Vice: One Cop's Story of Patrolling America's Most Dangerous City [NOOK Book]


9 square miles. 10,000 criminals. 130 cops. A riveting memoir by Baker, California’s most-decorated police officer

Compton: the most violent and crime-ridden city in America. What had been a semi-rural suburb of Los Angeles in the 1950s became a battleground for the Black Panthers and Malcolm X Foundation, the home of the Crips and Bloods and the first Hispanic gangs, and the cradle of gangster rap. At the center of it, trying to maintain order was the Compton Police Department,...

See more details below
Vice: One Cop's Story of Patrolling America's Most Dangerous City

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$9.99 price


9 square miles. 10,000 criminals. 130 cops. A riveting memoir by Baker, California’s most-decorated police officer

Compton: the most violent and crime-ridden city in America. What had been a semi-rural suburb of Los Angeles in the 1950s became a battleground for the Black Panthers and Malcolm X Foundation, the home of the Crips and Bloods and the first Hispanic gangs, and the cradle of gangster rap. At the center of it, trying to maintain order was the Compton Police Department, never more than 130-strong, and facing an army of criminals that numbered over 10,000. At any given time, fully one-tenth of Compton’s population was in prison, yet this tidal wave of crime was held back by the thinnest line of the law—the Compton Police.

John R. Baker was raised in Compton, eventually becoming the city’s most decorated officer involved in some of its most notorious, horrifying and scandalous criminal cases. Baker’s account of Compton from 1950 to 2001 is one of the most powerful and compelling cop memoirs ever written—an intensely human account of sacrifice and public service, and the price the men and women of the Compton Police Department paid to preserve their city.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Harrowing…thrilling…in-your-face violence and resilient heroism that leap off the page.” –Kirkus Reviews

"A candid and unapologetic glimpse into a lawman's life. Grim, exhilarating, heroic … with a dash of history thrown in for good measure." —Lt. Randy Sutton, author of True Blue and A Cop's Life

“Some of the best cop stories you'll ever read—[I] promise. Rick Baker's Compton makes the South Bronx look like [summer] camp.”

—Brian McDonald, author of My Father's Gun: One Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD

"Compton, California, in the 1970s and 80s was like the Wild West, and Rick Baker was perhaps the Compton Police Department's bravest and most honorable officer. His book, Vice, is a nonstop thrilling saga of how this small but determined police force kept order in a tough town."

—Leonard Levitt, author of NYPD Confidential

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429989770
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/18/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 403,573
  • File size: 446 KB

Meet the Author

SGT. JOHN R. BAKER is an 18-year veteran of the Compton Police Department. He lives in Las Vegas, NV.
STEPHEN J. RIVELE is the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of Oliver Stone’s Nixon, and of Will Smith’s Ali. Rivele is also the author of eight previous books. He lives in Pasadena, CA.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

