In the late 1960s a number of LA's South Central gangs came together under the Crips. Pulled together by two guys named Stanley Tookie Williams and Raymond Lee Washington, the group expanded rapidly through the 70s to became one of the world's largest gangs by the 80s. Their growth was bankrolled via the profits of crack cocaine, which also created to massive uptick in violence. This was a fairly destabilising combination, and over the past decade the Crips have been eclipsed by other groups, both in numbers as well as power. This has certainly been the case in Australia.
Australia's branch was formed in Melbourne's north by a young Maori guy named Tū in the 2000s. Operated as a kind of extension of New Zealand's Black Power motorcycle club, the Crips appeared here around the same time ice took off, which had a similar effect on the local group as crack had leveraged in the US.
After serving eight years in Barwon Max for manslaughter, Tū has just been released. He's now assisting in the establishment of social services for at-risk Maori and Islander youth, so we sat down to hear the story he's been sharing.
VICE: Hey man, tell me about your upbringing. How did you land in this sort of life?
Tū: My old man wasn't around and Mum had to work and look after all my brothers and sisters, all seven of us. I went to Westall High School and grew up poor, wanting flashy things that we couldn't have. So we stole things to feel like rich people, even if it was just for a weekend or a night. It's childish but we were young. Why should they have it when we can't? That was the motivation. That and not giving a fuck about the consequences.
A bunch of my cousins were doing the Crips thing back in NZ and I just thought, fuck it. Me and my cousins were already a gang I guess. We were hanging around, not working, getting in fights, selling gear. We just needed a name. One night my older brother got into a fight with a bunch of Lebo Tigers at a pool hall and they were calling around asking who we were. That was when we started looking for an identity.
So how do you start a local chapter of an international gang? What's the process?
It's not connected in the way that you'd think. We just called our boys back home and told them we were thinking of representing in Australia. We didn't have to send kickbacks or anything, like other gangs do. In New Zealand the Crips are tied to Black Power and serve as a feeder club. A lot of the really rough ones that prove themselves get recruited as bikies. We were growing the brand and the boys back home knew what we were capable of. We weren't punks or snitches. And we were always putting in work.
How much of what you were doing was influenced by the media?
I don't know if it was a media thing, it was just what our older boys were doing back home. Maybe the media was what got those boys into it. We watched Menace 2 Society, listened to Compton's Most Wanted, Mc Eiht, Spice 1, Snoop and all that shit. Yeah man, it was mean as. But the Bloods in our neighbourhood were actually around before the Crips were. They'd hang around the Mongrel Mob. Which is weird because in the States, the Bloods were created to protect the hoods from Crips.
And the Crips were formed to protect themselves from other gangs as well, right? It all goes back to poverty and racial segregation post-World War II.
Colonialism too. We were tied to the Koori Crips out in the Northern suburbs. I did time with a couple of them at Port Phillip Prison and we had a mad laugh about getting up to mischief as young bad cunts. But as you get older the crime gets more serious and you forget about the image, the clique, the bullshit. It becomes about money, drugs and jealousy. In the end we were involved in burglaries and standing over drug dealers or people we heard were selling gear. No one was wearing blue colours anymore. We were just chasing shard and a spin on the pokies.
What was the biggest gang on gang fight you got in?
Our rivals were a bunch of Samoan Bloods from the Southside. One night, after drinks, we called them out to a park on Brady Road. It was a wild brawl, they were getting their faces smashed in and so were we. Hitting people with chains and bats. It was wild. We got a rush out of it and it kept our names in people's heads. After that we were known and respected. Funniest thing was we all ended up with casualties at the same hospital. It was fucking awkward walking past their families and they were walking past ours in the hallways.
How did you end up in prison?
I'd been out drinking with some boys in Noble Park. We decided to head down to the pub. I got on my boy's Suzuki race bike. A truck driver was honking at me and all that so I pulled over. I shouldn't have been riding anyway man, I was drunk as. But he pulled up and jumped out with a big steel rod. So as he approached me I whacked him. I punched him and the fella died on me, man. Back of his head hit the road. I panicked and ran off. I thought he was just knocked out.
What's your advice for the young Bloods and Crips in the suburbs today?
First of all if you think you're hard or gangster, please, you're a kid and a fuckin' punk. You will get ass fucked walking around some of the yards, trust me. I've seen fellas think they were Scarface crumble and piss themselves before shit's even really turned on them. There's no guns in prison. It's just you and him, and chances are he's been there longer than you.
Fall in love with a woman. A nice woman, not like my ex-wives. Stay off the streets and stop hanging around. That's what fucked me up. Hanging around got me in jail. Put your head to use, that's why you come over to this country in the first place to do things the right way. A bunch of the boys I was running around with are sitting on Christmas Island waiting to be shipped back to NZ. I'm not saying go become a bible basher. Keep busy, work, and find yourself a nice woman, she'll keep you grounded.