FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin - September 2007 - VALOR For Blue


FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin - September 2007 - VALOR For Blue

U.S. Department of JusticeFederal Bureau of InvestigationSeptember 2007

© CorbisStreet-GangMentalityA Mosaic ofRemorselessViolence andRelentlessLoyaltyBy ANTHONY J. PINIZZOTTO, Ph.D.,EDWARD F. DAVIS, M.S., andCHARLES E. MILLER IIIDuring their more than20 years of researchon violence againstlaw enforcement officers, theauthors interviewed hundredsof offenders either housed invarious prisons throughoutthe United States or followingrelease from these institutionsafter serving their sentences.The authors found marked differencesamong these individualswho had killed and assaultedofficers. One of these variationsfocused on street-gang mentality,specifically cold-blooded andremorseless behavior. 1 Amongthe other dissimilarities betweenself-admitted gang members 2and offenders not affiliated withsuch groups involved the apparentmotivation for assaultingthe officers. The gang memberseither attempted to or inflictedinjuries of greater severity thanappeared warranted under thecircumstances. They exhibitedno remorse for their actionsbut, rather, appeared to takepride in attacking sworn lawenforcement professionals. Infact, seven gang members toldthe authors that escape was notthe motive for assaulting theofficer; three admitted that theywanted to kill, not injure, the officer;and one, who could havesuccessfully escaped, chosenot to and assaulted the officerinstead.To help officers betterunderstand gang members, theSeptember 2007 / 1

authors share some observationsfrom their recent study,Violent Encounters: A Studyof Felonious Assaults on OurNation’s Law Enforcement Officers.The original design oftheir research made no attemptto identify gang members. As itprogressed, however, 13 offendersadmitted street-gang membership.3 What these individualssaid caught the authors’ attentionbecause of the qualitativedifferences of their information.The gang members’ own wordspresented in this article offer achilling glimpse into a lifestyleforeign to most law-abidingcitizens. 4 All officers would dowell to study these statementsto gain insight into the minds ofindividuals who have exhibitedcold-blooded and remorselessbehavior toward those chargedwith enforcing this nation’slaws.Family Dynamics“Yeah, it was like anotherfamily. You know, at the time,that was all I had to lean on.My family members wasn’tthere. My mom was on dope,you know, and I was stayingwith my auntie, and she hadfive other kids she had to worryabout besides me. So, I mademy choice to join the gang....”All gang members lackedmale role models in their households.Six never lived with theirbiological fathers, while sevenreported their biological fathersas mostly absent from the homesetting. As to the presence oftheir biological mothers, ninegang members stated that shelived in the home but workedfull time, leaving the childrenunsupervised throughout muchof their early childhood. Thegang members often lived temporarilywith various people,such as grandmothers, aunts,uncles, and friends or acquaintancesof their families. Thenumber of people residing in thehouseholds constantly changed.For example, over eight peopleresided in the homes wherethree gang members stayed,with only three being membersof their nuclear families.All but one gang memberadvised that one or more membersof their immediate familieshad a criminal history orabused drugs. Nine disclosedthat one or more members ofDr. Pinizzotto is the senior scientistand clinical forensic psychologistin the Behavioral Science Unitat the FBI Academy.Mr. Davis, a retired policelieutenant, is an instructor inthe Behavioral Science Unitat the FBI Academy.Mr. Miller, a retired police captain,heads the Offi cer Safety Researchand Training Program of the FBI’sCriminal Justice InformationServices Division.2 / FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

