Bastards Of The Party

"After the L.A. Riots in 1992, someone at ABC began to seek people out to speak about what was going on. The Bloods referred ABC to me and Puddin, who was my elder, presented me because he wanted me to speak for them," says Cle Sloan. "They felt that I could articulate in a way that blacks and whites could understand." And that may, in fact, be how this lifetime member of the Los Angeles Bloods found his voice. However, it is no where near the beginning of this story.

Still, it may be helpful to start with Cle Sloan, the documentarian who created and developed "Bastards of the Party," since his story is like that of many young African (American) men across the United States. From the Athens Park section of Los Angeles, the 35-year-old filmmaker claims the Jungle Stone/Black Stone Bloods. And like many gang members, he became affiliated with his particular set around the age of 12. Although his father died when he was only four, Sloan admits that he was not driven into the gang life by poverty; in fact, his family was actually doing better than most. Instead, like many young people, the allure of the streets had more to do with rites of passage and initiation into the established social structure than anything else.

It appears that Sloan's real purpose, however, has more to do with giving a voice to the unheard cries of America's disenfranchised African youth than running the streets. After being selected by fellow gang members to speak on their behalf in regard to the state of L.A. during the time of the Rodney King riots, Sloan was featured on Nightline with Ted Koppel, Larry King Live and the Oprah Winfrey Show. It is here is that Sloan hit an important and necessary turning point. "After Ted Koppel, people wanted to hear what I had to say. But I was still hustling and I felt uncomfortable, like a hypocrite. After that, I realized that people were looking at me in one light, but I was still banging and involved in negative activities. And black people came to me and felt that they liked how I represented them."

It should be no surprise that when afforded the opportunity, Sloan rose to the occasion. He pursued a career in filmmaking and, interestingly enough, his first major gig was as a Production Assistant on the set of Nirvana’s now infamous video "Smells Like Teen Spirit." He would later play roles in "The Replacement Killers" and "Do or Die" while also starring in music videos like Eve’s "Gangsta Lovin." His biggest break was when he landed the role of Bone in Antoine Fuqua’s "Training Day." However, his role became even more complex when Fuqua enlisted Sloan’s help as a Creative Consultant for the film. Sloan used his position to recruit 156 Bloods and 42 Crips for "Training Day," bringing in real gang members to participate in a film that was all too familiar.

Although doors began to open for Sloan, he never gave up on his personal project, a documentary he began filming in 1996. Featuring interviews with many of Los Angeles’ O.G.'s as well as testimonies from a variety of gang members, Sloan saw this film as a means of shedding a true light on the gang experience. "When I started doing movies, I missed three gang sweeps; when the L.A.P.D 'sweeps' 50 or 60 young men at a time and hold them in jail for 3 or 4 months until they find something on them. The way we can save ourselves is through the arts. If you’re spending time doing that you won’t be in the streets. You’ll be missing the negativity going on."

The title of the film comes from a quote in Michael Davis’ "City of Quartz" which states: "Crips and Bloods are the bastard offspring of the political parties of the 60’s." Sloan discovered the book on the ground of the L.A. County Jail’s basketball court where he was being held during a trial for attempted murder. "I was really depressed and the book was lying there," Sloan says. In the book, he noticed an L.A.P.D. map of gang hotspots from 1972 and was mostly interested in the fact that his neighborhood was featured. "In the world of banging, it’s about what set has been around the longest. Older sets have seniority and there has always been discussion about who came out first." Sloan took the book around the jailhouse bragging about how his set was first. "Three days later I started reading it and I’ve always referred back to that book."

Sloan took the title of his film from the book, and for the most part, the film speaks to the bastardization of not only L.A. gangs but also African youth in America. To expose this, however, Sloan provides a history of the African experience in America, particularly with the migration of African people from places like Mississippi, Georgia and Texas to California. In the film, he examines the state of L.A. during the 1940’s and 50’s, when Italians, Armenians, Russians and other European immigrants populated places like Compton and Inglewood. Like many places around the United States, African youth in the L.A. area were often attacked by gangs of white youth who called themselves names like "Spook-Hunters." More than that, the L.A.P.D. actively recruited white officers directly from areas in the Deep South, recreating a level of systematic and brutally enforced oppression.

To protect themselves from the harsh realities, many young people banded together in an effort to defend themselves from racial attacks. Their "gangs" had names like the "Slausons," "Farmers," "Gladiators," and "Business Men." All of these organizations had particular signs which they used to identify themselves. The trend progressed well into the 1950’s and 60’s--attacks by whites and subsequent African (American) retaliation.

At this point, the gangs were street-based organizations with a limited focus and purpose. That is until Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, a renegade Slauson member, joined the Black Panther Party and sought to politicize the gangs. In the film, Carter is described as being "an intellectual" and the "Mayor of the street." Carter worked to get young people to see themselves as not just a gang, but more like an army. Along with Geronimo Pratt and others, Carter sought to inject a pertinent substance into the core of these highly organized street groups.

Some gang members chose to affiliate themselves with U.S., a cultural nationalist organization started by Dr. Maulana Karenga (who is also credited with the creation of Kwanzaa). And while there were certain ideological differences between the two groups, it is noted that much of the dissention that would subsequently arise was orchestrated by the F.B.I.’s COINTELPRO initiative. At a meeting in 1969 at U.C.L.A., members of U.S. and the Black Panther Party came together to advocate their groups in hopes of recruiting U.C.L.A. students. The unfortunate events of that day resulted in the death of Bunchy Carter. Other attacks on the Black Panther Party would soon follow. It appears that from there, the direction of gang life changed drastically. Individuals like Stanley "Tookie" Williams, Raymond Washington and Jamel Barnes banded together to form the Crips. Original members claim that the goal of the organization was to be community oriented. And it appears that with the development of things like the Crip’s Constitution, which was framed after the Black Panthers’ Blueprint, that the community based foundation was more than likely true. Subsequently, the Athens Park Bloods emerged as an alternative organization for young people.

"Bastards of the Party" creates a chronology of not only gang life but also the African experience in the post-Civil Rights Era. It explores many of the details that are often left out of the mainstream narrative regarding Black life in America:, like the role that the C.I.A. played in bringing cocaine to the L.A. area. More than that, the film defines the gang experience from the inside out, using former and current gang members to tell their own story. As for Cle Sloan, "Bastards of the Party" is a form of atonement. "I feel blessed and guilty at the same time," Sloan says. Still, he considers himself to be an alumnus of his organization: "I come back to the campus every day." While the film seeks to uncover the complex foundation of L.A.’s gang life, Sloan is still clear about his feelings on the current state of gang life. "It’s easy to kill Niggas," Sloan says, "You’re dehumanizing the enemy and removing the human factor. It ain't natural to say 'Brother, break yourself'" With that in mind, Sloan has learned from his experiences, he also knows that the status quo is far from optimal. "I love my neighborhood, but I'm denouncing banging," Sloan says. "I would never cut my ties, never call myself an 'ex-banger.'" However, Sloan does want the film to have a sobering effect. "This is a deathstyle. You're going to be crippled, die, or go to the penitentiary for the rest of your life. Banging is about the dead."

{ exclusive feature}
by Stephanie Joy Tisdale {The Liberator Magazine 6.2 #18, 2007}

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