Monday, March 22, 2004


In the March 22 LA TIMES, JILL LEOVY has one of her patented confuse-o-rama gang pieces, the kind that leave you less informed at the end than you were at the start.

Let’s start with the headline and sub-head. It reads as follows:


A small, changing gang cell appears responsible for some of the worst violence in South L.A.

Wow. Knock out story. I thought this was going to be a piece about the SOUTH LA equivalent of MURDER INC., the infamous Italian MAFIA murder-for-hire squad. The first three sentences certainly seem to point in that direction. Multiple murders, same area, same weapon. Whoah. Sounds like hard-core gunslingers taking out enemies either for fun or profit. .

But then you get to the meat of the piece and realize this is just LEOVY’S undigested, poorly-thought out and confused take on the criminal life. It turn out that an AK-47 semi-auto rifle, a .45 and a 9 mm handgun, in various combinations, were connected to a dozen shootings.

But then the AK-47 was confiscated and some of the shooters arrested and – SURPRISE, SURPRISE – other shootings and murders happened that involved semi-auto AK-style rifles and handguns. What gives?

The whole premise of the piece starts falling apart and then completely goes off the rails when LEOVY starts citing statistics that a third of murder defendants have no previous criminal record. Where'd that come from?

Then the piece really crashes and burns when she quotes South Bureau DC EARL PAYSINGER who says that chasing the guns is less important than finding the shooters. After all, he says, “people pull the trigger.” So what happened to the connection with the magic gun that did all the shooting? Nothing about this piece tracked. Just like her disconnected interview on PACIFICA RADIO some months back.

JILL, just FYI, here’s the deal with guns and gangsters.

Let’s start with the basics. There are two categories of guns we’re talking about here. First is the purely defensive carry gun. This could be anything from a tiny .22 to full-house .45 ACP.

Generally speaking, the carry piece is clean. And concealable, natch. It may have been used in a crime somewhere, sometime in the past, but the current owner probably doesn’t know about that. Given a choice, a criminal would much rather carry a clean gun than a dirty one. Just in case he's stopped by cops and they find it. Common sense.

The carry piece, as I said, is a DEFENSIVE firearm. It’s carried for that “Oh SHIT!” moment when the owner encounters a rival gangster or is suddenly drawn down on by a drive by shooter. In the military they call this surprise firefight a “meeting engagement.” In fact, last week two known gangsters walked on a murder charge because they fired in self-defense in response to a drive-by. See earlier post.

These are broad strokes I’m taking here, but generally speaking, gangs have a stash of OFFENSIVE guns. It could be a single gun or a closet full. Whether or not she’s aware of it, the subject of LEOVY’s story is the OFFENSIVE weapon. This is a weapon a shooter would “draw” from the ARMORY, if you will, to do a mission. The term ARMORY is not something a gangster would use, but in effect, that’s what it is. Most of the time, OFFENSIVE guns are long guns – rifles and shotguns. Handguns, unless used in short range situations, are a bad choice for a drive by or if you’re planning on firing into a car or through the walls of a house. Again, this is speaking generally. Sometimes handguns are used by secondary shooters as suppression fire weapons to keep opponents heads down while the primary shooter cuts loose with the long gun. In truth, virtually every kind of gun you can imagine has been used in drive-bys, but here LEOVY was talking about an AK-47.

It’s no surprise that a single long gun like the one in her piece would be used multiple times because chances are, that gun is "controlled" by a big homie. It could be stashed in the homie’s house or at the house of someone he trusts. The ARMORY, if you will. The armory "supervisor" may not even be a gang member but may be just an affiliate or somebody that owes the gang something.

Drive by shootings are planned, as opposed to the “meeting engagement” mentioned earlier. Some are planned better that others. Read “MONSTER” by CODY SCOTT or talk to gangsters and you’ll learn that part of the most minimal planning process is “how we strapped?” Which means what guns are available, who’s got them, where’s the ammo and who takes the guns back after we’re done?

Sometimes, the guns in the ARMORY are traded for other weapons which may have just as bad a history but come from another part of the county. The ARMORY stock is fluid. Guns come and go. They’re used as currency to buy drugs or buy a knucklehead out of a tough spot. If you owe your dealer a wad, he’ll probably take a gun in payment or partial payment. And that gun will get traded around or bought or just change hands when some homie gets arrested and goes to jail.

OFFENSIVE long guns, unlike the cheapo throwaway .22s and .380, don’t get dumped in ECHO PARK LAKE or into somebody’s back yard. They’re too valuable for that. They get returned and recycled for other operations even if they’re super hot with lots of crimes to their credit. In fact, a gun with a long criminal history can be an asset to the defense in court.

Think of this scenario. You’re a 16-year-old active gangster who’s just been connected to a homicide. You don’t have much of a criminal history as is the case with 30% of murder defendants, according to LEOVY’S piece. You’re arrested. The bullet(s) recovered from your victim match(es) the bullets found in five or six other homicides. The defense attorney, because he knows the gun’s history through the full discovery process, stands up in front of the jury during the argument phase and tells them, “The prosecution is asking you to believe that my young client, with no criminal history, is responsible not only for this heinous murder, but also for a string of shootings and six other homicides. This is preposterous. If this were the case, this young man would be the most notorious criminal since BILLY THE KID. He wasn’t even on the streets when three of those shootings happened. He was serving time in Youth Authority.” If handled right, being connected to a gun that’s really, really dirty can be an easy “NOT GUILTY” verdict. No jury is going to believe that any single person could possibly have committed so many murders.

Trust me on this one. I’ve seen it happen. So you see, JILL, a single gun with a lot of history is nothing new. It’s not some highly motivated “cell” as she calls it, committing a lot of homicides and operating like some death squad. It’s just a lot of active shooters taking lives and destroying neighborhoods and knowing how to work the system.

While I won’t say that her piece was totally without merit, I just don’t see what her point was. I mean, listen to this one. “But it is not just the shifting of guns that makes solving gang crime difficult. Suspects are a fluid, elusive group.” Yeah, Jill. That’s why they call themselves criminals. After they do something bad, they don’t immediately surrender to authorities. They try to evade suspicion and capture. That makes them elusive. Day in, day out, the LA TIMES is committed to the relentless pursuit of the obvious.

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