Current Issues: Gangs 2011, n. p. Copyright @ 2011 ReferencePoint Press, Website: www. referencepointpress. com. P. O. Box 27779, San Diego, CA 92198. Phone: 858-618-1314. Fax: 858-618-1730. All rights reserved. Current Issues: Gangs By Peggy J. Parks Contents Gangs at a Glance Overview How Serious a Problem Are Gangs? Primary Source Quotes Facts and Illustrations Why Do Young People Join Gangs? Primary Source Quotes Facts and Illustrations Can People Leave the Gang Life Behind? Primary Source Quotes Facts and Illustrations Can Gang Violence Be Stopped? Primary Source Quotes
Facts and Illustrations Key People and Advocacy Groups Chronology Related Organizations For Further Research Source Notes About the Author Gangs at a Glance Gangs and Gang Members The U. S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 20,000 gangs with a total of about 1 million members are criminally active in the United States. Gang Migration Gangs are no longer confined to large cities. The FBI states that gang activity is rapidly spreading to outlying suburban and rural communities throughout the United States. Types of Gangs Four main types of gangs identified by the U.
S. Department of Justice are street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, prison gangs, and military gangs. Gangs and Crime Law enforcement officials say that gangs commit a wide range of crimes, including distribution of drugs, weapons trafficking, drive-by shootings, armed robbery, assault, identity theft, and homicide. In many communities gangs are responsible for as much as 80 percent of crime. Cities with Gang Problems The U. S. Department of Justice has identified Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York as the top three cities for the most gangs and gang-related crime.
Reasons for Joining Gangs Young people join gangs for many reasons including the desire to belong to a family-like group, protection from rival gangs, the ability to make money (usually from stealing or selling drugs), prestige, and ready access to drugs. Quitting Gangs Whether people are able to leave gangs depends on the particular gang and its rules. Jumping out (being beaten by gang members) is a common way of letting someone out. Some gangs expect their members to remain committed for life and threaten them with death if they try to quit.
Fighting Gang Violence In cities throughout the United States, the FBI and state and local law enforcement officials are focusing on the most violent street gangs in an effort to capture their leaders and get them off the streets. Overview “Gangs are morphing, multiplying, and migrating—entrenching themselves not just in our inner cities but increasingly in our ever-sprawling suburbs and wide-open rural spaces. ” —Federal Bureau of Investigation, a law enforcement agency of the U. S. Department of Justice. Gangs and gang-involved kids exist at some level in every community. Certain groups have decided to use violence and retribution, and their acts are affecting all of us. ” —Steven D. Strachan, the chief of police of Kent, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. At 16 years old, Melody Ross was thoroughly enjoying life. She had just begun her junior year at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, where she was an honors student and a pole-vaulter on the track team. She was popular and known for being friendly, kind, and someone who always had a sunny smile on her face.
On the evening of October 30, 2009, Melody and her friends went to their school’s homecoming football game. After the game ended, the girls left the stadium and were sitting on the curb in front of the school. Suddenly the loud crack of gunshots filled the air. A feud had broken out between members of rival gangs, and they were shooting at each other—with bystanders caught in the crossfire. By the time the violence ended, three people lay on the ground, wounded and bleeding: two men and Melody. Ambulances rushed them to the hospital, where the men were treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Melody, however, was not so fortunate. She died of a severe bullet wound in her side. Her family and friends were devastated, and as a memorial to her, a classmate named Dylan Vassberg created a Facebook page entitled RIP Melody Ross. “Every kid our age–we don’t ever think we’re going to die,” he says. “We never think that. We think we’re going to college and we’re going to have a long life and die of old age. Not die because someone decided to shoot a gun. We never think of that. It’s not something that crosses our mind ever. Not even fathomable, really. 1 How Serious a Problem Are Gangs? Although the precise number of gangs and gang members (known as gangbangers) is not known, the U. S. Department of Justice makes estimates based on information it receives from state and local law enforcement officials. In January 2009 the Justice Department’s National Gang Intelligence Center released a report entitled National Gang Threat Assessment 2009. The report states that more than 20,000 violent gangs with a total of approximately 1 million members were criminally active in the United States as of September 2008.
