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Entries in Gangs (4)

Saturday
Mar022013

Tattoo Artist Helps Ex-Gang Members Erase Past for Free

ABC News/McKenzie Baker(OSWEGO, Ill.) -- Second chances can be hard to come by, but Chris Baker, 42, a tattoo artist in Oswego, Ill., gives them away for free.

Since 2011, Baker, who is also a youth pastor, has created more than 500 free tattoos for former gang members and victims of human trafficking eager to remove or cover up the visible evidence of their past. Big city human trafficking networks are often run by gang members, who tattoo their victims with barcodes, pimps’ names or gang symbols to track them and make it almost impossible for them to escape.

“It’s my way of giving back to the community that’s given me so much,” Baker told ABCNews.com, in explaining his service. “I just decided to do something positive, and to show people that people can change.”

Baker founded INK 180, a nonprofit organization that he funds with money he earns from his regular tattooing business and through donations. The name symbolizes the degree of change he hopes for in the lives of those he tattoos.

Baker has worked with former members of the Latin Kings, Black Disciples and Aryan Nation, explaining that the tattoos are like a rite of passage for initiated gang members.

It was during one of his youth group meetings that Baker realized he wanted to help these people, whose efforts to change and progress were often halted by the markings of their past.

Once a warehouse manager, Baker said that many of his employees had belonged to gangs, and they often compared their tattoos to Baker’s religious ones.

“They would say, ‘I wish I could get rid of my tattoos.  I’m tired of getting judged,’” Baker recalled. “And I decided, ‘That’s my calling.’”

For two years, Baker has worked with local, state and federal authorities to offer his services to former gang members who had difficulty finding jobs, or who were living in secrecy from gangs that they had left.

A member of his church who works with the Department of Homeland Security brought Baker’s attention to victims of human trafficking –  pointing out that by covering up or removing their tattoos, Baker could make it much harder for their captors find them.

The gang members who come on their own, or the women who have escaped sex trafficking rings and arrive with law enforcement protection, open up to Baker as he listens to them describe what they’ve done and what they want to do.

“These guys will say, ‘Yeah, it hurts,’ but it’s almost like penance for them. It’s representative of the pain they caused others, and they don’t want to cause anymore,” Baker said.

Baker leaves the type of tattoo up to his customers. “No matter the design, I just love being able to take away the visible reminders of their past and give them something beautiful to remind them of their future,” said Baker.

“There was one guy from Kansas City who had gotten out of prison,” Baker recalled. “We did a cover-up of a tattoo for him and found out he was an artist. He’s now working as an artist for a greeting card company.”

The Oswego village board recently approved Baker’s special use permit, and in a few weeks, he will have a more permanent home for INK 180, after previously renting spaces. It’ll be one of the few tattoo shops in the United States with a prayer wall and an information center for other nonprofit ministries in the area.

“People always ask me why I do this for free,” Baker said. “The stories I hear make it worth it.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Oct022012

New York's Kelly Plans 'Crew Cut' for Gang Members

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, a former Marine, plans to use social media to give the city's emerging street gangs a buzz cut with an aggressive new anti-gang initiative called Operation Crew Cut.

Kelly will announce the strategy today at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) annual conference in San Diego.

New York's loosely affiliated gangs, or "street crews," "[are] responsible for much of the violence in and around public housing," Kelly said. "Under a program we've named operation Crew Cut, the department intends to double the size of its Gang Division from approximately 150 detectives to 300."

While other cities with entrenched gangs, like Los Angeles and Chicago, have identified as many as 100,000 gang members who belong to powerful national groups, New York's experience has so far run counter to that trend, and Kelly's plan aims to cut the emerging gangs down at their roots -- turning crew members' rising use of social media against them.

Crew Cut is, Kelly said, an initiative that will target "[not] large, established gangs such as the Bloods and Crips, but [the] looser associations of younger men who identify themselves by the block they live on, or on which side of a housing development they reside. Their loyalty is to their friends living in a relatively small area and their rivalries are based not on narcotics trafficking or some other entrepreneurial interest, but simply on local turf."

Kelly's plan comes against a backdrop of what he says is a small reduction in shootings, a slightly larger reduction in shooting victims, and an 18 percent reduction in murders in New York.

"We're hoping that by focusing more resources in a coordinated thoughtful way on these crews that we'll reduce violent crime in New York City even further," Kelly said. "That's because crews are responsible for no less than 30 percent of shootings in New York City."

Crew Cut is also launching, however, at a time when police agencies nationwide are shrinking. The IACP's own estimate, Kelly noted, indicated that between 10,000 and 15,000 positions have been lost.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Foundation Forum, said law enforcement professionals would be monitoring Kelly's effort to get ahead of an emerging problem.

