GANGS: The Mexican Mafia and killing one’s own

Virgin, West Side Verdugo

There’s a story in Friday’s Whittier Daily News that says a lot about how Latino street gangs in Southern California have changed, and turned on themselves.

The reason is the Mexican Mafia, the prison gang that has controlled street gangs for most of two decades.

In the story, a gang member killed a friend who’d been going around collecting taxes from area drug dealers in the name of the Mexican Mafia, when he wasn’t designated to do so.

The story doesn’t say how good of friends these guys were, but there were many years when Latino street gangs would never kill one of their own like this.

The Mexican Mafia’s taxation scheme — ordering Latino street gangs to tax drug dealers in neighborhoods and kicking up the money to MM members in prison and their associates — changed that. These kinds of killings mark a huge, though quiet shift in Southern California gang culture.

I wrote a story several years ago about the Dead Presidents case in the West Side Verdugo area of San Bernardino, in which, on MM orders, members of two allied, neighborhood gangs murdered their presidents: two brothers, Johnny and Gilbert Agudo, the presidents of 7th Street and Little Counts, respectively.

The victims and the suspects had all grown up together; some had been babysat by the mothers of the others. Yet the mafia had twisted relations in the gang to such a point that, like some Shakespearean play, they turned on each other one bloody night in 2000.

“After what happened, that just broke up the neighborhood completely,” said one guy from the area that I talked to. “Nobody trusted nobody.” Indeed, the gangs really haven’t reconstituted since then.

In Avenal state prison once, I interviewed a 22-year-old gang member who’d murdered a friend he knew from kindergarten, who was at the time even living with this kid’s family because his own had thrown him out. This was on orders of the local mafia member, who said that the friend had to go, apparently over some debt of some kind. The details weren’t clear ever to the 22-year-old, who, without asking a question, took his friend for a ride and shot him in the chest in an isolated part of the San Gabriel Valley.

He told me he wanted, above all, to be a carnal — a Mexican Mafia member — some day and looked up to the Big Homies the way a little leaguer looks up to a MLB player. He’d since dropped out and was on a protective custody yard, a Sensitive Needs Yard, which I’ve written about before in this blog.  He also said that because he looked sweet and much younger than his years, he had to do more violence to get the respect of his gang brethren. That was also part of it.

He’s now doing 55 years to life.

This never used to happen in Latino neighborhood gangs — this turning homeboy on homeboy, unless one had snitched. They were clannish things, happy to war with their enemies, but all about “protecting” the neighborhood and not ever about killing each other.

But this kind of killing has been happening across SoCal since the MM’s edicts on taxation were issued in the mid-1990s. Usually the orders come from some old incarcerated MM gang member who hasn’t been on the streets in the lifetime of those homeboys who are about to kill, or to die.

Now, one gang member told me once, when your best homies you knew from kindergarten call and say let’s go for a ride, you don’t do it.




Filed under Gangs, Southern California, Streets

7 Responses to GANGS: The Mexican Mafia and killing one’s own

  1. Esther Quiroz

    Yes our Barrio has changed since the Brothers Agudos killing.
    There is a book called The Last Chicano written by Manuel Delgado, now this book is how it was in the Barrio in the 50’s yes they had gangs but it was about streets names that that fought each other I use to live in one on the streets that other street man fought over, I remember being told by my parents duck or go hide under the bed when you hear gunshots, and I sure did hear a lot of them and hid a lot of times.
    Here in San Bernardino, Ca. in the 50’s the streets names were Kingman Street, and Topo City the guys from each streets hated each other and would go shooting each others streets I myself was born and raised on Kingman Street and do remember the gunshots. One day while walking home from school the two streets man were fighting each other, I stayed and watch the fights till the end and this is what I saw no guns, man on man hitting each other till they dropped to their knees, I don’t know which street won.
    Now you have heard of movie “The West Side Story” right??? well it was made because of a killing here in San Bernardino West Side Barrio, I am not proud of all the killing here as a matter of fact I knew all the man that have been killed here The Agudos Brothers that got killed, I also knew the one that got killed nick name was Rabbit behind the movie West Side Story.
    Also to Gina who mention her Dad got killed while trying to rob the Bank of America on Mt. Vernon, I knew her Father also.
    Yes I live in the Barrio Mt. Vernon as it is referred to, so I have seen all thee changes that were mention, also my son was shot two diffirent times leg and arm thank God he was not killed. One time he was kidnapped by his friend also they put a gun to his head when the trigger got stuck and the gun didn’t go off he ran fast away from him when he cam home to tell me his story I knew it was true because he was scared I hid him for months after a couple of years all of those that tried to kill him are doing life will never get out.
    In the 50’s or 60’s their was no gangs or friends killing friends like what happens here in San Bernardino or other city

