West Coast Gangs Are Making Inroads

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said signs of Bloods and Crips gang activity are increasing in the city.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said signs of Bloods and Crips gang activity are increasing in the city. (Bill O'leary - The Washington Post)
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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008

The emergence of Bloods and Crips, gangs that originated on the West Coast and are establishing themselves in the Washington area, has contributed to several homicides in Prince George's County this year and has become a growing concern in the District, law enforcement officials said.

Bloods, and to a lesser degree their rival Crips, are suspects in several crimes in a wide swath from Prince William County to Baltimore. "We are seeing their numbers growing right now," said Capt. Bill Lynn, commander of the Prince George's police gang unit. "The Crips and Bloods are the focus for law enforcement now, not only here but around the region, because of the violence they perpetrate."

In the District's Trinidad neighborhood, which had a spate of violence this summer, young people are wearing the Bloods' colors, flashing the gang's hand signs and selling drugs near a community recreation center, authorities said. Police said they have not tied Bloods to any homicides in the Northeast neighborhood.

In Montgomery County, authorities linked a shooting and three stabbings near the Shady Grove Metro station in November to a feud between Bloods and Crips; two men have been convicted in the case. And in Baltimore, a federal grand jury in February indicted 28 members of a gang called the Tree Top Piru Bloods on charges including murder, robbery, drug trafficking and witness intimidation.

In Prince William, two members of a Bloods "set," or group, were convicted last year on a gang statute after breaking into a police officer's house to steal guns and attacking his girlfriend.

"We've started seeing more and more signs of the Crips and Bloods -- more Bloods than Crips," said D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, speaking about the gang problem. "We are seeing a growing presence in the graffiti, the clothing, the symbols."

Among the signs, she said, are an increasing number of young men who have the dog paw brand or tattoo, sometimes called Triple O's, on the right side of their bodies, which is common among Bloods.

Crips burn or tattoo such symbols as the six-pointed Star of David on their left sides, law enforcement officials said. Bloods are associated with the color red; Crips, with blue.

"There is some indication of activity in the District based on tagging, graffiti and people flying colors and throwing signs," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Albert Herring, who specializes in gang intervention and prevention in the District. "I think what's difficult to determine at this point is how much of that activity is associated with people who are actually Bloods, in sanctioned sets, and people who are claiming to be affiliated but are not."

Some authorities said local gangs might be copying what they perceive to be the behavior of two predominantly African American gangs sometimes glamorized in popular culture.

Bob Bermingham, Fairfax County's gang prevention coordinator, said that the two gangs are no more active than others in his county but that more local crews are taking their names. "They run around saying we are the Ravenswood Boys, and everybody says, 'So what?' " he said. "But if they say they're the Ravenswood Bloods, suddenly they have some credibility."

Lynn, of the Prince George's police, said that even if local gang affiliates might be less organized than established sets elsewhere, they are no less dangerous. "A lot of people like to say someone is a 'wannabe,' " he said. "Someone who wants to be is more dangerous than someone who is because they are trying to prove something."

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