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This programme contains very strong language and scenes which some viewers might find upsetting.
The Bronx was like a world of its own.
In the early '70s, man, crime was like the major income of the Bronx.
In the Bronx, it was a deep-rooted gang culture.
There were gangs literally on every corner. The violence was everywhere.
You could feel the tension in the air,
you could see the fights across the street.
You could hear the shots in the night-time.
It was that fateful day that I sent him to bring peace.
That was one of the worst days in South Bronx history.
The word on the street was that he was trying to make peace and he was
murdered trying to make peace.
Basically, after that, the South Bronx, Fort Apache was out of control.
They were running through the streets,
they were burning everything.
I mean, pandemonium hit.
I put out a bulletin and I started calling all the Ghetto Brothers.
Charlie wanted to get the Ghetto Brothers to mobilise for the biggest
bloodbath in the history of New York.
We lost a member, they viciously murdered him out there on the street.
Now it's an eye for an eye.
The Bronx was going to be bathed in blood.
How rumours spread, how news spread.
There was not a gang in the whole of New York that was not aware what was happening.
It was like the movie, in The Warriors,
when the lady's on the radio talking about, "Hey boppers," you know,
"you've got to make that move."
Let's get down to it, boppers,
we're going to have to do better out there.
Everybody was tense because nobody knew what was going to jump off.
Remember that scene from The Warriors, "Can you dig it?"
That really went down, that really happened.
Can you dig it?
Can you dig it?
We moved up to the South Bronx in 1963.
From Greenwich Village to the South Bronx,
it was a completely different world.
The buildings were beautiful, very spacious, the blocks were wide.
There were still Jews living there at that time.
Pockets of Italians and Irish still living in the community.
The South Bronx at the time was fantastic.
It was just a completely different world, it was a world of discovery.
In those days, I didn't like the idea of joining a gang.
I started my own thing.
When I started the Ghetto Brothers,
originally it wasn't supposed to be a gang,
it wasn't supposed to be an organisation,
it was a brother thing.
It was basically my brothers and I.
We lived in Manhattan, we moved to the Bronx,
and in those days it was the ghetto so we were Ghetto Brothers.
Who were the Ghetto Brothers? Robin, Benjy, Victor.
Those were the Ghetto Brothers, MY brothers.
OK, then later on, since I knew a lot of the kids in the community,
I was very friendly, I was amicable,
everybody got along with me, so I said, you know,
let's expand this.
I met Charlie in 158th Street and Trinity Avenue.
I was with my friend Raymond. He was like a brother, we grew up together,
and I saw this guy taking a wooden stick and going...
"Hiyaah" and breaking it, and I said, "Wow!"
It thought it was amazing. Because I was into the martial arts.
And I said, "That is fantastic.
"That's a man I want to make friends with."
That was me. I want to make friends with this guy.
I walked up to him and I said, "Hi, my name is Benjy."
I only know they rob, they steal.
Nobody is going to rob me so I prepare,
I'm ready to take this guy on.
"I just want to shake your hand."
-I said, "OK. The moment he moves, his ass is mine,"
but he's standing there with his hand out and he starts telling me about
there's a few guys that study martial arts that he's been watching,
and he can imagine that I'm a pretty good martial artist.
And we sat down, he said, "What's your style?"
I said, "I'm Goju. Talk to me."
And we just talked and talked and talked.
I stick out my hand, I put my hand in his, and...
..the Ghetto Brothers are one.
The '60s were a time of worldwide social and cultural reckoning,
with movements demanding change
spreading across the college campuses
and the front lines of America's ghettos.
It truly felt like the seeds for a full-blown revolution were being sown.
So we thought this revolution was going to happen.
We knew this was the end of the world order.
We thought revolution was possible.
For the first time, we had a multicultural movement.
For me, it reconfirmed, in a strange way, my faith in America.
But as the '60s came to a close,
the Vietnam War and racism continued to erode America's soul
and fade all optimism.
A systematic backlash against organisations like the Black Panthers,
coupled with the assassinations of nearly every iconic figure of
hope, left a new generation with nothing more than unfocused rage.
They killed the King,
and then they killed Kennedy.
My heroes died in the '60s.
The hope is deflated.
I was so mad at America, I was pissed!
Remember the '60s?
Now it was peace.
America's unrest was reflected locally as New York City struggled
under the weight of its own mounting crises.
A failed vision of urban renewal
pushed all but the city's wealthiest to the brink,
and a new pessimism and desperation made its home in its streets.
Now here was this great city, the international capital
of commerce and culture and communications,
and finance, and it was on its knees, asking, begging for help.
The city was on the edge of bankruptcy.
All through the '70s, remember,
industries supporting jobs were disappearing.
If there was a safety net before,
the federal government was basically
not just ceasing to protect it but cutting holes in it.
Despite the city's financial troubles,
in 1970, New York's cultural scene was as vibrant as ever.
Construction of the World Trade Center would soon be complete
and the New York Knicks would win their first championship.
However, only four miles away, due to reckless urban planning,
the district of the South Bronx was rapidly becoming a symbol
of urban decay around the world.
When we were young, we remember Robert Moses.
I remember the teacher talked about a guy who was fixing up the area.
They would say they were renovating the area.
