- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

Youth gangs are more willing than ever to kill, are more organized than ever and are a major reason why more homicides have been committed in the District this year, crime prevention specialists say.
There had been 142 homicides in the city as of Friday, compared with 106 at the same time last year a 34 percent increase. There were 31 homicides in July alone.
On Thursday, D.C. police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said 30 percent of the homicides were gang- or drug-related.
Theophus Brooks, head of the six-member D.C. Youth Gang Task Force, said the majority of the city's homicides are related to youth gangs directly or indirectly.
Violence is on the rise, said Mr. Brooks, who wrote a book detailing the epidemic of gangs in the District. "It's hard to say when it's going to happen or who it's going to happen to, but it's escalated."
A big part of the problem, the specialists say, is the proliferation of guns.
"It's becoming a gun thing now," said Raul Archer, a task force member who works with Latino gangs in Northwest. "Everybody is trying to have more firepower now. There's easier accessibility [to guns], too."
Mr. Brooks said, "Guys are more willing to use a gun to settle things."
Chief Ramsey cited the easy availability of guns as a contributing factor to the high number of homicides.
"In 74 percent of the murders, guns were involved," Chief Ramsey said on his radio show Thursday. "So guns continue to be a huge problem here in the District."
The tendency to resolve fights with guns creates a climate of fear in parts of the city that makes murder more likely, Mr. Brooks said.
"You've got a lot of guys killing each other because they know they're going to get killed. A lot of times people don't want to kill one another, but they have to, because there's so much pressure, and they got a gun. They got to show what they can do with it," he said. "The pressure's almost like a vise on you."
Mr. Brooks, who grew up in the District and who has worked with gangs full time for seven years, said the word "gang" often is defined too narrowly and should include any group of more than two persons who commit crimes on a consistent basis.
He said roughly 240 gangs exist in the District, but many gangs are loosely organized crews that are active only if one of their members is threatened or harmed.
Among the city's black population, Mr. Brooks said, youths from different neighborhoods hold deep grudges against one another and often engage in back-and-forth exchanges of retaliation.
Latino gangs, on the other hand, are typically structured criminal organizations.
The Northwest areas of Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights are dominated by Latino gangs, while black crews pervade Northeast and Southeast.
MS-13 is the largest Latino gang in the District, with national and international ties. They are highly organized and recruit aggressively, Mr. Archer said.
While MS-13 faces competition in Northwest from other crews such as Vatos Locos and La R, it's clearly the dominant gang.
"MS is trying to take over the community," Mr. Archer said. "They'll do arms, drugs, whatever it takes to make it. They're pretty much beefing with everybody."
Latino gangs' quest for street supremacy results in confrontations, but Mr. Brooks said violent crimes among blacks have different causes.
"They're not killing over drugs like they used to," he said.
Violent crimes among blacks erupt from fights over women and petty disputes that escalate, Mr. Brooks said.
He also said a drug called the dipper contributes to the problem.
A dipper is a cigarette or a marijuana joint dipped in PCP. Smoking the drug often provokes violent behavior, Mr. Brooks said.
"A lot of people are committing crimes, wake up the next morning and don't have a clue," he said.
Members of the Youth Gang Task Force spend most of their time trying to discover potential conflicts between gangs and crews, then try to prevent violence by getting the two parties to talk through mediation.
All members have backgrounds in security, and they are on the street daily talking to residents, including criminals and those in gangs.
The task force is co-funded by D.C. public schools and a private security firm, and its members report to the D.C. schools.
The Metropolitan Police Department's Office of Youth Prevention, founded two years ago by Chief Ramsey, has four members whose goal is to do much the same thing.
"Our unit is a proactive unit," Officer Sean Dennis said. "If we can get people to talk and resolve their problems instead of ending them with violence, we can prevent a lot of problems."
The Office of Youth Prevention has set up an anti-violence basketball league that targets high-crime neighborhoods and requires those who play to attend workshops on issues such as life skills, anger management, employment opportunities and parenting skills.
But the department's Gang Intelligence Unit, which was created to gather information to solve and prevent gang-related crimes, has been spread thin in recent months, said Sgt. Greg Schamenek, one of the unit's six members.
He said the unit has had to gather intelligence on the protests at the International Monetary Fund and on threats to homeland security.
The issue has been "one of those things you forget about and don't think about. We've been so busy with so many other things," Sgt. Schamenek said.


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