GANGS: Where’d all the gangs go?

The Virgin of Mount Vernon

Not long ago, I was in the West Side Verdugo and Mount Vernon neighborhood of San Bernardino. An old barrio dating to the 1920s, it has long been home to several gangs.

Yet when i was out there, there was no gang graffiti on the walls. I saw none. A few years before I’d done a story on an upcoming trial – a notorious gang killing known as the Dead Presidents case, for the murder of two charismatic brothers who presidents of their respective gangs. The graffiti was there.

This time, I spoke to an old lady and she told me the “the OGs told everyone to stop. That it was bringing heat. The kids can’t do it no more.” This was largely due to a gang injunction the county had brought against several gangs in the area, according to this lady.

Southern California is in the midst of a radical shift in gang behavior. No longer do you see gangs on the street, hanging out, commandeering liquor stores or parks the way they used to.

They still exist, and are still deadly, but mostly they’re not as public. My impression is that there are fewer of them, too. So the classic expression of gang culture that LA has been famous for and exported to many parts of the US and other countries is distinctly fading. I’ll be reporting on this occasionally, as I believe it’s a big deal.

There are a few reasons for this. Gang injunctions, whatever their constitutionality, have forced them indoors. Greater penalties for graffiti seem to be another factor. I think in some cases gangs have teamed up with drug traffickers from Mexico who aren’t interested in working with cholos with tattoos on their faces and baggy pants fighting with rivals over territory and who’ll bring police heat. So dress codes are changing; so, too, are spats over this kind of territory that once were the reason for being for a lot of gangs.

One place they’ve gone, as this AP article from Elliot Spagat makes sadly clear, is Central America.

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