"So let the sideshow begin,... Hurry, hurry, step right on in...Can't afford to pass it by.. Guaranteed to make you cry" - 1974 R & B tune "Sideshow" by Blue Magic
There were two monumental funerals in the Southland this past week, one on Thursday and one on Friday. One was for a white active cop and one was for a black former street gang leader. One arrested people for violent crimes for many years, the other was arrested for violent crimes many years ago. One was shot to death, execution style, the other died of cancer of the stomach.
They appeared, on the surface, to be about as opposite as two 50-something year-old humans could be in Southern California.
But, the bizarre thing about these two men is that they were very much alike and I believe if they had the chance to meet each other – at least in the 21st Century – they would have worked for a common cause, a cause they were both dedicated to; the well-being of young people. The copper and the gangsta mighta even been friends, or at least comrades in the never-ending struggle to help the disadvantaged youth.
Now, just about everyone in town knows about Steve Owen, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s sergeant who was shot to death Oct. 5 while pursuing a burglar in Lancaster. Tales of him helping the downtrodden, of driving kids to school and making sure they had lunch money have been well-documented. His funeral was shown live on local television station who interrupted soap operas to broadcast it.
Unfortunately, not as many people – at least outside of the Westside of South-Central - knew about Rayford "Sidewinder" Miles, whose funeral Friday afternoon drew almost as many thousands of mourners as did Owen’s and should have been broadcast live, too.
So here’s to Rayford Miles, the co-founder of what became the 8 Trey Gangster Crips who himself transformed into "The Savior of St. Andrews Park" who died on Oct. 1st of stomach cancer.
How could, you might ask, the co-founder of one of the most notorious street gangs in the United States be remotely aligned or compared to a cop in someplace called Antelope Valley? Read on and I’ll tell you how.
Rayford John Miles was born on Dec. 5, 1957 in Detroit, but by age three was living on the Eastside of the Southside of Los Angeles, around Main Street and Florence. He was by a sweet, loving child who relished putting together model cars, playing and watching sports and was a big fan of the local teams; the Dodgers, the Rams and the Lakers. He was also a “mama’s boy”.
Back in the day, Sidewinder woulda probably kicked my ass from St. Andrews Park to Florence and Normandie if I ever called him a “Mama’s boy”, but his older sister Cynthia Miles Davis could get away with it, so I’ll put that claim on her.
“He was a mama’s boy,” said Cynthia, who spoke eloquently of her younger brother at Friday’s funeral at West Angeles Church of God in Christ on Crenshaw near 30th Street. “I would tell him that, even when he was older. He'd tell me "I'm not a little boy anymore, I'm a grown man." I'm seven years older than Rayford, so I really didn't know his other side of him, because I got married and moved away,"
Judson Bacot, an original Westside Crip, said that when he went away to prison - for his role in the infamous 1972 “leather jacket murder” of Robert Ballou, Jr. at the Hollywood Palladium - Rayford “was a boy playing sports in the park”
But, by the time Bacot was released 11 years later, Rayford had become “Sidewinder” and was “a for real Crip.” He was given his nickname by two legends, "Big Hunchie" and Melvin "Skull" Farmer, because the way his mouth went to the side when he talked or smiled. Or looked hard.
(Out of respect, I went to visit Rayford at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center a few weeks before he died and I got a dose of the "hard" and "soft" side of Sidewinder. He wanted me to take a photo of him and put on Facebook to show his loved ones he was still battling. The first two photos, he had his thumb up and a fierce look. Even though the disease had taken close to 100 pounds away from his fighting weight, he still had the scowl. I suggested maybe he could smile for the next photo. He did. I showed him the three photos and he pointed to the smiling shot and said "That one.")
He had “hands” and a charisma that enabled him to connect with many people. But, by then, the original intent of the Crips, at least as espoused by the gang’s founder, Raymond Washington, to protect communities, had fractured.
Very briefly – without getting too far from Sidewinder’s funeral - when the original Westside Crips split up into various factions – most notably the Hoover Crips, Rollin’ 60 Crips and Original Westside Gangster Crips (which became the 8 Trey Gangsters - the sets got along. These were the days when Crips factions only beefed with various Bloods gangs. But, in 1979, said to be on March 8th, the shootings and killing began amongst Crip factions.
Since then, the street battles between 60s and Eight Trey have been among the deadliest in Los Angeles, if not America. .So, at the funeral, it was a sign of upmost respect when some veteran Rollin’ 60s showed up to pay their respect to Sidewinder.
"You don't find better people than Side," said original Rollin' 60 member Baby Face, who mulled about the church lobby with other 60s and Eighty Treys ."I have the up-most respect for him. He brought people together. Look around. I hope the younger people can learn from him."
Another triple OG 60 said the same.
"I love him," said Robert "Slu" Addison. "Regardless of the beef between the two hoods, he was my friend."
Melvin Farmer, who with Shirley Matthews and the love of Rayford's life, Erika Gray, was at his side when he died, said he hoped the outpouring of respect would spread throughout the city. "We need to all come together."
The funeral began with two scripture readings, one for the Old Testament, Psalms 23, and one from the New Testament, Peter 5. His obituary was read by Sil' Verr Loudermill and then a video was played.
Kleenex, the tissue company, did a very brisk business at Rayford’s funeral, especially during that video tribute which played Blue Magic’s 1974 hit “Sideshow” as background music. When the lyrics at the top of this story rang out, there were some dry eyes in the church, but not very many. It’s always a memorable scene when men with 18-inch biceps who’ve done 18 years in Folsom or Pelican Bay or Susanville get teary-eyed.
After the video, heeding Rayford's last command, only two people spoke, a godson and a reverend.
Reverend Joyce Reece Kitchen told the mourners that just because Rayford had died, did not mean his good work did, too.
“Alexander Graham Bell has long been in the grave, but the phone still rings. Thomas Edison is also buried, but the light still shines. And Rayford’s positive influences cannot be erased. Tomorrow, each of you should be Rayford to a child in need. If we all do that, Rayford Miles’ legacy will live on.”
Rayford's godson, Philip Wiley, Sr., said he got lucky when his parents moved near the St. Andrews Park when he was a kid.
“We don’t get to choose where our parents move to, but in 1969 I was blessed to move to 83rd and St. Andrews,” said Wiley. “My parents didn’t know it because they died, but they moved me next to my guardian angel."
Wiley spoke lovingly of Rayford’s tough exterior and tender heart.
“He tried to have this mean front, but when you got to know him, he was the nicest man you’ve ever known. He taught me everything I needed to know about being a man. I was a knucklehead and he gave me a chance. Thanks to him, I earned a college degree. Three degrees. He was not only the best man at my wedding, be was the best man in my life.
"When Rayford got out [of prison] I was all turnt up and ready for action.“ said Wiley. “But, Rayford said ‘No. We’re gonna change the whole thing at the park.’ Now, this is a park no one in the city wanted to go to. No one. Except the homies.”
But, under Rayford’s guidance and leadership, people, mainly kids, started going to St. Andrews Park and, well, making it what a park is meant to be. A place to play, a place to relax. It wasn’t unusual for 250 kids to be at St. Andrews Park.
“I hope tomorrow the homies pull in some kid, just like Side pulled me in," Wiley said.
The entire crowd suddenly rose as one and shattered the quiet of the church with a thunderous ovation.
There weren’t any children playing in St. Andrews Park on Friday afternoon. Some were at the funeral. Some were home. But, today, Saturday, you can bet your last $83 dollars St. Andrews Park will be alive and well.
Thanks to Rayford Miles. T,.I. P. Sidewinder.