MAXIMUM FORCE: How a Former Black Panther Is Working To Stop Gang Violence in South L.A.

For years, he says the police answer to gang violence was suppression..."Gang intervention had to mature itself into comprehensive community intervention," he says.

By Juliet Bennett Rylah - LAist

Aquil Basheer has come up with a "hardcore gang intervention" program that isn't just making an impact in his neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, but the world. He's the subject of a new film from director Ryan Simon that just launched on numerous streaming platforms.

The Black Jacket isn't one of those highly stylized documentaries. It's a frank look at the work of Aquil Basheer, a former Black Panther who now, via his nonprofit Maximum Force Enterprises, leads the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute, a 16-week peacemaking course for ex-gang and community members. Through Basheer's work—something he's been at diligently since 1969—he's been able to make peace among rival gang members and decrease violence in at-risk communities. He's also managed to standardize his methods, which have been adopted by the L.A. City Council, and take them on the road to help other communities facing similar struggles.

The title of the film comes from the black jacket that successful program participants receive when they're ready to restore peace to their neighborhoods.

Simon tells LAist he was introduced to Basheer when he was doing work for a nonprofit that was looking for programs in South Central Los Angeles that were "creating actual solutions." He highlighted Basheer's work then in a short documentary, but decided to go back and shadow his class.

"Aquil's class is the kind of thing that people show up to. It's not court-mandated. People rearrange their schedules to make it work," Simons says. "And it was already amazing to me that there was no reason to attend his class unless you were passionate about it, and every orientation night, it was chock full of people that were vying to get into the class…There's just an electricity in his way of teaching, and he is truly tying to professionalize the work that people are doing there."

While other organizations have their participants play games like two-truths-and-a-lie to break the ice, Basheer ups the ante immediately. Early on, you see a fresh group of students dive to the floor as gunshots erupt just outside the door. It's a drill, but an important test, too. Basheer shows them they must be ready for anything, even the things that happen in a split second. Basheer says the shooting is one of just 40 scenarios they go over in the class, and each one is a "real word [scenario] from the street [that] has happened in our 40 years of work."

"One thing we had to do in the class, we had to humble people," Basheer says. "We had to do a variety of things to put people under simulated pressure so they can see who they are in the moment. And, it allows my people to see what type of expertise we have on board. People think they're a lot sharper than they actually are, and they operate so much on emotional reaction as opposed to planning. Now people say, I need to sit here and listen because there are a few things I can learn from this." READ MORE

Photo: 'The Black Jacket' (Photo via Facebook)