The Crips are the largest and most notorious black gang. Now with an estimated 250 sets nationwide, the Crips started in 1969 with just 10 members in South Central Los Angeles. Gregory “Batman” Davis was one of these founding members.
Since its inception, the Crips have been the subject of countless newspaper articles, news specials and documentaries. Some have interviewed Batman, many have used one of the few images he released to the press, but none have told his story from start to finish.
No ordinary tale from the streets, Batman’s story also includes a host of unlikely characters — Field Marshal Cinque and Patty Hearst of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), cult leader Jim Jones, serial killers the Skid Row Stabber and Charles Manson, ex-football player Jim Brown and rapper Ice-T, to name a few.
This is the true story of an original gangster.
Gregory Davis was born in South Central Los Angeles. The eldest of five children, he lived in a one-story house with his father, an upholsterer, and stay-at-home mother. After seeing the new TV show Batman, 9-year-old Greg fashioned himself after the main character, tying a towel around his neck in the form of a cape. He refused to remove the cape even at school, and kept it underneath his shirt, tucked into the back of his pants. At recess, he would run into the bathroom, pull the cape out, and hang upside down from the stalls. This earned him the permanent nickname “Batman.”
South Central, at the time, was a hotbed of racial tension. In the 1940s, a post-war boom in jobs caused the black population in L.A. to double. Restrictive housing covenants kept the black and white communities segregated. When blacks challenged the covenants, it angered whites, and racist groups such as the Spook Hunters attacked black residents. To protect themselves, blacks formed their own clubs.
In the ’50s and ’60s, a large number of white residents moved out of South Central. The dwindling white population led black clubs to turn against one another. With older cousins in the Businessmen and Slausons, Batman started hanging around both clubs, trying to emulate their tough behavior. When the Watts Riots erupted on August 11, 1965, Batman followed looters into a store, and loaded up his little, red wagon with candy and bottles of Silver Satin wine.
After the riots, rivalry between clubs was replaced by social awareness and political activity. One of the members of the Slausons, Bunchy Carter, founded the Los Angeles chapter of the political organization the Black Panthers. Too young to join, Batman sold copies of The Black Panther newspapers with pride. However, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover targeted groups deemed subversive with his Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), destroying the Panther’s leadership. Batman says, “They should have let the Black Panthers go on because there probably wouldn’t be no Crips.”
In the summer of 1969, 15-year-old Raymond Lee Washington founded the Baby Avenue Cribs. Raymond modeled the Cribs after the Avenues gang and the Black Panthers, incorporating leather coats into their dress code. A friend from the neighborhood, Batman was one of the original 10 members.
Shortly after joining the Cribs, Batman found a gun in a neighbor’s tool cabinet and was caught shooting at the dogs. Despite the punishment he received from his father, this incident sparked Batman’s lifelong fascination with guns. Using a BB gun, pipe and some rubber bands, he made his first zip gun, a .38 pistol. But, when his friend tested it, the gun malfunctioned, and split his ear in half. Batman went back to the drawing board, and made a longer-barreled .410 design. This time it worked. He continued to make the .410 model and, after getting caught by the sheriff’s department twice was given the nickname “Crazy .410.” “I liked it when they used to holler, ‘Crazy .410, come here!’” Batman says in his deep, smoky voice. “I thought it was kind of cool.”
By 1971, the Cribs no longer resembled a political group, and were a full-fledged gang involved in fights and robberies. Looking to expand, Raymond approached Stanley “Tookie” Williams to found the Westside set of the Cribs, and also added a Compton set. Besides the leather jackets, which were often obtained through robberies, their dress code included ace deuce hats, earrings in their left ears, suspenders, gloves on their left hands and canes. In 1972, a newspaper article described several members involved in an assault as young cripples. The description caught on, and the Cribs became the Crips.
The Crips also had an all-female set known as the Criplettes. The Criplettes followed the same dress code as their male counterparts—with the addition of bleached blond hair—and were just as bad. “They took whatever they could too—leather coats, Cleopatra Jones coats,” Batman explains. “If we ran across another gang and they had girls with them, our girls would fight their girls and we would fight the dudes.”
After he was expelled from numerous schools for fighting, 16-year-old Batman was sent to Job Corps in Salt Lake City, Utah. Although he previously had no interest in sports—“I didn’t want to play that stuff. Shit, I was a gangster”—while in Job Corps, he took up boxing and karate. He also took up breaking into the soda machines. After getting caught by a counselor, he was given two options: to go to the on-site jail or take a bus back to L.A. Batman chose to go back home, where he started “Crippin’ to the fullest.”
