Comparative Perspective of Organized Crime
Gangs continue to incite violence and fear within our communities. With the pervasiveness of gangs today, we are seeing more sophistication and the brazen tactics of intimidation, drugs, weapons and increased criminal activity. Communities are challenged by confronting these types of issues. Facing them jointly with law enforcement, citizens are adapting strategies including education and awareness as their best defense against gang violence. This paper will address two prominent Los Angeles crime gangs, the 18th Street Gang and the Crips.
Historical Perspective – 18th Street Gang The 18th Street Gang is primarily a Hispanic gang formed in the 1960’s in Los Angeles (The National Alliance of Gang Investigator’s Association, 2005). It is thought that the origin of the name stemmed from the older Clanton 14 Street gang because of the area where the gang made its’ home base. Although some members are of a mixed racial composite, it is considered one of the oldest and largest of the Hispanic gangs. Because of the acceptance of immigrants, the 18th Street Gang has grown considerably and has expanded throughout California, to the Midwest and to the East Coast.
Some of their recruitment techniques involve solicitation in elementary and middle schools that has increased their membership significantly, along with their ties in Mexico and South America (The National Alliance of Gang Investigator’s Association, 2005). Membership and Hierarchy It is estimated that there are approximately 8,000 to 15,000 members of the 18th Street Gang in Los Angeles alone. The gang may be as large as 30,000 or more when considering the Central American factions.
The gang is divided into sub-sets: North, East, South, West and South Central Los Angeles; however, there are affiliations in other countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico (National Public Radio, 2008). According to law enforcement, there is no known central leadership, either domestically or internationally. The groups appear to work independently but will join forces when they are countering rival gangs. Identification/Markings The gang members of the 18th Street Gang have tattoos such as the number 18 which can be identified in the Spanish language or through Roman numerals.
There is also a combination of numbers that is used to equal the number eighteen such as 666 or 99. Officers in Los Angeles have also seen tattoos bearing the word BEST which stands for Barrio Eighteen Street (National Public Radio, 2008). Culture and Criminal Activity LAPD gang detective Magdaleno Gomez says that the gang, “is known for murders, kidnapping, robberies and selling dope” (Los Angeles Times, 2008). They have also been involved in producing fake immigration cards and food stamps. They are also known to take kickbacks from rival gang members in exchange for protection (National Public Radio, 2008).
Across the spectrum of crime, there are very few areas that the 18th Street Gang does not participate in. Historical Perspective – Crips Raymond Washington, a 15 year-old student from Fremont High school started the Crips in 1969 although the original name of the gang is thought to have been the Baby Avenues or the Avenue Cribs (Street Gangs, 2008). Around 1971, the group had grown significantly and Raymond met Stanley “Tookie” Williams, who lived on the west side of Los Angeles and recruited Washington.
Washington was murdered in 1979; however, no one was ever arrested or prosecuted for his murder (Street Gangs, 2008). It was not uncommon for young black to cultivate political and social clubs in the 60’s; however, the Crips became far more violent than Washington anticipated. Many groups like the Black Panthers and the Sons of Watts tried to practice the ideology of protecting their communities against racism, brutality and social injustices in the beginning of their formation (Gangsta King: Raymond Lee Washington, 2003).
Membership & Growth The Crips are primarily African-American although not exclusively. Although the original premise of the gang was founded between two autonomous gangs, there are now individual sets in a loosely comprised network that practice open rivalry against each other (Gangs OR Us, 2009). Gang members range from 12-24 years of age but the average age is 17-18. The composition of the gang is not hierarchical but instead is loosely structured or affiliated with the different sets of neighborhood members (Abadinsky, 2007, pg. 235). Most members use an alias or a street name.
Gang initiations are usually conducted by an array of criminal acts such as armed robbery, assault or murder, a drive-by shooting, or a “beat-in” or “jump-in” where other members physically assault the prospective member to show that they have courage and loyalty to their comrades (Gangs OR Us, 2009). It is thought that there are anywhere from 30,000 to 35,000 members in the United States. The group has moved through Northern California, Washington, and through the Mid-West (Abadinsky, 2007, pg. 235). The gang is known to be involved in drug dealing, robberies, and murder.
They have expanded their crack drug business in cities where they have found the ability to infiltrate the market. There is an intense rivalry with the Bloods, Hispanic or Chicano gangs and there have even been Crips members in the U. S. military. Groups that are considered allies are those that find the Bloods as rivals (Gangs OR Us, 2009). Identification The Crips identify with the color blue and are usually adorned with a blue bandana called a “flag” (Gangs OR Us, 2009). The blue bandana was first worn by a founding member who was later shot and killed.
They call each other “Cuzz” and have an intricate language which substitutes the letter “C” for the letter “B” when they converse or communicate through writing. The Crips also engage in rapping and tagging as part of their literary practices (Gangs OR Us, 2009). Similarities and Comparison Both the 18th Street Gang and the Crips engage in criminal activity such as assaults, aggravated battery, robbery, drive-by shootings and murders. They also prey upon their own communities to propagate their drug dealings. These kinds of gangs cooperate with similar gangs to facilitate crime and drug trafficking.
They are both involved in drug trafficking at the retail street level rather than wholesale (National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, 2005). The 18th Street Gang and the Crips both deal in the street level distribution of both powder and crack cocaine. They both rob from persons, stores, banks, and even armored cars (National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, 2005). Both gangs utilize firearms while in the commission of a crime. Both groups appear to be cultural gangs grounded in their neighborhood identity and loyalty to the gang (Abadinsky, 2007, pg. 235).
Differences and Distinction of Gangs Unlike the Crips, the 18th Street Gang is more sophisticated in their criminal activities. They appear to rely more on an increased use of technology in order to produce illegal Naturalization and Immigration cards and counterfeit food stamps. The 18th Street Gang also has a direct connection to the drug cartels of Mexico and Columbia (National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, 2005). Members of the 18th Street Gang are also forbidden to use crack cocaine. Law enforcement has also identified a direct connection to prostitution in some cases.
The gang also is comprised of some illegal immigrants (18th Street Gang in Los Angeles County, 2002). The Crips have an intricate communication system that uses graffiti, the use of hand signals, displaying their colors, and also wearing selected athletic clothing. They often wear jogging suits and tennis shoes, professional sports team jackets and caps bearing the names of Los Angeles teams. They seem to exhibit more of a sense of individualism and a strong commitment to fostering and maintaining violence against rival groups (Gang Watchers, 2005). Their “tagging” often represents past or future gang activity.
If they have the ability to become more structured, they could have the potential to represent even more serious problems for law enforcement. They have tried to gain empathy from the public by stating they are a peaceful organization; however, they continue to participate in urban warfare and violent take-over robberies (Gang Watchers, 2005). Conclusion There is no region of the United States that has not been touched by gang activity or the presence of gangs. Groups such as the 18th Street Gang and the Crips affect the safety of the public, and the quality of life in towns, cities, urban and rural areas.
They affect society by causing fear, a heightened sense of violence and economic strife. New communities will feel the impact of gang activity as it impedes the safety of their children. Communities must continue to partner with law enforcement by acknowledging the problem, offering education and awareness programs, and coordinating their responses. Cooperation between local jurisdictions and the federal agencies is mandatory in order to share information. Additional training for law enforcement is essential in order to thwart the expansion of gangs and their criminal enterprises.