Are street gangs from different geographic regions really different? Are West Coast gangs different from Midwest Gangs? Are East Coast gangs different from Southern gangs? The answer is they are all the same with a few "twists of lemon."
I worked gangs in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Prince George's County, Md., in my 40-year law enforcement career. While serving in Prince George's County, I saw, interviewed, and locked up gang members from the West Coast and the Midwest. Their purpose was to recruit local East Coast gangs into their national structure. Homegrown street gangs in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, or Landover, Md., were just as dangerous as the Pasadena Denver Lane Bloods who migrated to Baltimore, Md., and set up a lucrative drug trade.
The East Coast has Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMG) such as the Hells Angels, Pagans, Phantoms, Iron Horseman, and even two Mongol sets in Maryland. The East Coast has the Wheels of Soul and Thunderguards—two predominately African-American gangs. There are Outlaws in Pennsylvania and Virginia. But these East Coast OMGs are not as pronounced as their West Coast and Southwest counterparts.
The East Coast's black street gangs include the Palmer Park Crew, First and Kennedy Crew, and the 520 Mob. Maryland has the Black Guerilla Family, but they are far different than the West Coast version because they've branched out into a street gang mentality.
New York City is given credit for the creation of the East Coast version of the Crips and Bloods. The Los Angeles version of the Rollin' 30s wound up in Harlem, N.Y., in 1993 with Belizian gang members from Los Angeles. Omar Portee is credited with starting the United Blood Nation and claimed to have ties with the Rollin' 20s Blood gang from Los Angeles. A native of Baltimore, Portee is credited for the large Blood population in that city. The East Coast has also seen Vice Lord gang members from Tennessee trafficking weapons to Bloods. East Coast Bloods and Crips wear beads, while West Coast gang members do not.
The East Coast Latino gang population has increased considerably over the past 10 years. In Maryland, there are Zetas operatives, while in New York City, Colombians and Dominicans are the major drug traffickers. The Metropolitan D.C. area, which includes Northern Virginia and Maryland, has the largest concentration of MS-13 gang members in the U.S. The East Coast has two factions of 18th Street—the Los Angeles variety who wear blue and the Central American adaptation called Mara 18 who wear red. There is more of a Los Angeles gang influence with many local Latino gangs, because of the Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) and the Sureño influence.
Asian Gangs are prevalent in New York City, Philadelphia, and Northern Virginia, which is home to the second largest population of Vietnamese in the United States. Local gangs include the Asian Dragon Family-ADF, Dragon Family-DF, Asians Young and Dangerous-AYD, Korean Dragon Crew-KDC, and Blood Boyz Crew-BBC. National gangs include the Asian Gangster Disciples-AGD, Tiny Rascal Gangsters, and Asian Boyz.
Mixed Asian gangs have started to appear. In the past, Vietnamese would hang out with only Vietnamese, and Koreans with only Koreans. Because the area is so transient, we see juveniles from a variety of cultures and races grow up together, hang out together, join gangs together, and commit crimes together. These new gangs are mixes of Viets, Koreans and Cambodians, as well as black and whites.
The East Coast is beginning to see Juggalos, but not as prevalent as in Utah or Texas.
Tony Avendorph retired in 2009 after 40 years in law enforcement, serving with the Illinois Department of Corrections, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and Prince George's County (Md.) Police Department.