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Michael Zinzun Interviewed on Gang Truce (1995)

by Paul Burton Saturday, Jul. 15, 2006 at 4:40 PM

In 1995, I interviewed Michael Zinzun when he was in Springfield, Mass., for a Regional Criminal Justice Summit that brought together prisoners' rights advocates and folks working to overturn mandatory minimum sentencing laws. We talked about his work on the gang truce after the 1992 L.A. Riots / Uprising.

[ In 1995, I interviewed Michael Zinzun when he was in Springfield, Mass., for a Regional Criminal Justice Summit that brought together prisoners' rights advocates and folks working to overturn mandatory minimum sentencing laws. We talked about his work on the gang truce after the 1992 L.A. Riots / Uprising. The article was published in the Alternative Newsweekly, The Valley Advocate.

Michael was a friend I had known in L.A. when I was active with the Peace and Freedom Party in Long Beach in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was an inspiration and a great leader.

While this interview is from 1995, I think it is still relevant and honors Michael's legacy as an activist for justice and peace.

"Forwards Ever, Backwards Never. All Power to the People!" ]


Black Panthers Push Gang Truce

by Paul Burton

April 22, 1995

Valley Advocate

Black Panther member Michael Zinzun and Juan Longino of the Los Angeles Crips street gang were presenters at the Regional Criminal Justice Summit in Springfield, “Too Many Americans in Prison." Zinzun is a founder of the Coalition Against Police Abuse in Los Angeles, and was himself beaten by Pasadena, California, police officers in 1986 when he intervened to stop a police beating. He has been a leader in campaigns for a Civilian Police Review Board in Los Angeles and currently works with Community in Support of the Gang Truce with Longino, who currently works at Gowanda Correctional in New York teaching life management skills to prisoners. They spoke with the Advocate about their work promoting the numerous gang truces begun in several cities since the Los Angeles Riots in1992, and about linking issues of police abuse with the gang truce.

Advocate: It’s been said by some activists that one reason that there’s so many gangs now compared with the 60’s and 70’s when the Black Panthers were active is that there was a greater political awareness among the youth then. How are you working to rebuild that political awareness?

Michael Zinzun: What we are doing now is linking the truce with the new movie about the Black Panthers as a way of building awareness, like [the film] Malcolm X did. We tell the young people that we were a gang, too, but we went in a different direction. Our thing is, don’t abandon your colors, abandon your negative activity.

Juan Longino: In terms of the political awareness, the gang truce is very involved in making the community politically aware. You know of course we opposed Proposition184, which was the three strikes law, and also that unjust and racist 187 law against immigration, that attack on the Latin community.

Advocate: Did that bring the black and Latino communities together, during that campaign?

Zinzun: Only when we demanded that they be linked together. Our thing was you can’t talk about 187 without talking about 184. And so that brought a lot of people to talking about the two, which was a natural marriage which I thought was important. We definitely push that on all our literature.

Advocate: At a rally in Los Angeles during the campaign for a civilian police review board there were young people from the projects speaking out who were very clear about the issues and their condition. It just blows the stereotype wide open. Is that why the media doesn’t give it any coverage, they don’t want people to know that a lot of the youth are thinking, intelligent people?

Longino: Of course they want to sensationalize our negativity and turn us into these animals that basically are just like predators who have no concerns and no cares. When actually what we are we’re sons, we’re daughters, we’re mothers and fathers. The stereotypes are very unjust but it’s the media that has blown all these things out of proportion. The media is a major propaganda tool and it’s used very fluently by not putting any emphasis on positive activities that go on in the community, but definitely runnin’ there as soon as something negative goes down.

Zinzun: I think it’s all part of the whole attack on Black youth, Latino youth — justification for the rousting, the harassment, moving in military weapons and so on. You see, if you look at the L.A. Uprising you can see the kind of fear they had. They have this fear of these young people...

Advocate: The police have that fear...

