Ray Ray's crew. Photo courtesy of Richard Valdemar.
Black Guerrilla Family Oath:
If I should ever break my stride, and falter at my comrades side,
This oath will kill me.
If ever my world should prove untrue, should I betray this chosen few,
This oath will kill me.
Should I be slow to take a stand, should I show fear to any man,
This oath will kill me.
Should I grow lax in discipline, or in time of strife, refuse my hand,
This oath will kill me.
Long live comrade George Jackson!
Long live the Black Guerrilla Family!
The culmination of months of undercover drug buys, wiretaps, and covert surveillances was called Operation Sting Ray. It was June 30, 1987, a warm Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of police officers from various federal, state, and local agencies were receiving their briefings for the next day's warrant service. They met at a secret location near the Pasadena (Calif.) Police Department headquarters.
I was the sergeant in charge of a seven person surveillance team, and we were part of a multi-jurisdictional federal task force headed up by the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.). We had been sworn in as federal agents. While the rest of the participating agencies received their briefing and warrant assignments, my surveillance team was spread out across Los Angeles bedding down the most important targets to insure that they would be swept up in the early morning raids. My friend and mentor, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Detective Rufus Downs, monitored the equipment in the wiretap room in the L.A. World Trade Center.
This was the biggest case Los Angeles would see for a long time. The targets were mid-level and higher cocaine and crack drug dealers with direct ties to the Colombian drug cartels. They were also gang members associated with the revolutionary Black Guerrilla Family (B.G.F.) prison gang and Elrader (Ray Ray) Browning drug trafficking organization. Browning was a Denver Lane gang member, and most of his organization was formed from Blood gang members and a few scattered Crips. Together the gang formed a multi-million dollar business stretching from L.A. to Kansas City and Detroit. They grew rich and helped finance the Marxist-Maoist B.G.F., or B.L.A. (Black Liberation Army) as it is known on the East Coast. We expected to deal the B.G.F. a psychologically devastating surprise blow, but we had been betrayed.
We were betrayed by fellow law enforcement officers. Hours before the appointed kickoff time, a voice from the W.T.C. wire room came on the radio telling us that they had just intercepted a telephone call from a cop going into our main target location telling the leaders of the drug trafficking organization that we were on our way to serve the search warrants. My surveillance team was the only team in the field, and we scrambled to form arrest teams as the key targets attempted to flee with large suitcases of cash. Several arrests were accomplished single-handedly.
By late evening, we had arrested 19 of the 44 who would eventually be indicted. Among those arrested were the two most important targets—the head of the organization, Ray Ray Browning, and the Supreme Commander of the B.G.F., James (Doc) Holiday. Even though the targets were warned of our approach, we seized over 15 pounds of crack and powdered cocaine, more than $300,000 in cash, and 10 vehicles (mostly Porsche, Mercedes Benz, and Rolls Royce). More than $13 million dollars in real property and bank accounts were seized for forfeiture.
During the yearlong investigation, the Browning organization maintained good public relations and spread some of its profits around the neighborhoods. They would often pay utility bills and buy groceries for the elderly and for other neighbors surrounding the residences they utilized in the communities. They payed teens to monitor police frequencies on scanners and gave tips to local children who reported strangers in vehicles driving through the area. But how could it be that brother cops betrayed us?
Suspicion fell on a couple of Pasadena P.D. detectives, because they knew the Ray Ray Browning family personally and even attended the same Sunday church services. The federal authorities looked hard at my team and also at the L.A.P.D., some of whom also had connections to the Browning family. But it was the D.E.A.'s own agents—Darnell Garcia, Wayne Countryman, and John Jackson—who were finally tied to the leak.
These three were not directly assigned to Operation Sting Ray, but they were connected to large thefts of cocaine and heroin from the D.E.A. evidence lockers. They had sold the dope back to the bad guys. They used local informants to make the necessary connections, and had become compromised. Looking back, it should have been obvious to the rest of us because these guys were living way beyond their means.
This is not an indictment of the D.E.A.; it is a fine organization that I'm proud to have worked for. This kind of thing can happen to any law enforcement agency when dealing with vast amounts of money these organizations produce. Shortly after this case, seven members of our own L.A. County Sheriff's Major Narcotics Unit would go to prison for skimming millions from narco seizures.
The Black Guerrilla Family was started by the charismatic George Jackson in 1966 at San Quentin State Prison in northern California. Its identifying tattoos and symbols are the letters "B-G-F," the corresponding numbers 2-7-6, a crossed machete and rifle, or a black dragon climbing a San Quentin prison tower. It's the most political of the four major prison gangs in the California system, and has set a goal to the overthrow the U.S. government. Because of its espoused revolutionary ideals, the gang has an unusual mix of allies and supporters.
