The Streets - February 2010

a column by Paulette Lewis


Finally, I Meet Ghost

I could hear my kid, Tez, yelling from two streets over. We pulled up to the crowd on the street corner. Tensions were rising at an alarming rate and I had absolutely no idea why. More and more squad members were coming from all directions.

I listened as Tez ranted for a few minutes before I got the gist of what had happened. Apparently, he had a run-in with a well-known but very elusive boss of a crew as large as his. Unfortunately, I only knew this boss and his crew by reputation. My kids have run-ins with them from time to time because they are city-wide and actively recruit. I've been trying to “bump into” this boss for almost two years and was unable to catch up with him. Until this night.

The conflict that occurred brought out the “O.G.’s,” the “Old Skool gangstaz,” the big bosses and the fire power that goes with them.

Fortunately, I was riding with several guys that are neutral friends to both crews. As Tez's crew lined the streets and spilled around the corners and “Ghost's” crew rolled up – five cars deep, ready for a war – I asked my guys to mediate and try to diffuse the situation. I had no authority at the time with “Ghost” or his crew and would've most likely been disrespected had I approached them.

After some back and forth conversation, nothing was getting resolved. I pulled Tez aside and asked him to calm his squad down and send them home. He was too far gone for that. There was going to be a fight no matter what I said. His crew was well-armed with chains, bats, swords, bricks and of course, guns.

My heart was racing. I kept trying to talk to Tez and his crew, but they didn't want to back down. The numbers were in their favor at the moment and they felt they would win a fight. I went over to listen to my guys negotiate with “Ghost”. His crew was ready to bang, too. I turned around to head back to Tez and I caught a glimpse of something moving across a rooftop. A sniper was in position on the roof, with a sawed-off shotgun aimed down at the crowd. There was another shooter on another rooftop and even one on top of a church across the street. They were strategically placed and ready to make the hood glow in the dark.

“Oh, my God.” I kicked my prayers into high gear. One of my guys that was negotiating came up to me, “Ms. Lewis, we need to get you out of here.”

“No way. You know we've buried three kids already this year. I'm not burying any more. Do something, anything – an open discussion in the street, a one-on-one fight between bosses – no weapons, keep talking – do something!”

He just looked at me. I refused to leave. “Ms. Lewis, we've talked to both sides, nobody tryin’ ta let it go.”

Suddenly, both crews got loud and started advancing towards each other at the same time. My guys that were neutral in all of this got in the middle of the street. They wouldn't budge. I went to Tez and asked him to back off. He told me to go home. Both sides were taunting the other but holding their people back for the moment. Working themselves up and getting rowdy.

I couldn't believe the kids I've mentored for the past six years hadn't improved one bit in the way they handled violent conflict and wouldn't even listen to reason. I was getting so upset with them.

I looked at one of my guys. “Do you think the O. G's would talk to me?” He thought for a second. “C'mon” I followed him over to the car where the boss was. Everybody got out to talk to me. That was a little unnerving.

The boss didn't look anything like how I expected him to look. He was scary, but just not what I expected from knowing his reputation. I just started randomly and nervously blurting out things.

Apparently they know about me, being a mentor, but I told them my history with the squad they were ready to fight. This particular squad treats death as a true part of life and they are willing to fight and die for any random reason they feel is street worthy. They have even shot at me before over a miscommunication.

That raised a few eyebrows. I told them that I totally respected their position and appreciated them handling the situation better than my kids. That really showed me the level of restraint they have. They do operate more like an organization than a street gang. I was impressed not just by their presence, but also by their demeanor.

Incredibly, after listening to me ramble on, this crew showed me more respect, without even knowing me, by backing down. I didn't know what the magic was at the time, maybe it was a favor to me, a favor to my kids that were helping me or simply because I pointed out it was a perfectly good Saturday night and they should all be having a good time at a club somewhere, partying with some girls.

Whatever it was, we reached an agreement and they got in their cars and left as quietly and calmly as they had arrived. My story with them didn't end that night. I've developed the relationship I was seeking with this particular boss and he is amazing. He repeatedly assists me with all kinds of situations he really has no obligation to help me with, but for some reason he comes through for me. He has truly become a dear friend.

As they left, I was so relieved, for a moment. I realized I faced a bigger challenge – disarming my kids and getting them to understand why “Ghost” left without a fight so that the story doesn't get twisted, creating more drama. I explained the agreement I had made to Tez and everybody. They admitted it was reasonable and that the situation was what we call “squashed”. If either side has a problem with the other, they miraculously agreed to call me first and let me attempt to mediate.

God is still in the business of answering prayers and providing peace and grace upon request. What a relief!



For more information on columnist Paulette Lewis’ work, or to schedule her to speak, email her at Paulette is an innovative gang interventionist.