Zinzun: Yeah, well actually the establishment, too. You can’t keep kicking somebody in the ass and not wondering if one day they’re gonna rise up. And once they start organizing, you start saying, ‘Oh man I’ve done them so wrong, I know they’re comin’ after me.’ This is the legacy of white supremacy in this country.

I think that they’re afraid of the gang truce. They’re always hollerin’ about “We need to stop all this violence,” and then all these young people start joinin’ the gang truce and the first thing the police do is attack. The establishment attacks the truce, which is in fact what they said they would like to see.

In Chicago they had all these young El Rukins and Vice Lords and all the gangs registering people to vote and it scared the hell out of the whole country. They had 10,000 people registering people. These big, buff gang members talkin’ ‘bout, “Are you registered to vote?”

That scared the hell out of the establishment because they know that the unity that we are attempting to bring about can only be part of their downfall. And the gang truce is reflective of that — initiated in Watts out of the baddest housing projects on the west coast. And here they are now leading the charge and it’s impacting all the rest of the country. Can’t beat it.

Advocate: And is the truce spreading to other cities?

Longino: Undoubtedly. Right now in my efforts up at Gowanda Correctional I’m making contact with Latin Kings, Five Percenters and other organizations that the establishment would consider gangs and definitely making inroads, encouraging unity between their gangs. We’re setting up a rumor control network so that they can keep some of the violence and some of the conflict from going on in their community and actually, hopefully to avoid being victimized by this incarceration system and coming out and working together to improve and to uplift the community by going into realistic and meaningful entrepreneurial type ventures.

Advocate: Talk about that a little more. What’s going on with some of the efforts to set up businesses and programs for economic development?

Zinzun: We have got an economic development plan that doesn’t pit one person against another. We’re not promoting black capitalism, we’re promoting survival programs. All the T-shirts you see here — the young people are makin’ those. So all the money that’s made off this goes back to the young people.

We have the homeless domes in L.A. [temporary shelters in the form of geodesic domes in a small pilot community near L.A.’s skid row dubbed Justiceville]. We are proposing, we’re laying the groundwork for a plan to make those out of recycled plastic. This is part of the gang truce. So we have the silk screening, the speakers’ bureau — in which young people get paid to go speak and so on. And then we have our video classes. We’ve already put together several major international videos. We’re working on one now linking the local, national and international gang truce. All this comes out of the young people and it’s part of the economic plan.

In other words we don’t need Ueberroth [venture capitalist and former Olympic Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, appointed to head the corporate controlled Rebuild L.A. after the 1992 L.A. riots] to tell us what our needs are. We don’t want free enterprise zones. We’re calling for collective zones, cooperative zones where we can put things forward collectively so we can control that. That’s the empowerment of the community.

Longino: The whole idea of rebuild L.A. was to encourage big business to come in and continue to go on this frenzy of exploiting the people in the community and not using the people in the community or including them in these businesses. So they say there’s more employment and that’s supposed to benefit the community, but what are we doin’? The tax base is going right back into the police department, causing more police out there to beat us in the head. So what does it really amount to?

If we left it up to the establishment media, as far as they’re concerned, we’re better off killin’ each other. And they don’t give us any credit to the effect that after the truce was initiated in 1992, violent crime in the L.A. area came down 75 percent, immediately. So all the law enforcement in the world cannot do anything when we decide to take our own destiny into our own hands. And everybody benefits — but we still don’t get any support from the federal government, because we don’t want them trying to control us.

Zinzun: We’re staying away from any federal money that would tie our hands. We link this directly with police abuse. In fact, a lot of the folks get into the gang truce through police abuse because they’re all gettin’ jacked up by the police. So that’s one way that we are able to usher it in. They feel very confident with us comin’ in to their communities regardless of what colors they wear. They see we’re talkin’ about police abuse and they say, “C’mon.” That’s been our thing for years. So it’s been successful, we’ve just gotta keep goin’. Everybody needs to support the truce.


Author's note: This article may be freely distributed for anti-profit.

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