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david holland

English 457
Prof. Haake
April 22, 2009

March 22nd, 2009

Dear Grandmama,

Thanks ever so much for the cookies and the birthday card. It was

extremely encouraging and uplifting in these last few weeks of school. Enclosed is a

snippet from the Metro Section of the Post Dispatch that I clipped from Sunday’s paper.

I figured it would be apropos as a follow up to our discussion (the one last Friday before I

left, the one in which you said that youth today were not trained to have moral fiber and

where I said that decency hasn’t left American culture, it has just changed). I hope you

enjoy it. Tell Grandaddy I love him and that I will send over those photos asap.

Love,

trey

“’Lawfayette Boyz’ Deaths Forge Peace”

By Sylvester Brown Jr.

South City—The members of the “Lawfayette Boyz” street

gang came together like any other band of angst-filled

inner city young men would congregate: around a need for

acceptance and a search for meaning in the “Mean Streets.”

I came across their story after reading in this very paper

the tale of the violent murders of the three founding
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members. Speaking with Det. Robert Cooley and Sgt. Tim

McAllen, the investigating officer and reporting officer

respectively, I was able to discern a unique and touching

narrative interwoven within the shocking but woefully

commonplace stories of the young men who were gunned down

on October 15th. How they died endows the reader with no

major news story, but why they were gunned down is another

matter entirely.

Det. Cooley was kind enough to lend me his personal

mimeograph and a few videotapes that the Boyz had made.

Mauricio Smith, the ring leader of the Lawfayette Boyz,

insisted upon making recordings of their exploits.

Although they used pseudonyms (Mr. Linux for Smith) and

masks, Det. Cooley found that the identities of the Boyz in

question were confirmed in the journals of the other two

founding members. The journals and tapes chronicle the

initial meeting of the three Boyz, the evolution of their

mission and, surprisingly, the exact reasoning behind their

deaths.

Smith and the second founding member, Antoine Johnson,

both grew up in the Lafayette Square projects. Many of

their neighbors had already turned to a life of crime and

the pressure mounted for them to join one of the many local

gangs. “[Antoine] said that they would come up at school
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and say they’d do things to the house, to me, and to Sara

[sister] if he didn’t join their crew,” recalls Antoine’s

mother, Laticia. Laticia Johnson stated later, “They

tagged the front door with gang signs and even shot our

windows out a couple times.” Antoine’s natural talent in

art made him an obvious choice for the local gangs who

wanted him to tag murals on the turf of rival gangs.

“Mauricio was always a big kid, so they wanted him too,”

Laticia Johnson explained.

On July 5th, Smith saw Johnson being accosted outside a

local gas station, he ran to his aid. Jerome Qualley, a

station attendant was eyewitness to Smith’s incredible

display of fortitude, saying, “It was awesome, I’ve never

seen anything like it. There were, like, five guys against

one, and he whupped them all!” This hadn’t been the first

time that the boys were attacked and Johnson particularly

had found himself between a rock and a hard place. Both

Smith and Johnson had received violent threats from two

rival gangs against resisting assimilation. The two

decided to pool their efforts to try to avoid being

involved with either one. The Lawfayette Boyz were born,

concentrating on violent retribution for the threats

against their persons and families.
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Enter David McBride, a junior physics major at St.

Louis University, and the only white male to live within

ten blocks of Lafayette Square. Around 10:30pm on August

11th, he saw the two Lawfayette Boyz tagging a mural on the

corner of 21st St. and Washington Ave, he hung back in the

shadows. According to his journal, dated the 12th of

August, McBride watched for some time. “They were amazing,

dextrous, efficient, fearless. I knew that if the Bloods

rolled up, they would be gunned down. Neither one looked

strapped [carrying a weapon] because it was 90 degrees and

sticky and they wore no shirts to conceal. I watched as

they put together a message of the utmost clarity. A man

gripping the throat of a man who was accosting a beautiful

woman. That mural was beautifully painted, and horrible to

conceive. Humans violently reacting to violent humans. I

couldn’t remain silent in the face of this incredible

display of courage.”

McBride did not remain silent. Instead, he made his

presence known, miraculously befriending the two despite

the racial and socio-economic barriers dividing them. It

was McBride’s idea to journal and video tape the group’s

exploits, and thanks to him, I was able to see clearly how

the group evolved.
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Det. Cooley’s pile of confiscated tapes began with

McBride’s shaky recording of Smith’s and Johnson’s next

mural painting. Although they were painting in broad

daylight, the police were not the first on the scene.

Three men from a rival gang approached with weapons drawn,

only to be repulsed by the ferocity of Smith and Johnson.

As I watched the surreal violence, the same kind that can

be seen in any Hollywood movie, it occurred to me that had

the attackers been successful in killing Smith and Johnson,

the Lawfayette Boyz would simply be another statistic for

St. Louis’ finest, another street gang terminated by rivals.

Instead, the Lawfayette Boyz gained street cred in the

community. Their numbers grew steadily, and McBride even

dropped out of school to devote his time to the

documentation of their tagging and the violent street

fights that ensued throughout the early fall. The group

gained notoriety and many new members, known for their

hard-nosed fighting and mercenary vigilantism. The gang’s

infamy proved an attractive diversion for their peers.

