When Kevin Orange, former Hoover Crip, was still new as a peace-maker, his commitment was tested the night his twin brother and his cousin were murdered right in front of him. On February 2, 2009, Kevin (AKA "Twin") had just arrived at 104th and Bud Long Avenue, to attend a candlelight vigil for a friend murdered at that corner. He saw his brother Keith Orange, 45 with their cousin, Joe Caver, mid 20s, and greeted them. Kevin turned away for a moment, heard gunshots right at his elbow and spun back around. His brother and their cousin lay shot and dying, on the ground.
Kevin Orange is known citywide, in certain circles, exclusively as "Twin" and Twin had his hands full in the aftermath of his brother's murder. Louis Battee (AKA "Big Lou"), also a former gang member newly turned gang interventionist, arrived to the vigil shortly after the killings occurred. Big Lou described the scene as chaotic and said he expected to see Twin over-taken by grief and a need for revenge.
"Instead I saw Twin trying to control the crowd and trying to keep everyone else from going buck wild and crazy. That made a real impression on me... He kept talking to people, calming them, even though he was looking at his twin brother -- born just minutes after him -- lying dead on the ground. And then after that Twin had to face his mother and his family with his brother lying there dead. That made a real impression on me and still does."
That morning, on the day he was killed, Keith Orange had a very personal conversation with their mother. "He told her he was happy she was his mother and that he thanked God for her." Twin said, "He told her he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ, and that he would be with the Lord one day." Later that day their mother told Twin about his brother's words. So that night, after the murder, when the crowd on 104th and Bud Long was angrily talking about revenge, Twin had it in his mind that Keith knew his death was immanent, somehow, and had prepared their mom. "I just remember thinking, God must exist, this is proof." Twin said his voice rising with passion, "All during that moment I was just... tripping on, that my brother was proof of God."
Violence has decreased in South L.A., with less killing every year for the past four years. Many believe this is directly linked to the growing number of former gang members turned gang interventionists. Now in their 40s and 50s and evolved they have become a first responder city resource like the fire/paramedics largely due to the City Council financed gang study of 2006, which recommended precisely that. They have one central purpose -- to de-escalate crime scenes and stop "payback" killing. Several names ring out in gang intervention among city officials, LAPD, and community activists who labor to decrease violence in South Central: Melvin; Aquil; Taco; Vicki Lindsay; Skipp; Kelli; "P"; Sista Soulja; ShellDog and Twin. None of them mince their words, they are very serious and very direct and Twin is no exception.
"The sixteen young women killed this year was unarmed too and nobody can really name one name, but everyone knows Michael Brown!" Twin calls out emotionally during last Wednesday night's meeting of the Southern California Cease Fire Committee, "A young Latina was just killed today on Manchester, I'm getting call after call from the community - but what I'm saying is the way we do in Ferguson that's how we have to be out shouting when we kill one of our own! What if a white police killed an unarmed young black girl?! ...Hundreds of us should be out there when we kill one of us just like when a police kills one of us! We have to get to that point, the churches too!"
Film director John Singleton grew up in Twin's neighborhood, of the Hoover Crips, and drew characters for Boyz N Tha Hood from "Hoover". One of the main characters in the film was based on Twin.
"I was the one in the alley with that young man who was killed in the movie. I was in the car after the killing, and I remember not letting John in the car. John was real emotional and wanted to go but he was only 12 or 13 and I was like no, this ain't you, you ain't this. (Years later) John had me and another guy at the movie premiere... I couldn't believe how well he captured all that world so well on film."
Twin's colleagues speak of his serious commitment to the work of stopping gang violence that he helped create. That is how they all speak of what they do, as of paying a debt that can never be fully paid, for the mayhem they caused in the neighborhoods they grew up in. Twin is known to be out, usually alone, at all hours and times at night. Reverend Ben "Taco" Owens Executive Director of Cease Fire said about Twin, "Unlike some intervention workers, Twin is non-competitive and doesn't simply service the area his contract covers. Twin will offer himself as a resource whether the violence happens in his community or not."
