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Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC Gang World Author(s): Andrew V. Papachristos Source: Foreign Policy, No. 147 (Mar. - Apr., 2005), pp. 48-55 Published by: Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30047987 . Accessed: 31/01/2011 17:38 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=wpni. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Foreign Policy. http://www.jstor.org

Gang World

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Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC

Gang WorldAuthor(s): Andrew V. PapachristosSource: Foreign Policy, No. 147 (Mar. - Apr., 2005), pp. 48-55Published by: Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLCStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30047987 .Accessed: 31/01/2011 17:38

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at .http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=wpni. .

Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].

Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to Foreign Policy.


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Street gangs are proliferating around the world. The United States has

unwittingly spurred this phenomenon by deporting tens of thousands of

immigrants with criminal records eachyear. But that only partly

explains how gangs went global. Credit also goes to the Internet, where

gangs are staking out turf and spreading their culture online. Gang members may have never heard ofglobalization, but it is making them

stronger. I By Andrew V. Papachristos

It's a cold winter day in Chicago, and Hec- tor is doing what he does almost every day, standing on his drug spot "serving" customers. Hector, a 19-year-old member

of the Latin Kings street gang, is the son of Mexi- can immigrants. He speaks Spanglish skillfully, mixed with urban slang, and wears a uniform typ- ical of the youth in his neighborhood-puffy coat, baggy jeans, and meticulously clean, white athlet- ic shoes (in a city where snow salt decimates entire wardrobes). Hector has never traveled outside of Chicago and only rarely ventures beyond a three- mile radius of his apartment.

Hector stands at the end of a long and familiar global commodity chain. The little plastic bags in his palm contain $10 chunks of crack cocaine that look like jagged, disfigured sugar cubes. By the time the crack hits the streets of Chicago, it has been touched

Andrew V Papachristos, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the Uni-

versity of Chicago, has worked with gangs for more than 12 years.

by more than a dozen people in three countries. Hector has no interest in its global supply chain. His daily concerns and activities center on a few city blocks, his aspirations reaching just as far. The majority of Hector's day is spent doing what other 19-year-olds do-sleeping, hanging out with friends, trying to talk to teenage girls, playing video games, and standing on the street corner laughing. He sells drugs for only a few hours a day, going home with around $50 profit, little more than he'd make work- ing at McDonald's.

Hector's image-that of a young, minority, "inner- city," male gang member-is transmitted, exploited, and glamorized across the world. The increasing mobility of information via cyberspace, films, and music makes it easy for gangs, gang members, and gang wannabes to get information, adapt personalities, and distort gang behaviors. Most often, these images of gang life are not simply exaggerated; they're flat-out wrong. Flashy cars, diamond rings (real ones, at least), and wads of cash are not the gang world norm.





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Globalization at Work

Making out like bandits: Members of Mara 18, originally an L.A. gang now comprise one of Central America's two largest gangs.

Hustling to make ends meet, trying to put food on the table while staying out of jail, wearing the same T-shirt and blue jeans until they have holes in them, and deal- ing with the humdrum of school, unemployment, and child support are more typical.

Nonetheless, two images of street gangs domi- nate the popular consciousness-gangs as posses of drug-dealing thugs and, more recently, gangs as ter- rorist organizations. Although the media like to link gangs and drugs, only a small portion of all gangs actually deal in them. Fewer do so in an organized fashion. The National Youth Gang Center (NYGC) estimates that 34 percent of all U.S. gangs are actively involved in organized drug dealing. Gangs that do sell drugs essentially fill a void in the postindustri- al urban economy, replacing the manufacturing and unskilled labor jobs that traditionally served as a means for social mobility.

Similarly, the name Jose Padilla is inevitably fol- lowed by two epithets-al Qaeda terror suspect and street gang member. The link between the two is extremely misleading. Padilla was arrested at Chica- go's O'Hare International Airport in June 2002, reportedly en route to detonate a "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city. But, as with drug dealing, most gangs lack the organizational wherewithal to operate transna- tional clandestine networks. Instead, most gangs

engage in what one criminologist calls "cafeteria- style" crime-a little bit of drug use, a smattering of larceny, a dab of truancy, a dollop of fighting, and so on. Padilla's attempted terrorist act had little to do with his gang affiliation.

That said, there have been a handful of extreme examples that suggest that some gangs do in fact have the global reach necessary to commit terrorist acts. In 1986, the Chicago-based El Rukns conspired to commit terrorist acts on U.S. soil on behalf of the Libyan government, in exchange for $2.5 million. [sidebar on opposite page.] In the 1990s, the Latin Kings funneled money to the FALN, a militant group based in Puerto Rico, through ties that were culti- vated inside the U.S. prison system. And, most recent- ly, leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (Ms-13) gang, which operates in at least 31 states and three coun- tries, met in Honduras with Adnan el-Shukrijumah, a key al Qaeda leader, to discuss smuggling immi- grants into the United States via Mexico.

