Longform

The Gang's All Fear

On my belly they lay the blue strings
You know what that means
Here comes my family
On their faces I see pain
Thinkin' in my head
I'm the one to blame
And now it's over
They close the casket
And my son just became a goddamn
  bastard
How many homies gonna die for this blue
  rag?

-- from "The Funeral," written by Donald Love III after his February 1997 arrest for rape

The Arizona Republic's lead story on July 8 concerned Bill Clinton's whirlwind trip to the Valley: "'We Can Do Better.' President pitches hope in south Phoenix."

A large photo of the grinning chief executive splayed across the front page. Another headline read, "5 Guilty of Sexual Assault. Mentally ill girl gang-raped for hours." A small photo captured 19-year-old defendant Jermaine Johnson's stunned reaction as the guilty verdicts were announced.

The day before, Clinton had spoken to community leaders at a tortilla factory. "As blessed as America has been," he said, "not every American has been blessed by this [economic] recovery. All you've got to do is drive down the streets here in south Phoenix to see that."

On his return to Sky Harbor Airport, the president did not find his way to one of those streets, East Chipman Road. Chipman is about five minutes from the airport, in the "Park South" neighborhood. Park South covers an area bounded by 16th and 24th streets, Broadway and Roeser roads.

Gangbanging drug pushers regularly peddle their wares on Chipman Road and in nearby crackhouses. Many families have lived there for generations, in modest well-kept homes. But Chipman, in recent years, also has been the site of much violence.

In February, three young men and a young woman were murdered in a one-room brick hut on East Chipman. The case is still under investigation. Two days later, four more people were shot, one fatally, a few blocks away. The alleged shooter in that case has been arrested.

Two years earlier, farther west at 1827 East Chipman, apparently up to 30 young men had sex over a span of hours with a mentally handicapped 15-year-old girl. Phoenix police later detained and arrested 10 teenagers on suspicion of raping the girl and other charges.

All 10 were documented members of the Park South Crips gang, a loose confederation of young blacks.

Four of the 10 plea-bargained to reduced felony charges, and were placed on probation in April.

Five faced a heavily publicized jury trial this summer, which ended in their convictions on the rape charges. Two of the five, Carl Blackman and Darrion Hartley, also were convicted of kidnaping the girl.

Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin already has sentenced four of those five to mandatory prison terms, with 16-year-old Blackman getting the most time behind bars, nine years. Jermaine Johnson has a scheduled October 8 sentencing, which effectively will end the case. (Prosecutors on September 21 dropped charges against Michael Connor, whose trial had been pending.)

But jurors also decided that the defendants had not gang-raped the girl to solidify the Park South Crips' power base by terrorizing their turf -- the neighborhood. Prosecutors had charged the youths under an Arizona law that mandates greater punishment for members of street gangs convicted of committing crimes designed to bolster the gang's position. Those underlying crimes usually include robbery and extortion, not sexual assault.

(Several jurors indicated after the trial that they hadn't been able to link the defendants' gang affiliation to the rape's allegedly larger motivation.)

Although the jury wasn't convinced that a crime of gang-related intimidation had occurred, the Park South Crips were clearly the central institution in the young men's lives.

Behind the headlines in the "Chipman Road 10" case, there's a subtext -- and a subculture -- that most Phoenicians don't know, and can't fathom.

And much lingering contention as to what went wrong on February 15 and 16, 1997.


Darrion Hartley: "What you say, we raped you?"
Victim: "I don't know."
Hartley: "You know you lied so you wouldn't get in trouble for running away, huh. . . . Why you say we raped you? No motherfucking way we did."
Victim: "I told you I didn't want to have sex with you all."
(Hartley hands phone to Carl Blackman.)
Blackman: "Whose names did you say?"
Victim: "Every last one of you all."
Blackman: "Where you mama at, cuz you know we didn't rape you. That's so cruel."
Victim: "You did."

-- phone call of February 20, 1997, recorded by Phoenix police

"Fear in People's Hearts"

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin