One of the few absolutes in the world of street gangs is that when there is a gang-involved drive-by shooting, street brawl, or school disturbance, there will be retaliation. When a Blood kills a Crip or vice versa, officers routinely step up their patrol in gang-infested areas and monitor the funeral in anticipation of a revenge shooting. It’s not an issue of will it happen? But rather when will it happen?
Say a gang member wanders into rival gang territory and gets confronted, challenged, or injured, and manages to retreat from the area. It doesn’t matter that he is the one who made the social faux pas by crossing into a rival’s turf. The fact that the rival gang struck out at him cannot be ignored. He has to return, but next time it will be with help and a collective objective – revenge. There must be payback; it’s the one thing all gangs agree upon.
In the gang world, no challenge, assault or diss (act of disrespect) can go unanswered since being a gang member is all about holding onto respect and reputation (rep). When a diss occurs to a gang by a rival, only revenge will satisfy the offended gang. To them, revenge shows the world (mostly themselves, really), that their rep is intact and is to be respected. Gang history teaches us that revenge will be in the form of a bloody beating, a bullet-spray drive-by or even a bombing.
When the offense is to an individual gang member, there is an expectation within his gang that the offended member will automatically seek revenge to uphold the rep that has been given to him by his peers. In fact, the expectation is so great that if for whatever reason a member doesn’t strike back, he may have to face the rage of his own gang. “A banger’s gang will give him hell if he doesn’t get revenge when he’s been dissed,” says Detective Doug Justus, a veteran gang officer on the West Coast. “Often times they beat up their own member for not doing a payback.” Offend a member, and the gang’s reputation is also at stake.
Mandatory revenge is not indigenous to one particular gang. Over the past 15 years, revenge has destroyed countless young lives as gangs have grown and spread across the United States. Let’s take a brief look at how Southeast Asian, black, Hispanic, skinheads and white gangs view the all-important obligation of revenge.
Many Southeast Asian gangsters believe in what they call “the 100-year revenge,” which means that if they get wronged in some fashion, they will get revenge no matter how long it takes. “If we can’t get you,” they say, “we will get your children, and if we can’t get them, we will wait and get their children. We will get revenge, even if it takes 100 years.”
Pamela Sowers, a reporter in Seattle and an expert on Asian culture, says that revenge is everything to Southeast Asians. “The 100-year revenge is mentioned frequently in Asian literature, such as Outlaws of the Water Margin, an ancient Chinese novel about gangsters, or ‘men of honor’ as they were called many years ago, and as some still prefer to be addressed in Hong Kong. The concept also shows up in some Asian movies. I know that today, in the case of a major transgression against a gang leader, his followers will try to kill or harm every family member of the transgressor. That has happened in Seattle with the Cambodian gangsters.”
Detective Stu Winn, a veteran gang detective with the Portland (Oregon) Police Bureau, says that he mostly hears about the 100-year revenge from the older gangbangers. He related a story of how he first learned of it.
“I had a Laotian informant who told me that years ago when he was in grammar school, another kid beat him up pretty severely. He decided to get revenge, but not right away because he wanted to wait until the timing was just right. Two years later, he saw his opportunity when he noticed that the kid rode the same bus every day. The Laotian went home, got a knife and secreted it into his school books. He then watched the kid’s movements for a couple days and when the timing was finally right, he attacked him on the bus, stabbing him multiple times. The Laotian was in the fourth or fifth grade at the time.”
Winn says that his informant told him that revenge was important in his culture and that if it took 100 years to get it accomplished, then that’s what he would do. What happens after a hundred years? “The person is forgiven,” the Laotian said. The bottom line is that whether it’s one year or 100, Southeast Asian gangbangers take their revenge very seriously.
While some infractions may seem insignificant to us who are not gang involved, to those who are, those whose entire existence is all about the gang, even the smallest infraction necessitates swift retaliation.
Case in point: One bloody case began when a Southeast Asian gang member “looked hard” (glaring or frowning in a challenging way) at a rival Southeast Asian gangster as they passed each other in their high school hallway. At noon, the one who had received the look, walked to a nearby Asian grocery and bought a meat cleaver. He returned to the school, found the rival and promptly hacked the cleaver into his shoulder, removing a large wedge of flesh similar to what a logger chops out of a tree.