A Model Community
I was not born in Compton, but I grew up there.
My father moved to the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles in 1927 from Tucson, where his father had lived. My original family name was Boulanger, which is the French word for a baker. My father’s grandfather had served with the Emperor Maximilian’s army in Mexico. After the defeat of the French by the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 (which is still celebrated as Cinco de Mayo), he relocated to Arizona, and his name was Anglicized from Jean Boulanger to John Baker. An industrious man, my great-grandfather worked at many trades, from rancher and barber to railroad man, saloon keeper, and prospector. Before long he owned several small apartment buildings, which he rented to the poorer folk of Tucson. When my father was ten years old, my grandfather moved his family of six sons and three daughters to Los Angeles in search of fortune and adventure.
My mother, the child of Mexican immigrants, was born in Silver City, New Mexico. Her parents relocated to Santa Ana, south of Los Angeles, when she was little; then, later, they moved into Boyle Heights in the southern L.A. suburbs. It was there, in 1940, that my mother and father met, fell in love, and married. Then the attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into war, and my father was drafted and sent to Europe. He was in the third wave of the D-day invasion, fought across Europe to the Rhine, and was severely wounded.
After the war, my parents settled in the Aliso Village section of Boyle Heights, in a housing project that was built for low-income workers who could not afford to buy a home. As I recall, they paid twenty-six dollars a month in rent, and had a hard scrabble to find even that much. Aliso Village was one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Boyle Heights, in the 1930s and ’40s, was largely a Jewish community, with kosher butchers and orthodox synagogues and Hebrew schools, dominated by the organized crime mob of Mickey Cohen. I often saw his shiny black Packard parked outside his headquarters, a shoeshine parlor on Brooklyn Avenue. The hood was surmounted by a big chrome swan, and everyone in the neighborhood knew that you did not touch Mr. Cohen’s car.
By the time my parents reached it, Boyle Heights was transforming. Latinos were moving from Mexico and Central America, as were blacks from the South, lured by the promise of cheap housing and jobs in the defense industries of Los Angeles. In a process I would see replicated later in Compton, the demographics of the neighborhood quickly began to change.
By the time I was born at White Memorial Hospital in 1942, Boyle Heights had become a tough and eclectic community. Life was a struggle, and everyone was out to make a living, make a killing, make a fast buck. There were legitimate small businessmen and hustlers, zoot-suited flash boys and big-band swingers, soldiers and sailors and their families eager to do their part and wishing the war were over—and Mickey Cohen’s gangsters, who ran the betting pools and numbers games, promising to make you rich or break your legs.
In addition to the immigrant Jews, many ethnic groups and languages were represented in the neighborhoods, yet there was no sense of animosity. Everyone was in the same boat, and there was none of the hostility and territorialism that would later characterize Compton. All this was tempered, of course, by the wartime mentality. Both of my parents’ families were caught up in the hurricane of war. Five of my uncles served in Europe, the oldest, Lefty Baker, being killed in the D-day invasion. His body remains in Normandy, the homeland of his ancestors. The war and the struggle against tyranny trumped everything else. No matter how different we were, no matter what our ethnic rivalries, we were all fighting the same enemy in a life-and-death struggle to save our civilization.
There was another constant in those days and in those neighborhoods: the police. It was the cops, and not the kids or the crooks, who controlled the streets of Boyle Heights. The police were strict and stolid, and you defied them at your peril. No matter how wild we kids ran, we knew that the absolute barrier to lawlessness was the LAPD. A blue-suited cop would grab you by the collar, shake the mischief out of you, smack you across the butt with his nightstick, or crack your skull if you got too far out of line. The police were the great common denominator of our hustling and hybrid neighborhood. What it lacked in homogeneity, the cops more than made up for with their authority. As a result, I learned to respect the police, and though I was careful not to cross them, I regarded them with admiration, and even awe.
I spent my first nine years in Boyle Heights, and that experience, seen now through the prism of adulthood, served me well later when I lived in Compton. In school and on the streets I learned to deal with every sort of person, from the sons of rabbis to black transplanted Alabama sharecroppers to the “wetbacks” who had only recently risked their lives in the deserts along the border to reach America. Their children were my schoolmates and my playmates, and from them I absorbed a level of tolerance and unthinking acceptance that proved later in my life to be a rare and valuable gift. In my personal relations and my choice of friends, I never saw color, never heard an accent, never assumed that anyone was any better or worse than me just because of the color of his skin or the way he talked. Boyle Heights was my preparation for my life in Compton.
In 1945, my father returned from the war in Europe with disabling injuries to his lungs, kidneys, and shoulder. He spent two years in a veterans’ hospital before he was well enough to come home. During that period I rarely saw him, so much of the bonding experience I should have had with him was lost. My father remained for me a remote, nearly inaccessible figure, rarely affectionate and often critical. Whether it was his nature or the result of his wounds I never knew.