By this time, the Crips were notorious on the streets and in newspapers, and additional sets had branched off of Eastside, Westside and Compton. The sets used unifying sayings like, Batman’s favorite, “Chitty chitty bang bang, ain’t nothin’ but a Crip thang. Crips don’t die we multiply. Three up, two down, all Crips from the underground. We don’t jive, we don’t joke, we smoke dope and take a big motherfucker’s leather coat.”
In response to their growing numbers, the Pirus—a former Crip set from Compton—organized groups against the Crips. These groups became the Bloods, the Crips’ archenemy. Batman was jumped for the first time by a group of Bloods: After being picked up by the police, he was dropped off in a rival neighborhood, surrounded by 15 Bloods, and hit in the mouth with the butt of a shotgun. Some 37 years later, Batman still has that scar in his mouth.
The violence between Bloods and Crips continued to increase. One day, while Batman and his homeboy were driving around in a looking for people to rob, they came across a group of Bloods. Out of the window of the red, ’66 Chevy, Batman yelled, “Fuck your set!” The Bloods returned the insult with a spray of gunfire. “I was like, Oh shit!” Batman recalls. “You could hear it hitting the car. We ducked, and then all of a sudden, bang! The car hit a tree. They were still shooting, and the electric doors wouldn’t work, so we bailed out of the window, hauling ass.”
At the 1973 Watts Festival, a fight broke out between the Crips and Bloods. The police arrested Batman, and took him to jail. After pleading guilty, he was let go. Batman went home and grabbed a zip gun. On the way back to the festival, he saw the police and threw the gun under a parked car. The police found it, but Batman denied it was his. In the station, the officers discovered the shells for the gun in a Red Hot box stuffed in Batman’s pocket, and he was sent to juvenile hall.
At the trade school Step, the last place that would accept him, Batman met Field Marshal Cinque and Patty Hearst of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). After meeting them, Batman started his own set called the SLA Crips, spray-painting the name on walls. Two months later, on May 17, 1974, Batman watched a shootout between the police and the SLA on TV. The shootout and house fire killed six, including Cinque. That was the end of the short-lived SLA Crips.
When he started attending cult-leader Jim Jones’ church with a friend and his friend’s family, Batman listened carefully as Jones spoke about the Promised Land. Thinking it meant an end to getting in trouble, he wanted to go. But, on the way to that year’s Watts Festival, Batman saw a three of his homeboys driving nice cars—a ’63 Impala, ’50 Chevy lowrider and a Lincoln Continental with suicide doors. Batman asked how they got the cars, and they told him they had robbed people. Batman wanted a car too, and they told him he could go with them. “On Sunday, we went on a robbing spree,” he says. “The last person we robbed, the police came out of nowhere. They made us get out of the car, and told us to lie down in the dirt. I had on a brand new khaki suit, so I was in the pushup position. One of the police came and put his foot on my back, making me lay down in the dirt. They arrested us, and that was my first time going to Youth Authority. The Promised Land was over.”
In the summer of 1976, Batman was released. “If I knew what I know now, I would have never got myself caught up like that,” he says. “I would have did like some of them other guys did and left it alone before they got too deep. Some left it alone after they went to YA; me—I carried on.” Having spent most of his time lifting weights, Batman emerged from YA bigger and more menacing than ever.
Shortly after getting out, Batman met up with Raymond, who had also just returned after serving a three-year sentence for robbery. On a walk, Batman brought a sawed-off shotgun hidden in his pants. When Batman showed it to Raymond, he grabbed the gun and threw it. Raymond, unaware of how violent the streets had become, did not understand why Batman needed a gun. Raymond said, “We can fight, man.” Batman responded, “Fool, don’t nobody fight no more!”
The police also recognized the need for guns. When Batman saw the police approaching, he threw his nickel-plated .38 in the bushes. The officer pulled up and asked what he threw, and Batman said nothing. The officer said if he had to get out of the car and go get it, he would take Batman to jail. Batman went and retrieved the gun, carefully picking it up from the tip of its barrel. The officer told him to put it back in his pocket. “You know they got a hit on you,” the officer said to Batman. “You’re gonna need that gun.”
But Batman did not always get off so easy. In 1978, he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, a crime he did not commit. The jury returned with a not guilty verdict on the assault charge, but because he was an ex-convict in possession of a concealable weapon when he was arrested, Batman, now 18, was sentenced to two years in state prison.
On August 9, 1979, while Batman was serving his sentence, Raymond Washington was shot and killed at the intersection of 64th and San Pedro streets in L.A. “I would have been right there with him, but I was locked up,” Batman says. “God works in his own ways.” Raymond’s murder marked the end of an era, and the start of more violence and drugs.
