Las Vegas's frenzied Memorial Day weekend in 1992 was winding down with the promise of a big storm. Spring lightning danced in the dark clouds above Charleston Peak and the Valley of Fire. As raindrops the size of silver dollars intermittently splattered the sidewalks outside, weary casino tellers counted a quarter-billion dollars in holiday revenue. Across the Mojave, 50,000 homebound revelers were strung out almost bumper to bumper, from Ivanpah Dry Lake to the outskirts of Los Angeles, 250 miles away.
In a small park in the northwest part of town, several hundred Crips and Bloods, ignoring the storm warnings, were merrily barbequing pork ribs and passing around forty-ounce bottles of beer. Earlier in the day, dozens of formerly hostile sets with names like Anybody's Murderers (ABM), Donna Street Crips, and North Town Bloods had joined at a nearby cemetery to mark a gang truce and place flowers on the graves of their homeboys (there were twenty-seven local gang-related deaths in 1991). Now these erstwhile enemies and their girlfriends were swapping jokes and new rap lyrics.
But gatherings of three or more people, however amicable, had been banned on May 17, 1992, by sheriff's order throughout Las Vegas's black Westside, as well as in the neighboring blue-collar suburb of North
This chapter was originally published in The Nation, vol. 255, no. 1 (July 6, 1992). It appears here in slightly modified form.