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Suburban Gangs

The Affluent Rebels

By Dan Korem

Excerpts: Chapter 3

HEARTLAND GANG

The kid could have been anybody, but not long ago he felt like nobody—an outsider. He sounded like a lot of kids growing up in America’s heartland. Where he lived was not quite Norman Rockwell’s idealized, American town, but it certainly wasn’t the urban, nightmarish underbelly often flashed across America’s television screens during evening news broadcasts. But if you listened closely, you heard a dead edge to his voice: “In my home I was a nobody. I hated it. When I was young, I was fat until the seventh grade, and kids bothered me because of my attention deficit disorder. I got in all kinds of fights with kids who were making fun of me.”

Residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Twin Cities, use words like “nice” and “clean” when they affectionately refer to their city. Yet in this benign, seemingly innocent place, the nobody’s path crossed the path of a nice, law-abiding, law-enforcing man. Jerry Haaf was a nice guy, who worked the streets. People didn’t think that gangs would invade a smaller, more isolated metropolitan area like theirs. Big cities like Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami—yes! Minneapolis/St. Paul? No. Inner-city gang violence was commonplace in other places, but not in the Twin Cities, home of the 1991 World Series champs.

On September 24, 1992, officer Haaf met a nobody hell-bent on becoming a somebody—or at least he met the nobody’s bullets. He was gunned down—shot in the back—while in a pizza shop in a run-down section of south Minneapolis.

The same night, another nobody was arrested. Andy Joseph Kriz, formerly of New Brighton, a suburb filled with $100,000–$250,000 homes, was taken into custody. As far as the police were concerned, he was somebody—somebody dangerous. He was the leader of the DFL (Down For Life) gang. He was ostensibly arrested for an unrelated shooting of several members of the Latin King gang in north Minneapolis. These shootings awakened people. They started talking about gangs, even in the suburbs.

Andy Kriz’s parents divorced when he was young. Both remarried, but Andy never got along with his step-father; and he never saw his real father on a regular basis until he was eighteen—the same year he started serving time at St. Cloud Penitentiary, a massive one-hundred-year-old, granite prison. Inmates called it the Greystone College—Gladiator School . . . a place you have to prove yourself.

Andy: “Gangs were something I could relate to for once. When I was living in New Brighton, all these other kids had two parents . . . they cared what happened and could buy their kids stuff. I couldn’t relate to any of them. I wanted power over the pain inside of me.”

In 1986, when twelve years old, he was with his father for the first time since he was three. The same year Andy started hanging out with the G.D.—Gangster Disciples, which were under the umbrella of the Folks nation of gangs—he would visit his father in a deteriorating neighborhood in north Minneapolis. He was also fascinated by the Vice Lords, the same gang that later shot and killed Officer Haaf.

Andy: “I was fascinated how nobody bothered them. They stuck together like a group [unlike his parents]. They were like a family. But that’s only a part of it. They had money. But it’s an excuse. Your excuse is that you are hungry. But your greed grows, because greed always grows.

“Gangs are so pretty at first, so shiny. But it just turns into hell. I remember how much fun I used to have gang-banging. You didn’t live by any rules, whatsoever . . . but then it got bad. It wasn’t fun anymore.”

Andy was put in rehab for drug use when he was fourteen. The following year he joined the Gangster Disciples. “The initiation lasted six minutes. Six guys beat you and you couldn’t fall or say anything .”

Dealing drugs, breaking in and stealing from New Brighton homes, and ripping off were a part of the routine. By the time he was seventeen, Andy left the Disciples and formed his own gang, Down For Life—DFL. He recruited three youths he met in drug rehab and one from the neighborhood where his father lived. It was a racially mixed gang—white, Hispanic, and a Native American Indian. Each came from broken homes where the mother headed the household.

Andy: “Our sign was a four-pointed crown. Each point stood for pride, power, protection, and partnership. Joining our gang was a lifetime commitment.”

By the summer of 1991, over twenty-five youths had been recruited. Andy could buy anything he wanted, eat out at restaurants, and regularly carried at least $500 in his pocket. Then the Latin Kings tried to invade his New Brighton turf. He moved again from New Brighton to the north end of Minneapolis, but DLF’s turf was still New Brighton.