Buildings were being taken out of commission.
"Got to go, we're going to build this highway over here."
The Cross Bronx Expressway - at one time that whole area was nothing but houses.
He takes a wonderful borough that's made up of polyglot.
I mean, everybody was there - Ralph Lauren comes from there.
And he cuts across, he cuts a huge swathe,
literally destroying the neighbourhood.
This is amazing. I mean it's amazingly creative.
Even though it was also humanly destructive,
that he thought
the shortest distance between two points is a line,
even if there are houses and people in the way of the line.
That's when things started to go down.
The economy went with them, the store owners, everybody just took off.
You see a quiet, white flight.
Everybody was migrating, you know,
from the concourse up to you know, Nyack,
"Come on, up, pops, come on up.
"You can't stay down there no more," you know?
The rich move out to their second and third homes.
..is not far behind,
and left will be the poor,
who require enormous services and who will suffer.
The South Bronx, it has all the superlatives.
Highest crime, poorest people, greatest unemployment,
worst blight and the world record for arson.
In just ten years, more than 30,000 buildings have been set ablaze and
You got rats, bugs, no heat, no water.
It was terrible. Terrible.
It was like another domino effect, you know.
Then you see the burning start.
So your landlord wouldn't provide services,
and the people had to ultimately move out,
and then the landlord burned the building down and got the insurance.
You know, having buildings torched was the norm.
The Bronx was like a world of its own.
The Bronx to us, was our whole world.
This morning on the way into work,
we had a report that the police have located a carcass
in the street on 172nd and Bryant.
It turned out to be stripped carcass of a gorilla.
It was headless, and the fur was removed, the skin was removed.
It was just a feeling of hopelessness.
It wasn't like murder was hidden.
You know, murder was very rampant.
The number of homicides quadrupled from 1960 to 1971.
There was crime from the crooked politicians to the crooked cops.
In the early '70s, man, crime was like,
crime was like the major income of the Bronx.
There was lines of people, wrapped around a corner,
just waiting to buy a bundle or a couple of bags of dope.
When the cops drive up and down,
it was like a total pharmacy drugstore.
When it got virulent, people got into it.
It's almost as if they wanted to die
and so they got into heroin because there was no dream.
All the stuff was happening simultaneously.
It was too much for anybody to understand,
but one of the by-products was a lot of kids out on the street
and a lot of locations that would have been alternatives
to the streets, ceasing to exist.
The system had totally let us down,
they let us do what we wanted to do,
we deal with whatever we deal with,
they deal with it in their own manner.
The police department was beating on us
like they had the permission card.
It was just total chaos, there was nothing for us here.
So, you know, we turned to each other
and we said let's do something for ourselves.
Basically that was it.
Every gang was for themselves back then.
We had nobody looking out for us so it was us,
it was the brotherhood, it was the gang, and that's it.
Out of the rubble and chaos of the city,
a new breed of outlaw street gangs arose,
transforming the urban wasteland to a dark and dangerous playground.
Police estimated gang membership in the tens of thousands.
And these new outlaws maintained a firm grip
on New York city's streets.
The mentality of the gangs that came out of the '70s was very violent.
The street gangs that were coming out in the late-'60s, early-'70s,
was more, um, what you could say savage and outlaw.
These guys kicked you and cursed you and spit on you
and urinated on you and then showed you.
This is who did it.
Weren't you charged with shooting a policeman?
Yeah. The last time I got busted, they told me,
"We're going to catch you one of these nights and we're going to kill you."
Some people would say they'd be very worried if someone told them that.
Why don't you?
Because, you know, if I'm going to die, you know,
let it happen now than later.
It was all about power.
I ain't gotta ponce. My mother ain't going to tell me what to do.
I have all this anger.
I'm going to grab at all these guys and they're going to do my bidding.
So whatever I want that I've lacked in my life, I'm going to get it right now.
It wasn't like you had a choice.
Whatever gang ran the block, you had to be a part of it.
There were no civilians.
You know, you had to be in it or you were a victim.
On the outside looking in, it looked really good.
We were fighting all the time.
We didn't take any bullshit from anybody.
We pretty much did whatever we wanted.
There was nothing to look forward to.
This was our life.
We lived for each other.
We lived and died for each other.
We bled for each other.
Whether you was right or wrong, it didn't matter.
'In the steel and concrete jungle of the big city, a tribal group survives -
'the One Percenters.
'These are the motorcycle freaks.
'They get a charge out of spooking
'the citizens in a straight neighbourhood.
'They live in a different world.
'A strange copout world of their own making.
'With a kick pedal and the boot,
'they work off their frustrations on the man in the street.'
Everybody wanted to be the giant
that everyone's afraid of.
Everybody wanted to be the Hells Angel.
Everybody wanted to be the guy on the roaring machine.
We figure, "Well, fuck it, we could do that too!"
You know, they were raising hell
and we figured we could raise hell
because we had something to raise hell against.
As much as America thinks, we're not watching it,
we are watching it and we're imitating it.
So, what you see with the retention of some of the garb,
the biker garb, what you see is Americana.
But it's an outlaw Americana.
They don't want to be Mr Wasp.
But they can see themselves as Hells Angels.
And, yeah, we had the swastikas and everything,
because they had the swastikas and everything.
