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The Gangs of Long Beach : Signs Are Obvious: Graffiti, Poverty, Drugs, Turf Wars, Murders

December 01, 1985|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

"You never know," he said. "I could be hanging out some Friday night at the wrong place and get shot. I think about that. One little thing can end all these goals I have."

About 45% of the gang members in Long Beach are Latino, another 40% are black, and the balance are Samoan, white, Filipino and Asian, police say. The majority are between 13 and 25. While they share many habits and traditions, each ethnic band retains distinctive traits.

For Latino gangs, love of their neighborhood turf, their barrio, ranks above all else, experts say. Drive-by shootings, gang fights and murder can result when one gang tramples in the territory of another.

"The barrio is like the family and the home boys (gang members) are like the brothers," one 19-year-old outfitted in baggy khakis and a white T-shirt, the standard garb of Latino gangs, said during a recent interview. "Sometimes you're willing to do more for the barrio than your real family. The barrio comes first, the family second."

Black gangs are less preoccupied with battles over turf or neighborhood pride and more interested in economic concerns, law enforcement officials say. "Making money" is a standard phrase used by black gang members, police say. It means one thing--profiting from criminal activity such as burglary, robbery and drug sales.

But crime is a way of life for all gang members, be they Latino, Samoan, black or white. "From what I see, gangsters commit most of the crimes in the city," boasted another Latino gang member who was interviewed along with more than a dozen of his friends.

Gang violence can be sparked by the most innocent of incidents. Wars have erupted after one gang crossed out another's graffiti. Sorenson said some black gangs, who wear clothing of certain colors, varying according to their affiliation, will attack an unsuspecting victim who strolls into the neighborhood wearing a rival gang's hue.

And, on occasion, such episodes can lead to death. Of the 15 gang-related homicides this year, police say at least four were triggered by gang retaliation.

The killings probably will continue. Several of Guerrero's fellow gang members were involved in the brawl that led to the death of Jose Gonzales on Halloween night. None of them feel remorse, Guerrero said. To them, Gonzales was just a rival, just another foe.

"These guys don't feel sorry," Guerrero said. "They know the same thing would happen to them if they got caught in another gang's neighborhood. It's just the way it is. It just becomes one more guy dead."

Susan Contreras has lost two sons to gangs. Her oldest, Tony, was stabbed to death in 1979 by another gang member. He was 18. Tony's younger brother, Richard, is in Folsom prison, serving time for possession of heroin, a habit he picked up while in a gang.

Contreras, 45, understands why her boys joined a gang--their need to belong. But why, she wonders aloud, the violence?

Tony was a big kid, a weight lifter who favored tank top shirts that revealed his well-muscled arms. Contreras remembers a judge once telling Tony that he could get anything he wanted if he applied himself. "But he had the self-destruction," she says with a sigh.

Richard, now 21, never really had a chance to lead a life free of gangs, what with Tony as a role model. "I can see how he just bumbled right into it," Contreras said. Last February, he was paroled from Folsom after serving a one-year sentence. But in April he was arrested again for heroin possession and sent back.

"Sometimes I think maybe I didn't try hard enough," Contreras said. "Sometimes we just throw our hands up and say, 'What the hell can I do?' Then you feel guilty and you try again. And you try and try. I would like to have been able to just pick them up and moved. Maybe that would have helped. I can say a whole lot of maybes now. Maybe none of it would have happened."


Shaded areas are neighborhoods most affected by gangs. Letters show the center of current activities by city's 7 largest gangs.

A. Eastside Longos--City's largest gang, about 600 members. Mainly Latino. Very turf conscious. Rivals are Westside Longos, Barrio Pobre, T-Town Flats. Involved heavily in graffiti, and use of marijuana, PCP, heroin. Some drug sales. Three members were homicide victims in 1985.

B. Westside Longos--Latino gang similar to Eastside Longos, but a mortal enemy of that gang. Once the largest in city, now about 350 members but recruiting heavily. One homicide victim in 1985.

C. Insane Crips--City's largest black gang, about 450 members. Mainly in central Long Beach. Warring with black gangs from Compton and Lynwood. Involved in robbery, burglary, sale and use of cocaine. Five members were homicide victims this year.

D. Boulevard Boy Crips--Black gang in area called "the DMZ." About 200 members. Many gang members arrested for robbery, burglary, assault. Rivals are several Compton gangs and the Insane Crips.

E. Sons of Samoa--About 200 members scattered throughout city. Many are Samoan immigrants or first-generation Samoans. Allied with many of city's black gangs. Heavy sale and use of cocaine, PCP--also robbery, burglary, extortion. One member a homicide victim in 1985.

F. Barrio Pobre--Carson gang that spread to Long Beach in recent years. About 100 Long Beach members, almost all Latino. Involved heavily in burglary, drug sales. As a new gang, a rival of most Latino gangs.

G. Toker Town Flats--Latino gang allied with Barrio Pobre in wars with Eastside and Westside Longos. About 100 members. Activities include graffiti, robbery, sale and use of drugs.

Information from police, community sources, city officials.

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