“I was walking up Tenth Avenue to Broadway going to Burger King. I had been drinking. A car stopped and four Latin Kings jumped out. We fought and they stabbed me in my arm, chest, and the back of my head. It took me a couple of months to figure out that the house was at 18th and Taylor. So we drove by the house once and the second time we circled by, they all came out on the street. That’s when I started shooting.”

Andy pumped three rounds into the crowd from his 12-gauge shotgun. Three people received only minor wounds, but a fourth Latin King was sprayed in the face and chest. He later recovered.

“We then took off, rented the movie Lawnmower Man and watched it at the apartment of one of our girlfriends.”

A short while later, the Minneapolis PD descended on the apartment, arresting everyone. Andy denied the shooting, but was convicted of the shooting and robbery. He was sentenced to six years.

Lt. Bob Jacobson, one of the officers who worked Andy’s case and a youth gang specialist, said, “Andy’s really a good kid. I think he’s got better than a 50/50 chance of making it when he gets out.” He based his assessment on talks he had had with Andy since the time he was fifteen.

He observed that virtually every youth involved in gang activity came from a broken home. When asked what he thought would be the most effective deterrent to gang activity, he said:”Stabilizing the home. If that doesn’t work, go to prison. It’s about the only thing that will scare them.”

Andy agreed. He said,

“Nothing would have worked for me to stop. There’s nothing you could really do. I have a sister, right now, who joined the Latin Kings. I’ve tried talking her out it. But she’s just like I was.”Since he started serving his sentence in January of 1992, he has burned the bridges with his gang, earned his GED, and is now on the honor unit. Special privileges include: being out of his cell twelve hours a day, better food, and a separate store and weight room. He adds,

“I’d rather be the geekiest person on the streets than the coolest sucker in prison. You can stay out of trouble when you don’t feel you have to get respect—being a man shooting someone. My emotional mentality is only now just starting to grow because of what I did.”

Andy wanted power over his pain from a lack of respect, but his prison case-worker, Doug Randall, says that the change in Andy seems genuine. Andy will have that to prove to himself when, at the age of twenty-two, he is released in 1996.

NO TEARS FOR THE SPIDER MAN

Warm, summer nights in the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas, are meant for dreaming, especially if you’re a fourteen-year-old girl, riding in a shiny, bright red, mint-condition ‘64 Mustang. She should have been able to lay back and swoon as the wind rushed through her long hair, but this girl wasn’t dreaming , swooning or smiling. She was riding through a gathering gloom, a passenger of someone who could have been the Spider Man. Like the lyrics of Lullaby, a song she and her friends heard many times, the refrain snaked through her brain—

On Candy Stripe Legs the Spider Man Comes softly through the shadow of the evening sun. Steering past the windows as the blissfully dead, Looking for the victims shivering in bed.

Searching out fear in the gathering gloom, And suddenly a movement in the corner of the room. And there’s nothing I can do when I realize with fright, That the Spider Man is having me for dinner tonight.

Quietly he laughs and shaking his head creeps closer now And closer to the foot of the bed. And softer than shadow and quicker than flies, His arms are all around me and his tongue in my eyes.

Be still, be calm, be quiet now my precious boy Don’t struggle like that or I will only love you more. For it’s much too late to get away or turn on a light, For the Spider Man is having you for dinner tonight.

And I feel like I’ve been eaten By a thousand million shivering furry holes, And I know that in the morning I will wake up in a shivering cold. And the Spider Man is always hungry.
Amy was feeling it was much too late—too late to get away or turn on a light, and she was shivering. Her terrible, untold secret made her feel even more terrible. She would remember her daddy’s midnight visits just before falling asleep. He would touch her like the Spider Man, tongue in her eyes, alien, quicker than flies. He would trespass as a dark stranger, not as her daddy or deacon of the church, but as something worse—a dark, silent invader. And she wanted him to stop, to please stop, to disappear. But like the Spider Man, he never did. He was always hungry and he was always there.

One day I asked an abused youth drawn to these lyrics, “What do you think the song’s about?”

“It’s about nightmares,” she said.

“But who’s the Spider Man?”

“The Spider Man’s the nightmare.”