We tried to emulate them as much as possible.
And as they wanted to shock society, we wanted to shock society.
So, we just wanted to be as repulsive and repugnant as possible.
We put the covers on the floor.
The guys surround the covers.
Everybody takes out their penises
and they start leaking on the jacket.
Then, if you're lucky, the guy vomits.
The you take the jacket...
put it on. Wah!
That's an outlaw.
Not even flies would want to hang around you!
Patches are a family's coat of arms.
Your colours is your shield.
Most of the gangs of yesteryear wasn't nervous to say who they was.
So if you was a Skull, a Spade, a Reaper
or a Turban, you would wear with honour on your back, who you was.
Supreme Enchanters, you see that? Javelin.
Did you see? Get a good look at you.
Gang culture street law says, "This is our turf.
"If you want to walk through our turf, this is like our nation.
"In order to pass through our nation,
"you have to show respect and not fly your colours because this is our turf."
You walked into another turf and you didn't have their permission,
you might lose your colours or you might lose your life.
I mean, you would walk certain places.
They see you in a cut-off dungaree jacket,
they would take it from you, stomp you out, and stuff like that.
I mean, if you had MC boots on, you weren't in the club,
you were walking on barefoot. If you could walk.
They just beat you up. Take your clothes.
Hang them up on a wall.
That's how they used to do it.
Our conquered enemy. Those are our conquered enemies right there.
Bachelors, Enchanters Bronx, Royal Javelins and Latin Eagles.
Girls have major roles.
Because back then, there were no policewomen.
So we carried the guns, which was a big issue.
Because, if the cops stopped to you, they'd tell the women,
"Keep it moving," and they'd search the guys.
The guys are beautiful.
We all get along.
We call each other...
-That means respect.
-We're brothers and sisters.
We have respect for each other.
We bore their babies.
We fought alongside them.
Not behind them, or in front of them,
although many of us did fight in front of them.
But we were hand in hand.
Back then, to join a gang you did have to go through initiations.
For every gang, the standard initiation is the Apache line.
The Apache line is something we used
to test your metal and fighting skills and your heart.
People would set up on each side,
and somebody would beat you with their fists.
Some gangs might even hit you with bats or sticks.
It was almost like going through rites of passage.
Other guys was jumping a cop.
We used to have to fight.
It wasn't a choice. We had to fight.
I was... We didn't do the Apache line.
We had a 45. As long as that record was playing,
you had to fight three guys at the same time.
So, we put on a record. You're going to have to...
"All right, the song is finished."
One day, I looked at my brother, Victor, and said,
"Vic, I'm going to the store. Take care of this, I'll be right back."
I go to the store. Come back.
He had an album. I said, "What the hell are you doing with an album?"
"I just want to see the guy beaten up."
It's supposed to be a 45 - he had an album on.
The poor guy got his jaw broken.
The Skulls were the ultimate because their Apache line
was a .32 - one shell.
Er, spin and pull the trigger.
From the Saigons of Harlem, to the Jolly Stompers of Brooklyn,
outlaw gangs followed a system of law and organisation
that was common, despite their glaring differences.
The ranks in most gangs, there were only three levels.
There was the president, the vice president, and the warlord.
Your president, he had to have the charisma.
And everybody would want to follow him.
There has to be someone you respect and someone you admire to give you a
That person has to have not only the power of love,
but the ability to beat you down.
The vice president came in, in case the president was ever killed.
And then you have the warlord.
The warlord was the person that either declared or stopped a war.
The warlord was the one who would go and negotiate.
To see if we're going to go to war with just the hands, the bats,
the chains, the knives or the guns.
Some gangs had Gestapo.
Those were the guys that were in charge of inflicting punishment on their members.
They were like the police.
You policed your own gang.
The Gestapo were like the real hard-core gang guys,
like they followed street law to the T.
I represent Gestapo and the Savage Nomads.
Which is a different squad.
I give one of my members which screws up and doesn't know how to behave on the street,
or talk to anybody like a human being,
the way he's supposed to.
Well, he comes to my little cell here.
In those days, the meanest borough was the Bronx.
You came from the Bronx, you was bad.
It all started up in the Bronx.
In the Bronx, it was a deep-rooted gang culture.
OK, they lived it.
There was 101 gangs in the Bronx.
So, take your pick.
Black Assassins, Peacemakers...
Roman Kings. Young kids.
Nice till you see them - they're little kids.
You look at them wrong and they'll shoot you.
The Turbans. The Javelins.
Turbans. Ex-veterans from Vietnam.
These guys didn't have guns, they had rifles.
The Bachelors, they were big.
One of the biggest gangs in the Bronx, the Black Spades.
The Black Spades had a division
in every...everywhere they had a police department.
Black Spades, you could count them.
Cos when they came in,
they blackened like the whole street.
We had nothing but respect for them because they earned their respect.
The Savage Nomads.
These guys, once they put those colours on,
remember Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, that's what they did -
these guys turned mean.
Good evening. I'm David Susskind.
The first part of the show tonight
are the emergence of the street gangs once again.
My guests are leaders and spokesmen for these gangs.
I want you to meet them now.
First, Benjy Melendez is a spokesman for the Ghetto Brothers.
