Friday, May 15, 2009

Cecelia, You're Breaking My Heart (Part 2)

Part 1

After that first lunch, Cecelia and I established a routine.

About once a week, sometimes twice a week, I'd swing by her house, pick her up, and we'd go eat somewhere. At first, the conversations were mainly me conducting an inquisition to drag the words out of her, because she was not a talkative girl.

Eventually, though, she started to tell me about her life. Cecelia was the leader of the girls in La Raza, a local street gang (hence the LR on her belt buckles). She'd first joined a gang called QVO, but then transitioned over into La Raza when it split off the larger gang.

QVO was the largest gang in our city, a predominantly latino gang whose color was brown. It boasted about 200 members, and was a homegrown set whose name was taken from a magazine once printed in Los Angeles, literally "what's up." In 1995, one of the three most dangerous gangs in the city was called "What's Up." This was pretty much par for the course for a city that also boasted a gang called BDG: Big Dick Gang.

QVO, BDG, and La Raza were separate groups, but also mostly allies in those days. They were the "brown pride" sets, gangs who claimed the color brown (or in La Raza's case, green), and aligned themselves against the local Surenos, gangs who had either been transplanted from Los Angeles, or modeled themselves after LA's Hispanic gangs. The Surenos gangs claimed the traditional black or blue, and included Avenues (a Los Angeles transplant), Diamond Street, Chiques, 18th Street (also an LA transplant), and a few others.

The QVO sets didn't consider themselves Bloods, the traditional rivals of the Crips, but they did ally with local Blood sets at times.

Westside, where Cecelia lived, was a smallish neighborhood that the detectives in my unit referred to as "drive-by alley." And, it was. In 1998, the year before I moved to Florida, we had over 300 drive-by shootings, almost one per day and most of them were on the west side. We had over 30 gang-related homicides that year, almost 3 a month. For comparison's sake, Dallas had slightly less that year, and was twice as large in population size.

Most of the gangs didn't claim specific territories, although Diamond Street claimed sections of the Northside, and most of the La Raza and BDG kids lived in Westside. But their enemies did, too. Most of the Avenues (AVES) lived right in amongst their feuding rivals, a few blocks from where Cecelia lived.

For the most part, the Surenos warred with the "brown pride" groups, Latinos fighting with and killing other Latinos. Sometimes, the Brown Pride gangs would also fight with another large group in the city, Tongan Crip Gang (TCG) whose membership rivaled their own, since there were many TCG members in Westside.

You could see from the graffiti down alleys and along the sides of the street where members of rival gangs were living, fighting, and shooting one another. It definitely made retaliation and revenge a much easier game.

And, Cecelia lived right in the middle of it, one of the spoons that kept the pot of gang-related violence constantly stirred.

Part 3


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