|Street Gangs Got Start in L.A.|
|By Don Kelley, Probation and Parole Supervisor, Montana Department of Corrections|
Gang issue reaches into corrections - Part I
This five part series is intended to provide insight into the history, function and hierarchy of some of the most violent of worlds.
This information can help officers recognize some of the risks associated with the supervision of these offender groups and a few real world techniques to reduce risk during and after dealings with them.
To develop an understanding of gang behavior and why street gangs are an issue for many communities across the state, it is important to begin with a history of these groups.
Black Americans have a 75-year history of street gang involvement, primarily in Los Angeles, but their Latino counterparts have a gang history that reaches to the beginning of the 1900s.
Black street gangs began to appear in the 1920s in the downtown area of Los Angeles where they had settled into ethnic neighborhoods. In the years that followed they moved southward to Slauson Avenue. The area between Slauson and Manchester was predominantly white, but the black influence was growing rapidly.
Many of these gangs were collections of family and friends involved in prostitution, robbery and extortion. These gangs faded into history around 1940. It is believed that the original members had aged and the youth of the era distanced themselves from the gangs. Also, the start of World War II took many area youth into the armed forces.
Shortly after the war’s end, the area around Central Avenue and East Los Angeles again saw gangs on the rise. Primary gangs of this era were known as 28th Street and 31st Street.
The 1950s saw a rise in black social clubs in the communities. Some of these were early attempts at developing political organizations. Others had no real purpose other than social gatherings. Most of these clubs were territorial and ethnically organized with visible leadership, and chains of command.
Many of these social clubs soon developed into more violent and illegal organizations, getting involved in petty thefts, robbery and assault.
Murder among gangs still was extremely rare. The weapons of choice were guns, baseball bats, knives – occasionally used to settle territorial disputes.
The Los Angeles Police Department began to identify “street gangs” around 1965. Many of these gangs were car clubs not directly involved in street fighting or territorial disputes. Some of the most popular car clubs of the ’50s and ’60s were the Coasters, the Highwaymen, Low Riders and Road Devils. Many clubs were depicted by Hollywood as much more violent than the facts support.
The era of the ’60s saw a decline of the car clubs as members again aged and faded into the communities. The attention of the community turned to political organizations that were developing. Many members who were in their teens in the early ’60s later turned their attention to other directions and became members and leaders of the Black Panther Party. Escalation of the Vietnam War also may have contributed to the decline in street gang activity then.
Beginning in the early 1980s, El Salvadore experienced a rampant civil war, lasting about 12 years. During this time, some 100,000 people were killed or missing. In the midst of the war, more than 1 million people fled to America.
The Salvadoran refugees, both legal and illegal, began to settle in California and Washington, DC. Individuals with ties to La Mara (one of El Salvadore’s original violent street gangs) were among those immigrating to the United States. Upon arrival, they encountered severe cultural differences and hatred in relation to existing American street gangs. Mara Salvatrucha (MS) quickly asserted itself and became known as a gang indulging in extreme violence.
Many of the members are former members of FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front). The FMLN consisted of peasant guerrilla units trained in the use of explosives and firearms by the CIA in order to fight soldiers of the “Fourteen Families”
The primary difference between MS and traditional American street gangs is the international ties they continue to maintain. The continuing contact between the El Salvadoran military and the South American drug cartels allows for a large amount of easy cash and access to automatic weapons that are difficult for traditional gangs to obtain.
For example, a hand grenade on the streets of El Salvadore sells for $1 and an M-16 rifle sells for $225. The supply of handguns, however, is limited, forcing MS to trade them for narcotics.
By 1980, Los Angeles had an estimated 30,000 gang members. Ten years later, more than 300 Blood and Crip sets operated in Los Angeles County, with more than 150,000 members. Crip and Blood sets can be found in more than 100 American cities.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles, reprinted with permission, about street gangs and motorcycle clubs in Montana, issues for both correctional officers and probation and parole officers.
Part II - Gangs Lure Members in Getting Foothold
Part III - Biker Gangs Have Deep Roots . br>
Part IV - Three Bike Gangs Dominate Montana .
Part V - Hells Angels not big force in Montana
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT