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Thursday, November 27, 2008

NAACP Seminar: Police---"The Gang's All Here"

Officer Allen Rutledge of the Johnson City Police Department is an expert on gangs and gang violence. At a recent community awareness seminar sponsored by the Johnson City-Washington County chapter of the NAACP, Officer Rutledge acknowledged what the African-American community in the Tri-Cities has known for many years:

"Gangs in Johnson City.. yes, they are here. American culture today.. it runs the gammut.. everybody thinks "crips and bloods" and of course the traditional groups, the KKK and various skinhead groups. We have evidence of all of them right here in our own backyard."

"American society is very multi-cultural, multi-ethnic.. we've got it all in the United States, and we've got a pretty wide spectrum in Johnson City as well."

"Here are the Juggalo's.. it's considered a hybrid group of the KKK. Believe it or not, there's actually a skinhead group in Johnson City, they call themselves, SARPS, that's Skinheads Again Racial Profiling or Racial Prejudice.. how that works in a twisted mind, I have no idea.."

"There's actually a Kurdish gang that has cropped up, from all the Iraqi immigrants that have moved to Nashville, that police are currently having problems with. No matter what ethnic society you're in, there's going to be a gang that caters to any hatred you might have."

"Why do people join a gang? It gives them family, with people who have common interests, they live where you do, peer pressure that offers protection, they all live in a socio-economically depressed area in a town or city. It offers excitement.."

"You're seeing a lot of intermingling with cultures nowadays.. but the one thing that links them all together, is the criminal element. You can't even just look at a person, a 20-year-old black male wearing baggy pants and red colors and say, 'that person must be a gang member.' It doesn't work that way anymore."

"Video games are glorifying and glamourizing gangs nowadays, too. Even one of the most popular shows on the History Channel right now, called "Gangland" which is supposed to educate us, actually contains hidden notes and items that gang members pick up on, and associate themselves with."

"Even with movies like Scarface, The Sopranos.. there's really no boundaries to what gang members identify themselves with."

"The top right picture and the top left picture are magazines for white supremacist groups.. what better way to get a few dozen white kids into a gang, hate group or skinhead society than to have magazines with pretty women on them.. it's better than showing a picture of Hitler. They're trying to appeal to modern-day culture. There's even one for "Nickelodeon" the kids channel. Kids are easily influenced by what they see on TV, and if you can appeal to them with something like gangs and gang life, they'll be familiar with that culture as they grow up."

"Popular CD's can be part of the gang culture.. the top picture is that of a country CD, the bottom one is that of a white supremacist singer. Again, a picture of a pretty woman on the CD cover, is a lot more appealing to today's gangland society, than a picture of Hitler."

"How did they get here? A lot of them are homegrown, a lot of them have cultural influences.. Some of them are second and third generation.. 'dad was a gang member, and the gang culture starts getting passed down."

"The definition of the Tennessee Code Anotated, as it relates to gangs.. You have to have three or more people in a group.. organized or disorganized, where two or more of them commit a crime, that can be attributed to being part of that group. Identifying with a particular group, even if it's a hate group or gang, is not criminal in and of itself.. there has to be an element of criminal activity that members are involved in, as members of the group. Proving that, from a law enforcement standpoint, is darn near impossible."

"In Tennessee schools, grade six to twelve, school officials do have the right to do something about children's appearance, self-admissions, hand signals that all point to gang involvement, and they can have the child or children removed if they are on school property. But still, you can't just single out a child and pin the label "gang member" on them. You have to compile a list of evidence against the child, before you label them, then putting it all together and seeing what you have."

"Watch the stereotyping, too. You can't just look at a person and call them a gang member.. remember, it is not a crime to be in a gang.. it's what you do and say AS a member, that labels you a gang member. To confuse law enforcement, gang members are always changing their game, changing their colors, their attitudes, to try and throw police off their trail."

"Types of gangs in Johnson City.. the Bloods, the Crips.. there is also an emergence of Hispanic gangs in this area. We do have white supremacist groups here, traditionally KKK and motorcycle gangs."

