“Gang Related”, the new FOX television shows is packed with fast-paced action scenes and violent encounters between the members of an elite gang task force and the gangster that control the streets. Is it real? Consider this: the city and county of Los Angeles are known as the “gang capital” of America. The staggering numbers tell the story: 450 active gangs, 45,000 gang members, more than 16,000 violent crimes over the past three years. Gangs have been part of the tapestry of life in some L.A. neighborhoods, where membership goes back for generations and decades. The violence has followed cycles based, historically, on the incarceration of large numbers of gang members at the same time. As they start coming out of prison, if they are not "lifers" (sentenced to life-without parole), violence rises, and involves a new generation of kids that will eventually repeat the cycle.
Sometimes, during the ‘80s and ‘90s, the cycle happens at the same time other crimes explode, like the use of rock cocaine or heroin. "It was crazy, shooting after shooting, murder after murder" recently retired L.A. County Sheriff Detective Timothy Brennan tells FOX 11. Brennan worked the Compton Gang Unit for 32 years and the scenes from the show are reminiscent of the violence during that time, minus all the fancy technology, he is quick to add! "We'd be cuffing a couple of guys at one corner murder scene and hear the retaliation shots two blocks away!” Brennan remembers the rash of shootings after the murder of rap artist Tupac Shakur in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. He says the non-stop retaliation shootings lasted for months.
But popular music stars, and their "back from the hood" entourages were not the only ones getting caught up in the violence. "How many kids did I see bleed to death up in Tortilla Flats", Brennan wonders out loud, as he took us on a tour of the Compton neighborhood where the Hispanic gang tripled in numbers during the rock cocaine explosion of the 1980s. Gang members were jumped on, or beaten, into the gang when they were as young as ten. They would sell drugs, even carry out shootings, because as minors they'd be out before turning 18.
FOX 11 followed some of those cases. A 12 year old named Midget, and his 14 year old brother, Woody. Their mother ran a safe house for the gang, which Brennan visited often. Today, Midget and Woody are serving life in prison for murder. "Family reunions have to be at Pelican Bay" says Brennan, as he shakes his head. "Sad, how many times I tried to get those kids to do something, anything, other than gang banging.."
Was it violent? Yes. But, there is no denying that things have improved. The number of gang murders and related violence has diminished dramatically. For example, L.A. County Sheriff's expanded OSS, Operations Safe Streets, concentrating on individual neighborhoods, and working with residents and groups to develop alternatives for youth. At the same time, gangs have been in some of those neighborhoods for generations. The reality is that turf wars will not go away.
The Mexican Mafia continues to run drug sales, and settle disputes on the streets, from inside prisons. But more often, kids from the neighborhood take other routes. Sometimes, they become police officers or deputy sheriffs. The end up patrolling the same neighborhoods where they grew up, navigating a fine line, when they invariably end up arresting family members who went the other way. The story of one such deputy, and his real life story. How does it compare to Gang Related, the show, when the "related" part is all too real. Next week, on Fox 11 News, right after Gang Related.