Interviews by Sebastian Demian
Photos by Estevan Oriol
The American street-gang lifestyle attracted first generation Samoan-Americans in Los Angeles in much the same way it attracted disadvantaged young people of other ethnicities. Samoan-Americans banded together under the banners of the Bloods and the Crips in the early 1980s as a natural extension of their Samoan brotherhood and as a means for protection in neighborhoods where Samoans were outnumbered. Samoan sets like the Scott Park Pirus, the West Side Pirus and the Sons of Samoa Crips have multiplied over the last three decades and thrive to this day amidst a bitter rivalry between Samoan Blood and Crip factions. Our trip through the LA Samoan gang landscape took us from Scott Park on the East Side of Carson to the Scottsdale housing projects on the West Side, to Long Beach where the S.O.S. Crips bang.
OG Big Tone: Scott Park Pirus, Carson, CA
Big Tone: They call me Big Tone Scott Park. That’s my jacket. I’m not an active gang member no more, to be honest with you. As far as someone they come and talk to, yeah, I’m what you call an OG. I just talk to the kids on the East Side of the park.
Frank 151: When did the Scott Park Pirus start?
BT: The early ‘80s when The Warriors came out. That’s when the Samoan Warriors started Blooding. That was one of the first major gangs out here in Carson. In the early ‘80s, the Scott Park Pirus evolved. OG Tino RIP was the first dude I heard coming through Piru. The red rags started coming out, because you already had Crips in Long Beach and Compton. It came from the penitentiary, then shit broke off to Compton, Long Beach and Carson. Scott Park reps the East Side, and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. reps the West Side. It’s supposed to be one crew but the little kids got it so messed up now that it’s separated.
You’ve got the Bloods in Carson, the Scott Park Pirus and the West Side Pirus, you’ve got Park Village Crips in Compton, and you’ve got S.O.S. Sons of Samoa–in Long Beach.
F151: How much of the traditional Samoan culture has been brought into the American gangs?
BT: It’s more like family ties. Like your family comes from Samoa or Hawaii and then they come here and meet a G or somebody and they would just put ‘em on the neighborhood. We got tied into that format. It’s a Black thing, the Bloods and the Crips. They call us, “the other brother.”
F151: Why did you guys go to the red instead of the blue? BT: The Bloods were always out numbered and Samoan people, I guess we felt that way. I wasn’t the first one to bang a red rag. But just from my personal experience, we’ve always been outnumbered back in the days. It’s always been five Bloods against 30 Crips.
F151: Is Scott Park Pirus just a Samoan gang or are there other ethnicities?
BT: It’s 99% Samoan. You might have a few brothers in there.
F151: How does a Samoan gang fit into the larger gang landscape in Los Angeles?
BT: Back in the days we used to integrate, but now it’s like a race war. Right now, you’ve got the Samoans and the Mexicans going at it in Carson. Any other neighborhood around, they’re not going, but in Carson, it’s hot right now as we speak. You go up to Carson, man there’s hardly nobody walking around no more. Too much gunplay going on. They ain’t even letting the kids walk home from school and they live two blocks away. That kind of shit make me mad. That’s why we’re trying to bring it back. I’m really hands on. I’m on the football field, I’m rolling through the neighborhood again, getting out the ride, pushing through the Park.
F151: How do you reconcile trying to do something positive for the community with the ostensibly negative gang affiliation?
BT: You’re always going to have the gang jacket. I’m 40 years old. I have five kids now. I don’t fuck around. I’m not out there sporting the red rag no more. My shit is tucked. Right now I’m going to this meeting every last Wednesday of the month with some of the other people from West Side, dudes from S.O.S. I don’t know if you heard about this incident that hap-pened over here at Samoan Flag Day. The kid got shot and killed. It had to do with the West Side and S.O.S., and the Tongans from Long Beach. Now the community leaders got with us ‘cause they can’t hit the kids like I can hit the kids on the street, or say Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. on their side. They rep the West, I rep the East.
F151: How did you link up with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.?
