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March 06, 2017 Articles

Gang Membership: Deadly, but Avoidable, Consequences

My client’s story, like so many others, involved a gang and a gun.

By Ralph E. Guderian – March 6, 2017

“I got out of the van, walked toward Two-Six and shot three times, I think. Then I ran back to the van, and me and Chuko drove away,” my client, the defendant, stated. He was a seventeen-year-old white Hispanic high school freshman.

Unfortunately, my client’s story is a common one in Chicago, where gangs are prevalent.

Client Story: Gang-Related Crime
The incident involving my client occurred in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, where gang-related murders are generally higher than in other neighborhoods and use of firearms is the norm.

My client’s story, like so many others, involved a gang and a gun. My client, a member of the Latin Kings gang, said that, at first, he did not know why he was in the area in which the crime took place. But then, according to my client, Chuko, a fellow gang member who is older than my client, put a .45-caliber blue steel handgun on his lap, pointed at some Two-Six (opposing gang) members, and told him to shoot.

My client was on one side of his car, and the individuals being shot at with the handgun were on the street on the other side of his car—and a passerby and his car were in the middle of the two. One of the rounds struck the passerby’s left front fender.

My client was charged with four counts of attempted first-degree murder, three counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm, and six counts of aggravated use of a weapon. Bond was set at $400,000, with 10 percent, or $40,000, needed to get out of the Cook County Department of Corrections while the case was pending.

Ultimately, my client pleaded guilty and accepted an offer from the assistant state attorney of five years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, of which he would serve 85 percent of the time. If he went to trial and was found guilty, he would have received a minimum jail term of twenty-one years (including a fifteen-year sentence enhancement due to the gun).

Gangs: Violence and Drugs
A street gang can be defined as an organized group that participates in criminal, threatening, or intimidating activity within a community. This antisocial group, usually composed of three or more individuals, evolves from within the community and has recognized leadership as well as a code of conduct. The group remains united during peaceful times as well as during [times of] conflict. Kate Curran Kirby et al., Chi. Crime Comm’n, The Chicago Crime Commission Gang Book: A Detailed Overview of Street Gangs in the Chicago Metropolitan Area 8 (2006).

In Chicago, drive-by shootings and murders are common between the two street gangs involved in my client’s case, the Latin Kings and the Two-Six (also known as the Gangster Two-Six Nation). Shootings occur regularly when a member of one gang spots a member of the other gang.

Drugs have led to a lot of the violence. When the Two-Six street gang ventured into drug sales, its members battled the Latin Kings members, who remain their main enemies.

Latin Kings Is the Largest Hispanic Gang
The Latin Kings is the oldest and largest Hispanic-led gang. Formed in Chicago in the mid-1950s or 1960s, the Latin Kings has expanded nationally under a highly organized and structured leadership and now has chapters in at least 33 other states. Its initial aim was to defend Hispanics from encroaching African American gangs. Now, although primarily consisting of Hispanics, its membership includes Caucasians, African Americans, and Middle Eastern individuals. Id.

As a member of the Latin Kings, my client has a tattoo of five dots on his left wrist, which represent honor, obedience, sacrifice, righteousness, and love. In addition, the symbols include the letters LK, ALK, or ALKN; a five-point crown; lions; and a five-point star or cross with five rays and the numeral 5. The motto of the Latin Kings is “Once King, Always a King,” and the gang’s colors are black and gold. Id.

Two-Six Is the Largest Mexican Gang
The Two-Six street gang, which began in the mid-1960s, was initially comprised of Caucasian and Hispanic members but now is the largest predominantly Mexican gang in Chicago. It has a well-structured leadership and is one of the most violent street gangs in Chicago, with expansion into other Illinois communities and neighboring states. Id.

Its symbols include a bunny with a bent right ear; a six-point star; and dice with two and six spots; and a heart, club or spade. Their colors are black and tan (beige). Id.

Gangs form New Alliances
In the mid-1970s, Latin gangs, African American gangs, and Caucasian gangs merged into two major groupings in Chicago: the “People” and the “Folk.” “Independents” refers to gangs not involved in these two alliances. Id. at 11.

These alliances were formed in the penitentiary system by incarcerated gang members seeking protection through coalition building. They were strong rivals and enemies. However, nowadays, People gangs will not hesitate to make deals with Folk and vice versa if enough money can be gained. Id.

The Latin Kings aligned with the People. The People gangs “represent” to the left: they wear hats with visors to the left side, earrings in the left ear, the left shoe tied in a certain way, pants with the left pocket hanging out, etc. Id.

The Two-Six street gang aligned with the Folk alliance, which “represents” to the right: members wear hats with visors to the right side, earrings in the right ear, the right shoe tied in a certain way, the pant leg on the right side rolled, the right pocket hanging out, etc. Id.

“Benefits” of gang membership include companionship, drinking, drugs, sex, and money. Gang members commit not to “snitch” and to observe “the three R’s”: reputation, respect, and revenge. This type of risky camaraderie, though, has led to catastrophic consequences, such as trouble with police, prison sentences, injury, and death. My client was lucky that the victims were not killed and that his only consequence of gang membership was a reduced prison sentence.

Unfortunately, what many gang members fail to learn—or learn too late—is that the consequences are avoidable.

Author’s note: In addition to the Kirby source cited in the article, another useful source about gangs is My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King by Reymundo Sanchez (2000).

Ralph E. Guderian is an attorney at the firm of Ribbeck Law Chartered in Chicago, Illinois.