Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Father Gregory Boyle published an opinion piece in the LA Times (The Mythic Enemy, LA Times, December 15, 2002) that left me scratching my head and I heard it raised a lot of eyebrows over at the US Attorney's office on Spring Street and at the DA's office. He's wrong about so many things that I just had to take him on.

Boyle refutes the statistic that there are "100,000 gangbangers" in LA. He makes a distinction between "bangers" and "members." He claims that those who actually commit crimes are the bangers and only represent a small percentage of the total gang member population. He says that if all members were bangers, the murders attributed to gangs would be much higher than the 300 currently reported. That’s true as far as murders go. But that’s true of the general criminal population as well. The number of killers in the Italian Mafia is miniscule compared to the number of wiseguys that comprise the gang. Only a tiny percentage of any given criminal group actually kills.

But Father Boyle overstates his argument when he says that "only a small percentage of the estimated 100,000 gang members in Los Angeles are responsible for illegal gang activity." That’s clearly not the case. If that group responsible for murders were the same group responsible for all illegal gang activity, these individuals would be the busiest people on the planet.

The implication Father Boyle makes is that the "member" population stands around doing nothing while this handful of killer "bangers" does all the drug dealing, intimidation, home invasions, strong-arm holdups, extortion and carjackings. And these over-achievers are never caught? Common sense would tell us otherwise.

The fact is, of that 100,000 population, almost all the members are involved to some degree in illegal gang activity and contribute to the overall problem. For instance, even if the lowest level member does nothing more nefarious than sell a few bags of pot a day, he has to pay his taxes to the local big Homie. That Homie in turn provides protection to his dealers from neighboring dealers. If the dealer doesn’t pay his taxes, he’s killed. Those taxes support overall gang activity. That’s how the Big Homies who run the neighborhoods can stay in business. That money supports the organization. So even just dealing "harmless" drugs like marijuana is a significant contributor to illegal gang activity. So for Father Boyle to say that only a small percentage of that 100,000 are involved in illegal activity is far from accurate. The low level dealers and members form that base of support without which the medium- and hard-core gangsters could not exist.

He also points to the "myth" of "multigenerational" gang membership. He claims this aspect of the gang culture is false and for proof, he indicates that of the thousand gang members per month that walk into Homeboy Industries, it’s rare that he encounters someone who’s family has been in gangs for generations. I believe that and it’s consistent with everything I’ve learned and is contained in the gang literature. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with gang culture.

What Father Boyle doesn’t seem to grasp is that the gangster who has been indoctrinated into the gang culture since he was in the crib will never walk into Father Boyle’s office. Look at it this way: if your grandfather, father, all your uncles and all your brothers are in gangs, and the men your sisters and aunts marry are in gangs, and your cousins are in gangs, it would be a rare and courageous individual indeed who can turn his back on that and try to live a straight life.

Chances are, a member of such a family was probably "made" by La Eme as a young man. One of the rules of the Eme is that you only leave when you die. I can point out to Father Boyle a number of "made" carnales who turned their backs on crime and found Christ. They’ve been "greenlighted" for execution. In an audiotape made by the FBI during he investigation that lead to the Alex Aguirre prosecution, an Eme brother is recorded talking about another brother who left the Eme and became a minister. Even though the minister had no intention of ever ratting on his former associates, La Eme still greenlighted him for death. The made guy on tape said there’s "no getting out of this motherf**cker (meaning La Eme). Not Jesus, not nothin’ gets you out."

So sure, Father Boyle never sees evidence of multigenerational gang membership. The overwhelming evidence, however, indicates the opposite to a degree he can’t imagine. The gangs aren’t just generational. They’ve spawned a self-sustaining alternate culture. Gang culture now has its own websites, music labels, magazines and social events. I urge Father Boyle to investigate some of this and he’ll see family albums of pictures with kids in diapers holding .380 pistols and wearing "southside blue" rags. The tragedy is that by the time that baby handling the .380 for his baby album enters his teenage years, he’s probably beyond redemption and rehabilitation. His gangster parents have already scarred him so deeply that it would take nothing short of full-on brain-washing to get that kid back to normal. Is it any surprise that type of child doesn’t walk into Homeboy Industries? Or the nearest church, or Victory Outreach or any other outreach program?

Father Boyle also takes exception to the police branding a young man as a "gang associate." He states that "this designation is officially given to kids who come to the attention of law enforcement but can’t be linked to any gang." He also states the "label is hard to shake, appearing in law enforcement databases and station-house files." This is far from the truth and frankly, Father Boyle should know better.

What Father Boyle is talking about is the statewide gang database that was started by the LA County Sheriff’s office many years ago. First of all, young men don’t get put in the database on the strength of one contact with the police. Or even two or three contacts with the police. The way it works is like this. When a young person is first observed associating with known gang members, he’s warned that the people he’s associating with are gang members and that he should stay away from them. Very often, the street cop will also contact the family and warn the parents about their son’s association with criminals.

More often than not, cops tell me, the families become angry at the cops for "picking" on their son who wasn’t doing anything and only hanging out with his friends. The breakdown starts right there. The families, the only people who can really do anything significant about heading off a potential problem, do nothing, or don’t do enough or are just ignored by a rebellious young man. Alerting the families is part of the "prevention" and "intervention" Father Boyle desires later in his article. But law enforcement never gets credited with that.