The report’s authors state that “gangs pose a serious threat to public safety. ” They warn that throughout the country, gang activity is rapidly spreading from large cities to outlying suburban and rural areas. This, they predict, will cause gang-related violent crime to remain at high levels and likely increase. They write: “As these gangs encounter resistance from local gangs or other drug distributors in these communities, an increase in violent incidents such as assaults, drive-by shootings, and homicides can be expected. “2 The Evolution of Gangs
No one knows exactly when gangs first formed, but they are often assumed to have been around for centuries. According to Lou Savelli, who is a retired New York City police sergeant and cofounder of the East Coast Gang Investigators Association, the word thug dates back to India during the 1200s. It is derived from “Thugz,” an Indian word that referred to a gang of criminals who traveled throughout the country terrorizing towns. Savelli adds that like gangs today, the Thugz had their own symbols, hand signs, slang language, and rituals.
Gang activity is thought to have begun in the United States early in the country’s history. Journalist Ed Grabianowski explains: “Criminal gangs have certainly been around as long as crime itself—it doesn’t take a criminal mastermind to realize there is strength in numbers. The urbanization that accompanied the Industrial Revolution gave rise to the modern street gang. “3 Throughout the 1800s, as more people immigrated to America from other countries, gangs such as the Monk Eastman Gang and Five Points Gang formed and terrorized the streets of New York.
But it was the 1920s that ushered in the heyday of gang activity in the United States because of a notorious gangster named Al Capone, also called Scarface. This was a time known as Prohibition, when the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution made the sale or distribution of alcohol illegal. Supporters hoped the legislation would transform American society for the better, but its effects were quite different from what they expected. Once alcohol was no longer legally available, criminal gangs began to distribute it on the black market.
These gangs developed rapidly and continued to grow in power, which caused a steep rise in violent crime. Capone and his gang of criminals were responsible for a wave of violence in the Chicago area during the 1920s and 1930s. Savelli says this led to his becoming known as most violent gangster in Chicago and perhaps in all of the United States. Capone’s reputation spread far and wide, and his actions strongly influenced the activities of would-be gangsters throughout the country. By the time Prohibition ended in 1933, gangs had become entrenched throughout the country and were widely known for their connections with violent crime.
During the 1950s gang-related crime was rampant in a number of U. S. cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, and it was steadily growing. Over the following decades gangs became better organized and continued to expand their activities from cities into neighboring communities, as the Justice Department explains: “The gang members who migrated from urban areas often formed new, neighborhood-based local gangs. These local gangs generally controlled their territories through violence and intimidation. 4 Gang membership—and associated violent crime—continued to grow throughout the rest of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Street Gangs and Motorcycle Outlaws Gangs often differ significantly from one another based on membership requirements, structure, and the ages and ethnicity of the members. Two main types that have been identified by law enforcement officials are street gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs. The Justice Department says that street gangs pose a considerable threat to communities because they are the largest group and also control the greatest geographical area. Therefore,” Justice Department authorities explain, criminal activities such as violence and drug trafficking perpetrated by street gangs pose the greatest threat. The threat becomes magnified as national- and regional-level street gangs migrate from urban areas to suburban and rural communities, expanding their influence in most regions and broadening their presence outside the United States to develop associations with . . . criminal organizations in Mexico, Central America, and Canada. 5
Most street gangs are local-level gangs that operate in single locations while regional-level street gangs are more organized and larger. Some of the largest and most violent street gangs are Hipic gangs such as MS13, 18th Street, Surenos, and Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (Latin Kings) and the predominately African American gangs Bloods, Crips, and Black P. Stone Nation. Asian gangs such as the Asian Boyz are also developing a reputation as a result of their links to drug trafficking and violent crimes. Though less common than gangs of other racial and ethnic groups, white gangs also pose a threat.
The white supremacist street gang Nazi Low-riders has a growing presence in Southern California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Illinois, and members have been connected with a number of racially motivated violent crimes. Outlaw motorcycle gangs also pose a significant threat because they engage in numerous criminal activities, such as trafficking in weapons and drugs, and often commit violent crimes. State and local law enforcement agencies have identified as many as 520 outlaw motorcycle gangs with an estimated total of 20,000 members of various races and ethnicities.
The motorcycle gangs that the FBI considers the greatest threat because of criminal activities are the Sons of Silence, Bandidos, Mongols, Hells Angels, and Outlaws. Gangs Behind Bars Just because people are incarcerated, and even sentenced to life in prison, does not necessarily prevent them from engaging in gang activities. According to the Justice Department, prison gangs are highly structured criminal networks that are active within prisons throughout the United States. It adds that as of September 2008, more than 147,000 documented gang members were incarcerated in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.
