DOWNEY – Los Angeles has been the mother of modern street gangs. Some of these gangs are made up of several hundred members and they are across the United States and down into Latin America. The Bloods and the Crips are the black gangs that originated here and have had gang wars in locations such as Stockton, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and are found in Minnesota, Atlanta, Louisville and down in Michoacán, Mexico. Much of the violence in Central America, especially in El Salvador and Honduras, are conflicted between MS 13 that formed around McArthur Park in Los Angeles and the 18th Street that’s also a Los Angeles city gang.
In 2001, I came to Los Padrinos and was told there were 800 fighting gangs in Los Angeles County and about 90,000 confirmed gang members in our computers and an additional 60,000 wannabe’s. That’s a force of 150,000 – probably the same numbers we had in Iraq or in the Middle East.
Where did all these gangsters come from? Sociologists tell us the following: it started with the great immigration trends. Large numbers of Latinos have been coming across the borders for years and years. And they come to Southern California. They are poor, not highly educated and they have a tough time working into the society of America. There’s a large body of blacks who moved from the south and the north after WWII and came to Los Angeles – relocating to the Compton area and South Central Los Angeles.
Another cause were the Watts Riot of 1965 and the later Watts Riot in the ‘70s that caused a tremendous amount of homeowners and whites to move to the suburbs, leaving these areas open to the lower income groups and underemployed.
Another major factor was construction of high density apartment houses. Instead of having homeowners who had a stake in the community and cared deeply about where they lived, you had low-income renters who came and went, and the streets were highly crowded with cars and with sofas and furniture that was abandoned when the tenants would move.
The streets also became full of teenagers and gangs started to form based on race: the blacks, the Latinos, all the nations down in South America. Asian gangs – Chinese, Cambodian, Korean and even from Vietnam we had the Mong tribe that also formed into gangs.
Another major factor was the Mexican Mafia – an adult prison gang. The Mexican drug cartels produced the heroin and marijuana and the Mexican Mafia was able to grab hold of its distribution. Drugs proved very lucrative to the street gangs as a way for poor people to make a lot of money. The Mafia provided the distribution and the gangs became territorial as they staked out their neighborhood streets and tried to exclude others from trying to sell drugs or having any other kind of criminal activities in their area.
You can tell who they are. They had their uniforms. They had hoodies, they had the long shirts, the baggy pants. Unfortunately, they became more and more violent as modern weaponry became available to them. Prior to World War II, they had knives and maybe homemade zip guns but after World War II they armed themselves with revolvers and other weapons.
The names of the gangs reflected their territories and have become very infamous – such as 18th Street, Grape Street Crips, Hoover Street, Piru Street (a gang in Compton), and unfortunately the Brock Street Barrio Locos that were here in Downey at one time.
Graffiti was used to delineate the territory and it would also ignite turf wars when one group would try to take over the territory of another. The code was the letter “R” for RIFA, which means “we rule” or “our gang rules.”
We also had Con Sufes CS on these signs which meant that nothing could wipe it out even if you paint this over, nothing can change the fact that we rule. This led to a tremendous amount of violence between the gangs over these territories and the ability to sell drugs and do local crime and shake down local businesses. The neighborhoods and the parks became dangerous, especially at night, and the residents who were peaceful stayed off the streets and the businesses had to deal with these problems.
The Mexican Mafia is strongest in Southern California and 10 years ago they decided to take over the street gangs. They controlled all the drugs from the Mexican drug cartels and so they demanded that the street gangs affiliate with them, and if they did then they would solely be provided the drugs and they would also be provided what we call “OG’s,” or Old Gangsters. These are criminal gangsters from the Mafia who had gotten out of prison and they would be assigned to these gangs to teach them techniques and to organize the gangs.
In return for this, the members of the gangs were taxed monthly. They had to pay money. So they had to go sell the drugs so they could pay for the Old Gangsters as collectors for the Mafia.
They also provided the discipline. If you did not pay your fines, you were subject to be beaten or killed. They have what is a policy called the “green light” – if you had a green light you could be killed. If a gang did not cooperate anymore and pay their taxes, the whole gang could be green lighted. We have never seen a whole gang murdered but we have seen many individuals who were killed.
Unfortunately this helped evolve the street gangs into a much more of an organized New York Mafia situation.
It’s interesting to note that the Mexican Mafia did help our situation in one way. They did not like the conspicuousness of the tattoos and flashy uniforms. They banned drive-by shootings because of the disorder and bad publicity. They pushed the gangs indoors as much as possible.
The Mafia is also known as La Eme – that’s the 13th letter of the Spanish alphabet and the gangs would adopt the number 13 in their names. So you have Whittier 13, La Mirada 13, Florencia 13 and you have several without the number, like Dog Patch in Paramount and the Brock Street Barrio Locos in Downey.
