to resolve the Arab-Israel war was Ralph Bunche, an African-American diplomat who had strong roots in Los Angeles. Bunche won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the mediation that brought peace between the Egyptians and Israelis.
The gang leaders said they were motivated by the move taken by Bunche and that gave them a sense they were in the right direction. In fact, the Watts Treaty was drafted in line with the Egypt-Israel Armistice Agreement, reflecting the key provisions of the deal. The treaty addressed common issues with gang violence, a code of conduct for the gang members, and frowned on the use of gang signs and wearing of provocative clothing by members.
On April 26, 1992, the Watts Treaty was signed by the rival gang leaders. Four gangs played a huge role in the deal. Four days after signing the treaty, the gang leaders tested the commitment of the gangs to the agreement during the L.A. uprising. None of the deaths recorded during the uprising involved any gang members despite the violence witnessed on April 29, 1992.
Police records indicated that after the signing of the treaty, gang violence saw a significant decline in the following months. The peace treaty began finding space in the music industry as rapper Kam referenced the truce in his 1993 hit single. Media houses generated national conversations about the treaty. It inspired poetry from artists of spoken poetry. The treaty’s impact got one of the alcoholic beverage manufacturers naming one of its beers Watts Truce.