“I know, but doesn’t it sound like incest.”

After a long, frightful pause, she added, “Yeah.”

Amy’s parents finally divorced when she was in the sixth grade, but that didn’t stop her nightmares. Nothing did. She desperately wanted them to disappear, and she didn’t care what it would take or what she might need to do to rid them.

Jonathan was a recruiter for The Satanic Cult, a local gang of drug sellers. He too was fourteen years old, and he didn’t know why Amy was withdrawn and frightening, but he knew one thing: Amy matched Terry’s instructions: “Just find a girl at your school who looks shy and scared—who’d do anything to have a friend. Then ask her the four questions about drugs.” Terry always used these four questions to recruit new sellers, who were then told to sell only to “long-hairs”—those with hair past their shoulders.

Jonathan saw Amy sitting alone at lunch. He recognized the opportunity, sidled alongside her, and softly asked, “What’s your name?”

“Amy.”

“Wanna do drugs?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“What kind of drugs do you like?”

“I don’t know,” she answered, almost whispering.

“How about some coke?”

“I don’t know.” Jonathan told Amy about his friend, Terry—the guy with the red Mustang, who had real powers. Amy’s eyes widened. “Terry’s got power over everything. Just name it! And he can teach you to have it.”

“What kind of power?”

“Satan’s power.”

“What can it do?”

“Anything.”

“What do I have to do?”

“Just try some coke a few times and sell a little to your friends.”

Amy had never used or dealt drugs, but now she was thinking about her nightmares, her demons, the Spider Man. Maybe this power would work. So, she bought a few “nickel” bags (a five-dollar bag of cocaine packaged in cellophane). A few days later she was introduced to Terry, who picked her up after school. Amy climbed into the front seat of the red Mustang. Then Terry blindfolded her and told her to keep her head down in her lap so she couldn’t see anything. He didn’t want her to know his destination—his apartment in Garland, a middle- to lower-middle-income suburb. Amy knew she ended up in Garland—only fifteen minutes away from Plano—because she lifted her head a couple of times and peeked under her blindfold.

Terry, a nineteen-year-old dropout, was five years older than Amy and in her nightmarish world, he had an edge. His red hair hung down the middle of his back and he had flashing, knowing blue eyes, an upside-down cross tattooed on his stomach and a swastika tattooed on his right thigh. He was a racist and later battered Amy for trying to recruit a black girl into the cult. After grilling Amy, he asked her to submit to him sexually, testing her loyalty to the group. She agreed. Perhaps this was the way to transmit to me some of his power, she thought. They had sex in his small, sparsely furnished apartment. Amy was the second partner. “He always had two girls,” she said. When they finished, Amy was blindfolded again and they drove to an isolated field in Plano. He forced her to kneel and when the blindfold was removed, she saw a crudely painted, red pentagram. It was several feet across and seemed to surround her. There was also a small, makeshift altar where a sacrifice would take place. This was the site of her secret induction, and she felt well-prepared. Her father taught her how to keep secrets and she kept them well.

At least a dozen young teens sat in a circle around the pentagram. (Terry liked young gang members because they were easy to control.) Because of their position in the gang’s hierarchy, each one knew their role in Amy’s “orientation.”

The structure of The Satanic Cult from the top down was: Master, Slave, Orientor, Recruiter. Terry, who was only five-foot-one, was the Master. He liked to recruit kids from rich neighborhoods because their friends had enough money to buy drugs. The Slaves took orders from Terry and acted as runners. The Orientor, Jonathan, was in charge of induction rituals. Recruiters, like Amy, were at the bottom in the chain of command. They were lowly proles who sold drugs and recruited other kids to sell.

Kids recruited into the gang had to fit a specific profile. First, each recruit had to be new to the community. Students were sought who didn’t have ties to anyone else in their school; that way the cult-like gang became their immediate circle of friends. Terry preferred fearful, reclusive, emotionally damaged kids. Plano, population 150,000, was a good “technoburb” to hit. There were lots of kids from broken homes with “new money.” Plenty of homes where kids came home to an unsupervised nest. (Although often touted as a premiere suburb in which to live, the seeds of discontent in some homes were observed as early as 1983 and 1984, when eight youths committed suicide, garnering national attention.)