LAPD Captain and Commanding Officer of Southeast Division Phillip Tingirides agrees that Twin is neither selfish nor territorial and points, as illustration, to Twin's regular attendance at the Watts Gang Task Force Meetings. Twin is not from the Watts Community but he goes as a show of support for the work that others are doing.
Taco adds, "In intervention ethics (Twin) is fair and non-biased even when his own neighborhood is involved. That can really have a calming effect on a situation when justice is kept as an individual thing, not a whole neighborhood thing."
Ethics in the field of gang intervention can de-escalate the violence from one whole community versus another whole community. It personalizes violence, one person did this to another one, and this begins the process of people seeing individuals instead of "neighborhoods". But gang interventionists state that kind of ethics takes self-confidence.
Twin believes he got his sense of confidence from his hard working father. Even though his father rarely had time to attend football games, Twin always knew his father loved him. "Other dudes would be like my father never loved me, he never came to my games and I'd be like really? My father never came to my games but he definitely loved me." His pitch gets higher and he smiles as he speaks of his father. "With my father it was family first, family second and family third. It was always about someone else, never himself. It was just his way of life."
And he echoes his father when asked how he copes with the frustration of weekly deaths and constant, dangerous, low-paying, work. "It's bigger than me. It ain't never about me." Twin answers quickly and with force, "I observe all the hurt that the families of victims go through and I wanna be a voice for all the victims that they didn't lose they life in vain. To create peace in their memory."
Being a gang interventionists takes the authority to interact directly with the gang culture in a way that will be received. The LA City Council gang study of 2006 was 5,000 pages long and concluded that the City cannot arrest itself out of the problem of gang violence. Enter the "reputables" of a particular gang territory with their "license to operate" (LTO) in that neighborhood. Twin is a reputable with a LTO in various neighborhoods and he works by attacking the boasts of those older guys that the younger men are trying to impress.
"The dude that sit around now and talk big -- I could say to the youngsters he ain't did nothing. I can say - you know what, back in the day when some dudes could talk (and get respect) -- he wasn't one of 'em. So you start off like that and they (youngsters) are like 'Oh for real?'" Twin then tells them, "I'm not gonna lie to you, I'll tell you that right in front of him. People can tell you a hell of a war story but they telling somebody else's story. Its like nooo buddy, that dude weren't no where around when that happened."
It is constant work and sometimes pulls him away from his family. Twin's daughter Geniah, 14, struggles not to take it personal when her Daddy has to cancel plans on a moments notice. So last Tuesday he picked Geniah up from school but didn't take her right home, he took her to a meeting of the Vermont & Manchester Collaborative. There at the meeting Geniah saw a people planning a neighborhood clean-up and peace walk and calling on her father about everything.
"She was just looking, like ooooohhh," he imitates his daughter's wide-eyed cooing at her Daddy's importance. "Then there was an unfortunate situation where there were two gunshot victims down the block." Twin continues, "It was a boyfriend and girlfriend, both shot, and I was getting call after call. I had to go there and since my daughter wants to go into forensics as a career, I took her. She got to see how a crime scene operates in real life and she also saw the Sgt. interacting with me in terms of any retaliation and she saw me comforting the victim's family. She got it. I could see on her face and I told her 'see when I tell you my day can change in a minute I'm not playing. It's life and death and I'm trying to help, its not that I don't love you.'"
Like everyone else Twin has some personal stats, he was born Kevin Orange on May 13, 1963. He went to George Washington High School but did not graduate. He played defensive end in football there at high school. He is 6'5 and weighs over 250 lbs and he is intense though he tries very hard to be peaceful and gentle. His family loves him and he loves them. He has also dedicated his life to saving the lives of others in the former South Central Los Angeles.
Twin wonders why there isn't more help available. He thinks about going to the NAACP and wonders, "What do they actually do? They raise money all year but to do what? I mean since King got killed what have they done? Nothing that I can see, not in my neighborhood."