Compton was incorporated as a city by Los Angeles County on May 11, 1888, making it one of the oldest incorporated cities in California. To ensure the continuance of farming on the land, certain acreage was to be zoned solely for agriculture.
After the Second World War, the city experienced a housing boom. Compton attracted many black settlers from the South. Returning war veterans, a group that included my father, also found homes. The land parcels for housing remained spacious, and agricultural farmlands remained.
I lived in an unincorporated area to the north known as Willowbrook. To the west, there were disputed tracts of empty lots. Migrant immigrants were attracted to the farm work nearby and began squatting on these unoccupied lots. Mexicans, Pacific Islanders, blacks, and whites parked their trailers on the fields and built out-of-code housing. Compton would eventually annex this land but like the unincorporated Willowbrook area, paved streets, drainage and access to gas lines, water and electric power were problematic. These areas had no sidewalks until the late 1960s.
In the 1950s, street gangs had formed in these depressed areas. "You jive mouth farmer!" was an insult hurled by rivals at black gang members from Compton, in reference to their families being negro farm hands. The Compton Farmers was the name of one of the first gangs. Many more would follow. But colonies of other ethnic groups struggled to survive in areas primarily controlled by African American gangs. Some of the non-black gangs were allied to these black gangs (San Pedro's Dodge City Crips had Latino and black members), but some were bitter rivals.
In the area west of downtown Compton these former squatter lands became known by blacks as Taco Town, and by Latinos as La Calle Loca (the Crazy Street). The local Catholic parish was Saint Albert the Great Church. I attended tardiadas (afternoon dances) at Saint Albert. My first girlfriend lived on 152nd Street. The Lynwood sheriff's station patrolled this area and adopted their logo and "Viking" name from Saint Albert's middle school.
Because of changing boundaries, I was required to attend Compton High School rather than the closer Centennial. But I had cousins who lived in the 155th Street area and at Compton High they introduced me to several 155th Street gang members. I occasionally had to hang out with a few of the most notable 155th Street members like Danny "White Boy" Holmes, Ralph "Lettuce" Lechuga, "Sampson," as well as Pacific Islanders "Coconut" and his brothers "Pineapple" and "Saber," who always carried a machete.
Not being a 155th Street gang member eventually became a problem for me and my brother. The worst of these 155th Street members were usually high on "red devils" (Seconal) and drunk on wine. They were dangerous to everyone and lethal to rivals. They were as bad as any Willowbrook gang such as the Compton Varrio Tres, Tortilla Flats, Willowbrook Winos, or any black gang. The African American Compton gang Swamp Boys was a chief rival.
At that time, the official logo of the gang was a grim reaper standing under a streetlight with a street sign reading 155th Street. Lechuga had commissioned me to draw it for them on poster board in art class. Very few of these gang members ever made it to high school graduation, but several of us who avoided gangs and graduated became cops.
The bitter rivalry between 155th Street and the surrounding black gangs had its beginnings in this era. As a minority in another race's minority community, the non-blacks were often the victims of lots of bullying and sometimes violence. The 155th Street gang members soon learned that the best defensive tactic was to be very offensive. By being mas loco (crazier than) any surrounding gang, they established an atmosphere of intimidation that few dared to challenge.
After the Rodney King riots in 1992, the Sureño gangs under the control of the Mexican Mafia intensified their attacks against blacks. The 155th Street gang was an enthusiastic follower of this movement, being strongly influenced by Mexican Mafia members Alejandro "Fox" Tapia originally from the South Los gang and their own homeboy Raul "Dagwood" Vasquez from 155th Street.
Compton is now 65% Hispanic, and the gang has intensified its attacks on black residents.
Being a small gang, the activity associated with 155th Street gang seems to rise and fall with the influence exerted by the few hard-core gang members active and alive at the time. Upon their release (as in California's current "realignment program") the gang violence increases. Imprisonment also further indoctrinates and motivates these gang members in their Mexican Mafia/Sureño war against the African American community. Many in this community are calling for federal prosecutors to charge interracial violence committed by members as hate crimes.