Monday, March 24, 2008

Gangs Have Grown Up

After reading what I've read about street gangs for the last few days in the Commercial Appeal. I feel I'm just as qualified as anyone else to access this gang situation. I've been saying the same thing for the last thirty years. The problem didn't have to grow to epidemic proportions before I noticed. All it took was one summer with my cousins from Chicago. Telling me all about how they would rumble in the park. I knew all I needed to know about the Vice Lords and the Gangster Disciples. I could think of too many other things to do other than getting shot. Any farther interest I might have had. My father helped me out with that.

When I was young I was pretty popular with the other kids. I could convince my friends to play what I wanted to play. But they wouldn't shoot another kid from the neighborhood because they were on the wrong street. When the street lights came on, all that influence abruptly ended. We better be somewhere close by, if not in the house. The authorities could have and should have nipped this in the bud at the first sign of trouble. Instead they treated them like the little kid who bought the soda, but stole the chips. You can't wait until your children get to be teenagers and then try to discipline them. By then they're not having it. It's the same thing with gangs. Some of the adolescent thugs have grown up to be adults. Their lifestyles haven't changed. Just their level of involvement. The officers and O.G's now run businesses and own homes. All of these home invasions aren't random acts. There's always some cop with ties. Last year a judge was removed from the bench. Because now it's been proven,they even have a judge with affiliations. The gangs have grown up.

Read the whole series of articles:


Blogger Common said...

Gangs moving beyond the city
Covington sees activity just like 'little Memphis'
By Don Wade (Contact)
Monday, May 12, 2008

Ace, Fat, Hurdle Boy, Man Man and Playa Key.

Street names of suspected low-ranking Vice Lord gang members in Covington.

The names of higher-ranking gang members from the VLs, Gangster Disciples, Crips and Bloods, Covington police and the Tipton County Sheriff's Department prefer not to share.

Kristen Nicole Sayres/Special to The Commercial Appeal

Sgt. Jay Black of Covington's crime prevention/drug and gang unit studies gang-related graffiti.

But their names are known to investigators, the information often coming from intake interviews at the county jail where gang tattoos are documented, too.

Out on the streets, in an area of Covington lined with brick duplexes known as the "North Projects," a 31-year-old man who claims to have once run his own crew when he was a Gangster Disciple -- "I don't claim no more" -- says that what Covington has now are not true gangs, but "cliques."

"This is just a little old country town, people doing what people normally do" says the man, who gives his street name as "Mind."

Law enforcement is of another mind.

"Gangs are active and committing crimes in every one of my five counties," says Mike Dunavant, Attorney General for the 25th Judicial District covering Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy and Tipton counties.

Covington, with an estimated population of 9,100, perhaps has as much or more gang activity than any small city just outside of Memphis.

So, as Tipton County Sheriff's investigator Chris Smith drives through Covington neighborhoods, steering his unmarked car along Valley Street -- "Crack Valley," for the drug trade -- and along Hill Street -- "this is where a shooting took place" -- he shares a nickname for this gritty little burg split by Highway 51.

"Basically," says Smith, "it's just Little Memphis."

Country town, city ills

Covington police and the Tipton County Sheriff's Department agree: In the last year couple of years they have seen evidence of increased gang activity.

That evidence can be subtle -- graffiti -- or not so subtle -- more reports of gunfire.

"We're having a lot of problems with the Vice Lords," says Smith. "They're trying to take over -- a lot of shootings between the VLs and the GDs."

Sgt. Jay Black, who is assigned to Covington's crime prevention/drug and gang unit, says most of the GDs in the area are older and have been in and around Covington for years. The Vice Lords tend to be younger.

Smith says the Kitchen Crips are in Mason, and that there are Bloods in Covington and other parts of the county.

But no town in Tipton County is immune from gangs. "They're everywhere," Smith says. "Brighton, Atoka, Munford, Mason."

"Blue Crush is pushing (gang members) up this way," adds Rodney McCurry, a Covington patrolman who is partnered with Black. "A lot of them have warrants in Memphis."

While the Memphis Police Department's Blue Crush initiative might be moving some gang members beyond the city limits, it's difficult to determine how connected these gang members in Covington are with those in Memphis and other cities.

"This ain't nothing like Memphis," says Mind, the self-described former Gangster Disciple. "They shake hands, play like it's the real thing."

Covington police recently confiscated some Vice Lords literature listing names and rank during the serving of a warrant. The gang's chain of command was a little different than what might been seen in a Vice Lords set in Memphis or Chicago.

Says Sgt. Black: "I don't know if somebody gave (the supposed leader) that rank, or if he sat around with his buddies here and decided he'd take it."

Meantime, there is some evidence that even Covington and Chicago have a possible connection. "We'll run across people from Chicago here with known GDs," Smith says. "We'll say, 'Who's that?' They tell us it's their cousin visiting for the weekend, but here he is standing with three known GDs and all tatted up."

Passing it on

Dunavant doesn't have any hard-and-fast statistics to show the number of gang-related crimes in his five-county jurisdiction. He says it's often difficult to define who is a gang member and what is an actual gang crime.

"It's rare to have a gang member admit to being in a gang," he says.

This truth plays out as Black and McCurry drive though Covington on a recent afternoon. They stop and talk window-to-window with a young man wearing a white do-rag and T-shirt behind the wheel of a white car.

They say he's a Vice Lord.

He says: "Shoot, I ain't got nothing to do with no gang. Talk to the police. They the biggest gang."

It can even be difficult to know when to classify a crime as gang-related when it involves known or strongly suspected gang members. Such was the case with Covington's only homicide in 2006.

Last year, a judge sentenced Michael Hoover Jr. to 15 years in prison for the shooting death of Ivan D. Williams in the parking lot of Thrift Mart at 825 Peeler. Each man had gang affiliation, police say. But at the time of the shooting, "we were arguing over a girl," Hoover wrote in his statement to police.

"It may just be a personal dispute," Dunavant says. "But the gang mentality is: 'We don't need the court to handle our business for us. We'll handle it ourselves.' "

What is certain: Covington has its own gang culture. In fact, the gang name is sometimes less important than the family name. Longtime residents have feuds that go back for years, that pre-date any gang affiliation.

"When something happens," says Black, "we usually know everybody involved."

Sometimes, gang members make it easy. The alleged leader of the Gangster Disciples in Covington is known to wear a necklace with a large six-point star and an oversized white T-shirt with upward pitchforks -- GD symbols.

Police have documented other Covington gang members throwing signs and holding weapons on

As Smith drives down a Covington street at about 9:30 one night, he points to a yard that is a gathering place for Vice Lords.

Two doors down, a Tipton County Sheriff's car sits in a driveway. Covington is simply not large enough for its citizens to avoid gang territory.

"You get a nice area, historic houses," Smith says later as he rolls down just such a street near the town square, "and go two blocks and it'll be drugs and gangs. And then in half a mile, you've got the country club."

The Covington Housing Authority, Black says, has tried to stop problems by banning documented trouble-makers. Covington police, in turn, sometimes arrest the banned persons for trespassing. Some apartment complexes have contracted with private security companies.

All of that might help fight today's Covington crime, but Officer McCurry recently saw evidence of tomorrow's trouble.

"A 7-year-old throwing gang signs and he's doing it right," McCurry says, shaking his head. "Man, somebody trained him well."

Trained him well in Little Memphis.

7:29 PM  
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