Picks and Pans Review: Do or Die

updated 09/23/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/23/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Léon Bing

One is 17 and homeless and will kill if he doesn't like your look. Another will murder but not rape, living within his own self-imposed code of conduct. Yet another was a mother by the age of 13, married to a convict by 17 and blinded by a bullet before she was eligible to vote. There are more such examples. Too many more.

This is a nonfiction study of teenage hoods who inhabit the insulated world of south-central Los Angeles, the gang capital of America. Within this ghetto's streets, drug deals are openly consummated, while the drive-by shooting has become a near-religious rite.

It is also in South Central that a new language has cropped up, spoken by a deadly society in which the call to arms is provoked by the color of a man's handkerchief or a woman's dress. A.C. Jones, a counselor, talks to a group of hard-core gang members:

" 'Booyah!' Jones shakes his head. 'Maybe y'all didn't hear me. I'm a madman, I don't care about no loyalty. I just don't like any color but white, makes me mad if somebody don't like it, too. Mad enough to kill you.' He nods at a kid who has his hand up. It's G-Roc.

" 'But if I choose the white pants instead of my set's color, that make me a buster.'

"The other boys nod their heads vigorously. Jones smiles sweetly.

" 'And if you put on the blue or the red, what does that make you?'

"G-Roc shrugs.

" 'Make you dead for no other reason but a madman's whim. You R.I.P. because he like white pants. Now, how many of you gonna die for that?' "

With her first book, Bing (a onetime model) has done an admirable job of penetrating a closely guarded world. She's a savvy enough reporter to allow gang members to speak for themselves and skilled enough as a writer to shape their violent thoughts.

The book stamps home several frightening points. One is that these gangs, almost all with black or Hispanic members, are growing in number and spreading bloody wings eastward.

Also the book makes clear that the number of murders committed by these gangs—including murders of innocent bystanders—has risen each year since the Crips and Bloods first surfaced more than 40 years ago. Other than keeping an accurate body count, no one is doing anything about it.

Today the weapons' caliber is higher, the supply of crack and other of-the-moment drugs is endless. And the willingness of gang members to kill or be killed is greater. Welcome to L.A. (HarperCollins, $19.95)

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