One state where this is a particularly serious problem is Washington. According to a study released in 2009, gang-affiliated inmates are responsible for 43 percent of all violent crimes that are committed in the state’s prisons. The report also states that the Crips are the most represented prison gang, with 2,385 inmate members. Also well known for violence behind bars is the white supremacist gang Aryan Brotherhood and the Latino gangs Barrio Azteca and Mexican Mafia. One gang that has been especially violent in Texas prisons is the Texas Syndicate.
In February 2007 federal authorities issued indictments for gang members who were suspected of being responsible for as many as 16 murders outside the state’s prisons, including a triple slaying in 2003. The indictment states: “It is understood that members and prospects of the TS may receive a telephone call and instructions to commit a murder . . . at any time. Regardless of the member’s friendship or association with the victim, the orders are to be carried out. “6 Not only are gangs extremely active in prisons, gang members who have been imprisoned are often the gangs’ top leaders.
According to Sergeant Jeremy Young, who is a supervisor with the Modesto, California, police street crimes unit, the bottom level of a gang’s chain of command is made up of gangbangers who are the “soldiers” on the street; the mid-level is composed of the leaders of street crews who run the operation; and the top level are the bosses who are often inside prisons. “The (gang leaders in the) prisons run the street,” he says. “A lot of things that start in there end up out here. “7 Criminal Activities Gangs are involved in a wide range of crimes.
These include drug distribution, assault, armed robbery, drive-by shootings, auto theft, identity theft, extortion, weapons trafficking, and homicide. In fact, the National Gang Threat Assessment report says that according to law enforcement officials throughout the United States, criminal gangs commit as much as 80 percent of the crime in many communities. Yet the connection between gangs and crime is a controversial issue. According to the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D. C. –based think tank that supports alternatives to incarceration, gang members are not responsible for the biggest share of crime in most jurisdictions.
In a July 2007 report, the group states that many crimes committed by gang members are unrelated to gang activity, and reliable data on the extent of gang crime do not exist. The report’s authors write: “The available evidence indicates that gang members play a relatively small role in the national crime problem. . . . National estimates and local research findings suggest that gang members may be responsible for fewer than one in 10 homicides; fewer than one in 16 violent offenses; and fewer than one in 20 serious . . . crimes. “8 Gang-Infested Cities
Although gangs have a presence in communities all over the United States, the National Gang Center says that the three cities with the most gangs and worst gang-related crime are Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. According to John S. Pistole, who is the deputy director of the FBI, Los Angeles is “ground zero for modern gang activity,” with over 400 gangs and an estimated 40,000 gang members. “Many gangs were born here, a generation ago,” he says. “But they are no longer limited to Los Angeles. Like a cancer, gangs are spreading to communities across America. “9
Two other California cities where gang-related crime is increasing are San Diego, where gang-related homicides rose 56 percent between 2006 and 2007, and Salinas, where gang-related homicides increased 125 percent during that same period of time. Gangs are also a serious problem in Hartford, Connecticut, and Camden, New Jersey. And Pistole adds that gangs are becoming more active in many other cities including Baltimore, Houston, Washington, D. C. , Denver, Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Omaha, Nebraska. High-Tech Gangbanging The Internet has opened up a whole new way for gangbangers to recruit new members.
As a February 2007 ABC News report states: “By posting online content that glorifies the thug lifestyle, gangs are using the Web to recruit—some using children as young as 8 years old as part of the online recruiting process, known as ‘Net Banging. ‘”10 Sometimes rival gang members spar with each other online, proudly displaying their gang colors, tattoos, and gang hand signs in photos. They also use the Internet to schedule fights with each other as well as brag about crimes that they have committed. By monitoring these sites, federal and state law enforcement officials can track gang activity.
Cell phones also play a crucial role in gang operations. Gangbangers communicate with each other by sending text messages, and it is not uncommon for them to use multiple phones that they discard after they have completed criminal operations such as drug trafficking. The Justice Department offers an example: “The leader of an African American street gang operating on the north side of Milwaukee used more than 20 cell phones to coordinate drug-related activities of the gang: most were prepaid phones that the leader routinely discarded and replaced. 11 Why Do Young People Join Gangs? Law enforcement professionals say that the issue of why kids join gangs is complex. According to the Justice Policy Institute, no single risk factor or set of factors can accurately predict which young people will become gang members. One of the most common reasons kids join gangs is that they are from broken homes and desperately want to be part of a family-like group, and they perceive gangs as being able to provide that. Brandon Robinson grew up in a housing project in Kansas City, Missouri.
