The Little Valley Lokotes, for example, are based in Yakima, but a Seattle chapter of the "crazies" has recently sprung up
"I stabbed about three people," he says, his angular face betraying no particular emotion. He mentions it offhandedly, like a kid trying to be modest about something in which he takes great pride.Now 18, Danger, has been a dedicated gang member for the past five years. It was his homies, his brothers in arms, who bestowed the street name."I been in it forever," said the narrow-eyed young man, fresh from a six-month stint at the juvenile lockup Maple Lane, where he served time for robbery and assault. "Grew up with it from like when I was a baby."
Gang membership - which has earned Danger a 49-page rap sheet loaded with weapons, burglary, robbery, car theft, harassment and assault charges - was a family tradition, he says, and he can't recall ever wanting anything else. His father, now dead, was involved, as are his older brothers. He is estranged from his mother, who lives in White Center.As a boy, he did the bidding of his elders on a series of missions - "It was like 'Go here, rob somebody. Go there, do that' " - and then, after a sufficient number he was initiated, "jumped-in" the traditional way, by a crowd of gangsters who beat him until he could fight his way out.After that it was official. Danger had become, at 13, part of the sprawling local network of Hispanic gangs that run under the Sureños umbrella.
There are as many as 100 such groups in and around Seattle - black, Latino, Asian and white gangs - some with carefully structured hierarchies that get their marching orders from prison inmates, others taking a more haphazard approach. During the first eight months of 2008, their gunplay has killed at least a half-dozen teenagers, injured scores more and left police scrambling to find new ways of addressing a problem that is decades old. Records show at least 43 youth victims of gun assaults in Seattle since the beginning of the year.
"The age of the kids is the difference now - and their access to firearms," said Lt. Ron Wilson, commander of the Seattle Police Department Gang Unit, who knows of initiates as young as 10. "We have more drive-by shootings than we had a decade ago. But the most alarming thing is the youth getting in, and the violence there. We have to address those issues."Seattle's gangs are nothing compared with those in larger cities, such as Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago. But from this fledgling quality springs much of the current chaos. Crime becomes a chest-beating signature, as well as a way of binding members to one another. Loyalty is proven both through tithing to the group, and wreaking bloody retribution for any perceived disrespect. Often, the youngest members carry out the bulk of the work. Elders reap the rewards.
"Are these hardened criminals? For the most part, no," Wilson said. "It's the environment that they're in that puts them at risk. I just think it's terrible that you've got 17-year-olds killing 17-year-olds. To me, they're just babies."
Though Seattle has gone through periodic bouts of gang activity before, the pattern today is different. While groups that were active here during the 1980s and '90s derived their names, and to some degree their sense of mission, from Los Angeles' original Bloods and Crips, the city's gangland family tree is now far more fractured. Cliques have split off, recombined and turned to warring against each other. Some rivalries, like the longtime rift between Central District and South End gangs, stretch back generations. Others seem to spring up on a whim.
The Little Valley Lokotes, for example, are based in Yakima, but a Seattle chapter of the "crazies" has recently sprung up and initiated about 30 members in the past year - most of them teenagers and all ready to tear into any other crew should their "shot-caller" deem it necessary.
"We don't mess with anyone for no reason - just go up to someone and fight," said Scoop, 22, who gets the word, sets up planning meetings and organizes initiations for the LVL. "Our gang is not just about shooting people. We got morals - no mothers, no children. But you do what you got to do."On a chilly Saturday afternoon last month, Scoop was at Lincoln Park in West Seattle, pacing and cursing as he waited for his daughter and her mother, an ex-girlfriend, to arrive. Many of Scoop's recent recruits were there as well, preparing marinated chicken for a barbecue celebrating the child's sixth birthday.
But Scoop had far greater concerns weighing on his mind, in particular the increasing tension between his group and a particularly violent rival gang. He paced the parking lot, fuming over his family problems, his sense of impending war and the fact that he saw no easy solution to either.
"To be honest, I'm tired of all this," he said, describing a decade immersed in gang life. "I'd rather just be doing barbecues and kicking it. But it's my own fault I'm in this deep."
