On the night of August 9, 1979, a series of events occurred that changed the face of the Crips gang organization in California. Raymond Washington, the founder of the Crips, is shot and mortally wounded on a street corner as he responded to a car that had pulled up in front of where he was standing. He was rushed to the hospital but died from his wounds. He was 25 years old and his murder has never been solved. Over time he faded into history and is largely unknown by those outside of the gang culture in southern California. As a lifelong resident of the east coast of the United States, I have only seen images and videos of the ongoing wars between the Bloods and Crips gangs. And until I read this book, I had very little knowledge about the life of Raymond Washington.
Stanley “Tookie” Williams was executed by lethal injection at California’s San Quentin prison on December 13, 2005 after being convicted of multiple homicides in two separate trials. He is often mistakenly referred to as the founder of the Crips gang. This assertion has been disputed on numerous occasions and in search of an answer for myself, I found this excellent book by Zach Fortier, a former police officer with over 25 years of experience in the law enforcement field. To date, this is the only authorized biography about Washington. To the young generation of today, Washington’s name is unfamiliar and a relic of a time long gone. In fact, his reasons for founding the original set do not hold true. The formation and emergence of additional Crips sets has resulted in a loosely compiled network of gangs sometimes as war with each other as well as their enemies in the Bloods gang. But the truth remains that Washington is the man started it all.
To some it may be surprising that a former police officer wrote this book. Personally, I am not surprised as police officers with gang experience have intimate knowledge of the subject and access to critical information. Some, such as Greg Kading, have used their books to continue investigations that have stalled within the police department. Fortier is unbiased and does not at any point defame Washington or criticize his actions. It is strictly an investigation report about the founding figure. Without the statements of law enforcement officers who knew Washington, it is difficult to say how high on their radar he was. He is not considered nor has he been a “noted figure”. Furthermore, he never wrote any notes about himself or gave interviews. As a result, what is known about his life comes from school transcripts, arrest records and personal interviews with family and friends. Fortier, the season officer, already knew this and in this book we find the interviews with his surviving siblings and personal acquaintances who knew him best.
It is not enough to simply explain who the founder of the gang is. Fortier also gives us answers as to why the Crips were founded. The answers may surprise the reader and induce bewilderment at the current day state of the notorious outfit. We can only wonder that if Washington were alive today what his thoughts would be on the gang culture that has nearly destroyed the African-American community through the senseless deaths of thousands of young Black men and women. His message is no longer heard and the Crips today continue the destructive cycle of violence that continues to decimate communities and shatter homes. Would Washington feel guilty? We will never know. But what we do know thanks to Fortier, is how and why one of the most notorious gangs in the United States came to life. We also now know the true story of the life of its late and mythical founder.