Through my mother’s hard work and thrift, and with some help from the GI Bill, by 1950 my parents had saved enough money to buy a house. Boyle Heights and the surrounding areas proved too expensive, but they discovered that houses were affordable in the city of Compton to the south. At that time, Compton was 98 percent white, a tightly knit community dominated by Mormons. There were two Mormon temples in the city, and the mayor, Elder Del Clawson, later served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Compton had a reputation as a progressive community that welcomed newcomers and valued its independence from Los Angeles. Modest individual houses were springing up in the western part of the city, which real estate agents advertised as being open to “veterans of all races.” They were all of a plan, some with two bedrooms and some with three, and selling for nine to ten thousand dollars.
My parents found a house on the corner of 136th Street and Central Avenue in the heart of West Compton and made the down payment. The real estate agent, Mr. Davenport, warned them that the neighborhood was likely to undergo a transformation. He was quite up-front and honest about it, and told my parents that, while the eastern part of Compton was steadfastly white, West Compton was being touted as a future home for lower-middle-class blacks who were hunting jobs in the factories of South L.A.
“Things are going to change here, and soon,” he told them as I stood in the parlor of the first real home we had ever owned. But I paid no attention to him. Across from the house, on what became Piru Street, was a helicopter testing ground busy with the exotic shapes of aircraft and the thrum of spinning rotors, and nearby on Central Avenue was a horse farm where cowboys taught kids to ride for fifty cents. After the cramped apartment in Boyle Heights, the prospect of airplanes and horses within walking distance was thrilling beyond my imagination. To my nine-year-old mind, Compton was a fairyland, a place of wonder and adventure to rival anything my grandfather had come to California to find.
*   *   *
In 1784, during the Spanish occupation of California, the new king, Ferdinand VII, deeded seventy-five thousand acres of ranchland, called Rancho San Pedro, to Juan José Dominguez. It remained a privately held ranch until the Mexican War, after which American settlers began moving into the area in search of open land and a mild climate. In 1867, a minister and pedagogue from Virginia named Griffith Dickinson Compton led a group of settlers to the area and created a town, which some twenty years later was incorporated as a city named after him. Griffith Compton had a vision of a community of farmers, householders, and scholars that would serve as a model to the Southern California region. He established a school system and a library, as well as a college that grew over the decades into Compton College, which I would one day attend.
From its founding in 1889 until the year we arrived, 1951, Compton had been an almost all-white city. Originally an agricultural settlement, it was a haven for people fleeing the urban sprawl to the north. Its open fields, trim homesteads, ranches, and farms had proved irresistible to those seeking a refuge from the increasingly oppressive crush and clamor of Los Angeles. There had, however, always been a belt of black residents, stretching along Central Avenue right down from South Central L.A. to the city of Long Beach. Compton tolerated these hardworking middle-class blacks, who confined themselves to one small district in the western part of the city and showed little inclination to move beyond it until the aftermath of World War II.
It was then that Compton real estate interests began to open up the northwestern neighborhoods to black veterans and migrants from the Deep South. What had once been meadows and farmland quickly developed into low-income tract housing, stretching through West Compton from 127th Street at the southern L.A. border to Rosecrans Avenue along Central Avenue. This was the very neighborhood into which my parents moved.
Compton in those days was something like a model community; indeed, in 1952 it was designated an “All-America City” by the National Civic League. It consisted of tidy, well-planned streets and boulevards with palm trees and pin-striped lanes, and single-family houses with landscaped yards, resembling a precocious child’s layout of a train platform. Burris, Sloan, and Poinsettia avenues off Compton Boulevard framed a neighborhood of luxurious homes with broad lawns and wrought-iron gates, which came to be known as Compton-Hollywood. The downtown shopping district was lined with trees and fronted with prosperous small businesses, and in the pedestrian walkways there was piped-in music to entertain passersby. To this day I have never heard of another urban commercial district that plays music for the enjoyment of shoppers.
There were two theaters and the only drive-ins in southeastern Los Angeles. The city had its own college, which was prized not just for the quality of its education but for its football teams as well. Compton College was considered to be a farm school for the University of Southern California, since its coach, Hall of Famer Tay Brown, was said to be able to get any Compton College player into USC on his recommendation alone. When I attended the college, my tennis coach was Ken Carpenter, who had won a gold medal in discus at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Compton got its nickname “the Hub,” because the city was equidistant from Los Angeles and Long Beach, and most of the commercial traffic between the ports of those cities had to pass through. This gave Compton, despite its small size—a mere nine square miles—a cosmopolitan flavor. It was, for example, a center of country and western music. Cowboy bars drew sailors from the naval base at Long Beach, and a local celebrity, Spade Cooley, became a national figure through his televised hootenanny, which was broadcast from a studio in Compton.
Music was always part of the life of the city. In addition to the piped-in music of the downtown district, there were amateur performers on the street corners and in the clubs and malt shops experimenting with new sounds and new dances, a practice that was to flourish in later years. Even in the fifties, Compton was a cradle of musical movements. A local group called the Six Teens scored a nationwide hit with the song “A Casual Look,” and another Compton combo, the Hollywood Argyles, who worked at Bishop’s malt shop on Long Beach Boulevard, produced the doo-wop hit “Alley Oop.” Later, the fusion group War developed in Compton, spawning such hits as “Low Rider,” “Cisco Kid,” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