About his childhood and early life, Scoop says only that he never knew his father, that his mother left him and his brother alone at times and that both boys were briefly in foster care. But the gang was always there.
"When I was a young kid I thought it was cool and stuff, you know, to be in a gang. When I hated my mom and my mom left me when I was a little kid, these guys were there for me. They put food on the table. There was always somebody I could call."
He has done prison time - three years for robbery - during which he assaulted a prisoner on the orders of other inmates to secure his own protection. It earned Scoop a tiny teardrop tattoo beneath his left eye and guaranteed security provided by incarcerated gangsters.
As the afternoon wore on it became clear that Scoop's barbecue was more than just a party. First, he had to lecture two younger members of the crew, 18-year-old twins, who were, in Scoop's estimation, inappropriately flip about the endeavor they had joined.
"This is not just about hanging out!" he snarled at the giggling youths. "You are in a gang. This is serious. I guarantee that one of us, sometime, is going to jail."
The twins, chastened, looked at their hands. A few hours later, they would help to initiate LVL's newest member, a 19-year-old who approached the group willingly and allowed himself to be pounded for the required 13 seconds.
"We don't want to put no one in the hospital," Scoop said of this rite of passage, drawing a distinction between his gang's relatively brief jumping-in and those customary among other "sets." "If they come out with a broken arm or something, they're no good to us."
Despite the frank brutality, his demeanor is more earnest than menacing, more family-oriented than thuggish, and he is frantic to provide for his daughter should he get put away again. For that reason, all members of LVL tithe - they call it "paying taxes" - by throwing a portion of their earnings from drug dealing, or legitimate jobs, into a community fund to cover groceries and other necessities should one of their set become unable to support his dependents.
"I personally don't want to die, but I'm in what I'm in," Scoop said. "That's the scariest part about the shit that I'm doing. But that's the way it has to be. That's one reason I pay taxes, to take care of me and my family."
The rules by which Scoop runs his gang and his life are standard in Latino sets, but now almost entirely absent from most black groups that operate, members say, in a far more scattershot fashion.
"Nothing's planned, really," said D'Marco Mobley, 17, who is black, lives in West Seattle and claims membership in a Blood set, though he is currently incarcerated on an assault conviction. "When it happens, it happens. You just tend to know when something's going to go down."
About his reasons for six years of hardcore gang membership, Mobley is matter-of-fact, though increasingly disgusted.
"You want to be the one who's known," he said. "Who cares what's the point? You only live one life - what does it matter? Basically, it's retarded. Half my family's Hoover, half's Blood and we're killing each other off."
Alex Alonso, a gang researcher based in California, describes the mindset as an adolescent wish for recognition trapped within warlike rules of engagement.
"Seattle's gang problem is small, compared to other cities, but it definitely holds its own," he said. "It's a bunch of teenagers - I would call them delinquents - that have adopted a gang name or identity, and that identity automatically falls into a structure of rivalries that those members must participate in. To these young people, their identity as a Sureño or a Crip or a Blood is as serious as someone else's identity conflict over religion. Like the Shiites and the Sunnis - that's an identity conflict. The irony is, they're all the same. They're all Muslims. You're all young people from Seattle."
'You're dead now'
Chris Cates' experience was typical. A skinny kid, awkward and lonely, he moved from home to home with his mother (his father long since gone to live in California) and was beaten up in every new neighborhood they found - the Central District, Lake City, Greenwood. By the time he was 12 and watching other, gang-affiliated buddies stride effortlessly down the street, Cates was desperate to join.
Initiation into the local Crip set took place in a bathroom at Hamilton Middle School, where he allowed himself to be pounded, and staggered out minutes later with his nose crushed.
"That's where I got my street name, Crooked-Face," said Cates, now 29. "My friends had to help me home because there was so much blood I couldn't see."
Even then, as he reeled toward the door, a Blood teen spied him, recognized that he'd been "put on" and vowed punishment. "You're dead now," Cates remembers him saying, though at the time he was happy just to be recognized.