Former Marine Charlie Suarez is president of the Ghetto Brothers.
With the Black Panthers and the Young Lords,
the further you get in the '70s,
the less influence they had on the younger generation -
even the older generation.
The Ghetto Brothers is kind of like filling that void.
But they still had their street cred.
We are being oppressed by the North American Yankee.
We, the Puerto Ricans, shall rise up and defend ourselves against these
dogs, who oppress us,
and liberate our country from capitalism and imperialism.
The North American is trying to steal our identity as Puerto Ricans
and call us Americans.
We Puerto Ricans are Puerto Ricans
to the day we are born until the day we die.
When the Black Panthers came onto the scene,
the Young Lords came onto the scene.
These groups went around talking to the gangs.
Stop the violence.
Let's direct all our energy this way.
A lot of the gangs didn't want to hear that.
The Ghetto Brothers took heed to that.
What we wanted them to do was understand there was another vision of America,
that they were killing themselves.
That's what our intent was.
And that the neighbourhoods that they were in
were THEIR neighbourhoods.
We wanted them to feel ownership over those blocks.
Because there's a lot of clubs that help just their own friends.
They forget about other people, who lived around these, you know?
We don't think like that. We like to help everybody.
# We are going to take you higher
# The Ghetto Brothers power. #
I love the Ghetto Brothers.
You know, we honoured them because...
..to me it seemed like they had enough courage to do
something we all really wanted to do but didn't have the courage to do it
because you were known for your brutality in those days.
You weren't known for being a nice guy.
The Ghetto Brothers was definitely politically minded.
But they also, you know, didn't take no shit either.
It wasn't that they couldn't fight.
That was the South Bronx. There's no "not fighting".
Even though you're a nice guy, everybody had to fight.
You know, if you saw them coming down a block, you know,
the Ghetto Brothers, they're cool.
They've got a lot of kids off the street.
A lot of kids, man, like going back into school.
For what I understand,
they did start helping the neighbourhoods a lot.
So far, since I've been with the Ghetto Brothers,
they have gave me back my self-respect.
Because I am an ex-junkie.
They was with me almost like 24 hours a day.
I'd kick coals.
More than eight or nine Ghetto Brothers in the
organisation we've got now are ex-junkies.
If you go now to Ghetto Brothers headquarters,
you don't see no junkies in that block no more.
The Ghetto Brothers started to grow and grow and grow and grow.
2,500 in the Bronx alone!
Then the Ghetto Brothers started to expand to Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens.
They knew how to articulate and use the media to actually let,
not just New York City, but the United States,
know that, "Look, this is happening here in New York City, right."
I guess it's what the teenagers are going to make of it.
If we shoot dope, they're going to be shooting dope when they get older.
And if they see like my club is doing that.
We get ourselves together, if we do something for the community,
then they're going to think that's what's hip.
I started to think.
I said, "It will be good to channel all this energy into doing something
"for our community."
Let's have a good time.
Let's get together. Let's sweep the community.
Let's give out free food.
Let's give out clothes to this community because, at those times,
things were really bad.
I want people to say, "The Ghetto Brothers has done something."
I want my child to say when he grows up, "Well, my father has done something for society."
See? And I want things to change because I don't want to be living in the South Bronx
where everything is messed up.
Three names had always popped up.
Benjy, Karate Charlie, and Black Benji.
You know, like, I'm an ex-drug addict.
I'm not going to lie about it.
When I came to them, I was still using drugs.
Due respect to them, and I went to kick it.
I've been straight since and I love Ghetto Brothers.
There's a purpose here.
It's something that's beneficial to the neighbourhood,
the establishment, and everybody else.
Black Benji, Benji McConnell was introduced to me by Charlie.
He said, Benji, he wants to check out the Ghetto Brothers.
Sure. I said, "So, what do you do?"
He said, "I work as a drug counsellor."
Good. That's very good.
So, when the kids were on the programme in the Ghetto Brothers club, I'm looking at him.
He sits down on a chair and talks to the kids.
I saw them, they were on the floor.
Telling them stories.
And I looked. I said, "That's wonderful."
And then he talked to the older people in our community.
He said, "Man, there's something about this guy. I like that."
"Charlie, come here. I think we should just drop the warlords and put a peacemaker.
"That's the man. Let's make him into a peace ambassador."
He became the first at Ghetto Brothers and I said, "You're going to be the ambassador for peace."
What I knew about the Ghetto Brothers, the first thing,
I heard a lot about Karate Charlie.
Everybody kept hearing about this guy, Karate Charlie.
Right. Guys in gangs, you had to have a karate something.
Like, in this one gang you had a Karate Kenny.
I remember him. Then you had a Karate Joe Knowles.
Then we had a guy named Karate Mo.
But it was all because of everybody heard about this guy
named Karate Charlie.
Charlie was a warrior.
He lived like the Japanese Bushido.
You cross me, you cross my honour, hee-yya - you're going down.
Remember, I just came out of the Marine Corps.
So, what I wanted was a little Marine Corps.
Because he brought the military discipline to the Ghetto Brothers.
The Ghetto Brothers were not known for guns.
We were known for the hands.
So Ghettos Brothers were very good with the hands and legs.
So, Charlie was the instructor.
They called me Karate Charlie.