Robbing the local drug dealers and pimps, the Lawfayette

Boyz mercilessly tormented the local gangs, but

uncharacteristically ignored the innocents in their

neighborhood.
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Then, around Labor Day, something changed. Johnson’s

journal entry (addressed to his alter-ego/street-handle,

“Jankins”) on September 2nd sheds light on the

transformation: “Yo, Jankins. I don’t know man, these

bitch niggas be rollin’ hard against us but we always bust

like we do. Almost like we shouldn’t be playn by they

rules, feel me?” The Lawfayette Boyz were about to break

those rules in an unusual way.

The following week a meeting was held, recorded by

McBride, that outlined the group’s new intentions. It was

decided that every once in a while, they would do something

for the community in the way of public service.

Incredibly, the young hooligans decided that since the

neighborhood had been torn by street gangs, it was their

job to give something back. Amazingly, the Lawfayette Boyz

planned to plant flowers and trees, fix broken fences, and

attend to many other needs of their neighbors while still

prowling violently for any rival misdeeds enacted by their

competitors. Since their numbers had grown substantially,

the Lawfayette Boyz could perform these tasks in matters of

minutes and always under the cover of darkness.

One of McBride’s recordings shows the group mowing an

elderly lady’s lawn in about three minutes. Another shows

a four minute blitz on a local park, flowers and paint
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being added to a formerly run-down den of junkies and

whores. One incredible excerpt shows some Lawfayette Boyz

dropping yard implements and brandishing knives, brutally

mutilating a man whom they recognized as an alleged rapist.

All these scenarios were narrated by McBride in a play by

play fashion.

The reaction from the community was mixed. “Dat boy

Jankins [Johnson] been doin’ some good t’ings,” states

neighbor Latonda Okebe. Okebe, an immigrant from the

Sudan, had been spared a brutal home invasion when Johnson

and a group of Lawfayette Boyz stopped a group of local

Crips from breaking into her home on September the 23rd.

Not all their neighbors are such enthusiastic

supporters, however, as many see the Lawfayette Boyz as

personifying the perpetuation of street violence.

Roosevelt High School Principal, Richard Wright, explains,

“Most of the boys that join this gang were decent students.

Now that violence and willful destruction of property has

significant justification, it makes it that much easier to

drop out and feel warranted in what is essentially hooligan

behavior.” Similarly, neighbor Yolanda Cummings sees the

dark side of the Lawfayette Boyz vigilantism, “I just hope

they don’t decide that I do wrong, because then it’ll be

hell to pay, and no way out.” Herbert Washington, uncle of
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Antoine Johnson simply said on the week before their

murders, “This will catch up with them. Those brothers

can’t keep on like they do.”

Washington’s words proved to be prophetic. The three

founding members of the Lawfayette Boyz were gunned down

outside the courthouse Thursday while serving bottled water

to a group of homeless men. The three were shot in broad

daylight by as many as twenty armed assassins.

Interestingly, eyewitness accounts corroborate the evidence

that as many as three gangs sporting rival colors banded

together to form this deadly coalition, perhaps the first

ever incidence of an inter-gang alliance.

Statistically speaking, the murder of the Lawfayette

Boyz is not out of the ordinary. Three gang members living

in one of the country’s most violent cities gunned down by

rivals is routine for police and journalistic investigation

alike. As Sgt. Tim McAllen points out, “If I’d been called

to respond to gang violence perpetrated by any other

affiliation, it would have been routine, but with these

boys it was different.”

But how was it different? How could men so wantonly

and aggressively bent on violent revenge be justified? As

many as sixteen different individuals can be identified in

the videotapes documenting their vigilantism and violent
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encounters with other men. In any court of law they would

be seen as criminals, and stupid ones at that. Why would

young men purposefully keep documents that could

potentially send them all to prison? What was it about

these tapes that they deemed necessary?

In the mind of this author, their deeds necessitated

acknowledgment, plain and simple. Fed up with the system,

these boys took a stand against the street violence that

remains rampant throughout our city in the only way that

they could. They may not be heroes, or perhaps they are.

That is for the public to decide.

Metro Section: Artists’ Corner

Artists’ corner seeks to publish the very best of St.

Louis’ unpublished writers and poets who respond

artistically to news items in this paper. Verna Phillips

is a second year art student at Washington University.

Phillips writes in response to the Michael Vick trial

occurring on April 19th.

A Ninepins Poem for the Pit Bulls

Verna Phillips

Men’s cheering (that shouldn’t be) rings out.
Growling and scratching, biting the neck.
Dogs fight in a pit not fit for them,
A pit not fit for the darkest ones.
Harsh light, enraging the senses,
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They were told to, made to fight this way.
Born to kill and not to ask the why,
Surrounded by violence they work,
Plying the only craft they know how.
Caged by day, the night brings only death.
They awake to the sounds of shouting.
Awake to the mob’s will and disdain,
Urging, pleading and thirsting for blood.
Dog’s blood on concrete, brains and guts too,
The best kind of fight leaves stains like this.
They know naught else but fear and anger,
They fight at the behest of others,
And only know friendship if they win.
So I ask, who is to blame for this?