For 15 years, he was proud to be a Crip, ready to fight every Blood he saw. (They were easy enough to identify in flame-red attire, right down to their shoelaces.) He shot up buildings and threw other gang members into storefront windows, all in the search for an unassailable sense of identity and the deference that he believed would come with it.
"For me, it was always the respect," Cates said. "I never sold drugs. I never was into it for the money. My thing was the respect. You didn't even think about it - I'd see someone wearing red and just get into a rage. It'd be like 'I hate you and I don't even know you.' "
His gangbanging youth repeatedly landed Cates in jail, cost him custody of his two children and left him mired in legal problems. But what he sees among teenagers today troubles him almost as much.
"They don't respect us older guys, they really don't," he said. "I look at these kids now and think, you guys are ridiculous. I call them 'MTV gang members.' That's what they are to me. Gangs aren't good anyway, but now it's just a mess."
For Cates, today living quietly in North Seattle and working to become a lawyer, there was a code - never mess with anyone outside the game; never attack anyone from your own set. Those rules are gone today, he said.
But the same free-floating rage that fueled his own teenage crimes was likely behind the death last week of Pierre "Pete" Lapoint, 16, peripherally associated with the South End gang Down With the Crew, and gunned down while walking on Rainier Avenue. In July, Chezary Bacchus, 17, a Blood and former Cleveland High School student, was shot in the head at an Arby's in Kent, and two hours later, 18-year-old Ed Cobb staggered into a Renton gas station, bleeding from a retaliatory gunshot wound to the neck.
Spooling backward over the past year, the brutal scorecard has also claimed De'Che Morrison, a 14-year-old with a cherubic smile who bled to death under a car in Rainier Valley where he'd crawled after being shot in the stomach in January. Eight days before came the death of Allen Joplin, 17, also a onetime Cleveland High student, murdered at a birthday party in Belltown, and two weeks after, Perry Henderson, 18, killed at a party in the South End. Last August, rival gang members ambushed Antwan Horton, 19, and shot him in the back of the head.
They are six among a rash of recent gang killings around Seattle that have left dozens of other youths - including a 13-year-old girl - seriously injured, some before finishing their freshman year of high school.
"It's spread, like a cancer," said Gabriel Morales, a gang specialist who consults with the Seattle Police Department. "People might hear it's random violence. But almost all of these murders are connected. It's Central District versus Central District, South End versus CD and South End versus the West Side. It's everybody against everybody. You have generational affiliations, jurisdictional and neighborhood. It's very complex, actually."
The escalating violence doesn't faze Danger, who enjoys discussing guns (his favorite is an SKS semi-automatic rifle) and thinks nothing of hanging out at car shows where gangsters walk around with shotguns strapped inside their pant legs. He agreed to speak if identified only by his street name.
"I like the way I'm living," he said of a life that revolves around dance parties, clubhouse meetings and selling stolen electronics, with intermittent work at a car wash squeezed in between. A high school dropout, he was last living with two friends, also gang members, in an apartment on Aurora Avenue, though those arrangements are fluid. "I like gangbanging," he said. "We all got to die, that's what I'm saying - don't matter if it's in a good way or a bad way."
To questions about the future, Danger shrugs.
"I don't know if I'll be around in five years," he said. "I already lived a life. You can be through a lot and be really young so if you die, you die with knowledge about what's really going on."
First gun at age 9
At King County's juvenile detention center on Alder Street, officers are trying to break into that lonely fatalism. Concerned about what one called an escalating "gang war," each Saturday they convene small groups of incarcerated gang members - often from rival sets - and guide them through discussions about choice and consequence. They air prison documentaries, discuss the reality of "catching the big one," (a murder conviction) and ask each young man whether he could handle doing life in prison."It's not worth it, but if it happens, it happens," said one youth, a member of the Crip-affiliated Hoovers. "If I've got to shoot somebody, I'm gonna shoot 'em."Over the course of a month, however, the teens begin, in a stumbling, tentative way, to consider alternatives. Each has joined the gang-intervention group voluntarily, which implies to Supervisor Lee Davis that they are looking for a way out. Yet upon release, almost every one will return to homes stunted with dysfunction and neighborhoods refereed by gangs.