After being released from prison in 1980, Batman ran into one of his homeboys on the street. While he was talking to him, Batman watched as cars pulled up to his homeboy, who dipped a stick into a bottle of clear liquid, gave it to the person in the car, and was handed cash in return. Batman asked what he was selling, and his homeboy told him “water.” “I’m like, ‘I’ll be right back,’” Batman recalls. “So I went and found a bottle, and turned the water on. He asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m going to sell me some water too.’ And he started laughing, ‘Nah, it ain’t that kind of water, man. This is PCP.’” And with that, Batman entered the drug trade.
Batman sold PCP until he was charged with murder in 1983. When the police attempted to execute the warrant at his parent’s house, Batman was not there. The police seized items belonging to Batman, including handguns, shotguns, rifles, shells, cartridges, magazines, stereo equipment, a radio scanner, scale, three photo albums and a blue bandana. Facing life in prison, Batman prayed to God. “I got down on my knees in front of all these Crips, and asked God to help me. I said, ‘I know I got to go back to prison, but please don’t let me do all that time.’ And the homeboys looked at me and said, ‘Cuz, why you down there praying to that white God? Nigga, you goin’ to the pen.’ I said, ‘I’m going, but I ain’t gonna be there as long as you.’” Batman’s prayers were answered, and he was found not guilty on the murder charge, and given just two years for the weapons.
Upon entering prison, Batman met an old friend, Bobby Joe Maxwell. While he was talking to Bobby, a group of Bloods started threatening Batman, who was still shackled at the hands and feet. Bobby stood up and told the Bloods, “This is my homeboy, we from the same neighborhood,” and the Bloods backed down. Batman asked, “Why are they scared of you? You ain’t a gangster!” Bobby replied, “Boy, I’m the Skid Row Stabber”—a serial killer who targeted homeless people in Los Angeles. It was also during this prison stint that Batman befriended serial killer Charles Manson. “They say he’s racist, but he didn’t seem racist,” Batman says. “I used to sit on the bench down low and he’d sit up high and we used to just talk.”
Pressed for cash after his release in 1985, Batman took and Uzi and planned to rob some high rollers. He was stopped by one of them whose life he had unknowingly saved in a gang shootout. To thank him, the high roller gave Batman $2,500, a brand new .357 magnum and a half ki of cocaine. Off to a good start, Batman re-entered the drug game.
A year later, Batman met Fast Eddie, the owner of a local restaurant known as The Steakhouse, who encouraged Batman to change his life around. Shortly after, Batman stopped selling drugs and started hanging out at Fast Eddie’s restaurant. It was at The Steakhouse that Karen Stewart, his future wife, finally gave him her number. They had met a few times before, once at a gas station when Karen was having a bad day. “I was telling him, ‘You’re Crippin’ and you’re 30 years old, you don’t need to be doing this.’ He was wearing a big coat, and I pushed him, and his chest was so big, his arms were gigantic, he was huge! I touched his chest, and I was like, Oh Jesus, I’m gonna die right now. I just hit this man they call Batman. They already say he’s a killer, a kidnapper, a murderer and a dope dealer. He’s gonna kill me.”
The Steakhouse often had live performances by blues acts, which drew an older crowd. Through spending time there, Batman realized he needed to grow up. He met with a bishop, and started attending church. “I started seeing things change from me being violent to something positive,” he says. In 1991, a neighbor gave Batman ex-football player and actor Jim Brown’s number. Batman met with Brown, and subsequently started working with his Amer-I-Can Program. Batman felt he had found his calling, and dedicated himself to helping others.
Batman and Karen were married in ’94. The wedding, which took place at Jim Brown’s house in the Hollywood Hills, was attended by rapper Ice-T, and received coverage in The New York Times and international newspapers. Throughout the late ’90s, Batman continued to work with Amer-I-Can, as well as with Project Corner Stone, Family Helpline and Jeopardy, the LAPD’s gang intervention program, and spoke in schools and prisons around the country. In 2000, Batman established Let’s Save the Babies, a non-profit organization that provides counseling to at-risk youth, promotes education and implements community programs. He has received countless awards and trophies for his work.
Forty years after the Crips were founded, Batman, now 52, resides in a Southern California suburb. Except for tattoos of three teardrops under his left eye and “Original Crip” on his neck, Batman hardly resembles the bandana wearing, gun-slinging man he once was. His story almost sounds like an urban legend—but he has the photos and police record to prove it.
While his life sounds exciting, Batman is careful not to glorify it. Through telling his story, he hopes to prevent others from following the same path. He realizes that it is a miracle he made it out alive and is here to tell his story today. Of the original 10 members of the Crips, seven are dead. The other two retreated from the streets long ago. Batman is the only one left who can tell the true story of the Crips from start to finish.
Batman with Pam Anderson...