Has there been a decline in gangs? Statistics show there have been. When you look at the statistics of gang robberies in 2002, there were 3,300 gang-related robberies and this past year there have been 1,000 gang-related robberies. Carjackings have gone from 211 in 2003 down to 33 in 2013. We have similar stats from Downey showing that gang-related assaults have gone from about 17 five years ago to this past year of only 2. Also, we have been noticing a great deal less of graffiti throughout the county and here in Downey.
What have been some of the causes of this? First the gang injunctions. We have approximately 44 gang injunctions against 72 gangs in Los Angeles County. This means that two gangsters are not allowed to gather in a certain geographical area. If two of them are together, it’s a violation of a crime, a misdemeanor, and a sentence of up to six months in jail and they get arrested for just hanging out together once they are identified as a member of that gang.
Gang injunctions are very effective with minors. They wear uniforms and hang out on the street corners. Their arrests are a tremendous deterrent to the gangs.
Second are the RICO statutes. RICO is Racketeering Influence and Corruption Organizations. This is federal statute used against the New York Mafia gangs. However, it is now applied to the local gang situation here in Los Angeles County.
The RICO is based on the theory that you’re not going to get very far in just knocking out the leaders of the gangs and you have to take huge chunks of the gang membership out of the community. In 2008 we filed against the 147 members of the Hawaiian Gardens gang known as HG. Since it’s a federal law, we are not required to use California prisons and so they were sent to federal facilities such as those in Arkansas and Indiana. This broke up the whole gang situation. It stopped all visitation and communicating while in jail.
We have had 24 RICO criminal actions since 2006. Florencia 13 down in Watts lost 102 members. They took out 41 of an El Monte gang.
Another factor is the strong use of statistics by all the police forces. Now they keep very careful statistics by all the police forces. Now they keep very careful statistics of what type of crime and their location. This lets law enforcement know where to focus their police efforts.
Community policing has been another major change. The old style was just hard law enforcement with police being in patrol cars and arresting and pulling over criminals. Now the police have gone into the communities. They realized that with gangs, the old style was not working and they were not getting good results. Now through all of Los Angeles County, you are now seeing the police engaged in their local community. They meet with ministers and community groups. They form neighborhood watches. They are someone you can go to if you need broken windows fixed, trees trimmed or garbage and trash removed.
It’s interesting to note that this past January 2015, two Los Angeles Police Department officers were invited to President Obama’s State of the Union address to honor their work in Watts. They have become very community oriented. They founded a 150-member Girl Scout roop and run it. They have formed the Watts Bears football team for ages 9-11. We have seen a tremendous reduction in graffiti and gang activity in the Watts area.
The community policing activities has had its effect. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times took a poll and found two-thirds of the blacks and three-fourths of the Latinos in Los Angeles County had a favorable view of the Los Angeles Police Department.
In Downey, the police force is deeply engaged in community projects such as neighborhood watch, school safety, patrolling on foot, bike riding patrols in the parks, vacation watches, and using dogs to sniff out drugs in the school lockers and everywhere else. They are also on campus five days a week at Downey High, Warren High, Columbus High and wherever else they are needed.
I think we should note that the Brock Street Barrio Locos are no more. In fact, there are no established gangs in the city of Downey. The graffiti you now see is done by what we call “oners.” Some minors who just want to put his name of moniker up on a fence. None of it, or very little of it, has anything to do with a gang.
Sergeant Cooper of the Downey Police Department, Corporal Shaw and Officer Romo, I believe they are here today, are doing a great job. I would also like to point out Darrell Jackson of the 10-20 Club. It provides great counseling here for drugs, violence and family problems. We at the Los Padrinos Juvenile Court rely on his organization for help.
What now? Unfortunately the Mexican Mafia and drug cartels are still present and very active. The crime is much more indoors, using computers, identity thefts and they are selling their drugs from inside of an apartment or inside of a house. They are still very highly sophisticated and disciplined and they are a menace to our community.
However, at least our streets and the parks are safer, and the everyday life has been greatly improved with much less problems with graffiti. Also, the Mafia has taken the panache out of being a gangster. The green light disciplines, the beatings, the killings, have made being a gangster not exactly what a young man really wants.
There’s a lot of work to do; we must be constantly vigilant.
I wish to thank everyone here today for your support of Gangs Out of Downey. GOOD was founded in 1989, meets monthly and brings together probation officers, Downey Police Department, educators, small business people, elected officials and concerned citizens.
It supports drug, gang and anger management counseling at the 10-20 Club in Downey, graffiti removal and additional funding for policing the schools.
Everyone is a volunteer and of all the 22 cities I cover at Los Padrinos, Downey is the only one with an organization of this kind. Your presence here today means a great deal to us.
Published: March 19, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 49