Provocative. Unflinching. Daring. BET’s critically acclaimed docu-drama AMERICAN GANGSTER returns for another compelling season Thursday, October 23 at 10:00 p.m.* Gangsters have been traditionally portrayed in films and television as European; AMERICAN GANGSTER expands this theory by focusing on authentic, bona fide criminals and sheds a different kind of light on the minds of America’s worst offenders. Narrated by Ving Rhames, this season returns to probe the lives and crimes of America’s most dangerous criminals, including “Monster” Kody, Larry Davis, Mutulu Shakur and J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO, among countless others.
The first two seasons of AMERICAN GANGSTER spanned a wide range of subjects, telling stories from Harlem to Watts and points in between. They’ve included close-up views of the Chambers Brothers, drug-dealing emigrants from one of the America’s poorest rural counties; Stanley “Tookie” Williams, who was executed for murder in California amid controversy regarding his real role in the founding of America’s most notorious street gang, the Crips; Frank Lucas, the larger-than-life subject of the Hollywood blockbuster motion picture, also titled ‘American Gangster’; and “Freeway” Ricky Ross — L.A.’s homegrown crack king — a hustler and pawn within a complex international enterprise.
Since its debut in 2006, BET’s groundbreaking documentary series AMERICAN GANGSTER has earned a mix of critical praise and popular acclaim.
“American Gangster” is sober, intelligent and appropriately judgmental.” -New York Newsday
“Breaking away from its reputation as a home for music videos and little else, BET makes a savvy push into more challenging territory with this documentary series, which examines the lives and legends surrounding such notorious figures as Stanley “Tookie” Williams and “Freeway Ricky” Ross.” -Variety
“The stories are compelling, and feel more like news than history.” -New York Daily News
Now in its third season, this series reflects the life and times of American criminals, how their actions have affected the public at large, and the Black community in particular.
This season, AMERICAN GANGSTER will profile:
— LARRY DAVIS / October 23, 2008
Born and raised in the South Bronx, Larry Davis made headlines when he wounded six NYC police officers in a dramatic 1986 shootout after officers raided his sister’s Bronx apartment to arrest him for murdering five drug dealers. Davis escaped, and with the help of family and friends, eluded capture for 17 days despite a massive manhunt, which finally ended with him surrendering to police only when assured by the presence of local reporters that he would not be harmed. In the subsequent trial, the prosecution contended Davis was a drug dealer who specialized in armed robbery and homicides. The defense team, led by renowned attorney William Kunstler, contended that Davis had been recruited into dealing drugs by crooked cops and the real object of the raid was to silence him by murder. When an all-minority jury acquitted Davis for acting in self-defense, 1500 police officers publicly protested against the verdict. Several subsequent trials resulted in several more acquittals on murder charges, until 1989 when Davis and his brother were convicted for the killing of drug dealer Raymond Vizcaino. After nearly 20 years in prison, and just a few days after agreeing to an exclusive interview with AMERICAN GANGSTER, Davis was murdered by a fellow convict.
— “MONSTER” KODY / October 30, 2008
Few gangsters emblemize the tragedy of gang life and the failed promise of so many who follow the path than “Monster” Kody Scott, best-selling author and career criminal. A legend in south central Los Angeles for his fearsome devotion to gang violence, Scott became a subject of mainstream fascination after the 1992 riots in LA cast a national spotlight on the conditions that led to that uprising. The publication of his gang memoir Monster written while in prison was once a frightening journey through his past and a tantalizing harbinger of his possible redemption.
— MIDGET MOLLEY / TBD
The son of a minister, this former drug lord of Atlantic City was once said to have earned over a million dollars a month, a position he flaunted in public by literally wearing a gold crown on his head. Busted in 1989, he spent nearly 20 years in prison, during which time his oldest son was killed on the streets. Deeply chastened by that experience, Molley renounced his former trade, and now toils as a high-profile advocate for the rights of fellow Muslims in prisons, whom he believes are routinely oppressed for their beliefs in the wake of 9/11.
— CORNELL JONES / TBD
D.C. drug kingpin Rayful Edmond’s predecessor, Cornell Jones was a native son who quietly plied his trade in the shadow of the Capitol, and ultimately developed a network that funneled drugs throughout the major cities of the Eastern seaboard and even throughout Europe. Jones claims “credit” for the accidental invention of an aphrodisiacal mix of pot and PCP that was loosely known on the street as “love boat,” and turned D.C. into a Mecca for “angel dust.” For years Jones stayed under the radar of law enforcement by developing a business model that emphasized harmony over violence, while keeping a low personal profile and funneling his own profits into legitimate businesses. He did it so well that his arrest and incarceration in 1985 created a huge vacuum in the D.C. drug trade, leading to unprecedented murder rates. Since Jones’ release from prison, he runs a non-profit organization to help inmates prepare for life after prison.
