Compton, California has earned a reputation over the last fifty years as a place where people are tough, life is dangerous and unless you are from there, you stay away. Gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips have proliferated across the city in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and the dawn of the crack cocaine epidemic in the United States. In what could rightly be described as a civil war, thousands of black men, women and children have died on the streets of Comptom and in Los Angeles county as gang wars escalated. In 1888, the City of Comptom had formed its own police department to patrol city limits and at the time of the deadly gang wars erupted, it was pushed to its limit. Some officers would leave the department for much quieter neighborhoods with lower crime rates. Others would stay until it was disbanded in 2000. Among the two most well-known as respected officers were Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd. The duo have been interviewed numerous times in recent years, expressing their thoughts on Compton, the murder of Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) and his alleged killer Orlando Anderson (1974-1998). However, there is far more to their story than what we have come to learn on screen and here the two join with Lolita Files, whom some may recognize from the A & E multi-part series Who Killed Tupac. In the show she is assisting famed attorney Benjamin Crump who takes another look at the murder of the slain rapper. This is their story about their lives and time in Comptom as part of a police department located in the middle of a war zone.
Those of us who live outside California may find the gang culture to be both mistifying and tragic. The Crips, who feature prominently throughout the book, have a long past of their own. The gang’s formation is rightfully captured by Zach Fortier and Derard Barton in I am Raymond Washington: The Authorized Biography About the Original Founder of the Crips, which I highly recommend to readers interested in the development of the Crips. Brennan and Ladd became intimately familiar with them and other outfits that compose the fifty-five known gangs of Compton. The two were so well known on the streets that Brennan earned the nickname “Blondie” as a result of a song by DJ Quik. But just how did the two end up in Compton and become partners for fifteen years? Lolita Files narrates their story in this book that is a both a biography and an investigative look into one of America’s most violent cities.
Files provides a short history on Compton which I found to be very interesting and informative. The city’s later history is similar to other cities across America where white flight helped give way to the ghettos that developed. Compton is no different and its descent into madness in the wake of the 1965 Watts Riots, is an American tragedy that unfornately is not unique. However, nothing could have prepared Compton for what would come next and when the gangs arrived, the city was transformed into hell on earth. It is not long into the book before Brennan appears and we learn about his migration to California where he makes a home in the Compton Police Department. He is schooled as a rookie and moves up through the ranks. However, it is not until he meets California native Robert Ladd that the dynamic duo is formed and through their work, become nationally recognized experts on gang culture.
The book is not solely about the two officers but Files also discusses the city’s most notorious gangsters whom Brennan and Ladd became very familiar with. Nightly gang shootings, drug transactions and even domestic disputes, kept the Compton Police Department busy and Files takes us back in time when Brennan and Ladd found themselves in the middle of open gang warfare. They are joined by Reggie Wright, Sr., whom some may recall as the father of Reggie Wright, Jr., a former Compton Police Officer himself who later provided protection to Death Row Records through his company Wright Way Security. The stories are crazy and some unreal but Compton was akin to the wild wild west except the gang members were not using six shooters but heavy artillery designed to cause mass casualties.
Politics play a part in the story as one would expect and some of the events that take place are both head scratching and amusing. And the takeover by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was the final nail in the coffin and officialy marked an end to the Compton Police Department. However, before that took place, the gang unit had been making waves and putting a dent in gang activity. But there were a couple of events that were even too large for Brennan and Ladd.
No book about Compton would be complete without the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the acquittal of several officers who took part in the beating of motorist Rodney King (1965-2012). The verdict set off riots across the county of Los Angeles and I remember watching the events on television with disbelief and fear of what would happen next. Files revisits the tragedy and the response to the mayhem by the Compton Police Department. It is a dark time in American history, but one that can never be forgotten, especially by the people of Los Angeles. By this point in the story, we come to know Brennan, Ladd and other officers in the Compton Police Departmentve very well. However, the story picks up its pace after a deadly shooting takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 7, 1996. That night, Tupac Shakur was shot and mortally wounded after an altercation at the MGM Grand Hotel with South Side Crip Orlando Anderson. Shakur’s death on September 13, 1996, unleashed a wave of violence across Compton between Bloods and Crips that placed Brennan and Ladd on the front lines in the investigation. Files takes on the role of our reporter and delivers the full inside scoop on the deadly retaliation that took place. Anderson is also a point of focus and his story is revisited including his own death in May, 1998.
Readers who have followed Brennan and Ladd will undoubtedly find this part of the book to be of high interest. Further, Files has proven herself to be highly knowledgeable about the crime as evident by her appearance alongside Crump. The scuffle at the MGM, the events leading up to it and its aftermath are covered completely. Further, the efforts of former detectives Russell Poole (1956-2015) and Gred Kading are examined in detail. Viewers of the USA show Unsolved, will be familiar with Kading’s name as well as those who have studied the Shakur case. The death of rap star Christopher”The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997) on March 9, 1997, also enters the story and Files discusses it in depth. The writing is good and I even learned an intersting fact about Duane “Keefe D” Davis which I had not previously known and possible connections between Wallace and the South Side Crips. I also learned more about Brennan’s interactions with Kading’s task force which had been assembled to learn the truth about Wallace’s death. Motives for both murders are presented and some viewers may feel that perhaps the simplest explanation is the most likely. Sadly, both Shakur and Wallace’s murders remain unsolved.
What I have described so far does not come close to acknowledging everything that will be found in the pages of this book. It is simply a great read about the Compton, and a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the city that gangs and rappers put on the map. There is a cast of characters to be found in the story ranging from former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight to the deplorable racist gang known as the “spook hunters”. Compton is full of history and it is still being written. And only time will tell if its residents can make peace with the past and move away from the violence that has claimed far too many lives. Great book.