“Both nature and nurture would become the anvil that would forge Raymond Washington into a formidable leader, warrior, gang member, tactician, and eventually an urban legend in the punishing and unforgiving streets of Los Angeles,” Zach Fortier writes. A modern Robin Hood, a self-taught leader, a life wasted: this is a must-read biography of an inner city warrior
Raymond Washington, a name that has been overlooked, is getting some of the dubious “credit” that is his due, thanks to this biography. Everyone’s heard of the Crips,
but not everyone knows who started the L.A. gang, and even those who were there argue about the origins of the name. Thousands of hours of research, documentation, personal interviews with people who knew Raymond, and judicious sifting and sorting – what to believe, who to trust with the truth – are very much in evidence here.
He didn’t finish school, but he learned more in the street. “You succeeded by being tougher, smarter, stronger, more prepared and, if need be, more brutal than your enemies. This made a lot more sense to his sixth-grade mind than the lessons being taught by his teachers in elementary school.”
At a tender age, Raymond Washington commanded fear and respect, devotion, loyalty, and a roughly equal measure of hatred, vengeance, and fierce competition from rivals and victims. Washington was elusive, showing people different facets of his personality and character, so I can understand why Zach Fortier would have a hard time pinning down a definitive character sketch of a man who could channel Robin Hood or Achilles as readily as Atilla the Hun.
I have so many lines highlighted in my Kindle, I’ll copy some in list form:
— At age 12, “Raymond Washington was in battlefield training” – and “The use of the bayonet against American citizens rather than against enemy combatants in a war zone shows the extreme measures being taken during the Watts riots.” Entirely on his own, at 12, Raymond conducted what the military would refer to as an “incursion”–defined as “a hostile entrance into or invasion of a place or territory, especially a sudden one.” He had done it in the dead of night against an occupational force and succeeded (just like his heroes in the war movies). Raymond snuck around cautiously, avoiding the several thousand national guardsmen, and nearly two thousand police officers in the area. Not to mention the snipers and looters. Gunfire and screams were heard throughout the night as “Raymond made his way to a nearby White Front sporting goods store that had been being looted. He returned home a while later, dragging a huge box of basketballs, footballs, softballs, and sporting goods he had taken from the damaged store.”
He could have sold his loot. Instead, he gave it away to neighborhood kids. “Raymond was forging alliances, leveraging relationships with his peers, and showing his future leadership style,” Fortier writes. “Granted, it was with stolen property, but the legend that Raymond Washington would become was being born. He did Robin Hood like charity on one hand, and on the other, he conducted fearless raids into enemy territory against overwhelming odds, and lived for battle in the streets of Los Angeles.”
Memories shared by Raymond’s brother help bring him to life: “Raymond also loved to play with those little plastic army guys we had as kids. But for him it was an obsession. He used real tactics and carefully planned his mini war games with an attention to detail I could never understand.” Derard said that Raymond continued to play with the toys into his teens. Now referred to as “tabletop exercises,” those same moves conducted by 12-year-old boys are used by the military today.
–As Steinbeck so masterfully described in The Grapes of Wrath, “How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him–he has known a fear beyond every other.”
–“I found stories about how cold and heartless Raymond could be to his enemies. These were tempered by almost unbelievable stories of compassion and patience. The duality of Raymond Washington was hard to make sense of…
— Raymond Washington “started the Crips between the ages of fifteen and sixteen, with bare minimum education, and absolutely no management or leadership training. He just understood leadership at a gut level and perfected his skills by trial and error.”
He made enemies: “What no one ever tells you in the Robin Hood story is that robbing someone of their possessions really pisses them off,” Fortier writes. “They get mad as hell, and fight back.”
On the one hand, this is a violent law-breaker known for killing the same guy twice: at the funeral, he’d show up, shoot the corpse, and turn over the casket, adding more than mere insult to injury. Fortier sees a parallel in this to Achilles, warrior of Homer’s epic: “Both Achilles and Raymond Washington were more interested in the glory of war, than the spoils of war,” and “Each had a ten-year battle for the possession of a city. Each lost a best friend in the battle. Finally, each desecrated their enemies’ bodies in plain sight of their grieving loved ones.”
Washington also had his own “Achille’s heel” –
“Much like Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, Raymond had a weakness that his enemies had exploited. He valued loyalty and friendship over everything else. That value was used against him as he was called to the car by a familiar voice. He was met by a shotgun blast to the abdomen. The occupants then drove away.”
Raymond knew who shot him, but didn’t tell anyone. He died an hour later.
A few reviewers say the prose is dry, but I found it riveting.
A gang leader who didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, never was seen getting high like everyone else around him: this guy was smart. “He felt he had to always be ready for combat, and had to be sharp to survive.”
I cannot even imagine growing up in the world he grew up in. Here was a young man who had the right stuff, the self discipline, the power and charisma, intelligence and skill, to command armies and earn medals of honor. He deserves to be remembered. Many would say “he had it coming,” but his story is a reminder that we can do better, as a society, a people. How to reach kids like Raymond Washington and channel that passion and power without the senseless violence of life in the big-city streets? I grew up on a farm in the Midwest, sheltered, isolated. Nothing in my world ever prepared me to live in the world Raymond Washington grew up in. My heart aches for the loss, the bloodshed, the tragedy of a life cut short – most likely as a consequence of his cutting short the lives of others.
Sad, It’s all so sad, I’m off to walk my dogs in the meadow and woods, and hope-pray-dream for ways to make the world a better place.
I am Raymond Washington: The only authorized biography of the original founder of the Crips by Zach Fortier (Author), Derard Barton (Author), Blue Harvest Creative (Illustrator)
Zach Fortier was a police officer for over 30 years, specializing in K-9, SWAT, gang, domestic violence and sex crimes as an investigator. He has written five books about Police work. “Curbchek” the first book is a case by case account of the streets as he worked them from the start of his 30 career. “Streetcreds” the second book details time Zach Spent in a Gang task force and the cases that occurred. The third book is by far the most gritty: “Curbchek-Reload”. In “Curbchek-Reload” Zach is damaged and dangerously so, suffering from PTSD and the day to day violence of working the street. “Hero To Zero” is Zach’s fourth book and recalls cops he worked with that were incredibly talented but ended up going down in flames, some ended up in jail, prison and one on the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Zach’s fifth book is just out and is titled “Landed On Black” and covers the constant state of hyper-vigilance required to survive the double crosses and betrayals that occurred on the streets and in the police department. Zach’s latest book I am Raymond Washington, provides the reader with an unprecedented look into the life of the original founder of the Crips gang. Filled with eyewitness accounts and recollections from friends and family give the reader a look into the life of the Original Crip. @amazon Author Page