As a participant in a 2007 survey about gangs, he told interviewers that many of those who join share the commonality of being from poverty-stricken, dysfunctional backgrounds. “You got family members on crack and you ain’t eating right,” he says. “Everybody’s hungry. “12 According to Robinson, gang members look out for each other, help feed each other, and stick up for each other, much like a family would. “That’s when you start loving your street,”13 he says.
Other reasons for joining gangs include the lure of having money to spend (from stealing or selling drugs), easy access to drugs, and protection from the dangers of the street and rival gangs. Yet many criminal justice experts say that being part of a gang does not keep kids safer at all. In fact, studies have shown that young people who are involved with gangs have a markedly higher likelihood of being injured or killed than those who are not gang-affiliated. Girl Gangs Traditionally, gangs have been dominated by males and that is still true today.
But the Justice Department states that female involvement in gangs is on the upswing. A May 2008 study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that in high-crime neighborhoods nearly 30 percent of girls surveyed claimed that they were members of gangs. The report ranked “young females as the fastest growing offenders in the national juvenile justice population. “14 One city that has experienced growing problems with girl gangs is Flint, Michigan. Gina Nyovane, a 22-year-old graduate of Flint Northwestern High School, has observed girl gangs in her former school and throughout the city.
She says that these gangs are becoming more widespread and more violent, as she explains: “I hear it all the time. Girls are quick to pull a gun out, faster than a guy. “15 Over Labor Day weekend in 2009, members of a girl gang called the Goonies followed a car that was carrying members of a rival gang, the Dufflebacks. A young man traveling with the Goonies fired six shots at the other car, killing an 18-year-old male passenger and wounding the female driver. Can People Leave the Gang Life Behind? The common view is that people who join gangs are never allowed to leave them.
The Justice Policy Institute says its research has found that gang membership is not a “one-way street” and that the typical gang member is active for a year or less. The group explains: “This myth is perpetuated not only by the media but also by gang members who exaggerate the stakes of membership in order to underscore the importance and permanence of their collective bond. “16 Yet many people say that joining a gang is a lifetime commitment, and the only way someone can leave is by dying or going to prison. Former gang member Hashim Garrett was 15 years old when he was shot six times in the back and legs.
Today he struggles to walk and must use forearm crutches because his right leg is paralyzed. In a speech to students at a middle school in 2008, Garrett addressed the realities of gang life: “They say they’re like your family, but your loved ones don’t ask much of you. Come home on time, clean up your room, be polite, eat your vegetables. The gang’s going to ask more than that. Hold this gun. Hold these drugs. Prove you’re wild. Maybe kill somebody. ” He adds that most gang members want to quit the gang but are too afraid to do so. If you join the football team and you don’t like the coach, you can quit. You can’t quit a gang that easy. “17 Can Gang Violence Be Stopped? Controlling gang proliferation and gang-related crime is one of the most significant challenges facing law enforcement officials every day of the year. Federal agencies such as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives have partnered with state and local police departments throughout the United States in an effort to bring down gangs and put an end to their crime sprees.
In many cities, the focus is on eliminating the leadership of gang enterprises. According to Pistole, the goal is to do more than just disrupt their activities—it is to “dismantle them entirely. ” He explains: Taking apart a gang is like demolishing a building. Hacking away at individual walls and beams might damage the building, but it doesn’t destroy it. But using federal drug and racketeering statutes is akin to dynamiting the foundation. Once the gang’s leadership infrastructure implodes, all members are weakened. It becomes difficult for the group to operate.
Eventually, it crumbles. And so our strategy is to prosecute as many gang leaders, members, and associates as possible so there are no pieces left which are large enough to allow the gang to rebuild. 18 How Serious a Problem Are Gangs? “Following a marked decline from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, a steady resurgence of gang problems has occurred in recent years. ” —James C. Howell, Arlen Egley Jr. , and Christina O’Donnell, research associates with the National Gang Center. “Wherever MS-13 goes, violence follows.
Gang members have carried out beheadings and grenade attacks in Central America and have hacked people with machetes in cities along the East Coast in the United States. ” —Jessica M. Vaughan and John D. Feere, policy analysts with the Center for Immigration Studies. For people in many areas of the world, including the United States, gang violence is a harsh reality of life. According to the U. S. Department of Justice, the problem in America is growing worse. The Justice Department estimates that the number of gang members totaled about 1 million as of September 2008, which was an increase from 800,000 in 2005.
