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Jan 13, 2004

Monster:Autobiography of an LA Gang Member 

Donning up my protective I am going to venture out into a volatile terrritory - South Central Los Angeles. Just breezed thru' Sanyika Shakur's best selling book on LA gangs, Monster: Autobiography of an LA Gang Member. Breezed through because there were too many shootings, beating ups and 'general slaying' involved, too much for the weak-hearted-me, almost in every other page, yet I made it to the end without skipping much.

It is an enlightening book, centered on the gang war activities in South Central LA (or the infamous South Central) of late seventies and eighties, as seen from the eyes of 'Monster' Kody Scott(Sanyika Shakur). Its an eyeopener for the rest of United States and the rest of the world, who thinks all is heaven in the United States of America. Shakur is a better story teller than me and just to give the taste of what his world once was, I am going to copy a few lines from the preface of the book.

Helicopters hover heavily above, staccato vibrations of automatic gunfire crack throughout the night, drowned out only by explosions and sirens. There is troop movement throughout the city, and in some areas the figting is intense. The soldiers are engaged in a "civil war". A war without terms. A war fought by any means necessary with anything at their disposal. This conflict has lasted nine years, longer than Vietnam. Though the setting is not jungle per se, its atmosphere is as dangerous and mysterious as any jungle in the world.

Neither side receives funding from any goverment, nor does either side claim any allegiance to any particular religion or socioeconomic system of governement.There are no representatives from either faction in the United Nations nor does either recognize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Recruitment and conscription begins at eleven years of age.

The infrastructure of their armies are made up mainly of robberies and extortions(this was the seventies). Whereas today they are maintained from the proceeds of major narcotic deals and distribution. Each army has a distinct territory- the boundaries of some large areas are broken by enemy cluster camps. Each army has a flag, to which total allegiance is pledged. Each army has its own language, customs and philospohy and each has its own GNP. The war has been raging on for 21 years. The death toll is in thousands - wounded, uncountable, missing-in-action unthinkable. No one is keeping a tally.

Other than this, the war has been kept from the world, hidden like an ugly scar across the belly of an otherwise beautiful woman. Under the guise of the showpiece for the world where prosperity is easily found as water in a stream, America, for all her ostensible beauty has an ugly scar across her belly that she has tried repeatedly to suppress from curious onlookers."

There you go, this is not the description of a third world country embroiled in civil war, this was every night in South Central, twenty years ago. Today Shakur says the streets of his old neighbourhood are lined with luxury cars(instead of the stolen ones of his youth), dope dealers in Gucci shoes and troops with AK-47 assault weapons. What was a gang then, is a now an army. Much of the book reads like a novel, if you like being on the otherside of life, to find out the truth why people behave the way they do, this is a revealing read. Have you ever questioned the fact, why is that the assailant is always an "unidentified black male?" and why did many prominent African-Americans(Shakur uses the term New-Afrikaans in this book, in the place of African-American) from Malcom-X and Muhammad Ali embrace Islam? All the answers are hidden in this book, it might not be obvious but it is there, 'cause you are going to live the life of a man who had gone to the edge and made it out alive from the jungles of South Central. There are no better seats for the show other than the one Kody himself has, you got the second best - the book.