Hispanic Gangs

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(Portland, Ore.)
June 6, 1993, pp. A1+

"Copyright (c) 1993 Oregonian Publishing Company."

by George Rede
of The Oregonian staff

- Outreach workers, the police and community members worry that LA-style gang violence will increasingly rack the metro area

As twilight falls across the park, a father gently pushes his daughter on a tire swing. A little girl climbs on the jungle gym. Two boys go one-on-one in hoops.

Around the corner, two half-cases of Bud and some "40s" lie empty on the parking strip. Twenty young toughs cluster nearby, reeking of beer and menace.

The one known as "Flaco" swings a bowling pin above his head, from time to time smacking it against a tree.

It's Saturday night and the 18th Street gang, with four carloads from Woodburn, Tualatin and Portland, is hanging out at Farragut Park in North Portland. A group gathers on the grass with "Pirate," drinking since 10 this morning on his 24th birthday.

Even though they joke and jostle, these homeboys are eyeballing each other, and tension weighs heavy.

"Psycho," the leader, taunts one of his homies about a girl. Later, Psycho slugs Pirate in the mouth.

One thick-necked, tattooed dude grips a bottle of Bud in one hand, gesturing with the other toward his homies. "I lost my dad when I was 14," he says, voice shaking. "I loved him and everything.

"Thing is, this is my family here."

On a given weekend, the 18th Street gang may be kickin' it at a Portland park or just looking for trouble in one of its suburbs.

It is Oregon's largest Hispanic gang, a loosely organized group with an estimated 200 members. They take their name from a street in Los Angeles, where they number in the thousands.

Oregon's first fatal drive-by shooting in late 1988 made many people aware of the Crips and the Bloods, the two predominantly black gangs. But police and anti-gang workers now warn of a hidden threat--the growth of the 18th Streeters and other Hispanic gangs.

Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the state's 3,000 documented gang members, accounting for about 400 of the total. "For every one we know of, there's probably two to five we don't know of," says Portland police officer Rafael Cancio, a specialist in Hispanic gangs.

Authorities say a sharp increase in the Hispanic population and a high school dropout rate among Hispanic youths combine to create fertile recruiting soil in Oregon.

The Hispanic population, the state's largest ethnic minority group, skyrocketed over the last decade in Oregon--from about 66,000 to 113,000--thanks in part to people moving from California and Mexico.

"I'm seeing two or three kids being recruited every day," says Louie Lira, a former gang leader in South Central Los Angeles, now an outreach worker.

But the public has been slow to recognize the threat of Hispanic gangs, much as with black gangs 10 years ago.

"I was seeing a lot of where Portland was in 1988 or '89," says Blanca Ruckert of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department. "People are saying, `No, we don't have them here.'"

In fact, Hispanic gangs are everywhere in the metro area. They are in Cornelius and Hillsboro, in Gresham and Clackamas. They've gained footholds in Salem, Woodburn, McMinnville, Ontario and Klamath Falls.

Police counted about 200 Hispanic gang members in 1992. As of May 17, the number has swelled to 396.

There are transplanted sets of LA gangs, such as 18th Street, but there are also smaller gangs from Northern and Central California, Mexican gangs and multiethnic gangs.

For the most part, it is teen-agers who join. They are not, in general, linked with older Mexican nationals who sell drugs in Portland's Old Town.

Most are second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans. Many are from single-parent homes. Few hold jobs. Many have dropped out of school. Bound together by a common culture, they look to their peers for a sense of belonging and...
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