“Finding Peace: An Interview with Aqeela Sherrills”
When the Moon is Up
Aqeela Sherrills is an activist combating gang violence who started a peace treaty between rival LA gangs the Bloods and the Crips. He began organizing the movement in 1988, and on April 28, 1992, the treaty was struck. It was the day before a verdict was reached in the trial of the LAPD for the beating of Rodney King.
Sherrills started his work as an activist in Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens, which are both public housing apartment complexes in Watts. There was a tremendous amount of violence happening in the neighborhood, he says, and he started losing family and friends.
EM: Why was 1992 the year you decided to make a peace treaty between the Bloods and the Crips?
AS: I’d like to think that we decided, but I think it was the times. They called for it. It was just a tremendous amount of violence happening in the neighborhood. I was losing a lot of friends and family members to this war that was raging out of control in the community. Actually, 1989 was the beginning of the work we started laying the foundation for. So [in] 1992, we actually had been laying work for four years already when we actually organized the peace treaty.
EM: What did you think about the riots in 1992? Did it influence you to make the peace treaty?
AS: Interestingly, the peace treaty actually happened a day before the Rodney King verdict was read. They happened almost simultaneously. A lot of people associate the peace treaty with the civil unrest in ’92, but the peace treaty actually happened first. We [had been] organizing the movement since 1988, and April 28 was the day that it culminated. And I would say the riots were a little fuel to the fire for the work.
EM: Did you think it would be easier because the protests of police violence in 1992? Did you think it would be easier to start the peace treaty?
AS: Nah man, it was a war zone in LA. I mean literally. I didn’t know what to expect. And the truth of the matter is is that I’d love to just take all the credit for organizing the peace treaty, but this was really a spiritual movement. And I just want to name it and say that God gave us the vision for what to do. I mean literally in a vision told us if we brought the Nickersons and the Jordan Downs together, that we would create a domino effect for peace across the city. So we worked on that strategy. Minister [Louis] Farrakhan was the real spiritual leader of the movement. In 1989, he was doing the Stop the Killing tours all across the country. When Minister Farrakhan came to LA, he drew thousands of people to the sports arena, and there was about 1,500 Crips and Bloods from all across the city who went to hear the message. We took about twenty-five of our homies from the projects in Jordan Downs from Grape Street. That’s where I grew up and where I was from. I would have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Minister Farrakhan and [Jim Brown] because at the time they were really the vanguards of the Black community.
EM: How do you feel about the neighborhood now in comparison to how it was twenty years ago? Do you feel like it has gotten better or worse?
AS: It’s absolutely gotten better, I think, as a result of the peace treaty. What was born from it was several individuals started organizations in the neighborhood to look at addressing the violence. The legacy of our work is the Watts Gang Task Force, the Community Safety Partnership. We have thirty cops now, and each one of them is in developments. They happen to be good folks. We had three consecutive years in a row of no murders in Jordan Downs, which is significant. And the city of LA has experienced ten consecutive years in a row of decreases in violent crime and murder. Violence has only been beginning to spike overall in the city in the last year and a half. But if you look at the areas where there are gang intervention programs—that’s about twenty-three areas in the city—violence is down ten percent in those neighborhoods. Today, Watts is a real leader in this movement to [reduce] incidents of violence and violent crime.
About the Author
Elijah is a seventeen-year-old African American fan of the Los Angeles Clippers, who are the best basketball team in the world. Elijah plays basketball and is the best at the school. He hates reading, especially math. He thinks school takes up too much time in the day. If there wasn’t so much time consumed by it, he could practice basketball more. Then he would be the best at all schools, instead of just one.
Each year, 826LA works with a different LAUSD high school to give a group of students an apprenticeship-like experience in writing and publishing through the Young Authors’ Book Project.
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Photos Courtesy of Alex Rapada Photography.