their immediate families abusedalcohol, and five indicated thatpsychiatric problems affectedone or more family members.Most children learn to delaygratification, develop appropriatesocial behavior, and controlaggression toward othersthrough their interactions withwell-adjusted family membersand other individuals in varioussocial arenas, such as daycare and school. Parents teachchildren not only by what theysay but, most important, byengaging in appropriate socialconduct. When their childrenact outside the parameters of sociallyacceptable behavior, parentsimmediately correct them,thereby allowing their childrento experience the negativeconsequences of their unacceptableactions. As children grow,develop, and move outside thefamily, they acquire negotiationskills and incorporate theminto their social repertoire ofbehaviors.Gang members fail to developthese skills because theyremain within a system andstructure that reinforces relyingon and trusting only those individualswithin their group. Thisreliance intensifies when theylearn to see anyone outside thegang as a real and immediatethreat to the group’s safety andtheir own personal existence.In effect, the gang becomes asubstitute for their family. Whatconventional society regardsGANG MEMBER QUOTE“When I turned 16, that’s when I basicallystarted shooting people, putting in workand all. In my neighborhood, people fearedme. They feared me because I didn’t haveno problems with taking a life. I mean, youknow, you disrespect me or do somethingwrong to me, you’ll die for it.”as inappropriate or unacceptablebehavior that often resultsin punishment, gang membersignore, encourage, or recognizeas adaptive for their survival onthe street.Education Levels“I didn’t need to read to selldrugs. I make more money thanthose people who write books.”As these comments illustrate,formal education meant littleand was not a goal recognizedby the gangs. None of themembers graduated from highschool, and only two obtaineda general equivalency diploma(GED) while incarcerated forassaulting an officer. Nonesaid that they read newspapers,magazines, or any type of writtennews material on a regularbasis nor had they ever used theInternet. Moreover, the authorsobserved that several gangmembers experienced problemsreading interview documents.Criminal ActivityOn average, the gang memberscommitted their firstcriminal offense at the age of 9.From this first encounter, theircriminal histories escalated.Five gang members had committedmurders, 10 had perpetratedarmed robberies, 11 hadeffected burglaries, and all hadengaged in drug violations andweapons offenses. Also, allgang members had been confinedto juvenile detentioncenters by the courts, and fourhad escaped from these facilitiesone or more times. Theiraverage age at the time theyjoined the gang was 13. Alladmitted carrying weapons,including knives and handguns,at an early age and quicklylearned how to effectively andefficiently use them.Exposure to Violence“It’s a pretty violent neighborhood.A lot of drug dealers,September 2007 / 3

gangs. A lot of people gettingkilled in my neighborhood....”All gang members came fromdysfunctional families. Eachhad experienced some form ofverbal or physical abuse withinthe family setting. Outside thisunit, all became the victim of atleast one physical assault duringtheir early childhoods. All grewup in neighborhoods controlledby the gang that they eventuallyjoined. Prior to belonging tothe gang, all had property takenfrom them by persons associatedwith gang activity.During their childhoods,three gang members wererobbed at gunpoint, and all hadacquaintances killed in acts ofviolence on the street. Severalmembers joined the gang forphysical protection. “Shoot-outsmostly every day. I mean, itwas always somebody got intosomething with another personor some type of altercation thatescalated into a shoot-out.... Theguns are the problem solvers.”Work ExperienceNo gang members were employedin a conventional senseat the time they assaulted an officer.In addition, although nonehad served in the military, theyoften referred to themselves as asoldier or street soldier. Moreover,their gangs expected themto behave similarly to formallytrained U.S. military personnel,particularly when serving asprotectors. This street-soldierattitude significantly contributedto the development of thestreet-gang mentality. Successfulservice as a street soldieroften led to promotions withinthe gang structure where titlesor ranks mirrored those in thearmed services as well.Although unemployed in atraditional sense, all had specifictasks or jobs within their gangs.All participated in some way inthe street sale of illicit drugs,as well as engaging in variousother low-level crimes. Thosewho served as gang enforcersGANG MEMBER QUOTE“I’m a ghetto track star. I’ve been runningall my life. [The offi cer] ain’t gonna catchme. If I wouldn’t have waited on him, hewould have never caught me.... I ranaround the corner, and I waited on him.He came around the corner; I shot.”always carried weapons andstood ready to protect the drugsellers and the gang’s territory.They also enforced gang rulesand regulations, imposing farmore severe penalties for violatingthese than society would forbreaking its laws. For example,society would consider a pettylarceny as a minor infraction.The gang, however, wouldjudge the same act perpetratedagainst another member as amajor transgression, whichpotentially could result in seriousbodily injury or death aspunishment.Lieutenants and bossesoversaw the daily operationsof the gang, such as the saleof drugs and contraband, andthe resolution of minor disputesamong members andrival gangs. Original gangsters,founding members of the gangusually vested with overallauthority above all other members,generally acted as thefinal authority in settling majordisputes among gang membersand rival gangs. Delivery men,mules, and transporters conveyedand distributed wholesaleamounts of illicit drugs or othercontraband from outside sourcesinto the gang area. Burglars andcreepers specialized in committingburglaries usually of commercialestablishments, officebuildings, and private residences.Creepers often garneredfirearms for the gang, typicallystealing them during daytime4 / FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