It seemed that all the kids of Compton were into some kind of music. My friends and I used to meet on the corner of 134th and Central Avenue to harmonize impromptu doo-wops and “ham bones.” One of my best buddies was a bright Hispanic kid named Jesse Sida who lived on Slater Street, a stone’s throw from my parents’ house. Jesse knew all the latest dances, and he taught me his moves in the local clubs and at the Pike on the pier in Long Beach. We wore three-quarter-length jackets and roll-cuff Levi’s, and we slicked our hair into a “waterfall.” We bought our bell-bottoms and lavender shirts at Sy Devore’s on Melrose (they had to be lavender because of West Side Story) and did the Slob, the Stroll, the Watusi, the Bristol Stomp, and the Slauson Shuffle. I became a pretty good dancer, and I learned very quickly that dancing was a great way to meet girls.
One of the girls I met was Lorraine Mayor. I was burning up the floor at the Cinnamon Cinder in Hollywood one night when she asked if she could dance with me. She was a cute little blonde who lived in the exclusive L.A. suburb of Hidden Hills, and she drove her daddy’s new white Cadillac to the popular dance clubs. She told me she had never seen a boy who could dance as well as I, and soon we were partnering and winning trophies together. Her father was wealthy, and Lorraine gave me her gasoline credit card so that Jesse Sida and I could drive out to Hidden Hills in my ’55 Chevy to pick her up and go dancing.
Above all, Compton was autonomous. It had its own city government, its own police force, its own water and power. Its Mormon fathers were so proud of the city’s independence that when the first shopping mall was proposed for the southern Los Angeles region the city council turned it down, fearing that it would detract from the downtown shopping district and draw in too many outsiders from L.A. Still later, when the adjacent city of Carson asked that Compton annex it so that Carson could share in Compton’s prosperity, the city fathers again refused, though Carson was twice the size of Compton and offered a huge potential for expansion of its revenue base. So confident was Compton in those days, and so sure of its integrity and of its future, that it played the role of the unobtainable princess who remained aloof, though courted by suitors from across the Southland.
*   *   *
My family moved into our new house in time for me to enroll at St. Leo’s school in the Watts section of Los Angeles. My parents were determined that I would receive a Catholic education, and St. Leo’s was the closest parochial school to our home. The irony of this was, of course, that Watts was an almost entirely black community, and I was one of the few white kids at St. Leo’s. As I had in Boyle Heights, I again found myself thrown into a culture other than my own, compelled to learn a new jargon, new habits, a new way of thinking. Ironically, however, I met with no discrimination at St. Leo’s. This was due, I think, to the fact that the majority of students were Creoles, whose families had migrated to Los Angeles from Louisiana and Mississippi, and who shared my French heritage. To them I was not John Baker but Jean Boulanger, and they accepted me in a way they might not have accepted most white kids.
The other thing that we had in common, of course, was the strictures of the school. Catholic education was not then what it is today. The Sisters of Notre Dame wore the traditional milk bottle habits, with stiff white linen and yards of black crepe, and rosary beads that jangled ominously from their broad leather belts. As with the police, you crossed the nuns at your own risk. Their discipline was total and intolerant, and they enforced it with a level of violence that would be unthinkable today. Stern and iron-faced, the sisters administered beatings with righteous enthusiasm. Yes, they taught us to read and write and respect our elders, but they also put the fear of God into us, a fear that has never quite left me.
Unlike the kids at the local public school, at St. Leo’s we developed a respect for authority that became a permanent part of our personalities. To us, disobedience meant sinfulness, and sinfulness would be punished by the nuns in this life, and by the Almighty in the next. So better to shape up now than to face that temporal and eternal retribution.
While I was at St. Leo’s, I served as an altar boy. In those days this was a privilege accorded to students who had a record for good behavior and good grades, and who could master and memorize the Latin Mass. We wore black cassocks with starched white surplices, and around our necks we buttoned a tall cellulose collar clasped with a gold stud and tied with an ample black silk bow. Our hair had to be slicked with military precision, our nails scrupulously clean, and we bowed to the Blessed Sacrament on the altar like the minions of a great and silent king.
We also assisted at weddings and funerals and all the other milestones of the Catholic life, and I often was present at the wakes held in the local funeral parlors. Clutching my golden candlestick, I gazed down at the corpses as mute and unmoving as they. Those wakes were my first experience of death, swathed in satin, hung with floral wreaths, and fragrant with the musk of holy incense. It was an image of death that would be violently altered later in my life on the streets of Compton.
Though nearly all my friends at this time were black, few of them were from Compton. Since St. Leo’s was in Watts, I began to identify with that neighborhood as much as with my own. In fact, as I grew older, I spent most of my free time in Watts, going to its movie theaters and soda shops, because my pals did not feel comfortable traveling to the all-white commercial district of Compton. In this way, I naturally began to feel closer to the black culture of South Central than to the white world of Compton. It was my black friends in L.A. who first started calling me by my middle name, Ricardo, or Rick, and it has stuck with me ever since.
One thing I learned from my friends in Watts was that the blacks in L.A. had a disdain for the blacks of Compton. They considered themselves to be superior, living as they did in an all-black neighborhood in Los Angeles. The Compton blacks, in their view, had sold out, moving southward in search of escape from the ghetto of Watts. This attitude would later play an important role in the development of the gang cultures in Watts and Compton.