As the ambulance wailed their arrival, the suspect, no longer having a need for the meat cleaver, casually walked back to the market and got his money back.
Almost from its inception, there has been an expectation in the black gang culture that revenge is an automatic response to being dissed in some fashion. The individual gangbanger who fails to take care of business when he has been wronged will find that life within his gang suddenly becomes intolerable. He will be hassled, teased, called a punk, not allowed to hang out and party with his homies and he may even be beaten for his inaction.
Sometimes a gang member is revenged simply because of his gang affiliation. For example, a Blood will say, “I know Crazy Boy is a Crip and I know that he carries a gun. I know where he is right now and I’m going to get him.”
The Blood finds Crazy Boy and fires a few rounds at him. As the Blood roars off in his car, he knows that he just opened a Pandora’s box because he dissed Crazy Boy in big way, and the unwritten rule, which everyone follows, says that Crazy Boy and his gang must retaliate.
“The Blood shot at me and nicked me,” Crazy Boy says, “Now I’m going to go and shoot him in the face.” This line of thinking has been the street dance between street gangs for many years.
Revenge is always extreme with street gangs. They never retaliate by throwing a rock through the rival’s window, but rather, “I’m going to go and break his head and then I’m going to shoot up his house and then I’m going to shoot into his group of friends. Hell, I’m going to go shoot him in the back of his head.”
Youth counselors say that when they talk to a gang member in a counseling session, the counselor asks how the conflict can be settled peacefully. Inevitably, the gangster says something like, “There is no way to do it with peace. Revenge is going to happen, maybe six months from now, maybe a year from now. But it’s definitely going to happen.”
Typically, gangs don’t plan out their revenge, which makes it difficult for law enforcement to act proactively. While the movies often depict gang members meeting in a room and discussing the details of their hit, the reality is that it’s situational with them. A member says that he just got dissed, so everyone jumps into a car and goes on a mission of payback. Or they might already be out in a car when they by chance run across a gang or gang member they want to hit.
The one absolute is that there is always going to be some kind of retaliation after a big incident, and generally it happens 10 days to a couple of weeks later.
Like other street gangs, skinheads seek revenge when they feel that they have been wronged. People who snitch on them and people who witness against them to the police are often fair game for retaliation. And since there is a continuous ongoing rivalry between racists and antiracist skins, there is virtually a built in revenge clause when one side in some way offends the other side. Revenge is important to them because they must uphold their reputation of being street warriors for their cause.
One ex-skinhead said that revenge is integral to what they are about. “We searched for revenge on a society that has walked away from traditional values and accepted, what we thought to be, degenerate values. Nazi skinheads are a group that does not compromise. We don’t accept the state that the world is in, but rather look to the thousands of years before us that created a utopian society of racial purity and genetic uniformity. Each act of violence or propaganda is an act of revenge on a group of people who are wallowing in self-pity and weak-minded behavior.”
It’s common for racist skinheads to assault mixed-race couples. In a way, these violent acts are a way of retaliating against a violation they see perpetrated by other whites. Race mixing they say, muddies the gene pool. This angers them, so they strike out against the white half of the relationship and, of course, they strike out at the minority half, too.
There are two basic skinhead factions: racists and antiracists. They hate each other and each believes that the other gives a bad name to skinheads. Acts of retaliation take the form of drive-by shootings, knifings, and street rumbles.
Today, skinhead violence is low, but there is still an intense hatred between the racists and antiracists. If one side is wronged in some fashion by the other side, it’s a guarantee that there will be an act of revenge. Although violence between opposing skinhead factions has at times been deadly, it hasn’t come near the level of ongoing violence perpetrated by other gangs.
Recent skinhead violence has been directed toward homosexuals and Jewish people and synagogues. Their strikes against homosexuals are acts of retaliation for a life style they consider an abomination. Their strikes against the Jews are in retaliation for what they perceive to be the Jewish controlled media, commerce and government, including law enforcement.
A Hispanic gangbanger made this warning as casually as if he were saying he was going to the movies. “You snitch, you wrong us, and we will kill your mama or baby brother.” It doesn’t get more clear than that.