esidential burglaries. Driverspossessed a valid driver’slicense and sufficient drivingskills to transport gang membersto various locations forcriminal activities. Specialists,generally older and more experiencedmembers, conductedspecific criminal activities forthe greater benefit of the gang,such as bank and commercialrobberies, along with robberiesof rival gang members. Lookoutsmonitored the perimeter ofthe neighborhood and warnedgang members when law enforcementor rival gangs approached.Taggers specializedin performing the gang’s artwork, or graffiti, both inside andoutside the gang’s area.Those charged with specificresponsibilities consideredthemselves experts in theirassigned gang-related workactivities. They discussed theiroccupations within the gangwith a sense of personal pride.A reputation as a diligent workerenhanced their status in thegang and increased the amountof money they received. Bringingin more money furtherheightened their status, oftenmeasured by the material assetsthey acquired, such as the typeof vehicle owned and the kindof jewelry worn. An increasein status usually heightened thelevel of respect on the street.This lifestyle often resulted ina cycle of continually reinforcedantisocial and criminalGANG MEMBER QUOTE““The police offi cer don’t get as much work asI do. I mean, when it comes to shooting andstuff like that, I do every day, so a police offi cercannot intimidate me.... And, here I am a thugon the street been shooting and killing peopleall my life and why am I gonna let a guy that justwent through the police academy and I’ve beenout here in the war zone all my life.... Why amI gonna have respect for him? I’m not gonnahave respect for him because he’s trying to stopwhat I’m trying to do.... So, you know, he can goahead and do his job, but just don’t go overboard.‘Cause if you go overboard, then somebullets are gonna come fl ying at you.”behavior—more violenceachieved more material goods,which, in turn, increased agang member’s street statusand appetite for additionalpossessions.Names of Membersand Their GangsGang members appeared tohave more pride in their gangnames than in their surnames,especially if they had receivedthem in recognition of criminaldeeds or behavior. A gang nametended to increase a member’sstatus and reputation within thegroup.Some reported that they belongedto a clique, set, or subsetof a nationally known gang. 5Others stated that they belongedto local neighborhood gangsor drug crews that took theirnames from the streets or housingdevelopments in the areaand claimed no national affiliations.Regardless of the gang’slineage, all of the members tookgreat pride in its name and thereputation it had on the street.The NeighborhoodThe neighborhood where thegang members grew up compriseda large part of their lives.It was where they had their firstinteractions with people outsidethe family setting and wherethey felt safe at an early age.When questioned as to the importanceof the neighborhood,some responded—• “My territory, my domain;I would die for it.”• “It was all I had, like family,you know.”September 2007 / 5

