Facing the Facts of Gang Denial

Denial and minimization of a gang problem allows the city's criminal gangs to take root. It also thwarts proactive anti-gang measures.

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Denial: The refusal to acknowledge the existence or severity of unpleasant external realities or internal thoughts and feelings.

No city wants to be labeled as gang infested. In my experience, this is especially true of cities that derive a majority of their income from the tourist trade. I know of otherwise modern metropolitan and progressive cities that "under report" their gang crime statistics, or even contort their crime reporting and gang identifying criteria to artificially cause their gang statistics to be minimized. Some cities refuse to share their crime statistics with neighboring cities and the federal government.

But as Robert Walker of South Carolina's Gangs OR Us website writes, "Gangs love for a community to be in denial. This gives the gang an opportunity to develop its power base by recruiting more of our local youths, which frequently gives the gang a means to expand its territory and its criminal activity."

Denial and minimization of a gang problem allows the city's criminal gangs to take root. It also thwarts proactive anti-gang measures.

A wise old man once told me, "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance."

By this I mean that some cities lack the training and experience to recognize their own infestation. In an article in "Paranoia Magazine," author Robert Eringer wrote about the influence of southern Hispanic gangs and the Mexican Mafia prison gang on local Santa Barbara gangs.

The article quotes a sergeant from the Santa Barbara Police gang unit who told the investigator, "Local gangs don't know what they do, except to copy what's out there, stoked by movies, video games and rap music that glamorizes the gang culture." The gang sergeant also questioned the Mexican Mafia's influence on local Santa Barbara Hispanic gangs.

It is sometimes difficult to accept that our children and youth are much more criminally sophisticated and worldly than we might imagine. The seemingly disorganized nature of warring turf-oriented gangs seems almost random. When my unit first became aware that the Mexican Mafia was ordering huge meetings of representatives from rival gangs in public parks in 1993, it seemed farfetched even to the seasoned Los Angeles gang detectives.

But we were able to capture these meetings on videotape, develop informants from several of the participating local street gangs, and eventually from the Mexican Mafia organizers themselves. No Hispanic gang was outside of this influence of either the Mexican Mafia or the Nuestra Familia. After trying to share this intelligence with our own Operation Safe Streets (OSS) gang unit, and the California Gang Investigators Association (CGIA), I had to bring the video surveillance tapes and actually show them to the gang cops to convince them about this phenominum.

But today, with this information available through numerous public trials, newspaper articles, books, television documentaries and law enforcement gang seminars, there is no rational reason for anyone to deny the prison gang influence on street gangs in California. Perhaps some 14-year-old neophyte gang member might be unaware of this influence and dominance of La Eme (Spanish for "M" and referring to the Mexican Mafia) or NF, but no police officer or public official should be in denial.

In today's world, even many citizens have a general knowledge and recognition of gang problems. Police gang denial and minimization only decreases the population's confidence in the abilities of the police department. When the local middle school staff knows more about local gangs than you do, how effective can you be?

If your house was infested by cockroaches, just calling them "water beatles" doesn't lessen the severity of the problem. And statements such as, "I only saw a few of them," discounts the uncounted numbers hiding in the dark places. Facing the unpleasant realities and severity of the problem is the first step to finding a solution, and there are solutions.

Way back in 1996, Anchorage Alaska and the Mat-Su Chapter of the Alaskan Peace Officers Association recognized their growing gang problems and sponsored a weeklong gang school put on by detectives from the LASD Major Crimes Bureau.

The primary manifestation of gangs in Anchorage are various subsets of the Los Angeles-spawned Crips. These Alaskan Crips are not as territorial and turf oriented as Los Angeles Crips, but just as lethal. Recognizing the gang problem early and acting in a proactive way to train local cops in gang tactics has probably saved lives and helped prosecute many more gang members.

Even in the tropical paradise of Hawaii, gangs can become a problem. About this same period, I was working with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and my friend Agent Rudy Bareng in Maui. Local "Po Pos" (police) had become aware of a growing influx of Hispanic Sureños.

It turned out that Mexican Mafia members were using Sureño gang members to deliver large quantities of "ice" (meth), known locally as "Batoo," to the island from California.

In September of this year, 23 members of gangs such as Sureño-13, LA Quemada, MS-13, Brown Pride 13, Southside Locotes, Lejion Negra and Judas 13, were arrested during "Operation Community Shield" in Alabama in a sweep of Shelby, Jefferson and Morgan counties. Los Angeles-based MS-13, 18th Street; Bloods, Crips and the Chicago Latin Kings have been reported growing in both rural and urban Southern states like Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas. California gangs are moving into and proliferating all over the United States.

In a Feb. 13, 2009 article in the Cumberland Times, Cumberland (Md.) Police Cpl. Andrew Tichnell and Sgt. David Biser said national gangs in Cumberland include the Bloods, Crips, and now a small showing of the MS-13. Local gangs include the Southside Soldiers, Wise Guys, Murder Posse, Latin Kings and Black Guerrilla Family. Showing a picture of a young man, a recent arrival from Los Angeles, Tichnell said, "This is the real deal. He brought the philosophy, the lifestyle from Los Angeles, and he's teaching our kids the way of life."

Even if you do not live in California, New York or Chicago, gangs have a foothold somewhere in your area. As ugly as that may be, it is reality. Denial suggests that an individual has not learned the appropriate behaviors to cope with stressful situations; anxiety and fear have overcome common sense.

An open and accurate diagnosis of your jurisdiction's gang problem is a step forward in the cure of gang denial. Get the input of schools, churches and civic organizations, and you will be ahead of the game in getting them on your side in the war against gangs.

I suggest you model yourself after the eagle rather than the ostrich.

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Sergeant (Ret.)
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