BT: We all grew up in Carson. They all from Scott Park but somewhere along the line, people started getting it fucked up. I was banging in the ‘80s. Now the kids got it backwards where they forgot the history, so I don’t know what’s wrong with their minds these days, but it’s separated. Now you got the West Side and the East Side…because West Side Piru is a Compton gang. I don’t know how that originated, you’ll have to talk to Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. But when I get with them, when we get faded, I was, “You motherfuckers are from Scott Park.” Straight up. I got all of ‘em. They’ll tell you straight up from my mouth. I told ‘em. I’ll tell ‘em again.
OG Bad Boy: West Side Pirus, Carson, CA
Bad Boy: I’m OG Bad Boy from West Side Pirus 218th Street. Me and my brother started the clique. We got four generations deep in this neighborhood [Scottsdale Housing Project]. We from the city of Carson. I was born here. My mom and pops came from the island of Samoa. I’ve been back and forth there due to my activities as a gang member. I got out of state releases just to go back home because of a lot of the crimes I did. It was one of the ways of just getting out from doing time, you know what I mean? Going back and forth from Cali to American Samoa, you get a different outlook at everything. I grew up here. I learned how to respect my culture when I went back home. Everything I learned back home was something I brought out here to teach my youngins. The West Side gang, we run it out of respect. All of this OG [original gangster], BG [baby gangster], YG [young gangster] LG [little gangster], to me, the way I look at it, it’s just a label. My youngest homie could be just like me. I respect him just like me. I don’t treat him different, because they all banging for the same cause. I bang West Side Pirus just like they bang West Side Pirus. I pretty much try and treat them like they my own, like they my kids. I’ll die for ‘em just like they’ll die for me. Our island’s got a lot to do with how we run our gangs. We’re in that form. We have high chiefs, but we don’t call them high chiefs. They’re G’s. Then you got the High Talking Chief, that’s the BGs. They’re like the advisors for the little homies. And then they got the Aumaga, the people that work for the chiefs. They’re like everyone who does the work on the land for the chiefs. And that’s pretty much how we run our neighborhood.
But you can’t bring what’s in the island out here to your gang because it’s a whole different kick back that way. The way they play it in Samoa, it’s all about hands. It’s a village thing up there. They fight village over village. But you live to box another day. Over here, we have to fit into the way the gang thing is.
F151: WSP has other ethnicities in it?
BB: We got Cambodians, we got Filipinos, we got Blacks, we got Mexicans. There ain’t no color line to us. We’re about one thing, you know, that hood. If they banging WSP, you’re more than welcome to come in. I’m not looking at your color. When we grew up in Carson, that’s all our city was, ethnic. Different cultures mixed. Koreans, Mexicans, Blacks, Samoans, we all just blended in one. Those are friends of mine that I grew up with, lived with, and now we made us a clique and we’ve been riding it since ‘81. Like I said, we all down for one cause. If their down with it, I don’t care what color you are–Pink, Blue, Purple–as long as you rolling with what we rolling with. We bang Blood. It’s a Black thing, is what people say. The Bloods and the Crips is a Black thing, but we took it as this is our thing. Didn’t no one tell us blue and red is for just Blacks.
F151: So how much does having a Samoan heritage trump the color lines? Are you peaceful with other Samoan gangs even if they wave another flag?
BB: Well it used to be like that, but recently we had a fallout with a couple of the Samoan cliques. If the G’s get together, we could do it all by hands. If they don’t want to do it like that, then we’ll just revert to the next thing. We’ll just wait on what they want to do or how we’re going to handle this, or we can leave it be how the beef is now. There’s always a way to solve it ‘cause like I said, back home, the Samoans, they get down with their hands. That’s what my little homies’ about. My homies will come out with their hands before they pull that shot to another Samoan. But if he’s coming here first, we ain’t got no choice.