At that time, Watts was about 10 percent Hispanic, and there were sharp divisions between the black and the Latino cultures. It was for this reason, given the fact that I associated almost exclusively with blacks, that the first racial animosity I felt directed at me came from Hispanics. They taunted me in Spanish, not realizing that, since my mother was Latina, I spoke Spanish almost as well as they, and they often challenged me to fight.
The first confrontation was with a kid named Rudy Diaz. He was bigger than me and had a reputation as a wannabe tough guy. He picked some pretense and we “locked asses,” and I whipped him pretty soundly. When his older brother Augie saw this, he marched over and started in on me. At that moment, a Creole kid from St. Leo’s named Jean Lamoureux stepped in between us. “Rick took your brother fair and square,” he told Augie. “So if you’re feelin’ froggish, I’ll stand in for him.” Augie backed off, and through Jean, I became adopted by the Creole faction at St. Leo’s.
Even in grade school I understood that bullies had to be dealt with quickly and in a language they could not misunderstand, so by the time I was in eighth grade, I was a seasoned street fighter. I began to take boxing lessons at the Boys’ Club on 120th and Central, and that gym became my playground. It was there that I developed the confidence that I could hold my own in any one-on-one confrontation. As my boxing skills improved, I participated in backyard smokers, which were impromptu bouts staged by local gamblers in which the fighters did not wear the Boys’ Club protective gear. Smokers were bloody, no-holds-barred affairs fought in vacant lots near the club. They were perhaps the best training I could have had for what I would later encounter in the streets of Compton.
Though I was attending school in Watts, I was still living with my parents in Compton, which was even then in transition. As more and more black families moved into the western part of the city, whites began moving out. Some fled to East Compton, which remained a whites-only stronghold, and before long, Central Avenue had become the dividing line between the two halves of the city. All this meant nothing to me, however, since Boyle Heights and Watts had accustomed me to mingling with all types of people. I was neither white nor Hispanic nor black, but in some way, I was all of them. So I counted among my friends and playmates black children, white children, and Latinos.
Among them were many individuals who would later play a role in my career, some for better and some, like Rex and Eddie Pope, Jesse Torres, Luis Lasoya, and Sylvester Scott, for worse—far worse. These were the children with whom I grew up, ran the streets, played stickball, and saw in church every Sunday, and who later became Compton’s judges and politicians and leading criminals.
I was a natural athlete and played almost every sport. My real passions, however, were baseball and track. My father was the coach of the Little League team, and when I was old enough, I expected him to let me play. Instead, for reasons I have never understood, he would not even allow me to try out for the team. Though I begged and pleaded and argued, he remained steadfast—I was not going to play Little League ball.
Like many others of his generation, my father was not a hands-on parent, and he rarely supported or expressed approval of me. My mother, on the other hand, was my biggest fan. She attended all my track meets and framed my medals. My father’s refusal to let me play baseball broke my heart, though, and marked a turning point in our relationship. It was in protest of that decision that I first began boxing at the Boys’ Club in Watts, where I took out my resentment and frustration on the heavy bag and on the other boys I met in the after-hours smokers.
I became something of a star in track and field at St. Leo’s, excelling at the high jump and the long jump. I also ran the hundred-yard dash and the 220, and I anchored the 440 relays. This was unusual since I was the only white kid on the team, but I was the fastest of all, and that was why I was chosen to run the final leg. In fact, at one meet, when I brought the baton in first, the judges gave the winners’ medals to another team, assuming that, since I was white, I was not running for St. Leo’s. Later the meet officials sent a letter to St. Leo’s congratulating the team and apologizing for their mistake.
I also played football, both at school and in the rough-and-tumble pickup games in the sandlots of West Compton. Often during those games a scrawny black kid some ten years younger than me would watch longingly from the sidelines. He was too young and too small to play, and so most of the kids ignored him. I felt sorry for him, however, and after the games I stayed behind to throw the ball to him. Every time he caught a pass he would beam with a broad, gap-toothed smile of delight. Sometimes I took him down to the corner to sing doo-wop and jive with my friends. He lived on Piru Street, one block over from my parents’ house on Central, and his name was Sylvester Scott. Many years later, he would found the most violent of Compton’s black gangs.
Because of my success in track, I was offered a scholarship to Junipero Serra High School in the nearby city of Gardena. Serra was an old and prestigious academy run by the Marist fathers, and the opportunity to attend it free of charge was a great boon to my family. As usual, my mother was thrilled, and my father was guarded in his praise. The summer before my freshman year at Serra, a friend and I were cruising down Central Avenue on his motor scooter when he ran into a truck. I was thrown clear, but my ankle was broken. That was the end not only of my track and field days but of my scholarship at Serra High as well.
In my sophomore year, my parents enrolled me in St. Anthony High School, which was on 7th Street in the southern part of the City of Long Beach. St. Anthony’s was a prep school noted for its success in placing its graduates into good colleges around California. My parents were anxious that I have such an opportunity, and though it meant a lengthy bus and trolley ride across Compton and Long Beach, I continued high school at St. Anthony’s. It was, I soon discovered, 95 percent white, the mirror image of St. Leo’s, and so once again I underwent a cultural shock, having to relate to a whole new class of people and to adjust my values and my behavior accordingly. Since I appeared to be white, I was accepted by the majority students, but most of my friends were black, and I was by heritage Hispanic. So once again my life became a sociological case study in blending different cultures.
