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The Notorious Gangs of Los Angeles


Jen at her old high school in Chatsworth after she graduated they put a fence around the school to battle teen violence
How long do you think that gangs have been in Los Angeles? How do you think they formed there? How do you think people end up in gangs, and how do gangs start?

Gangs more or less began in Los Angeles - really, in East Los Angeles. Mexicans have been in the LA area since before California was part of the United States. East Los Angeles has traditionally been the heart of the Latin community, and it's ended up with the densest gang region in the entire USA.

Behind Nick is Juvenile hall where many of LA's youth gang members end up
If you look back to the way the Mexican community was treated in the United States throughout history, you can see the beginnings of the Hispanic gangs. Throughout history Mexicans have been treated as second-class citizens. First, we took their land in the Mexican American War. Then we made them go to separate schools. Ever since the US took their land they have been in constant struggle and still are. The birth of gangs today can probably be traced all the way back to the Zoot Suiters The Zoot Suiters wore baggy suits tapered at the bottom. The suits were seen as unpatriotic, which is why Mexicans wore them. They were protesting their feelings on how they were being treated.

Some Latin gang members in front of a wall full of gang writing
cholos.jpg- Some Latin gang members in front of a wall full of gang writing. The zoot suiters started organizing clubs. Soon, the way you entered these clubs was being "jumped in" - meaning you had to fight more than one member of the club. This has carried on to the modern gangs of today. These zoot suit clubs started to gain popularity among the youth. Once you joined these clubs you gained honor and respect from the people in your club. The clubs fought over the honor of their girlfriends, popularity, who had the nicest clothes, who was the best fighter.


During the Vietnam War, however, many Mexican members got introduced to drugs and guns. Many Mexican Vietnam veterans came back on drugs, angry for what their country had put them through. Carrying a gun became a common thing and instead of fighting their enemy like they did in the past they killed them. Selling drugs and guns became the main force behind the gangs. They retained their beliefs of honor and respect, but now that the guns and drugs were mixed in it was hard to differ what exactly were honor and respect. The introduction of crack cocaine to the streets of LA just fueled the problem. There were new fights over territories, and the modern gangs were born.
A gang member of the Bloods throw's up his gang signs

During the times when the Hispanic gangs were growing, so were the African American gangs. They also grew out of the poverty and despair of urban America. The African Americans have struggled throughout history and continue to struggle today. Many ex gang members were the ones to help form the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party. The African American gangs started out as community based organizations, but street wars began when crack cocaine was introduced to LA. Of the two main gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, there are now 274 gangs in Los Angeles County.
A meeting of the no guns organization who work to get guns off the streets

Gangs are a part of society and have been throughout history. They are social problems that shouldn't be ignored. The gangs in America exist because of the way we have treated certain groups. Gangs are ever lasting reminders that there are many social problems that minorities face. I'm by no means glorifying gangs, but I am saying that gangs were started has a result of their treatment. If we as a society want to stop gangs and the life style of violence that surrounds them we must solve the problems of poverty and equality first. This is where the seed for gangs was first planted.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Jennifer - A day at juvie - doing time in your teens
Stephanie - Military boot camps for teens gone bad