But the brothers from S.O.S., they foul right now to us. They jumped the line. Even on the island type style. They running with Tongans. We don’t get along with Tongans. That’s a beef from back home. That’s an island beef right there. But that Samoan gang, S.O.S., they went and tied knots with them, so they way out of bounds to us. That’s a Crip thing over there, we just killing them now. So we’re treating the Tongan gang just like we’re treating the Samoans from the Samoan Crip gang. We’re treating them like Crips. We’re smashing. But they’re going to have to deal with that with every Samoan gang, just by tying knots with these Tongans. It’s like a Mexican thing with the El Salvadorians and the Puerto Ricans. That’s where that Tongan, Samoan thing falls in. There’s a fine line when you cross your race as far as Samoans and Tongans. It’s supposed to be a no-no everywhere, from here to the whole United States. And they really crossed a boundary, so I hope they get what they get.
F151: So you guys are linked up with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.?
BB: Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. is from the hood. Gawtti, down to Ridd, down to Kobra, Godfather, Monsta, they all Dub S niggas. They all from West Side Piru. Gawtti is a BG and the rest are all G’s from OG Godfather, the homie Kobra, Ganxsta Ridd and Monsta, they all G’s. Ridd, that’s my dog. We grew up together. They actually grew up right here, too. They grew up on Horseshoe Lane over there, they just made their way out of the hood. Now they in Vegas.
F151: Is there a difference between Blood and Piru? What does it mean to be Piru?
BB: A lot of us as far as Piru, we sport the burgundy. That’s like our main color. The Bloods, they sport red cause they Bloods, but it all happened in the jailhouse, that little mix up where Bloods started segregating theyselves, saying it’s a Blood thing and not a Pirus thing and we wasn’t involved with it. You know, like they only had they Blood niggas’ back. You know there’s just as many Pirus as there is Bloods. They put all Bloods in one tier in the Blood module so there’s no Crips to vibe with, no other race to fuck with, so we just separate another line and make another beef. OK, now it’s a Blood and Piru thing. Let’s get ‘em up, let’s see who can do this, and from there, just like everything on the street, whatever happens in the jailhouse, it affects everything that’s going on out here.
OG Bullet Sons of Samoa Crips 32nd Street, Long Beach, CA
Bullet: Basically I grew up in Long Beach. I was born in Samoa but I came out here when I was two years old. So basically, when older folks ask me, I tell them I’m from here, because I don’t know the culture real good.
You’ve got Samoans from Mexican gangs, you’ve got some that are Crips, it all depends where you grew up at. Predominantly, this area was all Mexican, so we basically grew up the Mexican lifestyle, but we went another direction. My neighborhood started around ’77, ’78. I was prob-ably in the fifth or sixth grade when that thing went off. It started off with four guys. One of the four, his father actually started up the whole deal and then it went from based in Long Beach, to now you’ve got them in San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, up and down the West Coast, Utah, Arizona. A lot of these cats that grew up around here, they were military brats, so wherever they went, they took their little branch there because you know there’s not a whole lot of us as it is around here. That’s one thing I don’t understand, why we’re always fighting each other. You’ve got Black gangs that are at war with Samoans, you got Latino gangs that are at war with Samoans, and then you got Samoans that are at war with each other. The Samoan attitude is, we’re more apt to smash on our own than we are on any other race, which I think is totally wrong. I’m totally against this Samoan-on-Samoan war. If a Latino gang or a Black gang was to hit a Samoan gang, they would go and hit ‘em back, but it wouldn’t be as intense as if it was another Samoan gang who hit another Samoan gang. They’d jump all over it and be on it forever. And right now it’s at a point where lives are being lost and there’s no turning back. I think a lot of it has to do with these kids have lost their sense of culture. From when I was growing up, you would see another Samoan cat from another neighborhood and you would try to see where he was from. If you guys got into it, you got into it, but when an older person came around, you guys would just stop it and walk away. Now it’s to the point where if you see an older person, they wouldn’t give a shit.
F151: How is it being an S.O.S. Crip in the bigger LA gang landscape?
