'Gang Book' documents organized crime's evolution

Social media, 'Drill rap' are focus of 2018 edition

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By Michael Romain

Editor

Earlier this month, the Chicago Crime Commission released the 2018 Gang Book, the first one that the anti-crime body has published since 2012. Since that last version of the book was released, commission members reported, "super gangs" have formed into myriad "splinter groups" and the internet plays a much larger role in gang-related conflict. 

The book, which is roughly 400 pages, profiles 59 active gangs and more than 2,400 gang factions. It also outlines gang territorial boundaries based on maps of police districts. The book is currently available for purchase on Amazon for $50 in paperback form. 

The commission's report shows that various factions of the Vice Lord Nation dominates the West Side communities of Austin, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park. According to the commission, the 11th and 15th police districts had 1,640 and 2,110 known gang members, respectively.

"The Vice Lord Nation actually includes many gangs in addition to the original Conservative Vice Lords faction, and they all use the title 'Vice Lord' to describe themselves," the commission writes. "Some examples: Cicero Insane Vice Lords, Imperial Insane Vice Lords, Mafia Insane Vice Lords, Renegade Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Undertake Vice Lords, and the Unknown Vice Lords." 

In the 1970s, "the main African-Americans, Latin, and Caucasian gangs were divided into two main groups: People and Folks," the book states. That organized and structured gang configuration, which was held up by leaders such as Jeff Fort, David Barksdale and Larry Hoover, broke down after the most of city's public housing high-rises were razed, and neighborhoods across the city gentrified and longstanding boundary lines dissolved. 

The commission notes that the gangs' online presence is the most "noticeable difference" between the large gangs and less organized factions. 

"Gangs 'cyber-bang' on various social media platforms by insulting their opposition, praising their gang and fallen members, and selling illicit drugs," according to the book. "The use of social media and the instant accessibility for gangs to insult their rivals is believed by law enforcement to be a main catalyst for the violence plaguing Chicago's south and west sides." 

The commission explains that the Vice Lord Nation "has been involved in the sale of narcotics (with a street tax applied to independent dealers), robbery, auto theft, theft and arson." The gang also delves in more sophisticated crimes, including "mortgage fraud, credit card fraud, and money laundering." 

Police Sgt. Dennis Diaz, a detective with the police department in Maywood, where the Vice Lords have a growing presence, said that gangs "are adjusting their methods to law enforcement and we have to adjust our methods to them."

Just as crime has evolved for gangs, he said, so too has the way they express their hostility for their rivals. Digital taunting has, to an extent, replaced tagging buildings in rival gang territory with gang signs.

"It's becoming more and more common for gang members to go into another gang's neighborhood or the area they hang out and Snapchat photographs of them hanging out in their rivals' hoods," Diaz said. "That's how these rivals escalate in real time."

Diaz said that, although evidence gleaned from Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and other social media can be hard to use in court, law enforcement officials nonetheless monitor those platforms for during intelligence gathering.

Another major difference between the old super gangs and the newer factions is the influence of "drill rap," a form of hip-hop that originated in Chicago that emphasizes criminal culture, law enforcement officials say. The musical form often merges with social media to create a cauldron of conflict, in which derogatory lyrics get posted to platforms like Facebook. 

"Drill rap glorifies the Chicago gangster life," the book reads, "with lyrics about guns, drugs, and murder. Many drill rappers are affiliated with Chicago gangs. Moreover, these drill rappers post videos on various social media platforms, often times insulting a rival gang or faction" 

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com   

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Answer Book 2018

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