And they called the founder, Benjy Melendez, the preacher.
Charlie and I were brothers.
I mean, we were very close.
But we were two worlds.
Benjy was a yin, while I was a yang.
Black and white, soft and hard.
Rain and shine.
We were the opposites.
The yin and yang, that's true - that's me and Charlie.
Charlie was the "grr", and I would say, "No, Charlie."
"Come on, Benjy." "No, Charlie. Come on."
Sometimes it was the other way around, too.
Charlie had to calm Benjy down.
They kept each other, you know, at bay.
Yellow Benjy, he was more of a peacemaker.
He was also trying to let people know,
"Look, let's stop fighting amongst ourselves
"because we're only hurting each other. Let's fight the man.
"Let's hurt him."
The enemy around the Bronx now at this very moment, is the policeman.
Yes, this is a warrior thing.
Yes, it is and we're here to defend our brothers and sisters against
people like them. If you're going to communicate, communicate, man.
-And if you're going to strike at us, we are going to strike back.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
# Let's get together
# And make things better
# To understand
# What it's all about... #
Beyond running the gang,
Yellow Benjy was also the leader of the Ghetto Brothers band,
a unique and well-loved rock and Latin funk outfit.
The band and the gang were two separate entities.
The talent was definitely there.
It was definitely a Latin flavour,
it also showed what clubs could do if they took a different direction.
# Higher... #
I'd tell my brothers, listen, I noticed that when you talk to people
some people listen and some people don't.
But the idea of music, my brothers and I,
music caters to all types of people.
So if you want to get the message why don't we put it into words,
put it into song, watch them listen.
Then when we play the music,
what we always wanted to say to them and you put it behind the guitars and say, "Yo, man. That's me, man.
"I live that type of life.
"Well, we made that song for you, my brother."
I remember a lot of bongos.
I always remember, you know, bongo music.
If they were jamming up the street,
up the hill, you could hear the music.
When we played music, why don't we play a little rock here,
a little Latin here, a little soul over here.
So you heard The Beatles, Sly And The Family Stone, Santana - all of that.
So everybody, the gangs knew that we had music and a message.
In 1971, despite all efforts by social workers and specialised police units,
gang violence has escalated to a fever pitch,
plunging the streets into a state of continual war,
unlike anything the city had ever experienced before.
The drugs was a big factor in gangs going haywire, lust for power,
lust for turf.
The garbage can is here, if you go past that garbage can,
although it's the same block in the same neighbourhood, it could be a war.
The Devil's Rebels is a fighting gang.
And on this night they found the first victims outside a corner grocery store.
What looks like child's play is not.
In the middle of all this a young man was stabbed.
There were big gang wars between the Savage Skulls, the Black Spades.
Between the Savage Skulls and the Bachelors.
You know, back then nobody had cellphones but it was like drums,
you'd hear it. You'd hear it all over the place.
You know, one way or another you'd hear who has beef with who.
The violence was everywhere.
You could see the fights across the street,
you could hear the shouting at night-time.
What made life interesting in the South Bronx in those days for these young guys was fighting...
was killing. "Yo, man, I killed a dude today."
"What did you do?"
"I stabbed him in the throat. What did you do, man?"
"Yo, I shot that dude. I burned this guy." You'd hear this.
And this is every day.
It was a lawless time.
Listen, if somebody got killed on your place their body stayed there,
you know, an ambulance wouldn't dare come and pick that body up.
The police came in riot gear to take that body out there and they didn't do an investigation,
they took that body out there as quick as possible cos they didn't want to get it.
There's no ambulance coming. There are no ambulances, all right?
How long, man? How long it going to be?
In the '70s you had firepower.
You had some gangs with arsenals.
I've seen 357s, I've seen 12-gauge shotguns,
I've seen dynamite on the street.
I've seen all of this.
You'd be surprised, man.
Pretty soon they're going to steal the damn atom bomb.
As the bloodshed continued, the Ghetto Brothers worked fervently
to mediate peace amongst the ever-growing web of turf battles.
A lot of change was happening in the Bronx at the same time
but we felt the whole world was going through these changes.
I said, "This is getting out of hand."
We were pretty much hurting and fighting each other instead of going
against the real enemy.
Benjy, he tried, man.
He tried to let us know that.
They were like the club that would be the mediators, you know,
stopped a lot of us from going out there and going ballistic on a whole
lot of wars, you know?
I would sit down and reason with a lot of these brothers.
"Come here, guys. Savage, come here.
"Savage Nomads, come here. Black Spades, come over here."
That's the way we used to talk.
"It doesn't make any sense with this turf out there, guys."
It is against the government.
It's not me against you.
You are not hurting me, you're not the one that's keeping me down.
I don't have to fight you, you're not the problem.
"Yo, brothers, come on, man.
"No, but you don't understand, man.
"He came into my turf with his colours, man.
"And he was trying to tell me how..."
"Come on, guys. Think what I'm just saying.
"Colours is going to make you go insane?"
On December 8th, a series of events transpired that rocked
the Ghetto Brothers and the rest of the Bronx.
As a result, the outcome would come to change gang life in New York City for ever.
They came to the storefront and said there was going to be a
fight at the bottom of the stairs.
Benji, three guys are coming from Southern Boulevard.
