Madera's teenage gangsters speak out

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webmaster | 05/25/02
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"Hit a scrap" (equivalent of a racial slur for Sureño) "in the neck, let their true color drip." The words are from a Generations of United Norteños rap cassette, which law enforcement officers say is a recruitment tool, glamorizing the gang life for juveniles. The tape was pulled from store shelves when it was directly linked to criminal activities, but has been copied to numerous blank cassettes, and is widely available to Madera kids.

The 15-year-old Norteño doesn't think he'll ever get out of the gang.

"It would be pretty hard," he said. "We've got to stick together. The cops, the scraps are always trying to split us apart."

With a growth spurt probably still ahead of him, what the boy lacks in stature, he makes up for in attitude. Gang Prevention Specialist Lawrence Fernandez said the young Norteño is still on the fringe, but quickly heading for full-fledged gang member status. Fernandez believes the boy hasn't yet "put in work" (committed crimes) for the gang, but he knows the 15-year-old will likely be called on to "back it up" soon.

The young gangster hangs with the North Side Madera (NSM) crew, one of the biggest and oldest Norteño crews in Madera, and he has older family members who are part of the gang, Fernandez said.

The boy said no one forced him to be a gangster.

"It was my choice," he said.

Born in the foothills outside of Madera, the high school sophomore said gangs were never really an issue in his life until he came to the city.

"I didn't have to worry about no gangs in the mountains," he said. He said if he had stayed there, he may never have gotten involved in gangs. He admits his older brother introduced him to gang life.

"Since second grade, I used to hang with my brother," he said. "He never banged (committed criminal activities for the gang), he just backed it up."

The boy, who flaunts a gang-style haircut, said his parents don't want him to be in the gang.

"They don't like me being in it," he said. "They're good parents. I listen to them sometimes. I don't like people telling me things to do. I have like a short temper."

He gets a sense of camaraderie and solidarity from his fellow gang members.

"They have my back all the time," he said. "If something comes down, they back you up."

Now that the Sureños know who he is, he probably needs that protection.

"I got jumped by 15 of them (Sureños)," he said. "They won't fight one on one. I don't get along with none of them."

He said he always wears his red shirt, but some places he wears it under a black one.

When asked why the color red, he said it's just a way to "back it up" and "claim it."

"I don't like blue at all," he said.

Still, there is some ambivalence.

"Some Norteños, they'll talk to them (Sureños) as long as they're cool," he said. "We'll talk to some of them. They don't even have green cards, most of them. If something happens and they get in trouble, they just go back to Mexico. They try to act all bad. They try to punk me out. I'll throw down with them."

He doesn't care for policemen, either.

"I really don't like them," he said. "I get in trouble all the time."

He's never been to juvenile hall.

"I heard it's pretty hard in there," he said, but he doesn't feel the same way about prison.

"It's just like the streets," he said. "You can get drugs and weapons. You just have to survive. You have to watch your back more in (prison)."

The only thing he's been in trouble for, he said, is fighting.

"You're not a man if you use a weapon," he said. "But if they want to use weapons, you have to. It's either your life or theirs, they're saying."

He admits he will do what the older gang members ask.

"I'll go do it," he said. "You've got to respect the older homeboys."

The teen claimed his real family takes slight precedence over his street family.

"They're my family. I'll die for them," he said. "But I'll die for my homeboys, too. One's my family by color; one's my family by blood."

Still, he said he wouldn't interfere if he had a little brother or son who wanted to be in a gang.

"That's up to them," he said. "As long as they want [to be in gangs], I ain't going to stop them."

An above-average student, his only current career plan is to get out of school.

"I don't want to go to college," he said. "After this school, it's over."

He doesn't believe there will ever be a truce between the warring Hispanic factions.

"It ain't going to be over until there's no more of us or no more of them."

"We murder all chapetes" (equivalent of a racial slur for Norteño) "everyday in Califas. When we roll through the night, chaps step the (expletive) back, cuz everywhere you looking a Sureño's always rollin' strapped." -- A partial entry from a guestbook on the Internet site, Brownpride.com.

For most who want to be in one, there is a ritual involved with joining a gang. To become a Sureño or a Norteño, an individual, generally a juvenile, is "jumped in."

Several (usually about six or seven) gang members attack the pledge from every direction at once, physically beating him.

Sureños use the number 13 in graffiti and tattoos to represent M, the 13th letter of the alphabet, which stands for La Eme or Mexican Mafia. Norteños use the number 14 for similar reasons.

The "jumping in" to become a Sureño lasts 13 seconds, for a Norteño it's 14. For those becoming part of a particular crew (a neighborhood group of gang members), there is a second "jumping in" that lasts the same amount of time. The two beatings can take place one after the other or at different times altogether.

Under certain circumstances, some gang members are allowed to stop "putting in work" (engaging in criminal activities for the gang), but they must be "jumped out" in a similar fashion.

The 18-year-old Sureño is a member of the crew VLS -- Varrio Locos Surenos. About two years ago, he moved to Madera from Los Angeles where, he said, he started hanging out with gangsters when he was 13. He said he was "jumped in" by six of them when he was 15.

"All my friends got into gangs," he said. "It wasn't something I was planning for, it just came up."

He has no regrets.

"It's the action," he said. "I like the action, the running. It's just fun."