"We can get these kids focused when they're here, sort of as a captive audience," Davis said. "But they're going right back out to the streets."What they need, he believes, is some way to continue the Saturday sessions on the outside. Without such reinforcement, another trip back to "juvie's" cinderblock cells is all but assured.
"I been here 11 times," says one boy, vowing that this time it will be different.
Marquise is one of those kids. At 15, he has been in and out of detention a half-dozen times for robbery and car theft, as well as serving more than a year at the Echo Glen juvenile lockup in Snoqualmie for a hit and run.Barely 5 feet tall, with an open face and ready handshake, he likes to write poetry and was irked on a recent afternoon that his counselor hadn't provided a notebook. In the next breath, he'd announced, "I'm in a gang" - the Central District's Deuce 8 set - and struggled to describe the rage and confusion he felt after his brother was beaten into a coma last spring and his friend, Allen Joplin, was killed in January."When Allen got shot, I felt real sad. But more than sad, I just felt like doing anything to somebody who wasn't from Deuce 8," Marquise said, the words tumbling out in a torrent. "I wish I knew who did it, 'cause I would have did something before I got locked up. But that's one reason I've thought about not being in a gang - because I didn't want to have to do something, 'cause what I was thinking about wasn't cool."
Deuce 8, an offshoot of the Chicago-based Gangster Disciples, has been part of the fabric of Marquise's neighborhood for three generations. Elders who once hosted community barbecues still profess allegiance.
But Marquise knows the gang primarily as a clique of teens who party together, drinking " 'lean" (cough syrup mixed with Sprite), dealing drugs as needed and fighting when they have to."We always got each other's back," he said.
As it was for Danger, gang life to Marquise felt destined, almost like joining a family business. His father, now serving time on drug charges, was part of a Disciples set, as is his 16-year-old brother, now charged with assault, accused of shooting a rival in the face on South Jackson Street several months ago.
"We're real close," Marquise said. "My dad was the first person who let me smoke and stuff. He used to joke about me and my brother being in different sets - one's here, the other's down the block. He'd laugh about it."As children, the boys briefly ran their own clique, the Merck Squad Hustlers, and by age 9, Marquise received his first gun. It was a birthday present from a mentor "O.G." (Original Gangster), who took him to a park to practice shooting at ponds and benches.
Soon after, Marquise began selling bags of marijuana as a novice initiate of Deuce 8 and then moved on to stealing cars - hitting the jackpot when he and his friends found one with an M16 assault rifle inside. The boys broke it down and sold the parts for $500."I was pretty serious back then," Marquise said, describing his life at age 12. "My grandma had died and then when my dad got locked up, me and my brother, we thought we don't really have much else. Now I'm quieting down. I'm not trying to die."
For all the bravado, Marquise doesn't hide his fears.
"The shootings scared me," he said. "But I got used to it. Gang life, it's just something I formed around. These are people I've known forever and we've always been this way."
De'Che Morrison, the 14-year-old who died under a car, was Marquise's childhood buddy. They were a pipsqueak duo - shooting hoops, jumping on trampolines, swimming in community pools - and they graduated into the life as naturally as other boys might join Little League, though Marquise led the way, selling drugs as a fourth-grader, back when De'Che was still getting good grades. The younger boy had been running the streets only a few months when he was shot to death, Marquise said.
"Man, he just got put on!" the teen cried, staring out at juvie's courtyard playground.Having lost two friends to gunfire in less than two weeks, Marquise is increasingly worried about the prospects for his newest buddy, a boy named Beezle whom he met in detention and who runs with the Low Profiles, sworn enemies of Deuce 8"Beezle, even though he's from a rival gang, I don't want to lose him," Marquise said. "There's not many people who are really your friend."
He imagined the day both would be free, fantasizing that they might rent a house together and establish a "Deuce 8-LP no-beef zone."
But within a week, Marquise had been sent to another locked facility and Beezle was back outside, continuing a guerilla-style street war that could take his life years before either boy is old enough to sign a lease.
"It's real serious out there," Marquise said. "But I like to do positive stuff, too. I don't like to just attack people. I'd rather play football