One of the most urgent challenges for policy- makers is distinguishing between the average street gang and groups that operate as criminal networks. Until recently, gang membership was a common part of city boyhood and not terribly detrimental. Members left as they got married, got a job, enlist- ed in the military, or simply grew out of gang behaviors. 0


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But, as cities have changed, so have gangs. The globalization of the world economy, and the result- ing exodus of manufacturing jobs from developed urban centers to the developing world, has left poor neighborhoods geographically and socially isolated. Not surprisingly, street gangs and gang violence have increased dramatically with globalization. Today, gangs serve as de facto protectors, families, and employers. Members are staying in gangs

longer, young women are increasingly involved, and gangs are now reported in all 50 U.S. states and in countless countries.

Globalization and street gangs exist in a paradox: Gangs are a global phenomenon not because the groups themselves have become transnational organizations (although a few have), but because of the recent hypermobility of gang members and their culture. At the same time that globalization isolates

When Gangs Go Bad The El Rukns represent

the worst of what gangs can become.

Originally known as the Black- stone Rangers, the gang emerged in the late 1950s on Chicago's South Side. Their leader, Jeff Fort, eventually consoli- dated the Blackstone Rangers with 21 smaller gangs, creating a powerful organiza- tion. In 1968, Fort was convicted in federal court of embezzling $1.4 million dollars in anti-poverty grants from churches and community organi- zations. Rather than create jobs, as the grants were intended, Fort used the funds to purchase guns, cars, and drugs. Released from Leavenworth prison in 1976, Fort joined the Moorish Science Temple of America and converted to Islam. The Black- stone Rangers then assumed the new identity of the El Rukns (Arabic for "the foundation of knowledge").

Three high-ranking mem- bers of the El Rukns traveled to

Libya in March 1986 to broker a deal with military officials in which the gang would commit "terrorist acts on U.S. soil" in exchange for $2.5 million. Again, the gang was apparently

Nabbed: El Rukns chief Jeff Fort and his foiled plot.

motivated by a desire for cash and notoriety. In May, a second meeting between the El Rukns and Libyan officials occurred in Panama. But upon their return, customs officials searched the luggage of two of the gang members and turned up docu- ments that contained the vague

outlines to several terrorist plots. Their plans, concocted in Chicago, included destroying federal buildings, blowing up an airplane, assassinating a Milwaukee alderman, and sim- ply committing a "killing here

or there." Two months later, the El

Rukns purchased a light anti-tank weapon for $1,800--from an under- cover FBI agent. The purchase, as well as

the testimony of informants and con- versations recorded on wiretaps, con- vinced a federal judge to issue search

! warrants. Authorities ultimately uncovered the anti-tank weapon, as well as 32 firearms, including a MAC-10 machine gun, a fully automatic .45-caliber

pistol, and several rounds of armor-piercing bullets. Five senior members of the gang, including Jeff Fort, were con- victed of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and remain in prison today. Still, their story shows how a small, seemingly ordinary street gang can turn into something far more dangerous. -AVP

MARCH, APRIL 2005 51

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Globalization at Work

neighborhoods heavily populated by gangs, it also helps spread gang activity and culture. Gangs have, in a sense, gone global.


Gangs exist in 3,300 cities across the United States- essentially, any municipality with a population of more than 250,000 people-and in a growing num- ber of small towns and rural areas. This figure is about a 433 percent increase from estimates in the 1970s, when gangs were reported in roughly 200 cities. The NYGC estimates that today there are more than 731,500 gang members in 21,500 different gangs in the United States. Such prolifera- tion is not confined geo- graphically. Gangs and other violent "youth groups" have been reported in France, Greece, South Africa, Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain, Ger- many, Belgium, Britain, Jamaica, Mexico, Canada, Japan, China, Australia, and elsewhere.

A common myth used to explain such proliferation is that gangs "migrate" in search of new members, turf, or criminal opportunities. Although that is true in the rare cases of groups like the Latin Kings and MS-13, very little evidence suggests that gang proliferation is associat- ed with calculated entrepre- neurial ambitions. A more plausible explanation is that when people move, they take their culture with them. For example, Trey, a member of Chicago's massive Gangster Disciples, moved to a small town in Arkansas where his brother, who is not a gang member, had found a job. Although Trey tried to "go legit," he soon found that his status as a Gangster Disciple

from the housing projects of Chicago gave him a for- midable reputation in small-town Arkansas. Within nine months, he started a new Gangster Disciples "chapter" with 15 members. But this new gang had no formal connection with the group in Chicago.