"One of the most interesting stories in policing is why New York has not experienced gang problems to the extent that other cities like Chicago and L.A. have," Wexler said. "Kelly's recognition of this emerging issue of gang activity in New York and his comprehensive approach using social media will be watched closely."

Kelly tied his anti-gang initiative to the rise in social media usage and the overall impact of technology on the police mission, a topic under discussion this week in San Diego at workshops attended by many of the nation's police chiefs from jurisdictions as large as New York, as small as Hayward, Calif., and as poor as New Haven, Conn.

"Social media is [a] new ingredient, often used to add fuel to the fire. For example, one gang member will post a photograph of himself in front of a rival's apartment building or post surveillance photographs of rivals who they threatened to kill next," Kelly said. "Members also used social media to intimidate informants. They would post copies on Facebook of orders of protection that identified complainants."

In Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood, Kelly said, his detectives used social media to track members of warring gangs called "the Very Crispy Gangsters" and the "Rockstarz" until they amassed enough evidence to arrest 49 gang members two weeks ago.

"By capitalizing on the irresistible urge of these suspects to brag about their murderous exploits on Facebook, detectives used social media to draw a virtual map of their criminal activity over the last three years," Kelly said

However, Kelly acknowledges, "Despite the successes in this takedown and others, the department did not have any coordinated, consistent approach to street crews."

Operation Crew Cut is meant to correct that, and the Gang Unit's members will be supported by NYPD lawyers assigned to gang divisions in New York's five boroughs, as well as by uniformed and plainclothes officers.

"Our Juvenile Justice Division will be the clearinghouse to support social media-driven investigations," Kelly said. "In addition to tracking the admissions of criminal conduct and plans of future crimes by crew members on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere, the division will be responsible for maintaining a dictionary of sorts with [the] continually updated lexicon employed by crews as a kind of code."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct272011

Police: Missouri Shooting Possibly Gang-Related

David De Lossy/Thinkstock(WELLSTON, Mo.) -- At least two people were shot and at least one has died because of shootings at or near a food market in Wellston, Mo., police said.

A Wellston police dispatcher said the shootings were likely gang-related.

The shootings involved three separate scenes in the area around the Wellston Food Market in the 6200 block of Page Avenue, according to local news station KPLR.

The Wellston Food Market, where the shooting was first reported shortly after 3 p.m., is a police sub-station. Police said they are looking into whether the incidents a few blocks apart are related.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct212011

FBI Finds Gangs Expanding, Even to U.S. Military

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A new FBI assessment has found there are now an estimated 1.4 million gang members in the United States with gangs even infiltrating the U.S. military.

The National Gang Threat Assessment has found there are 33,000 officially designated gangs in the United States. The gangs’ 1.4 million members represent a 40 percent increase in gang membership since 2009.  The threat assessment has found that gangs are expanding in the United States and are responsible for up to 48 percent of violent crime in many urban communities.

FBI officials also say the use of social media sites has assisted in recruitment with youth becoming interested in gang culture and displays of bravado on Facebook and YouTube. The threat assessment notes that local police in Missouri have seen a rise in gang “promotion teams” using internet chat rooms to promote clubs and parties. Displays of gang signs and walks are found abundantly on YouTube which FBI officials say may influence youths to seek out gangs.

While FBI and law enforcement officials do not have estimates on the number of gang members in the military, officials have seen gangs in 100 jurisdictions in the U.S. and overseas with 53 different gangs who are in every branch of the military.

“Gang recruitment of active duty military personnel constitutes a significant criminal threat to the U.S. military,” the threat assessment noted. “NGIC [National Gang Intelligence Center] reporting indicates that law enforcement officials in at least 100 jurisdictions have come into contact with, detained, or arrested an active duty or former military gang member within the past three years.”

“Some members are joining the military to get away from the gang life,” said Calvin Shivers, FBI assistant section chief of the Violent Criminal Threat Section, at a briefing.

“Many gangs are sophisticated criminal networks with members who are violent, distribute wholesale quantities of drugs, and develop and maintain close working relationships with members and associates of transnational criminal/drug trafficking organizations,” the assessment noted. 

The report notes that while most gang members are in the West, gangs have been growing in the Northeast and the Southwest. The expansion in the Southwest could be because of gangs reaching out to and linking with Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (MDTOs).

FBI officials say the increased figures are likely due to better reporting and analysis of information reported to them by state and local law enforcement agencies. The National Gang Intelligence Center is made up of officials from the FBI, DEA, The ATF, The US Marshals Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

´╗┐Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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