On my first day at St. Anthony’s, a big, buck-toothed Irish kid named O’Higgins challenged me to a fight. It was, I knew, an initiation into the new school that I had to accept, so I agreed to meet him in the gym at the YMCA in Long Beach. He was all swinging arms and no style, and I dissected him scientifically. When he was bloodied and on his back, I offered him a hand-up. He shook the cotton wool out of his head and gave me a crimson grin. We ended up at the Pike malt shop, where he bought me a root beer float and introduced me to Dick Dale and the Deltones and their surfer music. We remained friends throughout high school.
It was at about this time, the mid-1950s, that the first gang in Compton appeared. The gang formed in the growing black neighborhood of West Compton, and called themselves the Farmers because they wore overalls, a sort of precursor to the later gang gear. They were also called Gasheads, since they processed their hair in the fashion of the time, conked and smeared thick with Vaseline. They were bullies who migrated into Compton from Watts to terrorize the kids in my neighborhood along Central Avenue. Their headquarters were in Will Rogers Park on 103rd Street.
One day, as I was on my way home from school, three of the Farmers confronted me at the corner of 134th and Central and demanded money. There was a chain-link fence behind me, so I backed up against it to prevent them surrounding me. I had no choice but to fight, and though it was three against one, I was determined that, if I was going to go down, I would take one or two of them with me. I dropped my book bag and raised my fists, challenging them to come on.
Just at that moment I heard a voice from nearby. “Lay off him.” It was a black kid, a little older than me. The Farmers turned to look at him. He was not big, but there was a calm determination about him that got their attention.
“Whatever you have with him, you have with me,” he said. “So just lay off, and everything will be cool.”
The three gangbangers hesitated, and then they walked away. I thanked the kid and asked why he had intervened.
“I see you around when I go to visit my godfather,” he told me. “Mr. Garcia.” The Garcias were the only other Hispanic family on my block. “My name’s Howard Edwards.” He put out his hand and I shook it.
“Thanks,” I told him.
“C’mon, man,” he said, “I’m going your way, I’ll walk you home.”
I came to know Howard Edwards very well. He was a bright, hardworking kid who had big ambitions for himself. A Creole whose family had moved south from the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles, he had hazel eyes and wavy brown hair, and his complexion was so light that he could have passed for Latino. We became friends, and the stories of our lives in Compton intertwined.
As Compton continued to change, more gangs sprouted up. By the late fifties, in addition to the Farmers, the Slausons and the Huns had appeared. The Slausons formed in South Central L.A. along Slauson Avenue, and like the Farmers, they began raiding down into Compton, preying on the local kids. The Huns were also a South L.A. gang, larger and much more aggressive than the Farmers.
These early black gangs took as their model the older Latino gangs of Los Angeles, affecting their gangland style, wearing baggy pants and beanies, adopting their jargon, and tagging the gang’s territory with graffiti. Among the expressions the blacks borrowed from Spanish was “chinga tu madre,” which they reversed and translated as “motherfucker,” and it entered black gang culture permanently. As the gangs proliferated and their numbers swelled, they became more territorial, and more violent.
As Compton shifted from white to black, racial tensions grew. The gangs were part of this, but race hostility was not confined to the streets. In 1955, the Compton Unified School District, which was dominated by whites, created Centennial High School in an effort to prevent the blacks of northwest Compton integrating Compton High. As the black population increased, however, this proved to be impossible. More blacks began enrolling at Compton High, and it was there, in 1959, that the city experienced its first race riot. The trigger seemed innocent enough: the selection of the homecoming queen.
By late 1958, Compton High was three-quarters white and one-quarter black. Every year, the student body voted for a girl who would preside over the homecoming celebrations, and every year they chose a white girl. In the voting for the 1959 queen, four white girls and one black girl competed for the honor. The entire black student body voted for the black girl, while the white girls split the majority vote. The result was that the black girl was narrowly elected. Almost immediately, racial tensions flared. White student body leaders began urging their fellow students to boycott the homecoming dance, and someone painted the words NOBODY ATTEND THE JUNGLE HOP on the front wall of the school. Fights began to break out, and it was not long before the gangs got involved, some even coming from South L.A. to join in. The entire school became a battleground, and the police had to be called in.
The problem did not end there. White gangs began to invade Compton from South Bay in response to the homecoming riot. Calling themselves the Spook Hunters, they were openly racist thugs from surrounding white cities who attacked and brutalized black kids and working people in the parks between the west side and South Central L.A. As their violence spread toward the northern border, the Spook Hunters came into conflict with the Huns, and the first interracial gang brawls erupted.
Instead of dealing with the growing problem of racial hostility, the city council and the school district decided to further separate the races. In the aftermath of the riot at Compton High, they built a third high school, Dominguez Compton, on the far eastern edge of the city, where the population was still entirely white. As a result, many of the white students at Compton High moved over to Dominguez, and their places were taken by more and more black students.
The lines of demarcation between the races in Compton were now being drawn for everyone to see: West Compton was becoming a black area, while East Compton was fortifying itself as a white stronghold. It was a pattern that would dominate the life of Compton for decades, and determine its character and its destiny.