  2. Gina

    I’m a 46 year old mother who was raised up in this crazy life style. I heard all the stories and was told not to turn or be a snitch. I remember visiting my loved ones in prison since I was very little. My father was killed robbing Bank Of America on Mt.Vernon in San Bernardino in 1969. My mom was in and out the system and so was I, but by the court. I wanted so much more for my children. I wanted to change the cycle so bad it hurt!!. But how could I. I was emotionally damaged. No parenting skills to pass on or raise children. I fought my demons. And no one ever suggested counseling, which came later and helped so much. Now I have a son that looks up this life style. I just couldn’t get my first born to understand that a gang was not the way to go. I have a good hearted son, who never told me that he joined a gang. when he did I was heart broken. Then the tattoos came, then more tears and heart break. My son was slipping away from my grips. Now, I sit hear typing these tearful words to you. My son was found guilty of 1st degree murder this month on the 21st of Dec. facing 75 to life. I lost my baby to these very streets I tried to stay away from my whole life. Every bit of advice to him became a curse and it happened just as I said it would. I’m just one mother out of thousands. This story you’ve written is true!! Its not like back in the day when the Raza protect their own. I’m gonna print this out and send it to my son, but tell me, what are his options. My son will never PC up. His pride and his loyalty wont allow that. But I know that my baby I raised is still in him. I seen the tears that he tried to hold back when we spoke of the young man he killed. A bar fight that went so wrong, but the enhancement, and priors done him in. I thank God I still have my baby, but I will live in my own hell watching him trying to survive in a prison for life. I know he will survive. I just pray he’ll find God through one of those OG’s. My boy is strong hearted like his momma, but its so much different for a man in prison.

  3. Niles Pressman

    When I saw the name “Tony Rafael” in the comments section, I thought this was going to be a right wing blog which attempts to blame all gang violence on elected Democrats. Turns out, it’s much more insightful. Great reporting, Sam. Hope to see more from you.

    • samquinones

      Niles, thanks for writing. This is a Reporter’s Blog. Here, the story’s the thing. No axes grinding — from me at least. But all views welcomed, so long as they’re fully signed.

  4. Tony Rafael

    As bad as killing an old friend on orders from the Eme, it’s even worse when that order was issued for bogus reasons. There have been cases where a “rogue” Eme member orders a gang member to kill his homie. And then the killer comes to learn that the killing had nothing to do with business, but rather a minor personal beef between the Eme member and the victim. Instead of elevating the killer’s status with the mob, he’s now considered a “throwaway,” a killer too dumb to figure out that he’d been used and abused. So now he’s in prison with no stripes, no veterano to clique up with and the target of retaliation by the victim’s homies. And it could get worse for the killer if the victim actually did have a Big Homie as his gang daddy. There are a lot of these “gangsters without a country” floating in the system and the only place for them is in a PC yard.

    • samquinones

      Good point, Tony. Also, the channels of communication in the Eme are scarily bad, as the guys issuing the orders are in maximum security lockup, giving signals and code to those who visit them through a prison glass/phone. I often think it’s a parlor game of telephone, with fatal consequences.

      For those who don’t know, Tony is the author of The Mexican Mafia. Terrific read. Check it out here.

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