Longform

Masters of Cymbal Drive

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Tarango took out his camera. This was an intelligence-gathering mission, nothing more. Suddenly, the truck in front of him lurched to a halt. From both sides of the street, men Tarango immediately recognized as gang members emerged from the shadows. They surrounded the truck, asked the driver how much crack he wanted. Before Tarango knew it, they were at his window. He hid his camera and told them he wasn't interested.

Tarango had seen Crips before in Dallas but never like this. The way they stood on the corner, seven or eight thick, decked from head to toe in blue--it reminded him of what he'd seen in Los Angeles in the early '90s, or what he'd heard South Dallas was once like.

These guys were a throwback to those days, but they were also unlike anything he'd seen. There had been gangs more sophisticated and brutal, of course, but those organizations dealt in secrecy. The Underground Nigger Crips were different. Their trademark was blatant, in-your-face disregard for the law.

Tarango drove off, back toward the looming Dallas skyline. Ford was wrong. Streets like Cymbal didn't belong to anyone. They were always changing hands. Sometimes the law was on top, sometimes the gangsters were on top. And sometimes, the street was quiet.


They were friends, really. Homeboys. That's how it all started. There was no plan to take over a city block. Maybe that's what the police say, but the police say some crazy shit.

True enough, Ford was the leader, the Original Gangster, and there was some structure--rank and rituals and reunions--but they weren't a sophisticated criminal organization, not like the police would say, anyway.

It all started in South Oak Cliff back in '90 or '91, when the Jamaicans were still running the Dallas dope game. Originally, they were the Pleasant Grove-Oak Cliff Crips, and word was they had direct ties to the West Coast, that a Crip from there had moved to Dallas and set the whole thing off. Ford was only 15 when he joined.

Sometime in the early '90s, they split in two: the Underground Nigger Crips and the Pleasant Grove Crips. UNC wore Carolina blue and called themselves Tar Heels: PGC dressed in Duke gear and called themselves Devils. But they weren't rivals. They more or less operated as allies, with their own rank and hierarchy. New members to PGC, for example, were Young Devils, while UNC called their new recruits Young Crips. At the top of the chain were the Original Devils and the Original Gangsters, depending on their affiliation.

It was '97 or '98 when they first started showing up on Cymbal, at least that's what the Dallas police gang unit had in its database. Gang members would put it later, maybe '99 or 2000. John Thomas, or Wino, got a house on the block, and it grew from there. "It wasn't like we took over, we just went on that street," says Terance Lacy, or Toothpick. "At first there was some other guys over there and they started getting locked up, going to the state for other cases, so we kind of just moved over there."

The layout of the block was perfect for dealing dope. It was tucked away, hidden almost, from Masters, the main street police usually drove on. Lookouts--usually 15-year-old kids on bikes, sometimes girlfriends with walkie-talkies--were posted on the corners, or up at the Quick Mart. A cop or a rival gang member couldn't so much as turn onto Cymbal without being spotted. Once someone called out 5-0, everyone scattered, ditching their rock as they ran.

They had a perfect system, really. Joseph Fields got the crack in a slab and then broke it up into little rocks, which were stored in Wino's house in a soda can with a screw-off top. It was more or less an honor system--you paid for whatever you took. The most important thing was to carry just a few rocks and to never have a pistol on your person, that way if you were taken down you'd only be charged with drug possession. You'd be in and out of Lew Sterrett in a few days.

Most of the gang members didn't even live on Cymbal. Those that did lived on the south side, in a row of rundown duplexes. Usually, everyone just hung out in front of Wino's house. Sometimes they'd pull a sofa to the curb and barbecue right there in the street or order pizza. On a typical day, you might see D-Loc--that's what they called Ford--sitting there in a plastic patio chair, rolling a blunt. Or T-Blue over on somebody's front stoop rolling dice, or one of the girls, maybe Gidget or Laquita, sitting on the hood of a car.

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Jesse Hyde
Contact: Jesse Hyde