The same trend is occurring internationally, par- ticularly in Latin America and Asia. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 gang members, the National Gang Crime Research Center found that about 50 percent of gang members believed that their gang had inter- national connections. Analysis conducted by this

Seeing the light: Being shot in the leg and back on the streets of San Salvador was enough to convince Hugo Omar Barahona to remove his Los Angeles gang tattoos. Barahona was deported to El Salvador for robbery in 1999 after living in the United States for 19 years. L..


Page 7: Gang World

author suggests the rate is considerably higher for Hispanic (66 percent) and Asian (58 percent) gang members, who are more likely to be immigrants.

The movement of gang members overseas not only spreads gang culture but also helps to establish links between gang members in different countries. When Lito, a member of Hector's Latin Kings gang, ran into trouble with the law in Chicago, his family sent him to live with an aunt in Mexico. There, he quickly became a go-between for gang members in the United States looking to avoid detection and for Mexican immi- grants searching for jobs in the United States. The Latin Kings, in fact, turned these connections into a lucrative business by manufacturing fake ID cards. A 1999 investigation of several Latin Kings recovered 31,000 fraudulent IDs and travel documents.

Of course, gang members do not always travel overseas as a matter of free will. Since the mid-1990s, U.S. immigration policy has dramatically boosted the proliferation of gangs throughout Latin America and Asia by deporting tens of thousands of immigrants with criminal records back to their home countries each year, including a growing number of gang mem- bers. In 1996, around 38,000 immigrants were deport- ed after committing a crime; by 2003, the number had jumped to almost 80,000. Often, gang members have spent nearly their entire lives in the United States. But once they run afoul of the law, their immigrant status leaves them vul- nerable to deportation.

The countries that receive the flood of deportees are usually ill- equipped to deal with so many returning gang members. Although estimates vary, experts believe that there are now nearly 100,000 gang members spread across Central America and Mexi- co. In 2003, the United States deported more than 2,100 immigrants with criminal records to the Dominican Republic. The same year, nearly 2,000 were deported to El Salvador. The U.S. government does not keep track of how many of these criminal deportees are gang members, but many Latin Amer- ican states see a connection and say gangs are now one of their biggest threats to national security. In 2003, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, and Mexico agreed to work together to find new ways to beat the challenges gangs pose.

It's not as though many gang members wish to remain in the countries of their birth. With little or no connection to their new homes, deported gang members

typically face a simple choice: either find a way to return to the United States or seek protection from local gang members. In the case of Ms-13, the U.S. gov- ernment has deported hundreds of members, many of whom continue to illegally migrate back and forth, often carrying goods or people with them. Those that remain in their home countries are almost sure to connect with other deported gang members, and authorities in these countries say they are responsible for a large upswing in crime and violence. In a sense, U.S. immigration policy has amounted to uninten- tional state-sponsored gang migration. Rather than solving the gang problem, the United States may have only spread it.


A search for particular gang slogans or phrases on any major search engine uncovers Web sites with gang manifestos, bylaws, pictures, symbols, and, yes, even turf. The Internet provides a new platform for gang warfare, and cyberspace is serving as an out- let for activities that could lead to violence if attempt- ed on the street, such as "disrespecting" rival gangs, making claims of superiority, or disclosing gang

U.S. immigration policy has amounted to

unintentional state-sponsored gang migration. Rather than solving the gang problem,

the United States may have only spread it.

secrets. Reputations are developed through verbal combat with vague, often anonymous, rivals. Individual gangs flaunt their Internet savvy by posting complex Web sites, including some with password protection. Entire Web sites are dedi- cated to celebrating the history and cultural icons of individual gangs, including internal docu- ments, prayers, and photos. But, unlike exchanges in the real world, virtual spats rarely lead to actual violence.

Still, few gang members ever discuss or mention the Internet. Many don't possess the hardware, software, or technical skills (not to mention the necessary tele- phone lines) to manage the Web. Most gang-related Web activity appears to come from gang members


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Globalization at Work

Exporting death: A mural in Guatemala City commemorates fallen gang members. With Honduras and El Salvador outlawing street gangs, Guatemala faces increasing shootouts among rival gangs and police.

who have moved beyond their neighborhood, perhaps to attend college, or gang members and wannabes in suburbs or smaller towns. On the Internet, it's easy to co-opt the identity of well-known, mythic gangs.

A now defunct Web site of a gang calling itself "The Black Gangster Disciples," after the notorious Chicago gang, contained several pages of gang prayers, oaths, and other sensitive organizational materials. The Web page's guest book was a virtual street corner where surfers gave shout-outs (salutations or greetings) or disses (slanderous remarks) toward the group. Iron- ically, the site also contained a picture of the gang-a group of white, adolescent males flashing gang signs (the wrong ones, I might add), in someone's well- furnished basement.