Bongos, Black Spades and Seven Immortals.
They want to get the Roman Kings.
Benji said let...
..Black Ben go, Cornell go.
Benji, you got your job cut out for you.
You going to get me the president, vice president and the warlords of those three gangs,
bring them here so we can broker a peace. Bring them here.
Take some Ghetto Brothers with you.
So he left, he went with Playboy and a few of the younger Ghetto Boys.
We came down the stairs, right.
And we stopped there and there was about 13, you know, 13 to 20 of us.
And then when we looked down we seen them and you couldn't even see the
end of the corner, that's how many there were.
And then when we got to the bottom of the stairs
when they could have seen us, there was only about nine of us,
that's when Benji came out and Benji said,
he took a step forward and he said, "Listen, brother,
"we're here to talk peace."
And the guy who came out, he said, "Peace shit."
That's when the guy pulled out the machete
and that's when they had us all surrounded.
Benji said, "Too, brothers, too."
Because there was too many.
So I heard the noise, you know, pow, like a slap.
And Benji had got hit in the stomach and he tripped.
At that time was a time when they were killing, killing, killing.
And Cornell wasn't recognised.
They recognised violence,
they recognised somebody that'll throw a punch.
It was a moment in time that could have been avoided.
If I could just turn back the hands of time,
this would never have happened.
And I looked at my brothers today, my brothers, my real brothers,
and said, "Think about it.
"It was that fateful day that I sent HIM to bring peace."
And my brother looked at me and said, "But, Benji, you didn't know what was going to..."
"No, you're right. I didn't know what was going to happen, I didn't know the fate,
"but it was MY decision to send HIM."
That was one of the worst days in South Bronx history,
when he got murdered.
The word on the street was that he was trying to make peace
and he was murdered trying to make peace
and basically after that the South Bronx, Fort Apache was out of control.
When this tragedy happened they went to war
and even got many of the gangs to move against the Seven Immortals and the Black Spades.
Every gang in my neighbourhood, at least,
were so mad that they killed this guy
that they were running through the streets,
they were burning everything, they were...
I mean, pandemonium hit.
Black Spades wasn't going to back down if they was going to fully get attacked.
That was the time when the Spade leaders said,
"To hell with it, get ready for war."
How rumours spread, how news spread,
there was not a gang in the whole of New York that was not aware what was happening.
I put out a bulletin and I started calling Ghetto Brothers,
all the Ghetto Brothers.
Charlie wanted to get the Ghetto Brothers to mobilise
for the biggest bloodbath in the history of New York.
We lost a member that they viciously murdered him out there on the streets.
Now it's an eye for an eye.
Cos another Ghetto Brothers loses a life, six of whoever,
whether they his kids, his mother, his father who...
Who was it that took the lives of two of yours?
Some dude out there.
At the time, I was... I was blind.
And I said, "No, I'm going to make everyone pay."
That's what I said. "I'm going to just start killing."
You know? Watch, the sword is sharp.
Look, razor sharp.
And Benji kept saying, "But, Charlie, that's not the way."
I said, "I don't care.
"At the moment, I don't care."
My business at the point was to quell down the anger
that was coming up.
He said, "Let's go see Gwendolyn."
That's Cornell's mother.
"Let's go see her, show respect."
I said, "When I walk in there and tell her I've called New Jersey,
"I've called Connecticut, I've called all the boroughs,
"I've called everybody, I've got an army outside."
I walked in a motherfucking cock ready to fight.
I strutted over, I kissed her, I said "Mom,"
I said, "I've got an army outside."
And she said, "Charlie, my son died for peace."
I looked at a mother, she didn't want to see other children die.
It's just confirmed what I said,
you know. So he understood after what she...
"Charlie, that could be our moms, man.
"That's an omen. It's your mother talking to you.
"It's my mommy talking to me."
"My son died for peace, Charlie."
I walked back to the storefront, storefront was like this with media,
cameras, waiting for me to say that the Bronx
was going to be bathed in blood.
We could have gone in the chronicles of New York to be the most notorious gang.
We even allowed our influence to use all these gangs to do our bidding.
All they were waiting for was this. Like the Roman emperor.
All the gangs were there at 174th.
They were waiting for the big war.
We said, "No.
"We're not going to do anything." I said, "Brother, don't you know this?
"Look at the newspaper people. Look!"
As soon as I said no, they stop writing.
This is what they want to see.
They want to tell the world that we're a bunch of savages,
that we're killers. We're not going to give you the satisfaction.
Send out a message. Hands down, no war.
Nope. We ain't doing nobody.
Got to figure out how we're going to do this.
We're going to have a peace treaty.
Word of the murder and fear of reprisals spread like wildfire.
At the insistence of the Ghetto Brothers,
representatives of over 40 of the city's most notorious gangs
met at the Hoe Avenue Boys Club in the Bronx.
So I got them while they were still in revenge mode.
They wanted to see war and blood.
I said, "This is the time to do it.
"Don't wait, right now."
Listen, this is what is going on.
They killed my brother, Benjy. What do you want me to do?
I said, "I don't want you to do anything.
"I want you to come to a peace treaty.
"I don't do peace." I said, "Well, you do peace now, bro."
I said, "You do peace or we're going to take you out."