At times, even its natural enemies in the Mexican Mafia and Aryan Brotherhood have come to the aid of the B.G.F. Its supporters include the American Indian Movement, Symbionese Liberation Army, Weather Underground, Tribal Thumb, Red Guerrilla Family, Chicano Liberation Front, United Prisoners Union, Venceremos Organization, National Lawyers Guild, and Prison Law Collective.
The gang was founded by George Jackson, a former Black Panther and excellent orator who rallied inmates by speaking about the system's injustice to prisoners, especially black inmates. He believed thst the Black Panthers were not radical enough and didn't represent imprisoned black men well. He vowed to form an organization that would support his imprisoned people like a family and become a vanguard in the coming revolution against the U.S. government.
The group was originally called the Family or the Black Family. It also went by the Black Vanguard and the Black Foco. Lawyers and paralegals from the National Lawyers Guild helped write the constitution for the B.G.F., which is structured on a paramilitary ranking system and Marxist-Maoist politics. Many of the communication systems utilized by B.G.F. involve the Swahili language, and all the leaders have Swahili names in addition to their true names and gang monikers. The B.G.F. oath (see above) was required to be memorized and recited upon initiation into the prison gang.
On Aug. 21, 1971, Jackson was shot by a prison guard while attempting to escape San Quentin. A lawyer was suspected of bringing in the weapons used by Jackson and Mexican Mafia members Louie Lopez and Luis Talamantes, who killed prison guards during this incident. Bob Dylan wrote and recorded "George Jackson," a song glorifying the BGF founder and his murderous attempted escape.
A former Symbionese Liberation Army leader, Doc Holiday became the next supreme commander. Again, the B.G.F. had chosen an intelligent and cunning warrior to lead it. Under Doc, the B.G.F. grew in power and numbers, recruiting from the armies of Crips and Bloods that were imprisoned in the 1980s. The gang maintained a revolutionary militant faction and a criminal faction, which had as its goal personal monetary gain but continued to support the revolutionary cause.
Other factions grew in opposition to the recognized BGF leaders such as Otis "Jitu Sadiki" Smith and Ronald "Red" Burton in Southern California; Michael Stover, James and Harold Benson in the Bay Area; Romain Fitzgerald in Soledad; and Shaun Garland in Pelican Bay. Using the old Vanguard name, a new faction started in 1978 at Deuel Vocational Institute that opposed the revolutionary politics, and the severe methods used by the B.G.F. to purge its ranks. Several were hardcore Crip gang members who felt the B.G.F. favored Bloods. They declared war against the B.G.F. at Folsom Prison in 1979. In 1981, the B.G.F. moved against the Vanguard, killing one and injuring several others. Henry "Sugar Bear" Wilds and Michael Doroiugh are identified as Vanguard leaders and have attempted to reorganize.
In 1977, a group organized within the B.G.F. in the headquarters cities of Oakland and San Francisco that called itself the Black August Organizing Committee (B.A.O.C.). Its purpose was to unite all Blacks in West Coast gangs on the street and in prison under one banner.
The Black Panther Party (B.P.P.) was founded in 1968 also from Oakland. Eldridge Cleaver from San Francisco, Hugo Pinel at San Quentin, Elmer Pratt at Susanville, Red Burton in Los Angeles and Bobby Seal in Colorado were among the B.P.P. leadership. They had close associations with B.G.F. founder George Jackson and others in the B.G.F. They also supported the B.A.O.C. and the Nation of Islam (N.O.I.) and Louis Farrakhan as well. This strange coalition has lead to the BGF as it exists today.
Whether inmates enter the prison system as Crips, Bloods, N.O.I., Black Panthers, or members of the 415 gang, the B.G.F. recruits them covertly and encourages them to continue to claim their prior affiliation after taking the B.G.F. oath. They therefore are not readily detected and validated as B.G.F. members by prison gang investigators and the members continue to operate undercover in the system.
Within a week of the arrests of Doc Holiday and Ray Ray Browning, the key informant was abducted from her Altadena apartment and murdered. This didn't stop their prosecution, and the two were convicted in federal court under drug and conspiracy indictments. They received life sentences.
Although he's getting to be an old man, Doc Holiday continues to run his organization through his common law wife Diane Dally (Holiday), and his son James Junior. A couple of years ago, Doc proved he still had what it takes and stabbed a fellow prisoner to death in federal prison. Doc was also called to testify in behalf of the Aryan Brotherhood defendants in the RICO case against the A.B. The Aryan Brotherhood was charged with killing two members of the D.C. Blacks gang. In this case, the B.G.F. and A.B. have the D.C. Blacks as a common enemy. Ray Ray Browning continues to run his part of the organization through his common law wife Hazel Douglas and brother Rodney.
PHOTOS: Black Gang Tattoos