Second, prospective recruits had to be blue-eyed with blonde, red, or black hair. Brown hair was forbidden. Amy had blonde hair and blue eyes; this satisfied Terry’s tastes. And she was perfectly predisposed to be seduced by his empowerment scam. He knew they wouldn’t receive powers, but they didn’t. No matter, just as long as they sold drugs and he cashed in.

At the site there was the board and cinder-block altar, adorned with candles and a metal chalice. After ranting about how hewas Satan, Terry savagely killed a cat, spilling its blood in the chalice. Amy drank some of the fresh blood and took drugs. While under the influence, she heard them chant in low voices, “We have the power to do anything,” as they pledged allegiance to Satan.

Other induction rituals were held at a Motel 6 in Denton on a Saturday—the sixth day of the week, and in a room with a number (like 126). This formed the number, 666—the mark sixin the room of the Antichrist. During the next several months, the drugs and the gang made Amy feel important and affiliated with something that held the promise of power; however, none of it stopped or diminished her demonized nightmares. She still woke up, shivering cold. Terry couldn’t kill the Spider Man. Terry’s promise of power was a sham. When Amy entered a local drug treatment center, she asked her counselor to talk with someone about the terrors she experienced in the gang. But she was afraid of reprisals and harm from Terry when he realized that she entered rehab and was getting out of the gang.

In 1989, over a dozen such small, independent gangs had arisen in schools around the central and east Texas area with the name—The Satanic Cult. These drug-selling gangs helped set off a false panic that adult be used as sacrifices. Two weeks after we talked about her gang, Amy groups were after kids to moved to Alaska to live with a relative—far away from Terry’s turf.

BURLY BOY IN JACKBOOTS

The boy-man was burly. His shaved head gave him the right, savage look; and he dressed in black. Macho boots, jeans, T-shirt, and heavy belt. His jacket of course was black leather. There were silver tips on his boots. He was dressed to march, swagger, menace, and to destroy. This was the uniform of the tribe, the skin-head colors.

“What the f— are you looking at?” he bellowed, standing erect, throwing his chair aside. The nattily dressed man looked askance, then moved away as quickly as possible to the remotest section of the atrium. Grabbing a fistful of fries, the boy-man flung them in the direction of the man’s retreat.

Blaring, pulsating MTV music and video images filled the Burger King. Housed in a posh business complex, youths regularly dropped in for fast-food fixes. Management strategically constructed a separate, quiet atrium dining area away from the cash register lines. It was designed to attract a more genteel crowd—business and family types. It had the right look—subdued chrome, glass, and greenery providing an upscale environment to mollify the stress of everyday life.

The boy-man is Erik. He dressed to intimidate visually and attract attention. He used this as a device to lash out. Two months earlier, a bigger fellow with his own lashing out to vent, didn’t like Erik’s image and style. Without warning, he bashed against Erik’s shaved skull, knocking him to the floor. It was a bad scene.

“He didn’t know that I had any strength left,” Erik later bragged. “After a couple of minutes, I reached into my pocket, grabbed my brass knuckles and destroyed him. He never got up.”

Although Erik didn’t maim or kill his attacker, he claimed to be a killer. No one knew if his stark and horrendous claim were true. It sounded authentic and everyone stayed away and gave him the benefit of the doubt.

This burly, six-foot two-inch figure seemed even more threatening in the sedate atrium. He should have been in the other room with the kids, but he chose the atrium to spew hate, shout vulgarities at men as they passed, and cheaply whistle at women. Eighteen-year-old Erik and his shorter partner were dyed-in-the-wool skinheads.

“When he was a younger boy, Erik’s parents divorced and his father, a teacher, moved to Sweden. Erik wanted to be a pediatrician, but failed to enter the medical university. He was angry . . . He was angry about his absent, abandoning father.

He was angry that he couldn’t cultivate and keep friends; and he was angry that some Arab youths raped his girlfriend. This was a defining moment for Erik. The rest of his cumulative, simmering hate became sharply focused and he could express it with laser-like intensity as a hate-mongering, menacing, hell-on-wheels skinhead.