• “It’s home, nobody can violatethat space.”• “It meant a lot; I felt likeI was responsible, a lot ofpeople died.”• “People I loved lived andgrew up there. It meant alot.”These statements demonstratedhow important the ideaof neighborhood had becomefor the gang members. It wastheir home. The authors visitedsome of the neighborhoods andfound them run-down andheavily littered with few commercialestablishments, forcingresidents to travel long distancesto shop for food and othernecessities. While these locationsdid not resemble areas thatmost people would considerdesirable, all of the gangGANG MEMBER QUOTEmembers professed extremepride in their individual neighborhoods.When asked whatthey had contributed to theirneighborhoods, some replied—• “Put us on the map and onthe street. I wanted to tryto keep our money in theneighborhood.”• “Schooled the kids oneverything, how to steal,break in cars, and stealcars.”• “Take care of relatives andfriends in time of need.”• “Go to the grocery storefor the elderly. We protectedeveryone in ourneighborhood.”• “Buy kids food and stuff,I would protect myneighborhood.”“People that I grew up around got shot. Then,I knew friends, you know, that I went to see,friends laying in a hospital bed, stomach allstitched up, and I knew that I was defi nitelynot gonna be one of them ones that got shot.So, if I even felt as though a person was athreat or any type of fl inch or any type of indicationthat somebody was gonna pull a gunon me or try to pull a knife or try to hurt me,he was gonna get shot fi rst.”Teaching younger membersof the neighborhood betterways to steal and break into carsacted as both a recruiting tooland a way to help the neighborhoodresidents become thieves.Protecting the neighborhoodto these gang members meantkeeping outsiders (rival gangs)away from the area.All stated that rival gangmembers would enter theirneighborhoods and show disrespect.Some defined these actsas—• “Other drug crews triedto move in on my turf.”• “They’d come throughshooting.”• “Could get killed, disrespectedby attempting tosell drugs in the hood.”• “They would send peoplein who would tag us” (i.e.,spray paint over the gang’sgraffiti, replacing it withsome representing the rivalgang).• “They’d come through withrags hanging out of cars oreven shooting. We wouldalways retaliate.”Retaliation to the acts ofdisrespect helped the individualmembers develop a reputationas tough, both within their gangand by rival ones. Eliminatingcompeting drug dealers fromthe neighborhood helped keepthe local drug market open,ensuring profits for the neighborhoodgang.6 / FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Often, a strange mix occurredin the gang members’responses that reflected abizarre and fractured RobinHood fantasy. They reported alove for their neighborhoods, arespect for the elderly who livedthere, and a responsibility forthe youth. Yet, they incorporatedchildren into a gang thatlived by theft and deception;they abused drugs and alcohol,rather than dealing with personalor social issues; and theyemployed the ultimate amountof force and violence to achievepersonal gratification.ConclusionGang members statedthat they learned violent gangvalues at an early age and hadthem strongly and regularlyreinforced. Rather than theprosocial behaviors taught inmost well-adjusted families, thegangs instilled and reinforcedantisocial ones that protectedthem from outsiders, whichincluded the law enforcementcommunity. In fact, the gangsnot only regarded law enforcementofficers as outsiders butas a threat to their survival.The goal of every gangmember was to achieve statusand respect within their gangs.Respected only when feared,gang members achieved thisthrough repeated acts of physicalviolence against others,who they usually viewed asGANG MEMBER QUOTE“We used to enjoy watching the news tosee the work that we put in it. But, it got tothe point we were putting in so much work,shooting so many people, I mean, we ain’teven watched the news no more. The stuffdidn’t even matter anymore. We were justout there.”outsiders. Once perceived aswilling to use violence withoutconscience, especially whendirected toward law enforcementofficers, gang membersobtained status.With such a mind-set, gangmembers can represent a gravedanger to all Americans whovalue a safe and productive life.They also pose an even greaterthreat to members of the lawenforcement profession becauseof their lack of remorse fordestroying lives and their relentlessloyalty to the groupsthat spawned their viciousbehavior.Endnotes1For additional information on thisconcept, see Anthony J. Pinizzotto,Edward F. Davis, and Charles E. MillerIII, U.S. Department of Justice, FederalBureau of Investigation, In the Line ofFire (Washington, DC, 1997).2The FBI’s National Crime InformationCenter defines a gang as a groupthat “must be an ongoing organization orassociation of three or more persons. Thegroup must have a common interest oractivity characterized by the commissionor involvement in a pattern of criminal ordelinquent conduct.”3All gang members were males withan average age of 20 at the time of theassault incident. However, two were over30 and the only married gang membersin the study. Eight were black, and fivewere white. Ten had children but neverhad married. The physical appearance ofgang members did not differ significantlyfrom nongang members at the time of theinterviews primarily because all were incarceratedand, thus, required to maintainuniform grooming and dress standards.4All gang member statements areexcerpted from Anthony J. Pinizzotto,Edward F. Davis, and Charles E. MillerIII, U.S. Department of Justice, FederalBureau of Investigation, Violent Encounters:A Study of Felonious Assaults on OurNation’s Law Enforcement Officers (Washington,DC, 2006), available from theUCR Program Office, FBI Complex, 1000Custer Hollow Road, Clarksburg, WV26306-0150 or by calling 888-827-6427.5The authors made no attempt toconfirm or disprove the gang members’self-proclaimed affiliations.September 2007 / 7

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