Copyright © 2011 by John R. Baker with Stephen J. Rivele
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2014

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    Modern society seems to be extremely focused on the american

    Modern society seems to be extremely focused on the american gangster. Rap music, gun fighting, drugs, and money is the modern american dream for many teens and younger adults. But why is this? Its because people want excitement in their otherwise boring usual lifestyle. The thought of running from the cops puts that excitement into their lives. 
    The story VICE tells not the story of an american gangster, but in fact the story of Sgt. John Baker, LAPD. The LAPD was the only force holding back the endless waves of crime in the 1990’s, while being outnumbered 130 cops to 10,000 criminals. 
    The main focus of this story is to convey to America that there is not only the story of the american gangster, but the american police officer as well. Police officers are humans inside the uniform, and they do live their own lives and take care of their families just as others do. It takes a special type of breed to be a police officer, especially in America’s most dangerous city: Compton. Younger society is extremely caught up in the “F*** THE POLICE” lifestyle, while actually having no idea whatsoever what the police actually does to protect those ungrateful people. VICE brings you into the shoes of one of these street cops and shows you in first person the struggle and pain a city cop goes through to keep the streets safe for everyone else. 
    I would recommend reading this book simply because the police force needs to be more appreciated, and this truly story truly connects you with the police world and the lifestyle of a cop. The style of the author actually puts you into the streets of compton, while delivering interesting historical fact to his story. 
    Overall, I would rate this book an 8 out of 10.   By: Ross G

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)