“I ordered my friends to kill him. They didn’t do it, but he never came around again.” Neither did his girlfriend, who was terrified of his rages.

No father. No girl. No future. Erik was a boy-man in pain, and he was poised to smash it into smithereens with his fists.

Dave watched Erik and saw flickers of the pain that nourished the hate. Possessing acute insight into counter-culture types, Dave heard in a university lecture earlier that year that it was the pain of broken homes that drives most skinheads. The two skinheads trained their attention on him, mumbling derogatory remarks, laughing at Dave, the all-American guy and his bright red, white and blue shirt. Dave informally greeted Erik: “Hey, how ya’ doing?” The skin and his partner were stunned, then surprisingly they returned the greeting.

“Mind if I join you?” Dave asked casually. They waved him on. Dave asked Erik where he came from and initiated some nonthreatening, small talk. Another adult passed and made the mistake of staring. Furious, Erik threw his chair aside, screaming, “What are you looking at? Am I a show? Quit looking at me!” He grabbed his nunchaku, a martial arts weapon, and flashed them in the face of the man who only wanted to eat lunch in a quiet place. Then in an instant, he composed himself, sat down, and resumed our conversation.

“Do you enjoy being a skinhead?” Dave asked with brotherly directness.

“No. I don’t know if any of my (skinhead) friends love me or not. I don’t have any friends outside of skins.”

“Skinheads are basically known because of their hate. Would you agree with that?”

“Yea.”

“Who do you hate? Do you hate foreigners? Do you hate me?”

“No. I don’t hate you.”

“Do you hate Jews?”

“Yea, but I don’t hate them as much as I hate Arabs. I hate Arabs. And I hate Chinese. And I hate Blacks. I guess I don’t really hate Jews.” “Why hate Arabs?”

“Because an Arab raped my girlfriend.”

As they continued to talk, Erik periodically shouted obscenities at those around him. Dave chastised him. “I was amazed that Erik received me as a big brother,” Dave later recalled. “When I directed my attention to him as a person, rather than a strange object, he responded.

” Dave pressed him about his father.

As tears welled up, Erika said, “Last week my father embraced me. He was concerned about me being a skinhead. What will happen to me. He is concerned that I didn’t get accepted into the university.” “Erik, it’s so foolish to hate.”

“I know. . . . It’s eating me alive.” Dave had heard of skinheads in America, England, and Germany, but never expected to encounter a skinhead in Burger King in downtown Budapest, Hungary, in October of 1992. He had heard there was a profile of a youth who engages in skinhead activity, but never expected one to show teary-eyed emotion so quickly and openly.

Erik and his friend, Gyula (pronounced du’la) were born in Budapest, the Paris of the East. They were like many of their counterparts in other, affluent communities. Their expressions of hate were not learned at home. And like many skins in America, Erik, when pressed, admitted that he really didn’t hate minorities which he impulsively had said earlier.

These stories, taken together, represent what is occurring in affluent communities in America and Europe. The kinds of gangs youths are joining are diverse, and which one is more popular at any given time can depend upon something as simple as which type of inspiring music is in vogue. Collectively, these stories illustrate what is going on in the minds of affluent gang youths and depict the three types of gangs—delinquent, ideological, and occultic—that are and have been present since the early 1980s. Andy Kriz, inspired by inner-city counterparts, formed his own delinquent gang. Regarding the emergence of affluent gangs, his case is not typical one in that he was directly inspired by inner-city gangs. He stated, though, that he probably would have formed a gang when he was enough even if he had never spent time around the Gangster Disciples, witnessed by the fact that he opted to form his own independent gang.

Most affluent gangs, like the occultic gang that snared Amy, have their own independent inspiration points, far way from urban areas. They don’t form as a result of a spill-over from inner-city areas. Erik, the Hungarian youth who came from a well-to-do family, wasn’t influenced by gangs from lower income areas. He derived his inspiration from the youth subculture—expressions of fashion and music—and formed the third type of gang addressed in this text, the ideological gang.

Until you have interviewed a number of these youths, it is difficult to imagine that there’s a common, predictable profile of a youth who engages in these gangs, but there is. There are also predictable reasons why they will disengage. Before we examine these facets, let’s take a brief look a t the history of gangs in America.