“If someone bothers you, you talk to someone in the neighborhood,” said Bobby, illuminating how deeply Drew Street had fallen into gangster hands. “If someone stole from you, it would be handled. It was like a neighborhood watch. We don’t call the cops. We beat up people.”
From, “Drew Street Drug House Demolished; Creepily, some neighbors miss the gang’s terror, a Neighborhood Watch of sorts,” By Christine Pelisek.
People in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Glassell Park called the house at 3304 Drew Street “The Satellite House.” The antennae sprouting from the roof were a symbol of drug-trafficking affluence in a graffiti-scarred area hanging on by its fingernails. Like the colonial headquarters of an occupying power, it was Government House for the Drew Street clica of the Avenues Gang.
According to Los Angeles law enforcement officials and a federal indictment, the Avenues Gang and its Drew Street clique are affiliated with the powerful Mexican Mafia prison gang, which in turn is plugged into the transnational network of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations. (See Part One). Los Angeles-bred Gangs like the Avenues, MS-13, 18th Street, and others around the nation (like the Latin Kings and Barrio Azteca) are today’s organized crime, the “mafia on steroids” someone quipped–a burgeoning force that is richer, more heavily-armed, more wired into global criminal networks than La Cosa Nostra in its best days. They’re operating in Canada, for crying out loud! It may not look this way at the level of some baggy-pants mope with bad teeth on a street corner moving little packets of mind-worming dope. But that pimply-faced gangster is a soldado, a foot soldier, in a vast army of crime. The new gangsters and their racketeering organizations defy national borders. They love law enforcement organizations that are trapped in static thinking generated by organization charts and “stove-pipes” of “responsibility” and “mission statements.” (“That’s not in our lane,” I recently heard a senior federal law enforcement official say. Your lane? You need to retire–lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way, dude!)
Flexible, adaptive, smarter-than-you-think and often operating in ad hoc networks, transnational criminals operate at will throughout the Western Hemisphere, with growing tentacles to Africa and Europe.
At every level — from the street corner to the Western Hemisphere — gangs and the bigger criminal enterprises they are wired into raise a fundamental question: who’s in charge here? Who rules this turf? The legitimate government or the gangsters? It is a serious mistake to underestimate the territorial mentality of the new gangsters, their assertion of the artifacts of sovereignty, and their willingness to confront civil government violently.
The Drew Street gang experience has been an almost perfect laboratory in which to see this concept of territorial confrontation at work. The neighborhood (see map) it which the Avenues clique operated is boxed in, virtually sealed off, by a cemetery, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and a freeway. Like many of the gang-tortured neighborhoods of the New World, Glassell Park was once affluent and quiet, an area of single-family homes. But change seeped in — including immigration (legal and otherwise) from Mexico — and it went downhill. Public housing apartment blocs that government planners and social engineers dreamed up turned into gangster strong points, bunkers into which the thugs could fade, invulnerable to police action.
Satellite House was the home of a woman named Maria “Chata” Leon, an undocumented immigrant from Tlachapa, Guerrero, Mexico. According to police, Leon ran the gang’s operations out of the house along with a brood of sons, relatives, and gangsters. (Leon is said to have given birth to 13 children fathered by various men while she was accumulating a series of felony arrests and convictions dating back to 1992.) The gang’s writ was so strong that in February 2008, LA Weekly ran an article titled “The Gangsters of Drew Street, Glassell Park — Why neither God nor the police can stop them.”
But while it may have looked like the gangsters had defeated even God (or at least LAPD), Los Angeles officials and law enforcement officers had already mounted a concerted attack on the Drew Street gang and its perverse rule.
In the first place, Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has been a leader in devising ways to use civil law as a powerful complementary force to law enforcement efforts against gangs. These ways include injunctions, lawsuits to collect money damages from gangs, and notably in this case a program known as TOUGH (Taking Out Urban Gang Headquarters) program. TOUGH is based on the “nuisance abatement” theory of civil law. The program “files lawsuits seeking aggressive and specifically tailored injunctive relief against property owners and gang members, including stay away orders, closure of properties, hiring of security guards, installation of video camera systems and other remedial improvements to the properties.” In 2007, Delgadillo and his team won a lawsuit filed in 2005 that closed Satellite House as a “nuisance” and–after further legal manuevering–led to its ultimately being demolished by a bulldozer.
Before the house was finally taken down, however, an episode of blatant gangster violence in February 2008 generated a maximum law enforcement investigative effort against the gang. Avenues gangsters shot to death a 36-year old man as he was walking his 2-year old granddaughter near an elementary school. Shortly later, when the gangsters were confronted by LAPD police officers, they opened fire on the cops and a running gun battle ensued. One of Maria’s sons, Danny Leon, opened up with an AK-47 rifle. He was killed by return fire and his cousin, Jose Gomez, 18, was wounded and later charged with murder and attempted murder.
The incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “When you shoot at my police officers, all bets are off,” Police Chief William Bratton later said. A joint local and federal HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) task force zeroed in on the gang. That eventually resulted in a RICO indictment. Trial in that case is now pending, so all involved are –but, of course– entitled in court to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. You can draw your own conclusions.
Meanwhile, the question of who’s-in-charge-here has been answered. Concerted, creative, and cooperative effort by legitimate government has smacked down the Drew Street gang–at least for now. The gang weed is deeply rooted and resilient.