Though many local activists and public officials were skeptical of the peace agreement, the Watts Truce signed by rival Los Angeles gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, has lived up to its expectations three decades later.
Since the treaty was signed, there has been a significant reduction in gang violence and deaths in local communities. Many people were surprised when, in April 1992, a small group of gang leaders and community organizers announced their intention to put an end to the gang violence in South Los Angeles.
Many of the gangs supported the truce, which established the ground rules for a ceasefire. The desire of some gang leaders to end the impunity and violence they have been unleashing on the community prompted the need for this treaty.
Anthony Perry, Twilight Bey, Daude Sherrills, Dewayne Holmes, Tony Bogard, and other gang leaders were dissatisfied with the targeted killings, the growing conflict among the gangs, the shooting on sight of rival gang members who trespassed on their territory, and the use of offensive weapons.
They wished to protect their families and friends from unprovoked shootings and unnecessary deaths. They recognized that law enforcement could not or would not put an end to the violence. If there was a real cease-fire, it was up to them to call the shots.
They believed that resolving their rivalry’s excesses required a diplomatic solution. In doing so, the gang leaders conducted research to identify best practices for conflict resolution. The gang leaders discovered a 1949 Armistice Agreement signed by Egypt and Israel to end the long Arab-Israeli war. They were inspired by the blueprint’s description of how it achieved peace through the exchange of prisoners and the establishment of an armistice line.
The gang leaders were pleased that Ralph Bunche, an African-American diplomat with deep roots in Los Angeles, was the primary architect of the agreement to end the Arab-Israel war. Bunche received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in mediating the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.
The gang leaders stated that Bunche’s move motivated them and gave them the feeling that they were heading in the right direction. In fact, the Watts Treaty was written to reflect the key provisions of the Egypt-Israel Armistice Agreement. The treaty addressed common gang violence issues, established a code of conduct for gang members, and prohibited the use of gang signs and the wearing of provocative clothing by members.
The rival gang leaders signed the Watts Treaty on April 26, 1992. The deal was heavily influenced by four gangs. Four days after signing the treaty, the gang leaders put the gangs’ commitment to the agreement to the test during the Los Angeles uprising. Despite the violence witnessed on April 29, 1992, none of the deaths recorded during the uprising involved any gang members.
According to police records, gang violence decreased significantly in the months following the treaty’s signing. The peace treaty gained traction in the music industry when rapper Kam mentioned it in his 1993 hit single. The media sparked national debate about the treaty. It sparked the creativity of spoken-word poets. The impact of the treaty prompted one alcoholic beverage manufacturer to name one of its beers Watts Truce.