There probably were more ex-convicts with knockout punches gathered outside a Watts Baptist church at 114th Street and Graham Avenue recently than there were in all the gyms in Los Angeles that day.
The hard hitters — Bounty Hunter Bloods from Nickerson Gardens housing project — were convened at Macedonia Baptist Church, not to wreak havoc but to hear the wiser, original gangsters, the "Triple O.G.s," exhort them to not "grab your Glocks" and "hunt down the killers" of a beloved homie.
The gathering was, in a real sense, a state funeral for Nickerson Gardens: a somber, loving, sometimes humorous farewell to Kevin "Flipside" White, aka "Dirty Kev," a rapper with O.F.T.B. (Operation From The Bottom) who signed with Death Row Records in the 1990s. White, 44, was gunned down on Sept. 23 in front of his childhood home, about 500 feet from the church.
Ten minutes after Flip White was killed, Markice "Chiccen" Brider, 29, was shot to death a few blocks east on 114th Street at Imperial Courts housing project. The Los Angeles Police Department arrested three suspects for both shootings — Grape Street Crips from Jordan Downs project in Watts — but only one has been charged.
Fear of a return to the bloody Watts of decades past put everyone on red alert.
Inside Macedonia Baptist, a Triple O.G. from way back, Ronald "Kartoon" Antwine, 54, shared tender remembrances of Flipside. He then urged the Bounty Hunters, L.A.'s most infamous Bloods, not to retaliate against Grape Street.
"Let the police do their job," Antwine said. "Outside this church right now is the LAPD officer who did what he was supposed to do that night — and caught the shooters."
Then something extraordinary happened. The overflowing congregation of 700 people stood and loudly cheered. It went on for 20 seconds.
"For the people of Watts to applaud about the LAPD making an arrest is such a huge transformation — that clearly shows what we have built with that community," LAPD Sgt. Emada Tingirides says.
The long applause was "the culmination of years of partnerships between the police, interventionists and the community," says her husband, LAPD Capt. Phillip Tingirides. "We're in a good relationship with the community, especially Nickerson and Imperial. The police do care."
A few blocks away, the repast for Markice "Chiccen" Brider was held. Brider's cousin Deshawn Cole, who was featured in L.A. Weekly's April 4 article "A Gay Leader Emerges in the 'Hood," explained, "People are coping, instead of going crazy.
"It's a different time, a new generation," Cole said. "They don't need things to be dangerous like it was for previous generations."
Sgt. Tingirides agrees. "Flip was connected to Death Row Records, to Athens Park, to other hoods," she says. "The [other] hoods were telling the Bounty Hunters, 'Point us in the right direction and we will take care of business.' But community leaders from Nickerson told them they didn't want that anymore."
Up until the early 2000s, the gang wars littered L.A. with bodies. In 1996, Flipside's song "Check Yo Hood" warned, "And now the projects have turned into a war zone. I guess the only rule now, to each his own."
Even after violent crime plummeted in L.A., the projects were still a dangerous world. From January 2002 to August 2011, 69 homicides hit Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts.
But then, for 22 amazing months, nobody was murdered in the three projects — and then, on June 23 this year, Floyd Videau was shot to death in Imperial Courts. And in August, Damionye Terrelle Fredricks-Hubbard, 23, aka "Roscoe," was killed at Nickerson Gardens. A week later, Capt. Tingirides was walking through Nickerson. There hadn't been any payback shootings.
"There were some hard-core Bounty Hunters standing around," Tingirides recalls. "Guys in their late 20s. I walked by and said, 'I want to tell you, thank you. I appreciate you not jumping back and wasting more lives.' One guy said, 'You're welcome. The right thing to do.' "
"I was flabbergasted. I just said, 'Thanks again,' and walked away. But by me acknowledging they were doing something right, it threw some responsibility on them."
Tingirides credits many, but two men from Nickerson Gardens, "Big Donny" Joubert and "Big Hank" Henderson, stand out.
"We cannot go back to where we were before," says Joubert, 53, a Triple O.G. whom some consider the most respected man in Watts. "We have to stay strong. We are going to have some tragedies down the road, but we have to push for peace. I wish more folks would come aboard this train."
At Flipside's funeral, Joubert urged, "Don't just show up when there's a service. We need you all the time. If you love your community like you say, you need to help. The younger cats love the encouragement."
The night before the funeral, at Flipside's house, Ronald "Lowdown" Watkins, with whom White formed O.F.T.B., was convincing himself and others that retaliation against Grape Street was not an option.
Said Lowdown: "It's past rough. 'Rough' ain't even a word for it. I'm a rapper. I got a lot of words, but I'm at a loss of words when it comes to this shit right here."
But, in fact, he wasn't at a loss: "The cold part about it is, everything that we ever built for our whole life, do I let it go or do I keep going? There's no question about it. Keep going. We got kids. We got homies' kids whose fathers are dead. If we can't find a better way out of this, how can we expect them to? We ain't going back to going stupid. Not on my watch."
"Going stupid" would be driving though Jordan Downs and shooting anyone who resembled a Grape Street Crip.
This once was considered a proper reaction. And a leading contender to do something "stupid" used to be Bam.
That's Michael Herbert, 49, Flip's older brother. Released this year from Corcoran State Prison after serving 17 years on drug charges, he's haunted by Flip's killing yet determined not to strike back. "Now it's like he's my older brother and I need to listen to him and not do anything foolish," he says.
It isn't just hard-core ex-cons who seem to be different. LAPD Senior Lead Officer Robert Yanez says residents offered tips that, two hours after Brider and White were killed on Sept. 23, propelled him, alone in his squad car, to pull over the driver of a Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
Yanez tells the Weekly he saw two other men inside, slumped in their seats — and the sliding door open. Yanez's gun at "low ready" position, he called for backup. Cops arrested three men and found two guns.
One man, Kevin Phillips, 26, identified with the Grape Street Crips, pled not guilty to two counts of murder. One was held on a parole violation and the third was released.
Last week, rapper Lowdown Watkins poured some Hennessy on the ground near where his best friend died. "I'm used to going to every funeral with this nigga," Watkins said. "I'm used to everything that come up, some crisis, some problems, Flip 'n' me going there and dealing with it. But, damn, Flip can't come with me on this one."
Outdoor activity has been minimal at Jordan Downs since the killings on 114th Street. The vibe was akin to your next-door neighbor having done something bad — but you were going to be punished for it.
If they were waiting for a payback killing, for things to get "stupid," it hasn't come. And if Big Donny, Capt. T, Kartoon, Sgt. T and Lowdown have their way, it won't.