"I'm the Spades, I'm the Skulls I'm the Nomads..."
And I just started running it off,
everyone that said that they'd stand behind me.
This is a Hoe Avenue.
This is the spot, Madison Square Boys Club, here was where history was made.
It was here that the gangs got together to have the biggest peace treaty
in the history of the Bronx.
President, Young Sinners.
Vice President, New York Sinners.
Vice President Young Saints.
-President of the Young Cobras.
-War Counsel of the Young Saints.
It was fantastic that it all happened.
And they just sent just their main leaders.
Come on, it was too many guys.
So it was all the leaders that were there.
At the treaty I was a young...
young person sitting in the background listening to my leaders talk about
what needs to be done.
Basically, it was just like the movie The Warriors.
Everybody was tense because nobody knew what was going to jump off.
But it went well though. After a while everybody started talking and
everybody calmed down and just got into
what the purpose was and it turned out good.
People were just bringing out atonement to say, you know,
come on, let's slow this thing down.
Let's bring this peace treaty into play.
One by one gang leaders stated their grievances with the intention of
squashing prior beefs once and for all.
When we have static, man, we sell out among ourselves, man.
Wow, we got to live in this district.
The whitey don't come down here, man,
and live in the fucked up houses, man.
The whitey don't come down here, man,
and have all the fucked up fucking no heat in the fucking winter time.
You understand? We do, Jack.
So therefore we got to make it a better place to live, you understand?
The idea of the meeting was to expose the ones who murdered Black Benji.
Now, in those days you can't say, "Rueben, you did it."
We didn't say that. But if you saw that film you look at the guys that
were sitting in front, those are all the guys that murdered my boy.
And I'm looking at them and I say, "Yo, my brothers, man.
One of the guys, the president of the club came up to me.
"Benjy, I don't want to die. Please, I don't want to die."
I say, "You're not going to die, my brother." See, that's power.
You don't want us to become a gang again, right?
Cos I know you. You was up in the meeting and you told me,
"Benjy, I want to get out alive." Didn't you tell me that?
"Benjy, I want to get out alive."
And that's just what's going to happen.
You're going to get out alive.
Benji didn't get out alive. The thing is we're not a gang any more.
We're an organisation.
We want to help black and Puerto Ricans to live in a better environment.
At the end of this historic summit an inter-gang peace treaty
was signed by every attending leader.
This momentous turning point gave the first real promise of the
long-needed piece the system had failed to produce.
A definite attitude shift.
A lot of the people that were at the meeting, they decided,
"Hey, you know, we're just killing ourselves
"or hurting our own neighbourhoods. We better put a stop to this."
The wars had stopped.
It was here and there but wars had stopped.
Once the peace treaty happened
people was being invited to areas where they used to never even step into that area.
People would go to certain parties
that you would never even step in that party
or you know what would happen.
We're having house jams, we're having basement parties.
It was different. Now we're able to go here, go there, meet more people,
unite with people.
# Peace will come
# This world will rest
# Once we have togetherness... #
Peaceful block parties hosted by the Ghetto Brothers and other local gangs
began to multiply,
helping to resolve the invisible turf boundaries
that had dominated for years prior.
Here's where the whole thing started to change.
We invited many gang members
and said, "Guys, if you guys have no party,
"why don't you come out and get it started, we're going to have a party.
"We're going to play out there."
And they would invite other gang members
to have jam sessions with them.
From all over the city,
you were invited to come to these jam sessions and jam with them.
You could bring your instruments, you could, you know,
do whatever it is you do.
This is the famous 163rd Street.
This was Ghetto Brother city.
All the people came down here to hear the Ghetto Brothers.
Every Friday and Saturday we would have a party.
You had gangs from different areas that come down to check us out.
This block was literally full with people.
They would call out big parties.
You see like 100 to 200 guys hanging out.
It was massive. Scary, too.
When the Ghetto Brothers had the party they all mingled.
Savage Skulls, Black Spades, the Turbans - everybody mingles
because we were having a good time.
People were dancing. And you saw Turbans and you saw Skulls.
What was the common thing?
I said, "Look, I put the flags up there."
They see the Puerto Rican flag, they see the Black liberation flag.
"See, brothers, this is us, man.
It's about dropping the idea...
Yo, we're all one people here.
It's almost like a...
A relief. You know,
cos the chaos in the streets and the mayhem and everything that was going
on, this was kind of like a breather to say...
HE SIGHS HEAVILY
You know, finally some peace.
You see, when you saw that friendly attitude there,
they brought that back to their club.
You understand, so every Friday they were looking forward to getting back together again.
One of the things the Ghetto Brothers made us realise,
I'll put it very simply - self-worth.
When you, whether it be a guitar or a saxophone or instrument or a bongo,
whatever it is that you can do to add to the flavour of what was going on,
it kind of gave you a revelation that, "Hey, I can actually do something,
"besides, you know, stomping somebody's brains out.
"I can actually do something beside stabbing or shooting.
"Or besides, you know, this other stuff we were doing.
"There's something inside me that's positive."
In the years that followed outlaw gangs transformed into DJ crews.
A major shift in attitude made way for this emerging culture that was
taking hold of the youth in the Bronx.
