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From Watts to CVIC: The next generation of Black-led community violence intervention


Thirty years ago—following decades of gang war that had killed thousands and traumatized countless others—the Crips and the Bloods in Watts agreed to a truce. In April 1992, leaders from the Grape Street Crips; PJ Watts Crips; Bounty Hunter Bloods; and Hacienda Village Bloods met at a local mosque to sign a peace treaty that included a ceasefire arrangement and a prohibition on drive-bys and random attacks.

The treaty also included a United Black Community Code, a list of guidelines encouraging, among other things, education programs; respectful treatment of rivals; the pooling of resources for cultural events; a food bank; and a hardship fund.

The Watts peace treaty was a community-based solution to a community-based problem—a problem to which outsiders were largely indifferent. Fed up with watching their family members, friends, and neighbors die in an unending cycle of shootings and reprisals, a group of active and former gang members realized that they were the only people equipped to stop the violence in Watts. In brokering, writing, and enforcing the 1992 peace treaty, they took matters into their own hands.

“We really didn’t really believe that it was going to work. I think we were cynical,” LA District Attorney George Gascón (who was a member of the LAPD in 1992) recently said.

Their cynicism was not a surprise. The police had virtually no understanding, or desire to understand, the community or the sources of the violence within it. Given the LAPD’s brutal tactics in Watts, their presence did more harm than good — police violence was seen as a second front in the devastating war.

Despite the skepticism, the peace treaty demonstrated its power just days after it was signed, when the Rodney King verdict sparked the LA uprising. While violence engulfed much of the city, Watts remained largely peaceful; there were few deaths in the area during the uprising, and none were gang-related.

According to scholar Elizabeth Hinton, in the two months immediately following the truce, “Only four people were killed [in Watts], down from twenty-two during the same period in 1991. Drive-by shootings fell by nearly 50 percent from 1991 to 1992, and gang-related homicides by 62 percent.” These trends continued for years.

The truce held for roughly a decade. Its dissolution is partially attributable to the fading of connections between the 1992 treaty’s original participants. But the chief explanation for the eventual uptick of violence in Watts is that, for all the attention the treaty’s success received, policy makers never really provided the material resources to address the root causes of violent crime.

Today, the legacy of the Watts peace treaty lives on in our work at Advocates for Peace and Urban Unity (APUU). Our mission is to intervene in and stop gang and other forms of community violence, as well as to provide support to young people vulnerable to becoming perpetrators or victims of violent crime. Our staff is made up of local residents with personal experience on the frontlines of violence — people who, like the drafters of the 1992 treaty, have deep knowledge of our communities and a firsthand understanding of what drives violent crime and what it takes to prevent it.

Community violence intervention (CVI) is challenging, complex, time-intensive, and sometimes painful—but more importantly, it is effective. We see it in our work every day, every time we intervene in circumstances to ensure our youth can become the thriving adults they could be.

Still, as a small nonprofit operating on a tiny budget, we have always been aware that with more resources, we could have far greater impact. Now, a first-of-its-kind federal-philanthropic initiative is enabling APUU and other CVI organizations across the country to expand our work.

The Biden administration’s Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVIC) through Hyphen provides significant funding and organizational support to 52 groups across the country who are actively engaged in reducing violence in their respective communities. CVIC represents a historic and badly needed investment in CVI, as well as national recognition of what we have long known: Policing alone is not enough to stop violent crime. CVIC’s mission is to turn CVI into a coordinated national strategy.

With its investment in CVIC, the White House and our philanthropic partners through Hyphen are finally catching up to what the writers of the Watts peace treaty knew three decades ago—and it’s vital that we carry that legacy forward to create true public safety in our communities right here in LA and across the country.

Kevin Orange is the executive director of Advocates for Peace and Urban Unity, one of over 50 grassroots community violence intervention organizations participating in the White House backed Community Violence Intervention Collaborative’s Training and Technical Assistance Program.

This article is a part of a series of articles for Our Weekly’s #StopTheHate campaign and is supported in whole or part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library. #NoPlaceForHateCA,

#StopAAPIHate, #CaliforniaForAll