Members of the Sur-13 gang in Franklin, TN
They go by such names as Dirty White Boys, Kurdish Pride, La Raza, Hate Crew, Lost Boyz, Brown Pride, Mexican Mafia, Laotian Crips, and Vice Lords. They're gangs, and a Justice Department survey puts their numbers across the country at 27,000, with their membership topping 800,000. They're mostly teenagers and young adults in their early twenties. A rash of drive-by shootings, murders, and assorted crimes committed by gang members prompted a renewed effort by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department to crack down on the problem.
The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee says at least 20 percent of drug cases in the district are linked to gangs. The problem isn't limited to the major cities, either. Columbia, a town of 38,000 people some forty miles south of Nashville, has tied 300 car and home breakins to gang activities, primarily a group called the Lost Boyz.
In Nashville, the problem has migrated from the inner city to the suburbs. When two groups see each other in a parking lot, one officer said, "They don't think, and they don't care. They just start shooting." The Metro Police have counted 5,000 gang members in Nashville, and their Gang Unit has launched an intensive effort to reduce their impact.
Not too many years ago, gangs were considered graffiti-spraying juvenile delinquents. No more. They're organized criminal elements involved in drugs, burglaries, and other crimes. They're constantly murdering rivals, often wounding or killing innocent bystanders. One authority says these days it's more about controlling markets than controlling turf.
Metro Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas announced he was beefing up the gang squad, adding six detectives and a sergeant to the fourteen officers currently assigned. They plan to use civil injunctions to prevent gangs from going into certain neighborhoods, wearing certain types of clothes, etc. If they persist, they will be charged with contempt. It's a strategy that has been used successfully in California, Minnesota, and Texsas.
Shootings and murders are a constant feature on the nightly news, much of it attriibutable to gangs. A few days ago, one took place on a busy street outside a popular restaurant at lunch time.
There are likely a few mystery novels that feature gang violence, but I'm not familiar with any. As the problem grows across the country, however, it should be a fertile field for mystery writers. I've been thinking about using it in my next Sid Chance novel.
Are gangs a problem in your area? What are the cops doing about it?