Like Gang Busters

Gangs are a growing security threat within our own borders

Most people who read the newspaper or pay any attention at all to what is happening are aware of the porosity of our borders. People also are aware that the current administration, the two major political parties and Congress seem unwilling to do anything about it.

The media covers the sensational aspects of the problem, usually due to the crimes involved; however, few, if any, concrete, workable solutions are offered—just a lot of hand-wringing.

Recently, I watched a program on television titled “Prison Nation,” which devoted a lot of time to gangs and their subcultures. It is safe to presume that readers are affected by gang members in their workplaces or their neighborhoods. In fact, if you know what to look for, you might be surprised at what you find.

Mara Salvatrucha, the largest and most dangerous international gang, is plaguing the streets of America in at least 33 states, including the District of Columbia, with up to 10,000 members.

Also known as MS-13, Mara Salvatrucha is a Salvadoran gang with ties to other Central American countries, but the majority of its current operations are in the United States. Although there is no concrete evidence of a formal association, al-Qaida has reportedly been meeting with MS-13 in Central America to exploit its vast, established networks for smuggling weapons and drugs into the United States.

Recently, the Justice Department began a nationwide crackdown on gangs, arresting more than 1,000 gang members, more than half of whom were affiliated with MS-13.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced several months ago that gangs pose a significant threat to homeland security. Law enforcement officials unanimously list MS-13 as the most dangerous and well-organized gang operating in the United States.

Their threat, the danger posed to businesses and citizens, is of a criminal nature via theft, drugs, extortion and much more.

MS-13 can supply some extreme muscle for those willing to pay for the service, and members’ crimes run the full spectrum of criminal activities. Many of their members are former guerillas from the Salvadoran Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, as well as members of U.S.-trained “death squads” from El Salvador’s civil war in the 1970s and 1980s. They have expertise in improvised munitions, raids and other insurgency/ counterinsurgency skills honed by years of conflict and expert instruction.

FBI agent John Lanata, in an October 1998 article in Law Enforcement Technology, said most gang members can be categorized as hard-core, associate or peripheral members. The hard-core member lives for the gang; it constitutes his whole identity, his whole life.

The associate member is not as involved and has another life, other people and things he values ahead of the gang.

Peripheral members are younger kids who live in the neighborhood, on the fringe of the gang. Women also are becoming an increasing percentage of gang membership.

Members of gangs have been described as sociopathic or antisocial. They live by standards that are much different from those of the American public. Pride, notoriety and money are important motivating factors, which also often result in violent acts at the least sign of disrespect, such as maintaining eye contact with a member. Lanata said a hard-core gang member constantly feels the need to prove his manliness to himself and other gang members.

Membership in a gang fulfills a need that the individual cannot or is unwilling to fulfill in normal society.

A 2007 Justice Department survey indicated there were approximately 30,000 gangs in the United States, with 800,000 known members within the 50 states.

Gangs are territorial; they support themselves by selling drugs, shoplifting or stealing, impacting the security and law enforcement professions.

If you feel that there is a gang presence in your area or if you see a lot of graffiti—this may be an indication of gangs marking their turf—you are strongly encouraged to contact local law enforcement earlier, rather than later. Contact your local police department and possibly the FBI, since they have the law enforcement lead on this problem.

Through government mandate, the FBI maintains the official National Gang Intelligence Center. However, it also receives information and intelligence from the Drug Enforcement Agency; Bureau of Prisons; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Some of the larger, better-known gangs and their identifying colors and symbols are:
• Latin Kings—Yellow and black
• The Bloods—Black and red
• The Crips—Black and navy blue
• The Netas—White, black and red
• Zulu Nation—Outline of Africa
• MS-13—White and blue

Colors are normally displayed in the form of beads or bandanas. If you notice people—mostly male—wearing these colors in or near your place of business, be especially watchful.

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