The young man, who said he's been in the vehicle during two drive by shootings, but said he's never shot anyone himself, knows a little about his gang's history.

"They're the ones who split from the Mexican Mafia," he said about Norteños. "I don't like them at all. I have a problem with any (Norteño) I see. I won't dis (put down) their family or kids, but I'll automatically go tell them something. They don't even know what they stand for. The south, we know what we're getting into. They probably think it's a game. It's not."

He's not sure why he's supposed to wear blue.

"It's just a color we sport," he said. "I really don't know why. We sport to represent. Blue was always my favorite color."

He said he has one Norteño friend.

"Mostly my homies, they won't tell him nothing," he said. "But as soon as they see him sporting the colors or shaking hands (with the Norteño handshake), they'll probably go after him, and I can't do nothing about it."

He thinks of himself as a soldier. He said he drinks, but doesn't use drugs.

"In our hood (VLS), they don't accept people who do drugs," he said. "They want good soldiers who will fight and be true to the gang."

He said he has never thought about leaving his gang, even though he admits he gets in trouble all of the time at school.

"Everything comes back to me," he said.

As a boy, he was taken to juvenile hall several times, but avoided spending the night there.

"I've just been lucky," he said. "All my friends have been locked up. They don't like it."

He believes jail would be much easier.

"(My friends) love jail compared to juvenile hall," he said.

The young Sureño said he's been involved in robberies, burglaries, arson and car thefts.

Even he is surprised at the level of violence between gangs in Madera.

"Here it's just guns," he said.

One of his fellow crew members was shot last month in an incident reported in The Tribune. The teen said his gang plans to retaliate.

"There is [a plan] and there has to be [retaliation]," he said. "Everyone knows who the shooter is."

The Sureño said he's noticed the changing gang demographics in Madera.

"The north here don't do nothing," he said. "But the word's getting up north, and [hardcore Norteño leaders] are coming down."

The student, who Fernandez said could be on the honor roll, plans to go to college next year. His major? He said he wants to be a correctional officer. He knows the gangs were started in the prisons, when Hispanic prisoners felt they were being exploited due to the alliance formed between Caucasian inmates and guards.

He has been careful not to get any tattoos, because he knows that's what police look for to verify gang membership.

The 18-year-old said that any effective gang prevention would have to "start at the bottom." He said kids and parents would have to be told about gangs at an early age.

"The parents don't know what [their kids] are listening to," he said.

The teen said his parents want him out of the gang.

"They're very cool," he said. "They're always there for me, and I never listen to them. They know we're doing wrong. The only time I feel guilty is when I see my mom crying."

The gangster has a six-month-old son of his own. He said he doesn't want his child to be in the gang.

When I go to the campus at the high school, I can see fewer gang members. This has been our best year as far as gang activity on campus. -- MUSD Gang Prevention Specialist Lawrence Fernandez

In the last two years, Fernandez said he has made about 200 home visits to talk to parents about their children's gang activities. He and others said one of the main problems for many kids who end up in gangs is their lack of supervision and their lack of male role models who aren't gang members themselves.

Although this 15-year-old teen said his parents have only a "slight idea" that he has been involved with gangs, he said he has an uncle, who knows about his gang activity, and who, with Fernandez' help, has convinced him to get away from the gang while he still can.

The former gang member said he recently "burned off" the four dots -- a Norteño tattoo -- he had on his hand.

"I want to straighten up and get clean before I get stabbed or shot or something," the boy, who still wears a red shirt, said. "I'm tired of this. It's not really worth it. I want to cut all ties before I get in too deep."

The 15-year-old has lived in Madera his whole life. He said he's always been around gangs, and since his "best friends" were hanging out with the North Side Madera crew, he started hanging out with them, too, at the age of 12.

"I was really confused," he said.

He said he hasn't been jumped in, but did fight a Sureño after a bout was scheduled by his gang.

He used to think Sureños didn't have any place in Madera.

"I used to see them almost as a disease," he said. "There's better things in life than hating a person for how he looks or what he wears."

He knows the Sureños still recognize him as the enemy.

"There's certain places I shouldn't go," he said. "But I still do."

He said he no longer carries a weapon.

"I used to carry a knife," he said. "But I've never used it. I've never been in a situation where I had to stab or cut anybody."

As a student, the boy said he used the gang for protection and so people would notice him.

"I wanted to be known as somebody," he said. "I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to show I had people who had my back, people to watch over me."

He said if he had it to do over he wouldn't have ended up in a gang.

"I would try to stay as far as I could from that," he said.

He doesn't think there is anything his parents could have done to keep him away from gangs.

"I had to find out for myself," he said. "People are going to do what they're going to do."

The boy said he wants to go to college, and he is thinking about joining the military, but he knows his grades, which have suffered since he has been involved with gangs, have to get better.

He said he's always known about gang activity in Madera.

"There's always been violence," he said.

Fernandez said the 15-year-old is right about the violence.

The gang specialist remembers one juvenile he knew in the early 1980s who was hanging out with the Norteño crew, Varrio Tiny Winos, a crew that still exists in town. He said during a burglary gone bad, the seventh-grader committed a homicide, and is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence.

The 15-year-old offers one bit of advice for anyone thinking about joining a gang.

"Everyone just needs to find what they're good at, be their own person, and do the best they can. It's not worth getting shot."

 

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