One reason gangs continue to grow larger and more powerful is that they are fostering relationships with criminal organizations in Mexico, Central America, and Canada. This has led to a proliferation of drugs and weapons being smuggled across the U. S. border as well as an influx of illegal aliens who join gangs. To emphasize the seriousness of America’s gang violence, FBI director John Pistole tells the story of a young woman who was working at a Los Angeles outdoor market in September 2007. Her newborn son, Luis, was beside her is his stroller.
Members of the 18th Street gang approached one of the market’s vendors, telling him that he could not sell his goods in their territory unless he paid them rent. He had steadfastly refused to meet their demands in the past, and when he continued to do so at the market, gang members drew their guns and opened fire on him. The man survived, but Luis did not. A stray bullet struck the baby and killed him instantly. Pistole says that this tragic incident is indicative of what is happening throughout the country: “In too many neighborhoods, too many young people are recruited into gangs.
They fall into a life of crime, drugs, and violence. They shoot each other, with no regard to the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. Crime and violence are not confined to their cliques, but have a chilling effect on entire communities. “19 A Ruthlessly Vicious Gang Of all the gangs known to law enforcement, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, is one of the most violent. It started as a small Los Angeles street gang formed during the 1980s by immigrants from El Salvador. Now, however, it is among the largest and most dangerous gangs in the United States and Central America.
According to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), MS-13 has “mushroomed into the size of a small army” and “strives to be the most violent and feared gang in the world. “20 ICE states that MS-13 members have been convicted of murder, assault, extortion, kidnapping, theft, drug dealing, rape, robbery, and other violent crimes. One city that is plagued by the violence of MS-13 is Houston, Texas. Although larger gangs are active in the city, the FBI considers MS-13 to be “of particular concern because members are often heavily armed and well trained in the use of weapons and assault tactics. 21 In January 2009 MS-13 gang members robbed a Houston beauty salon at gunpoint and sexually assaulted an employee. They warned her not to go to the police, saying that if she did she would regret it. They also threatened the salon owner, telling her that they would kill her if she reported the incident, and they demanded that she pay them a weekly protection fee of $100. The salon owner was terrified—but she was also angry. She had seen the same kinds of crimes committed in her native El Salvador, and she was determined to fight to keep them from happening in her adopted country.
Even though she feared for her life and the lives of her family members, she went to the FBI and told agents what happened. During that visit she turned over a security surveillance tape that showed the gang members’ faces. About a week later the woman had not paid the protection money. In retaliation, two MS-13 gangbangers drove by the salon and sprayed the front door with bullets—but they did not get away with the violent act. Because of the tapes and the salon owner’s cooperation, the FBI agents arrested seven members of the gang. As one agent explains: “This case is proof that victims of crime should not suffer in silence. He adds that the salon owner, who was placed in protective custody by the FBI, “was courageous to stand up to gang members, and as a result those gang members are now in jail. “22 Violent Communities Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is often called one of America’s most beautiful cities. With its tree-lined neighborhoods of stately brownstone homes, the “Magnificent Mile” shopping district, prolific theaters and restaurants, and world-renowned museums, the city attracts tourists from many different countries—yet it also has a dark and dangerous side.
Law enforcement officials estimate that 50 to 60 gangs are active in Chicago and that together, they have as many as 30,000 members. Armed gangbangers roam the streets of the South Side of Chicago, committing crimes and terrorizing the people who live there. A chilling testament to this gang violence is evident in one of the city’s lesser-known monuments: an arrangement of more than 150 landscaping stones, each bearing the name of a school-age child killed by gang violence since 2007. Police superintendent Jody Weis states that Chicago youth have become increasingly more violent over the years.
He explains: “There’s simply too many gangs, too many guns and too many drugs on the streets. We’ve got a problem with some of our young people . . . resorting to use of weapons and violence to solve any type of conflicts they may have. “23 Chicago has had a problem with gang violence for many years, but public outrage was sparked in 2007 when a 16-year-old honors student named Blair Holt was killed. Holt, who was not involved with a gang, was riding in a city bus with a friend when members of rival gangs started shooting at each other. He attempted to shield his friend by pushing her down into a seat.
His heroic act saved her life, but he was fatally shot in the stomach. Afterward, his father, a Chicago police officer, expressed his despair and frustration over gangs who do not think twice about killing people: “You wonder where it comes from. What causes a child to wantonly and blatantly hatch such an ill-conceived plan? To go out and do something like this? What makes them do it? Where is this coming from? What are the influences? “24 Chicago is far from alone in its ongoing struggle with gang violence. It is prevalent in communities all over the country.
