Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2022


On the eve of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, a small group of gang leaders and community activists drafted an agreement to curtail violence in south Los Angeles. Several gangs in Watts accepted the truce and established a cease-fire agreement. By most accounts, the 1992 Watts Gang Treaty succeeded in reducing gang violence in Los Angeles. Local activists attributed the reduction in shootings to the Treaty. Even law enforcement officials grudgingly recognized the Treaty’s contribution to reducing gang violence and a corresponding decrease in homicides.

The origins of the Watts Gang Treaty can be traced to gang leaders recognizing that the devastating struggle between rival gangs was analogous to a military conflict—complete with “no-man’s land,” assault weapons, targeted killings, and civilian casualties—and, therefore, it required a diplomatic solution. Seeking inspiration from international conflict resolution efforts, gang members looked to the 1949 Armistice Agreement adopted by Egypt and Israel to end the Arab-Israeli War. The drafters of the Watts Gang Treaty mirrored the key provisions of the Armistice Agreement, including a cease-fire agreement and other confidence-building measures. The drafters then built a social movement to support the Treaty.

This Article examines the origins, impact, and legacy of the Watts Gang Treaty. It also pursues a prescriptive agenda. It supports the study of hidden history that runs counter to the common narrative of power and privilege in the United States. Moreover, this Article argues that social movements can achieve meaningful change even in the face of poverty, violence, and structural racism.