That procedure of warning an individual is conducted three times. If after the third warning that person continues to be seen hanging out with gangsters, only then does he go into the database as an associate. However, his standing as an associate does not follow him around forever as Father Boyle implies. If there’s no police contact with that individual for three years, the name falls out of the database. Unlike the Mexican Mafia who will only let you out if you die, the state-wide gang database throws you out when it stops hearing from you. Father Boyle’s claim that inclusion in the database and being an associate is an "invented label" that is "hard to shake" is false.

Father Boyle also states that you’re either "jumped in or you’re not" and implying that there’s no middle ground in the levels of gang membership. Look at it from a merely common sense point of view. Is a gang going to jump someone in without some period of evaluation to make sure he’s got the heart to be a gangster? Does Father Boyle presume that a gang will let anybody in? Before being jumped in, members have to prove themselves to some degree. Part of the period of proving themselves involves a lot of hanging out with gangsters. And that involves drinking, drugging and committing crimes, albeit on low level. They don’t let anybody in unless they know them. And to know them, you have to associate with them.

Therefore, to state that the term "associate" is "invented" by a law enforcement system that hasn’t "known what to do with the teenage neighbor or young cousin seen standing and talking with a gang member" is disingenuous in the extreme.

Father Boyle also fails to mention that the LAPD has a Youth Advocacy Program that tries to find alternatives to prison even after a young person has committed a crime.

I’ll quote Father Boyle’s next assertion in full because it’s misguided in so many ways that only a full quote will do.

He states, "The Los Angeles Police Department has also railed about the prison influence being exerted on gangs. But of the gang-related homicides this year, I’d wager that none was orchestrated from within prison walls. Gang violence is usually random and impulsive. To insist that gang member are puppets manipulated on the streets by prisoners behind walls is to not acknowledge the intrinsically haphazard nature of gang violence and the utter despair it reflects."

Father Boyle either does not know his gang history or refuses to accept it. Granted there are "impulse" killings committed by gangsters. But the proof of murders ordered from prison is overwhelming. In a Federal case that targeted the Mexican Mafia, the FBI, LAPD and LASO recorded over 700 hours of audio and video conversations. Most of those hours were between Mexican Mafia members in jail and associates on the street. In the same case, they intercepted over 8,000 phone calls made in a three month period from prison to just one phone number in Father Boyle’s own neighborhood belonging to Shakey Joe Hernandez. Those conversations weren’t just to bid salutations to friends and family. They were to conduct gang business – realigning drug territories, relaying intelligence and ordering assaults and murders. In anybody’s interpretation, 8000 calls in a three-month period to just one phone number indicates a tremendous amount of control and muscle flexing.

To refer back to an earlier point, that phone number belonged to a "camarada," a gang associate who acted as a telephone switchboard relaying messages into and out of the jail system. That person was a known "associate" who’s only previous criminal history was low-level drug dealing. But he was hanging out, talking to and generally interacting with known gang members. The term "associate" is well-deserved and a valid tool of law enforcement.

Father Boyle is also wrong when he talks about gangs being "disorganized crime" and therefore not a suitable target for RICO prosecutions. RICO laws were effectively used in Northern California against a number of street gangs and in LA they were successfully used to dismantle a large chunk of the Mexican Mafia starting with cases dating back to 1995.

Street gangs are responsible for selling tens of thousands of pounds of illegal drugs. They collect millions of dollars in drug sales and millions more from "street taxes" on dealers. They have safe houses out of state and in Mexico. They procure guns from oversees as Kody Scott stated in his book, "Monster."

To provide just one example, when Ernesto "Chuco" Castro was arrested in the early 1990s, the LASO found a concrete and steel bunker buried under his house. In it, they found $30,000 in cash, dozens of semi-automatic and full-automatic military weapons, drugs of every variety and hundreds of pages of messages from jailed Eme members to their associates on the street. That $30,000 was just part of the take for one week of street taxes. All this activity, no matter how you look at it, implies a high level of organization. The average gang may not be as rigidly structured as Fedex but they are far from the freewheeling goofballs Father Boyle would have us believe.

I agree with Father Boyle about gang members and associates not being puppets. They are all too human and, unlike puppets, they want to live. They know that if they don’t do the bidding of the powerful Homies, in and out of prison, the consequences are death. So indeed, they are manipulated. I can cite dozens of cases of gang members coerced into committing major crimes are the bidding of jailed convicts.

I’ll quote Father Boyle again. "People in poor urban parts of Los Angeles often don’t cooperate with the police because they don’t know the police." With all due respect, this is utter nonsense. They know the police. But they also know the gangsters only too well. By cooperating with the police, they put their heads in the noose. Ana Lizaraga was executed by the Mexican Mafia for cooperating with law enforcement to help clean up her neighborhood and for consulting in the making of American Me. The guy who killed her was ordered to do it by an Eme member in prison. It doesn’t take many examples like Lizaraga for people living in ganglands to keep their mouths shut when the cops come around asking questions after a crime.

Father Boyle is something of a sacred cow in LA. But you have to wonder how a guy who's so close to the gang culture get his facts cross-threaded like this.


Anonymous said...

Did you know that you will go to Hell for talking bad about a Father/Priest?..Say 10 hail Marys and Pray to Jesus to forgive you..With Love, Los Angeles Resident..

Anonymous said...

noo!! anonymous you are doom only when you lie and you just did that,father Boyle is miss contructing the truth i live in a gang area yes it is truth, grandma grandpa and down are ganster, is like roaches you fallow one home what do you find is nest of roaches ok!! intimidating the neighbors,etc, peddling drugs at schools is the only reason why their kids are sent to school body !!!and other things they do. now god said love god and your neighbor as the whenyour wrong your wrong dont feel bad we all make misstakes whit love tito!