In South Carolina, for instance, the rate of gang violence has risen nearly 1,000 percent over the past decade, with the highest number of incidents reported in Colleton County. Although Colleton County is home to just 38,000 people, law enforcement investigators have identified about 20 active gangs with an estimated total of 400 members. According to Sheriff George Malone, “The violence in Colleton County is out of control. “25 One incident occurred in November 2009 in the small town of Walterboro. A group of people were playing cards in the front yard of their home when a car pulled up and suddenly opened fire on the group.
A 20-month-old toddler and 2 adults were killed; 6 others were injured. Gangs in the Military According to the Justice Department, gang activity is on the upswing in the military. Members of every major street gang and some outlaw motorcycle gangs have been identified on both domestic and international military bases. One incident involved three soldiers stationed in Alaska who were charged with murder after killing a civilian as they shot at members of a rival gang. Another involved a soldier who was arrested in October 2007 for the gang-related shooting of five people in Oklahoma.
A 2009 Yale Law Journal article describes one case in which a marine sergeant who was a gang member “shot his commanding officer and executive officer—both lieutenant colonels—and threatened to continue killing officers until his fellow gang members were released from confinement. “26 While on active duty, gang members may abuse their security privileges and access to weapons and other military equipment to further gang activities. For instance, military gang members may take advantage of their positions to engage in criminal acts such as trafficking illicit drugs or weapons.
According to the same article, a gang member in the army who was stationed in Iraq smuggled home four AK47 assault rifles that were later used to commit multiple bank robberies. After gang members have been discharged from the military, they remain a serious threat to society. They can use their combat skills against rival gangs and also teach those skills to others. The Justice Department says that this poses a “potentially significant threat,” as it explains: “Gang members with military training pose a unique threat to law enforcement personnel because of the distinctive military skills that they possess . . especially if gang members trained in weapons, tactics, and planning pass this instruction on to other gang members. “27 The Justice Department adds that such military training could ultimately result in more organized, sophisticated, and dangerous gangs as well as an increase of deadly assaults on law enforcement officers. Incarcerated Gangs Incarcerated gang members are every bit as threatening as those who are on the streets because gang members who are behind bars often control crimes that are committed outside of prison.
One example is the Mexican Mafia (also known as the Eme), a violent prison gang with as many as 75,000 members. The incarcerated leaders rule over associates who are given the authority to order crimes in neighborhoods or cities. Tony Rafael, the author of the book The Mexican Mafia, explains: “Street gangsters very often are puppets of the big homies locked up in prison. The proof is overwhelming and plays itself out on an almost daily basis in almost every neighborhood in Southern California. “28
Members of the Mexican Mafia and their associates have been connected with kidnapping, murder, drug trafficking, and extortion, among other crimes. According to Rafael, the gang has grown into a large, powerful, and violent organization. He writes: “It has far-reaching intelligence and communications systems, as well as a standing army of thousands of street soldiers. “29 Rafael adds that the Mexican Mafia continues to expand its power over street crime: “Most neighborhoods in Southern California that have a strong Hipic street gang presence feel the power of the Mexican Mafia.
It took local and state law enforcement over twenty years from the founding of the Mexican Mafia to recognize its influence on the streets. It took another two decades for federal law enforcement to address the Eme as a significant criminal organization. “30 Aside from controlling crime on the streets, these gangs are also involved in violent acts inside prisons. This is a serious problem in Ohio, where attacks in state prisons have doubled from nearly 500 in 2005 to more than 1,000 during 2008.
Corrections officials say that part of the increase in violence is due to an influx of gangs such as the Heartless Felons, who are known for attacking prisoners in bands of six or more. Some of the worst violence has broken out at Mansfield Reformatory, a prison built for 1,536 inmates that now houses 2,475–161 percent over capacity. “These are dangerous times,” says Shirley Pope, the director of the state’s Correctional Institutional Inspection Committee. “Mansfield is overcrowded. It is understaffed and on top of that, it has this peculiar group of younger inmates who have been described as incredibly vicious.
An Ongoing Problem Whether they are terrorizing people in neighborhoods, committing crimes while in the military, or reigning over street crime from inside prisons, gangs are a significant problem all over the United States. Law enforcement officials report that gangs now have a presence in every U. S. state and the District of Columbia, and gang membership appears to be growing. According to reports from local, state, and federal authorities, there is no sign that this situation will change anytime in the near future.