Retaliation at it’s deadliest can mean the murder of the rival gang member, usually in a drive-by shooting. Typically, the revenge seekers pull their car up next to a crowd on a street corner, door stoop, or park bench and sprays everything and everyone in sight. Miraculously, many of these types of shootings end with no one being hit. But that isn’t always the case.
As this article is being written, police in Glendale, California are stepping up patrol after an 18-year-old Armenian man was shot as he stood near a group of seven other people. According to witnesses, as a 1987 Honda Accord drove slowly by the crowd, a Hispanic man, one of three in the car, leaned out the window and fired. Police say the shooting was in retaliation for the beating and stabbing death of a Hispanic student by Armenian gang members a few days earlier.
At least in this shooting the motive was clear in the minds of the gang members, but that is not always the case. “I’ve seen bangers seek revenge even when it wasn’t clear to them what the rival did,” one veteran gang officer said. “They just know that it’s expected of them to do a payback. When I’ve asked them what caused the extreme hate, they couldn’t answer. The original insult may have happened years ago, but they still have the need to revenge. There is no value to human life unless the gang member is directly related to the victim or he is a homeboy.”
One Hispanic ex-gang member talked about the adrenaline rush he had after being shot at, and the urgent need he had to strike back. “I remember sitting in a fast-food place with one of my homeboys. As we were talking, these guys from a rival gang saw us in the restaurant, and they got out of their car and came up to the window and started shooting through the glass at us. They didn’t hit anyone, but I can still remember how I felt. I was alive and all I could think about was revenge. I came so close to dying that night, but all that was going through my mind was finding these fools and hurting them.”
Sometimes a gang will get revenge against a member who no longer wants to be in the gang. A longtime Hispanic gangbanger, who has since been sentenced to a dozen years in prison, said this. “One time a guy said to the Mexican Mafia that he didn’t want to be in the gang anymore. They didn’t say nothin’ to him then, but when he left the gang, the next day his wife is dead, two of his sisters are dead, and the three-month-old baby is dead.” The validity of this story is unknown.
With most Hispanic gangbangers, the absolute need to strike back, the duty to retaliate for being wronged in some fashion, is an unsatiated hunger. The banger may plan his revenge, or it may just happen when the opportunity presents itself, as is the case with most incidents of gang violence. The banger may get wronged in June, but the opportunity to strike back doesn’t present itself until December. Over the months, the anger festers just beneath the surface, so that when the banger is presented with the moment – say the rival shows up at the same Saturday night party, or is seen sitting in a parked car – his rage explodes and someone gets hurt.
MISCELLANEOUS WHITE GANGS
Miscellaneous white gangs are those who emulate the other more entrenched ones, usually black and Hispanic gangs. Many begin as taggers and progress – by committing crimes, especially retaliation crimes – until they fit the definition of a criminal gang. For example, Taggers A marks over Taggers B’s graffiti, and of course Tagger B must retaliate. At first, the retaliation may only involve painting over A’s markings, but after a few of these exchanges, the retaliation turns violent.
It’s common for taggers to evolve into full-blown gangs within just a few months. At that stage, they may continue spreading graffiti, though usually bigger issues will have taken its place.
Other miscellaneous gangs form the way as do most other gangs. Some begin because their members have a mutual interest in music or computers. Others form out of a need for protection. The Trenchcoat Mafia at Columbine highschool would be an example.
“Revenge is very important, almost as much as respect and reputation,” says one ex-gang member. “If a gangbanger feels someone is dissing him or has hurt someone he cares about, the gangbanger must seek revenge. If he doesn’t, then he is looked down on by his set as being weak. The shootings I’ve been involved in, I was just thinking about revenge. I wanted to make sure that the person who disrespected me was not able to do it again. I was out to make an example of one in order to warn many.”
Arguably, it’s human nature to want revenge, but gangs seldom make the effort to settle matters through conversation or conflict resolution. Instead, they strike back in the extreme. With easy access to high-powered weapons, it’s more natural for young gangbangers to express their burning rage and their need for revenge through bloody violence.
The following article first appeared in “Police and Security News,” July/August 2000