B: Even though we are Crips and then they have the issue with Samoans being Bloods, when you get locked up, all that is out the door. So whatever happens between the Crips and the Bloods between the Latinos, that’s on them. We don’t touch that. Everybody is supposed to be riding the Uso Card, which means “brother.” That’s why you see a lot of Samoans running around, “Hey, what’s up, uso.” Me personally, I don’t like to use that word because that’s a sign of weakness to me. If you’re going to bang, then bang, don’t come over here and you’re a Blood and you see a Crip and be like, “Hey, what’s up, uce?” If you see me somewhere else and you with a bunch of your people you would be like, “Fuck that Crab.” Don’t try to say, “What’s up, uce,” and then a couple of days later you with your homies and you want to smash on me. To me, Samoan-on-Samoan violence just don’t make no sense, because when you get locked up, you ain’t going to do shit to each other, because there ain’t enough of you motherfuckers in jail anyway. You understand what I’m saying? When you get in there, it all breaks down to being racial. Out of every penitentiary you see, you will probably see at the most 15 to 20 Samoans, but as little as five. If I walk into a club with me and my wife and I see five or six Samoans in the corner, but I see a bunch of Latinos, Blacks and Whites in the corner, I’m gonna be more worried about those five people sitting over there instead of everybody else in the club, and it shouldn’t be like that.
F151: So what can the Samoan community do to move beyond this?
B: There’s nothing you can do no more. A lot of the kids now are Americanized. They’re more set in this gang way, and people’s lives are getting taken, so you know, you take one of mine, and what, I’m supposed to give you a fucking pass? No, you ain’t going to get no pass. We’re going to take some of yours. And it goes back and forth. I don’t see it ending. Back in the ‘70s and the early ‘80s, yeah, you would get the older Samoan folks from like the church to get involved and try to bring these people together. Now, these kids don’t have respect for the old people no more. You could see an old Samoan man walking down the street, before, I remember my parents used to come by and say, “Hey, pull over. Let’s go and see if he needs a ride.”
F151: Yeah, I heard a story that you would never see a homeless Samoan on the street because another Samoan would see them and help them out, and if they couldn’t help them out, then another Samoan family would help out. Is that true?
B: That right there I can say is true. There should be no hungry Samoan out there, but we some big mother-fuckers (Laughs). Nowadays, at my age, I still feel that way, but the people that are younger than me would be like, “Fuck him. He ain’t from my neighborhood. I don’t know him.” Versus before, you would bring him in. A lot of Samoans, they open up their garage and there’s a bunch of guys standing there and you do your share and you clean up, you get fed, and you’ve got a home. A lot of Samoan kids were raised that way. They had their parents, but then they were over here. Like my dad, he took in a lot of guys and we all pitched in and did what we had to do. Him and my mom were struggling, but we did what we had to do to survive, whether it was legal or illegal.
All Samoans that were raised back home, or in the ‘60s and ‘70s, were raised in the church. No matter what the fuck you did Monday to Saturday, your ass was up and you went to church every Sunday, whether you understood what the fuck the preacher was saying or not. And that’s what I think happened with a lot of kids, they stopped going to church. The church and the culture were almost meshed together, in a sense. Through the summer, there was no running around, but there was a lot of stuff going on at the church. You were either at dance practice, choir practice, Sunday school, you know, everything was aligned with church. But somehow it went away from all of that and that’s why everything kind of got fucked up.
F151: You guys get along with the Tongans?
B: We ain’t got no beef with them. There’s not enough of them, there’s not enough of us, so it makes no sense to for us to beef. That’s what kind of kicked off some of the tension between my neighborhood and some of the other Samoan neighborhoods. [Tongans] killed a Samoan cat, so two different neighborhoods tried to smash on them and they thought we were going to jump in because it happened in Long Beach. But it’s not a race war. To me it looks bad ‘cause, why all these Samoan neighborhoods have to smash on this one Tongan neighborhood? That doesn’t look good. Not to me, it doesn’t. They didn’t do nothing to us. That’s between them and what happened with the other one. So they got this one Tongan gang that’s in North Long Beach, they’re going at it with two neighborhoods, one from Carson and one from Long Beach.
Me personally, I ain’t got no problem with them. That little feud between the Samoans and the Tongans dates way, way back before us. All you know is when you grew up, you had restriction with Tongans. But there’s a lot of half-Tongan half-Samoans running around. We have Tongans in our neighborhoods.