I always felt there was a connection between gang culture and hip-hop
because, from what I learned,
either you was a DJ, an MC,
a break dancer or a graffiti artist.
Once upon a time one of them members was part of a gang.
Now you can express yourself and show what it is you have
on the other side from what you used to be.
So now we saw the translation between the violent attitude to something positive,
but at the same time, you see the intimidation.
Competition is always and has always been the battle.
When they battle on the mic,
when they compete against each other they're battling.
When they're dancing against each other, they're battling.
It was more like challenging the dance now and not the fight.
And whoever could dance the best won the fight.
Colours were starting to come off
and little by little that's when the music started to come into the deal.
When the gang scene started fading down it was the DJs who started
becoming the stars in the community, the leaders in the community.
The Bronx's own DJ Kool Herc,
considered the founding father of hip-hop,
played a crucial role in redirecting gang energy into this new and growing movement.
Herc had the right timing of presenting something.
The same people that was involved with gangs
they felt like they want to be relieved.
They want to have something that's theirs.
Herc took it upon himself to become their new Pied Piper.
It was like, "Hey, this is what we want to hear."
And we don't want to hear what was being played on the radio,
what was being played and the clubs.
We were trying to reach out for the beats, that raw essence,
them heavy drums.
Herc started something his enemies didn't want to stop.
It came in the form of music.
They'll gravitate to this.
This is something that is theirs.
You know, that didn't come in a long time.
They ain't worried if you're black, you're white,
cos you this common thing right here.
He was God! He didn't...
Herc didn't come out with no little tinker toy speakers,
Herc came out with the big boys.
I got some big boys behind me right now.
Herc came out with the big boys!
Later on some of these people that was coming to all his parties turned
out to be DJs.
Flash, Grandmaster Caz, Mean Gene, member of the L Brothers.
Started seeing AJ the L Brothers, Theodore, Break Out, Baron, Bam.
There was no closer connection between the gangs of the Bronx
and this budding hip-hop movement than Afrika Bambaataa,
who had personally taken it upon himself to convert the fearsome Black Spades into the Zulu Nation.
This was the first worldwide force to promote positivity through music.
When I started the Universal Zulu Nation
I already had an army of street gangs that was with me.
I had a lot of pull and power,
so as I was with the Black Spades
I might go and hang with the Nomads and some of the Javelins
and some of the groups that might not even like each other.
I had a type of persuasion with many of the other leaders and groups.
Bambaataa had great influence among so many people.
They believed in him.
And if you were a person that come from Bronx River or
the other end, the Soundview section,
everybody was coming to their parties.
And he accepted you and he put you down.
It took a lot of work, it took a lot of speaking, a lot of teaching,
a lot of organising,
speaking to the brothers and sisters to get away from that certain mentality.
The person who was in Zulu Nation at that time was assured that
we can turn ourselves around from negative to positive,
and we was doing that through music.
Our slogan became, peace, unity, love and having fun.
Part of Zulu Nation running Monroe now.
-A lot of Zulu Nation in Monroe and Stevenson
and in all these houses they built in the projects.
Soon the Zulu Nation going to take over the world.
Is the Bronx in the house?
Is everybody in the house?
We're going to get loose in here.
# Just, just throw your hands in the air
# And wave them like you just don't care
-# Say Z-U-L-U That's the way you say...
-# Say Z-U-L-U That's the way you say...
Another thing that is not mentioned is a style change happened.
Like, it wasn't just break dancing, graffiti, MC, DJ.
A fifth thing included was style.
You had to now have style.
They didn't want to walk around with dirty clothes any more or, you know,
the patches on their back
because that wasn't attracting the type of girls that they wanted.
It was just a whole mindset change.
Well, let me talk about girls.
Because I think women played a big part in it
because there was always girls around.
You know, even the Black Spades had their girls.
Everybody had their girls,
so basically once you could talk to the girls then you knew it was safe.
So it kind of opened up a whole new area of South Bronx for us
when you can talk to girls that you couldn't talk to before.
That's a big deal. Oh, you can talk to this Puerto Rican girl now,
cos you couldn't talk to Puerto Rican girl back then.
Not and be black in the South Bronx and live.
It wasn't happening.
We didn't even know we was creating anything.
We just wanted to have something that was ours.
Music calms the savage beast...
We would be the Pied Pipers.
To calm...the storm.
Music had definitely calmed the savage beast
because how many times you may be in the motion of something that feels so tense
and you would just hit that one tune and it would relieve everybody.
MUSIC: Apache by The Incredible Bongo Band
I think it's important that whoever sees this knows that we have grown
and, yes, there was a lot of negative and a lot of shit happened
but a lot of us own homes, fancy cars, two and three bikes,
have good-paying jobs.
I think it's important that whoever sees this knows that there is hope.
That we could do this and it could be positive.
They say history is not made by individuals. I disagree.
I think it's a confluence of factors.
It's the social context of the time,
the economic context of the time and the individual dream.
What was so powerful about our generation is we caused a movement.
We had to take from nothing and make something.
I believe that we were making a statement to society, so to speak,
that had forgotten about us, that we have worth.
Because we did have big fun
even though we were poor and we didn't have a lot, we had fun.
You know, we made a way to have fun and we made a way to feel like we
counted and we made a way to show the world that we actually existed.