Sunday there was a gathering in east Fort Worth that was a cross between a concert, a party, a picnic, a commemoration of peace and a remembrance of war.
It was the 25th anniversary of the Fort Worth gang truce, a plan designed in 1994 by Tarrant County Jail inmates who wanted to convince their friends that they should stop killing each other.
In attendance were rappers and bands, classic cars and middle-aged men who were once gang bangers.
Lonnie “Big Dawg” Hall, 46, said he was a 17-year-old member of the Truman Street Bloods when he was in the Tarrant County Jail helping negotiate the truce. Right after the truce, he said he was confronted by nine Crip gang members in the law library who tried to end him, but he won that fight and escaped injury.
Later, he was able to introduce his children to another life, and send two to college, Hall said.
“We got tired of the senseless killings,” Hall said. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I think Hollywood’s portrayal of what gangsters were supposed to be like glamorized the violence. It was supposed to be a way to unify the community. Hollywood made killing somebody look cool.
“The demonstration of what is happening out here is an example of how things have changed. We are living examples of true unity. Back in 1994, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Things are better today, Hall said. In the 1990s children had to worry about getting shot when they went to another neighborhood to visit friends and relatives. The truce made it possible for children to grow up knowing one another, Hall said.
“We are dealing with the repercussions of what happened in the past,” Hall said. “In the early ’90s, people were dying every day. We were having two funerals a week somewhere in Fort Worth. That’s not happening now.“
Police officers who served with Fort Worth’s gang unit at the time of the truce remember it as being ineffective in terms of reducing gang violence. And as far as the police are concerned, no truce is now in effect, according to a statement from the Fort Worth Police Department.
“Our gang members (especially those who are older) have become more “business” oriented and are not necessarily interested in the rivalries of old,” the statement said. “Our younger gang culture is closely entwined with the some of the current negative music culture, and this often times drives violent incidents.”
The rivalries of old
Percy Demerson, who goes by O.G. Percy, 49, and was a member of the 5 Deuce Hoover Crips, said gang banging mostly died in the 2000s with the millennial generation. Percy, one of the organizers of the event, said the young in Fort Worth are blind. But it took him years in and out of prison to grow up and figure out how blind he was. The only good thing about his prison and jail time is that no one ever had to guess where he was, Percy said.
“I got a youngster in prison for life right now,” he said. “Not from what I taught him, but from what he learned in the streets. It was the same with me. My parents were working people. I knew what was right. But I had to hit every bump in the road before I would do what was right.”
Billy Ray Maddox III, showed off multiple gunshot wounds and said the most recent wounds from 2017 paralyzed him from the waist down for a year. Maddox, 28, said he was trying to buy some marijuana and got caught in a crossfire from an AK 47. His doctors said he would never walk again, but one day, something told him to get up, and he has not stopped walking since.
“Now I’m just trying to make it in the rap game,” he said.
Abdul Chappell, a community activist who was also involved in negotiating the truce in 1994 in Tarrant County Jail, said the truce made possible several of the after-school and in-school efforts that followed. The city hired gang members to help keep children out of gangs, Chappell said.
“The police still lack understanding of the culture they are trying to police,” Chappell said.
Gang banging is different now because now there are no rules, Chappell said.
“When I was banging, there were things the older dudes would not let us do,” Chappell said. “Now people are just doing anything.”
Lee Muhammad, minister for Mosque No. 52 in Fort Worth, said that this generation was the strongest generation of African-American youth North America has ever produced, but they need guidance. Muhammad lamented the fact there were not more clergy members present. Jesus did his work in the street, Muhammad said.
“When they asked him about it, he said it’s not the well who need a doctor, it’s the sick,” Muhammad said. “I would implore them to step outside their walls to meet with the people.”