Such digital proliferation has unlimited global potential. Police in the Netherlands have identified groups using the names of California-based gangs, such as the "Eight Tray Crips." But these exported gangs miss the hyperlocal point of their name- sakes-the "Black" in the Black Gangster Disciples was added during the 1960s as the gang identified with civil rights activity on Chicago's South Side; "Eight Tray" refers to specific streets in Califor- nia. Neither of these copycat gangs is able to,

geographically or historically, live the local mean- ing found in the names of their gangs.

This proliferation of gangs on the Net might give the false impression that they are now soliciting mem- bers across the globe. The anonymity of cyberspace might build up the egos or reputations of people pre- tending to be something they are not, giving psycho- logical reasons to seek other gang outlets or create them where none exist. Of course, it is possible that some of the more sophisticated gangs may already be exploiting cyberspace for illicit purposes, such as arrang- ing drug deals or transferring illegal funds. Although it is impossible to stop gangs and gang members from posting Web pages, differentiating between the banal and the potentially dangerous virtual gang activity will be an important task in the years ahead. Gangs will no doubt take advantage of technological advances. The difficult part is figuring out what is real and what is not.


Street gangs are proliferating. What comes next depends in part on how globalization continues to affect our cities and how we deal with its conse- quences. As the global economy creates a growing 0


Page 9: Gang World

number of disenfranchised groups, some will inevitably meet their needs in a gang.

Criminal organizations such as the Gangster Dis- ciples, Crips, Bloods, Ms-13, and Latin Kings are dan- gerous entities. But these groups are an anomaly in the gang world; they represent the worst of what gangs can become, not what most gangs are. Treat- ing all gang members like mafia kingpins or terror- ist masterminds is overestimating people who, more often than not, are petty delinquents. At their core, gangs are not just a criminal justice problem; they are a social problem. One of the biggest challenges is rein- troducing an offender into a community. Labels such as "ex-offender" and "gang member" follow people throughout their lives, making it next to impossible for someone to make a fresh start. Scores of gang members go through the revolving criminal justice door and return to communities that offer no viable employment opportunities. In some prisons, gang

members are trained for jobs that are not available when they are released.

No amount of law enforcement will rid the world of gangs. Strategies at all levels must move beyond simple arrest and incarceration to consider the eco- nomic structures of the cities and neighborhoods that breed street gangs. Otherwise, there will be nothing there to greet them but the waiting and supportive arms of the gang.

For Hector, globalization is just a word. It means nothing to him. It's possible that he has never even heard it. And it's certain he never sees globalization's benefits or associates its forces with his everyday life. On this cold winter day, I ask Hector where he thinks the drugs he sells come from. He laughs. "Man, what do I care? All I care is that the shit gets here," he says, stomping his feet to stay warm. A block away, I hear another gang member shouting, "Rocks and blow." The Latin Kings are open for business. 1B

Want to Know More?

For discussion of the cause-and-effect relationship between globalization and gangs, the proliferation of gang culture via the media and cyberspace, and the impact of gangs in various nations around the world, see Gangs in the Global City (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, forthcoming), edited by John Hage- dorn. Useful overviews of gang activity include Irving A. Spergel's The Youth Gang Problem: A Com- munity Approach (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) and The American Street Gang: Its Nature, Prevalence, and Control (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), by Malcolm W. Klein.

Some of the best resources on gangs are found online. The Web site of the National Gang Crime Research Center offers a wide variety of information, including profiles of all U.S.-based gangs dis- cussed in this article. Hagedorn's GangResearch.net contains numerous articles exploring the relationship between gangs and globalization. The National Youth Gang Center Web site features surveys of gang activity in the United States.

The U.S. Southern Command monitors the proliferation of gangs in Latin America. Recent stud- ies include Latin American Gangs: Their Center of Gravity (Open Source Report 005, Dec. 13, 2004). Ginger Thompson chronicles the bloody results of recent street gang activity in Honduras in "Tat- tooed Warriors: The Next Generation; Shuttling Between Nations, Latino Gangs Confound the Law" (New York Times, Sept. 26, 2004). In "'Getting High and Getting By': Dimensions of Drug Selling Behaviors Among American Mexican Gang Members in South Texas" (The Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, February 2004), Avelardo Valdez and Stephen J. Sifaneck explore the com- plex intersection of gangs and drugs.

FOREIGN POLICY's award-winning coverage of other forms of cultural globalization include Kym Anderson's "Wine's New World" (May/June 2003), Theodore Bestor's "How Sushi Went Global" (November/December 2000), and Douglas McGray's "Japan's Gross National Cool" (May/June 2002).

)For links to relevant Web sites, access to the FP Archive, and a comprehensive index of related FOREIGN POLICY articles, go to www.foreignpolicy.com.