"Through the Probation and Parole Office, police reports, prisoner releases, interviews, we have identified tatoo's as an identifier of gang activity. In one picture, years ago, it was "Virginia Is For Lovers." The young lady they had modeling it.. she was actually throwing a hand sign that's associated with the Black Gangster Disciples. It's a heart with wings on it. Once they were aware of it, the state had to go back and change it. In another picture, someone was throwing a particular hand sign for the Gangster Disciples, 7-4.. G, being the seventh letter of the alphabet, and 4 being "D." No matter who they are, gang members put a lot of emphasis on numbers and symbols."

"Here's a football player for the University of Kentucky, throwing that same kind of gang sign with the wings. Paul Pierce with the Boston Celtics back this past spring, got into an altercation with some other players from the Atlanta Hawks, started throwing a Bloods sign. I noted that ESPN went out of its way to say this is not gang-related, which to me meant, if they're "crying wolf" over it, there's something there."

"I can't go to Neyland Stadium, stand outside and point to everybody who might have clothing on like this, and say 'they're all in a gang.' The reason why this is worth considering is, I got a call from an investigator out in California.. he said, they had a lot of people congregating wearing Tennessee ball shirts, and he wanted to know why that is. Come to find out.. it's more or less a tribute to the Gangster Disciplines leader Larry Hooper, who's serving a life sentence in prison.
That orange color is to symbolize the orange jumpsuit that he's wearing in prison right now."

"Again, there's no set rules on gangs.. they're constantly changing. There's no end to their creativity."

"These are regular symbols here.. the Converse Shoes and the Houston Astros logos. The Bloods gang like to use the Converse five-pointed star because their favorite number is five. If you wanted to show disrespect to them, then wear the Houston Astros logo, which shows the five-point star broken up. If you see one gang symbol, and later see another symbol that distorts it, then you figure that there's going to be trouble if those two groups get together."

"Down here, everybody knows the New York Yankees symbol, which is always blue and white.. here's another similar one that is blue and green. A lot of companies that make the logo's do it because it's popular, not knowing that they're encouraging gangs to adopt the symbols, and of course, they always say 'well, we didn't know that.' We think they do know it."

"A lot of gang members are leaving tatoo's behind, and going to jewelry. They're doing that, because you can always remove jewelry.. it doesn't make you as obvious. Tatoo's are difficult to hide, and they're tell-tale signs of being in a gang."

"There's the Star of David.. if you see that as graffiti somewhere, or someone wearing that, you would not think that is a gang area, or that they're a gang member, but contrast the Bloods gang whose favorite number is five, with the Crips, whose favorite number is six."

"Johnson City is considered traditional Bloods territory, and we don't see a lot of things that are anti-Bloods. They think of this as pretty safe territory, according to a self-professed Bloods member. Note the tattoo's on his stomach, a sidearm on his left hip, on the back, he has "blood in-blood out," and the other tattoo says "daymoo." That's Swahili for "blood." There's just no end to their creativity."

"St. Cloud Posse.. I thought they'd gone out back in the 90's, but apparently they're still around. Basically, they've got a Grateful Dead following, where people follow them from town to town. Their philosophy is, the world is just one big, dark circus. If you're an outcast from society, and nobody accepts you for what you are, come join us and be part of the Juggalo's. Basically, they just go out and cause chaos."

"Remember the old "Ghost Riders" here in Johnson City? They used to have a compound here, and the guy here, I don't know if that's an old symbol of theirs or not. No, this isn't in California or in Idaho or the Midwest.. it was right here in East Tennessee."

"We don't have much Aryan Brotherhood here.. the skinheads tell us we'll know the A.B. is around, when bodies start showing up."

"These days, it's all about ideology, it's about the beliefs that they have. These white supremacist groups are more anti-government, than they are about anti-race. They want to topple the government, so that their ideology can grow so they can take over the world. It is racially-motivated and I as a police office would not be recognized by them because I'm a police officer."

"The way to keep a gang out of your neighborhood, is to make it uncomfortable for them to live there. Listen to your gut.. if you see something out of the ordinary, based on all the gang stuff we've talked about, report it. If it's in your house, de-glamorize it, make it non-important. A wannabe gang member is a "gonnabe" gang member."