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Here, though, the culture evolved as a hybrid. Kansas City gangsters would jump from a Bloods sect to a Crips sect, then back again. Crews branched off and began running their own trades. As they made enemies, the new breed showed less respect for older leaders. Frustrated, many of the Los Angeles gangsters left town after a few years, leaving the local sects even more disorganized. In 1994, according to one academic study, police confirmed 39 gangs with about 700 members throughout the city. Today, police say 3,137 gangsters run in more than 100 gangs.
"When those California niggers came, stepped off that plane, I was sitting right there," says Rashawn Long, who was 9 years old in 1990 when the Los Angeles gangs arrived on 51st Street.
Police say Long went on to become a hit man for Steven Wright Jr. a decade later. Perhaps protecting his leader, Long tells the Pitch that Moody was too scared to pull a trigger. So one night, Long did it instead. He's now serving a 12-year sentence at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, for murdering one of his childhood friends.
Long remembers sitting on the porch of his home in a quiet neighborhood at 51st Street and Brookwood Avenue, watching his uncle, who was only a few years older, hanging out with the newcomers on their corner.
His uncle began inviting him to house parties where older neighborhood teens drank and smoked pot and PCP-laced cigarettes. They called themselves the 51st Street Crips. Long began trying to impress them.
"We graduated from stealing bicycles to stealing pit bulls to selling dope," he says. Given an ounce of cocaine to sell, Long would divide it, then look for buyers in nearby neighborhoods. By the mid-1990s, he estimates, $20,000 passed through his hands each month, but he says he kept only about $2,500 a month for himself. The rest went to the men supplying the drugs.
Eventually Long learned that if he wanted to make real money, he'd have to rip off rival gangsters. He began scouting different neighborhoods and hitting homes, stealing drugs and cash.
By his midteens, Long was earning his name as a so-called original gangster among the 51st Street Crips. People on the streets called him "Munch" because when he was a child, his aunt told him he looked like a munchkin.
"It's exciting," he says of the gangster life. "It's an adrenaline rush, just like robbing banks. You do it once, you got to do it again. Everything about violence is a rush, as far as robbing banks, murder, selling dope."
Long wasted his money shooting dice in hotel rooms crammed with "square dudes" from the neighborhoods. "You can call them up, 'Hey, we got a dice game over here,' and let them know about the hotel room that got about 50 motherfuckers with probably a quarter-million dollars within the room."
Long threw thousands into the games -- money stolen from other gangsters and drug dealers. As he gained new enemies, they began killing the men he ran with. With each new death, Long realized he might never be able to turn away from the gang.
"That just makes you want to get in deeper," Long says.
Around 1997, a kid nicknamed Moody started coming around to shoot craps with Long and the older boys. At 14, Wright impressed the older gangsters because he spun masterful tricks with the dice. The numbers always landed in his favor.