Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member
|July 26, 2011||Posted by brucepoinsette under Bruce Bruce's Books|
When you listen to a song like NWA’s “Gangsta Gangsta” and hear Ice Cube talking about stomping out people at parties and gunning down others for the hell of it, it might sound strange considering the only member of the group who had a criminal record at the time was the late Eazy-E. However, Public Enemy’s Chuck D once described hip-hop as the “black CNN” and like many rappers, NWA had to get their stories from somewhere. Read “Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member” and you’ll find real life tales of everything you could imagine hearing on a record.
Sanyika Shakur, aka “Monster” Kody Scott’s tales of life as a gang member and his subsequent reinvention as a black national make for a raw, yet irresistible read. The news and most media use static depictions of gang members as domestic terrorists with no thought of hearing their side of the story. Instead Shakur takes you into his mind while giving the reader a better understanding of the culture that surrounds Los Angeles gangs.
As someone that grew up in Lake Oswego, which couldn’t be any further from L.A., phrases like “Can’t stop, won’t stop” would fly over my head on Snoop Dogg songs but Shakur breaks down Crip terminology as well as illustrates the dynamics of gang violence. He describes life in military terms, which should give the reader a chillingly familiar feeling because he refers to much of the same reasoning that compels the US military to murder all across the globe. There’s little reflection on what initially caused rifts between rival gangs and an urge to decimate the enemy rather than come to any kind of a resolution. What Shakur describes is a cycle of brutal vengeance.
However in the midst of the war, the reader doesn’t lose sight of the combatants’ humanity. They all seem to understand the destructive nature of their actions but they accept it as life. Relationships with girlfriends and parents are explored as well as the need to use substances like PCP to maintain the mind frame for war (much like soldiers used heroin in Vietnam).
Shakur’s story takes a turn when he begins to spend more time in prison than on the streets and eventually finds Islam and political consciousness in the way that was somewhat mythologized in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. His rebirth as man trying to unite gangs against a society that has created their condition is as inspiring as the first part of the story is vicious. It also counters the overtures from police and the media that say we should lock these young men up and throw away the key rather than reach out and try to change the conditions.
The lesson “Monster” teaches is that gang warfare is like any other warfare, both in tactics and in the potential for a resolution. Gangs are bastard children of revolutionary movements like the Black Panthers. The rebirth of “Monster” into Sanyika Shakur and his mission to bring others back to the revolutionary roots is a blueprint for ending the violence that plagues black communities as well as ceasing dependence on authorities that don’t care about their welfare. Change can only come from within. The transition from self destruction to black empowerment proves that no one is irredeemable and that simple guidance can transform lives.