D.C.-area gangs younger, violent and tech-savvy

Local,Crime,Scott McCabe
Criminal gangs in the area are increasingly relying on new technology to abet their felonies -- coordinating with fellow gang members on Twitter and Facebook, posting videotapes of their exploits on YouTube, and receiving orders through conference calls with bosses in Salvadoran prisons.

Gangs in the D.C. area are younger than in past years, and some have strikingly nontraditional configurations: There are girl gangs, gay gangs and gangs that claim to be Muslim in an effort to cover up their activities, according to law enforcement officials.

They may not be as organized as groups from earlier generations -- which had clear command structures, dues and initiations -- but authorities say these groups are just as dangerous.

Law enforcement evolves in order to fight back
• Ronald C. Machen, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, created a gang unit when he took office last year. His office has prosecuted 48 people in nine gangs and wielded an unused new District law aimed at criminal gangs to take down the leaders of a violent crew in Northeast Washington.
• Prince George's County police more than doubled the size of their gang unit from seven to 17 members. In three months, the unit has netted 111 arrests.
• Police from Prince George's and Montgomery counties have started working together to stop gang violence in neighborhoods along the counties' shared border.

"You can have a gang of 10 people and a gang of 100 people, but if the gang of 10 people kill you, you're still dead," said Sgt. George Norris of the Prince George's County gang unit.

Two of D.C.'s neighborhood crews opened fire into a crowd at the Caribbean Carnival festival in Northwest Washington on Saturday afternoon, killing one person and wounding three innocent bystanders, police said.

To see the mentality of area street gangs, click on YouTube and type in "Tay Don" and "Black on Black Violence," advised one law enforcement source.

In the slick production, featuring legitimate gang members from Landover, the artist raps about the surge of killings in Prince George's County this year, saying he wants to stop but his enemies keep shooting.

"Black on black will never stop," sings Tay Don, who recently signed with Billboard chart topper Waka Flocka Flame's new label.

Sometimes rival gangs will show up at concert venues, funerals or neighborhood events like the Caribbean festival, and tensions boil over. During a packed Easter celebration at the National Zoo earlier this year, teenagers from one neighborhood ran into a 14-year-old boy from another and stabbed him multiple times.

The days of narcotics-based regional crews have faded, authorities said. With new laws, better policing and a bad economy, drug dealing is no longer as profitable.

Instead, there are more armed robberies and burglaries by juveniles, who form their own groups to commit their crimes, authorities say.

These gangs are hybrids, banded together because they have something in common or are from the same neighborhood.

"Instead of using gang colors and flashing hand signs like the Bloods or the Crips, they use social media like Twitter and Facebook," said Sgt. Rob Musser of the Montgomery County gang unit.

Members of a Hispanic street gang here used the Internet to cyberstalk a former member, federal prosecutors said in court filings this year. At an MS-13 meeting in Maryland, one leader announced that the gang was using an ex-girlfriend's account to lure the former member back to the gang to assassinate him.

Mara Salvatrucha gang leaders in Central American prisons have used cell phones to conduct meetings in Maryland to order hits on rivals in Riverdale and Langley Park.

The gay gangs likely formed in the same way that MS-13 and the Bloods formed in California -- to protect themselves, police said. It was a gay gang that was involved in the 70-person brawl in the Metro system that started at Gallery Place and continued to the L'Enfant Plaza station last year, D.C. police said. The gay gangs have been involved in robberies, beatings and purse snatchings around Gallery Place in Washington and City Place in Silver Spring, and have started hanging around Georgetown for smash-and-grabs.

"We don't separate gay gangs from any other gangs, because it's all gangs," Norris said.

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