For those of us who live within civilized boundaries, homicide is an almost unknowable quantity. We do have a few common weaknesses, such as rage, greed or jealousy, built into our systems. These motivations – or failings, if you prefer – are somewhat understandable to us, though the taking of a life still remains abhorrent.
But what if a person, perhaps a well-loved young woman, was killed because of a color?
The recent homicide trial of five young men, which concluded with last Friday’s sentencing, was another prime example of random gang violence. The convicted individuals, who were all identified as members of the same Sureno gang set, were driving around one night in February, 2007, hunting for rival gang members. Instead, they found Camille Love and her brother Josh, who were neither rivals or gang members. The Love siblings were simply young people whose only mistake was to drive a red car into the vision of several armed thugs whose blue bandanas, misplaced sense of righteousness, and the low self esteem endemic to gang bangers made such a random action a fatal one.
This incident, including the trial and sentencing, is a case study in gang investigations today. Some factors, such as the random nature of the violence or the absurdly juvenile motives, have not changed. However, gang legislation and law enforcement methods have evolved.
The first glimpse of the modern nature of gang violence for most of us was the 1988 movie, “Colors.” The Los Angeles gang culture, which has since spread throughout most of the U.S. in “franchises” known as gang sets or cliques, has given us terms such as Crips and Bloods, drive-by shootings and do-rags, gang tagging and turf wars. In the early ’90s, gang members left LA in search of more markets for crack, and these new terms became news images filmed in the Hilltop, East Tacoma, Lakewood and other areas in our region.
Police departments were, in most cases, slow to react to this new threat. Fortunately, Washington State’s gang phenomenon lagged California’s by a few years, giving us the ability to pick up a few things from agencies such as LAPD, which had already started developing anti-gang strategies.
So we created gang units. We conducted anti-gang operations, both large and small. After several frustrating years we even decided to seek help from the people who actually lived and worked in the communities plagued by gang violence. We made a lot of progress, and it seemed to make a difference.
Now gang violence, which quietly simmered until just a few years ago, is resurging. Our legislature has finally waded in, beginning with the simple but crucial step of defining a criminal street gang (a group of 3 or more individuals, using common signs or symbols, and – this is the part that eliminates the Rotarians – whose main objective is criminal activity).
Using this new statute as a guideline, police officers have been developing standardized criteria for legally identifying street gang members and their gang affiliations. Cops today are trained to watch for these signs during contacts with gang members. After noting the revelant criteria, information is then passed along to gang experts for vetting.When a gang member is later arrested and charged with a crime, investigators can produce the gang background information in criminal court (though a judge must still decide whether or not to allow the jury to view the gang information).
The gang mentality, with its singular need for unprovoked violence, was on stark display in the Pierce County Superior Court case involving Camille Love’s killers. To measure the gang factor in this fatal drive-by shooting, try explaining the incident without it. Go back to the night, February 7, 2010, and find the car containing several Sureno gang members and remove, somehow, the entire gang mindset from the occupants. Now that the gang factor is gone, try and make a reasonable guess at what, exactly, would have happened to Camille and Josh Love that night.
The answer is that, most likely, nothing would have happened to them. That is all the example necessary to identify the destructive nature of criminal street gangs.
Their violence could touch any one of us, at any time.