Byron Jackson, DeSean’s older brother, on the steps of one of the family’s homes during DeSean’s childhood in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Bret Hartman/For the Washington Post)

If you followed at all the way wide receiver DeSean Jackson was released by the Philadelphia Eagles and signed by the Washington Redskins, you at some point probably heard the word “gang.” An report linked Jackson to them, and an ESPN interview asked Jackson directly about maintaining friendships with those purported to be in gangs. Beyond that, unless somebody digs deeper, much of the discussion revolves around stereotypes and preconceived notions.

The Post’s Kent Babb went to Los Angeles, and with the help of Jackson’s brother and friends from his childhood, retraced the steps and painted the picture of what growing up there was like. Babb’s story doesn’t judge, and it doesn’t make Jackson out to be a saint or someone who lacked a supportive family while growing up. Jackson clearly had that, but also encountered scenes like these:

He ran into his older brother’s house once, he and his friend followed and chased on the way by gang members.

“Where you from?” they had asked him, a question as common as it was dangerous. It was meant to determine a stranger’s gang allegiance; the wrong answer or a volatile color might lead to a confrontation, and anyway, good thing Jackson possessed sprinter’s speed.

“Any given day, anything can happen if you cross the wrong person,” said Byron Jackson, 46, who grew up in the Washington area before the boys’ late father, Bill, moved the family to Los Angeles.

In any case, if you’re a reader who frequents The Insider but rarely visits other parts of the Web site, Babb’s story is here. If you’re a die-hard fan curious about the Redskins’ newest star, someone whose familiarity with Jackson off the field begins with the day he came to Washington, or someone who might be curious how a person functions when home is a place where gang activity is common, it’s a must-read piece.

Have a football question? E-mail Mike Jones at with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.

More from The Post:

Old Calif. neighborhood helped shape Jackson

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