Gang War: Bangin' in Little Rock
Gang War: Bangin' in Little Rock is a 1994 documentary from HBO's "America Undercover" television series documenting gang violence in Little Rock, Arkansas. The film was produced by Marc Levin, which archive footage from KARK-TV.
Gang War begins with Little Rock's 1993 Fourth of July celebrations. Public enjoyment of traditional holiday activities like fishing, fireworks, and band concerts is juxtaposed against roving armed gangs, fist-fighting youth, and rap music.
The central figure in the film is Steve Nawojczyk, the Pulaski County coroner since 1983. Nawojczyk had noticed a change in the pattern of homicides a few years earlier as more juvenile victims brought to the morgue bore Bloods, Crips, and Folk gang-related tattoos and brands. Drive-by shootings became common, with innocent victims caught in the crossfire.
Members of the blue-wearing Hoover Folk, associated with Chicago's Folk Nation are interviewed and a new female member is shown alternately "getting love" and "getting their ass kicked" during an initiation ritual. The implication is that gang provides family experiences not available in broken homes. A Hoover Folk member is shown brandishing "gats" (guns) and receiving a primitive pitchfork brand.
Blue-wearing 23rd Street Crips loitering west of the Governor's Mansion are also interviewed. Californian "L.A." Moe talks from jail about how he introduced the Crips' drug business to Little Rock in 1987. Moe's protege seventeen year-old Bobby Banks talks about his introduction to "gangbanging" in the city and how it got him a house and three cars. The implication is that gang life provides economic opportunities for young people born into deprivation.
A West Side Blood is shown brandishing .22 automatics. A Blood member wearing red talk about the lucrative crack business. Others are filmed getting "jacked up" or hauled off by police for questioning. Original Gangster Crips are shown holed up in a house, fearing an attack by a rival gang. The house is suddenly hit by a drive-by and several shots are fired while the HBO crew films Nawojczyk trying to reduce tensions.
The film closes with images of mothers of gang victims lighting candles in Reverend Hezekiah D. Stewart's Mt. Nebo A.M.E. Church. Stewart is shown asking young gang members to engineer a truce, and planting the first white "truce flag" in the ground outside the church. The credits describe how 3,000 truce flags have since been planted around the city, and the subsequent fifty percent decline in crime.
Reaction to Gang War
In the wake of the cable broadcast in 1994 some city leaders fell into denial and others took action. Said Nawojczyk in 2002, "There was lots of grumbling that [the documentary] wasn’t truly reflective of Little Rock. But it was truly reflective of what was going on in the locations that it was filmed. These were neighborhoods that were under fire day in and day out." The number of murders in the county dropped from 94 in 1994 to 49 in 2000, and the number of known gangs fell from around 60 to around 30.
An after-school prevention program for at-risk young people, Our Club, expanded to seventeen sites across the county. Another faith-based effort is the Watershed Project led by executive director Hezekiah Stewart. A third was the Let Our Violence End (L.O.V.E.) Foundation. Said Charles Mobley, juvenile services director for Pulaski County, "These programs are very worthwhile and needed because they are a deterrent to getting in trouble. If we invest in kids now, we won't be concerned with the number of jails beds we have later on."
In 2002 the Reverend Stewart emphasized that the conditions underlying the original problem had not gone away: "The lack of jobs, the bad relations with parents, the apathy, the drug culture. It's all still here. Selling drugs to bring home money to your family and joining gangs is their way of surviving."
Gang War II: Back in the Hood (2004)
In 2003 HBO producer Marc Levin returned to Little Rock to film an America Undercover Gang War tenth anniversary retrospective with Steve Nawojczyk. Nawojczyk had resigned from the coroner's office in 1994 to devote more time to a consulting career. Gang violence had declined in the city somewhat, but the condition of poverty meant that the gang life had retained its appeal among young people. More than four hundred people had lost their lives in gang-related activity in Pulaski County between 1993 and 2003.
Former Original Gangster Crips leader Leifel Jackson is shown returning to the community after a stint in prison to warn young people about the hard consequences of gang life and the illusions of glamor. Jackson is now the director of Our Club. Other gang members profiled in the first Gar War documentary are interviewed about their lives since 1993. The activities of the Fourteenth Street Crips are compared with those of terrorists in Afghanistan. The zero tolerance tactics of the Street Narcotics police force to stop the drug trade in troubled neighborhoods is also showcased.
- Winston Bryant, State of Arkansas Attorney General's Youth Gang Task Force: Summary Report, 1994.
- Gang War: Bangin' in Little Rock (America Undercover series, HBO, 1994).
- Gang War II: Back in the Hood (America Undercover series, HBO, 2004).
- Natalie Gardner, "Bangin' in Little Rock Nearly 10 Years Later," Little Rock Family, March 2002.