— J. EDGAR HOOVER & COINTELPRO / TBD
The first and most famous director of the FBI consolidated his power through a combination of brilliant public relations moves and compromising personal files he kept on politicians who held his fate in their hands. Positioned as an avowed and implacable enemy of Communism, Hoover was often at odds with left-leaning Black leaders throughout his reign, including Marcus Garvey and Paul Robeson. During the tumultuous ’60s decade, Hoover went further, undertaking a virtual counter-revolution against the civil rights movement — with particular venom directed at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — and ultimately enabling the Bureau to employ blackmail, smear campaigns, “dirty tricks,” and even armed attacks on several leaders. The most notorious bureau program was the Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, which was formed to investigate and undermine “subversive” organizations that were almost invariably aligned with the movement for civil rights. More than a decade later, U.S. congressional investigations would detail the scope of COINTELPRO’s actions, which implicated the bureau in the framing and even murder of several prominent activists.
— MUTULU SHAKUR / TBD
Mutulu Shakur, Tupac Shakur’s step-father and the father of rapper Mopreme, has spent the past quarter century in federal prison, thanks in part to his conviction for helping to plan and execute the $1.6 million robbery of a Brinks armored truck in New York in 1982 that left three people dead. In addition to the robbery, Mutulu was later accused of helping his sister Assata Shakur escape from prison, enabling her to flee to Cuba where she lives today. Despite incarceration in federal prison, Shakur has retained strong ties to contemporary politics and culture, and teamed with his late son Tupac to write a “thug life handbook,” with a message against violence and drugs.
— GUY FISHER / TBD
The first Black owner of the Apollo Theater in Harlem was a dashing ladies’ man, sports fan, bon vivant — and drug lord. Growing up in the rough and tumble Patterson projects of the South Bronx, Fisher became the youngest and most flamboyant member of “the council,” a consortium of top drug dealers in Harlem in the 1970s headed by Nicky Barnes. Both friends and foes paid tribute to Fisher’s sharp intelligence and organizational skills, which kept “the council” going long after Barnes’ own conviction and life sentence for trafficking in 1977. In the early ’80s, Barnes turned state’s witness against his former allies, claiming he was motivated by Fisher’s romantic alliance with his favorite mistress. Convicted for trafficking and sent to prison for life, Fisher embarked on a remarkable transformation, writing novels, counseling inmates to avoid a criminal life, and earning several academic degrees, including a doctorate in sociology — all the while keeping his own counsel from mainstream media. Now for the first time, Fisher, his family members, friends and associates tell their side of the story to AMERICAN GANGSTER.
— THE SHOWER POSSE / TBD
An incredibly violent gang with operations in the 1980s that stretched from Jamaica to New York to Miami and beyond, the Shower Posse got their name thanks to their frequent skewering of victims with rounds of automatic weapons fire. From their beginnings in the ghettos of Kingston Jamaica, the Shower Posse and their main posse rivals, the Spanglers, came to prominence as the muscle behind Jamaica’s two political parties. Their ongoing battle culminated in the bloody election campaign of 1980, which resulted in an influx of arms to the island and the election of Shower-backed candidate Edward Seaga. The Shower Posse’s acknowledged leader during this era, Vivian Blake, helps AMERICAN GANGSTER tell the story of their rise and fall.
— WILLIE LLOYD / TBD
Willie Lloyd grew up in Lawndale, Chicago; he came to prominence in the late ’60s and was known for his ruthless demeanor and willingness to back it up. He was sent to prison in 1971 for the murder of an Iowa police officer, where his influence grew enormously. He was ordained the Lords ‘official spokesperson’ and eventually grew to become its ‘king of kings’ over the several vice-lords divisions. After his release from prison in the early ’90s, Lloyd took over operations on the streets again — until he went back to prison again on weapons charges. In jail, he experienced an epiphany about gang life and its consequences. Released in 2001, he publicly retired from the gang he’d led for decades and embarked on a crusade to turn kids away from the life — forming an organization called “the cease fire project” and even lecturing at prestigious universities like DePaul. In 2003, Lloyd was shot on the street by gang members unhappy with his turnabout, an assassination attempt that has left him paralyzed from the neck down. Undeterred, he remains an articulate spokesman for “cease-fire” and related anti-gang efforts.
— THE ROMPER ROOM GANG / TBD
The Romper Room Gang was a group of notorious home grown bank robbers from the troubled Bay Area suburb of Vallejo. They robbed dozens of banks in the mid ’90s, and had a healthy following, including rapper Mac Dre — himself convicted of conspiracy to rob. After serving his time, Dre emerged as a major underground figure in the Bay Area hip-hop scene and nurtured the careers of several other Romper Room robbers-turned-rappers as well. Mac and his cohorts also developed a big following in Kansas City — where, tragically, he was murdered after a concert in 2004, allegedly by a Kansas City rapper he worked with named “Fat Tone” Watkins. This incident resulted in a revenge killing of Fat Tone in Las Vegas. Since his death, Mac Dre has become an icon in the Bay area, and especially in Vallejo, where violent crime remains out of proportion to its size and locale, and recently made headlines as the first city in California history to declare bankruptcy. Dre’s legacy is carried on there by former friends and partners in crime who are now blazing new paths as artists and businessmen, though still shadowed by their pasts.
ABOUT AMERICAN GANGSTER
Executive produced by Nelson George and Frank Sinton (A. Smith & Co.), along with Mark Rowland and BET, AMERICAN GANGSTER profiles an infamous crime figure each week through the use of witness accounts, courtroom documents, archival footage, photographs and interviews with people familiar with the various cases. Featured experts include ex-members of these polarizing criminals’ organizations, police officials from the time period, attorneys that represented the criminals and crime historians.