It grew out of the discriminatory policies of the Clanton Street gang, then one of the most powerful gangs in the city. The Clanton Street gang limited its membership to candidates who could prove that they were of 100 percent Mexican ancestry. The youngsters who were turned away by Clanton eventually organized their own gang and called it the 18th Street gang. But organizing was one thing. Solving the problem was another. “They were getting their asses kicked by Clanton,” says LAPD gang expert Sgt. Frank Flores. “So they opened the books to non-Mexicans.”
On January 18, 2009, 15-year old Dennys Alfredo Guzman-Saenz left his home in the 8100 block of 14th Avenue in Hyattsville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. The teenager walked to a Metrobus stop in front of his house, planning to take a bus to a friend’s house. He never made it.
The smell of brimstone was in the air.
According to the Montgomery County Department of Police, Guzman-Saenz crossed paths with the devil incarnate in the form of Joel Y. (“Jhony”) Ventura-Quintanilla and four other members of the 18th Street gang — spawned in Los Angeles in the 1980s, but now present throughout the United States. Following the simplistically brutal traditions of gang culture, the 18th Street gangsters were out celebrating the 18th of the month — 18th of the month and 18th Street, get it? — by looking for a member of the gang’s bitter rival, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) to whack.
Guzman-Saenz was not yet an MS-13 member. But he was a hanger-on or “associate.” That was good enough for the 18th Street members’ blood lust. They fell on the youth like jackals on a rabbit, overwhelmed him, and stuffed him into a car.
Members of the two gangs are sworn to attack each other, a rivalry that began back in Los Angeles during the 1980s.
As noted in the quote from my forthcoming book at the top of this posting, the 18th Street gang started out in Los Angeles as an alternative for would-be gangsters who could not meet the dominant Clanton Street gang’s rule limiting membership to those of 100 percent Mexican lineage.
But the new 18th Street gang was weak. So the leaders “opened the books” to persons of all ethnic backgrounds. The result was an explosion of membership and the new gang quickly rose to dominance. Here is how the National Gang Intelligence Center’s National Gang Threat Assessment 2009 describes the 18th Street gang today:
Formed in Los Angeles, 18th Street is a group of loosely associated sets or cliques, each led by an influential member. Membership is estimated at 30,000 to 50,000. In California approximately 80 percent of the gang’s members are illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America. The gang is active in 44 cities in 20 states. Its main source of income is street-level distribution of cocaine and marijuana and, to a lesser extent, heroin and methamphetamine. Gang members also commit assault, auto theft, carjacking, drive-by shootings, extortion, homicide, identification fraud, and robbery.
The 18th Street gang was formed at about the same time that a large wave of refugees from El Salvador’s civil war ended up in Los Angeles. Before the Salvadorans formed their own gang — what would become Mara Salvatrucha, and later MS-13 — some of the refugee youth joined the 18th Street gang under its open book policy.
According to some gang experts, the singular animosity between the 18th Street gang and MS-13 stems from the fact that leaders of the new Salvadoran gang considered those who had joined 18th Street as “sell-outs” and viewed them with murderous contempt. Murder, counter-murder, and counter-counter murder followed.
Whatever the complex of reasons, there is no doubt that in the United States and in Central America — where the gangs metastasized during the 1990s after gangsters were deported there from the United States — members of the two gangs attack and kill each other in brutal fashion.
Here, according to a local news report (Montgomery News Gazette), is what happened to Dennys Alfredo Guzman-Saenz:
When they [the 18th Street gangsters] saw Guzman-Saenz, who was not in MS-13 but had friends who were, they posed as MS-13 members to determine if he was affiliated with the gang. Guzman-Saenz was abducted after he provided information about MS-13, police said.
Prosecutors said Guzman-Saenz was beaten and stabbed once in the car in Langley Park, according to a brief account given by Assistant State’s Attorney Jeffrey Wennar at bond hearings for four of the suspects Monday. The gang members took the teen to a suspect’s residence in Germantown, then to Malcolm King Park in Gaithersburg [another Maryland suburb] . Guzman-Saenz was taken to a stream in the park and stabbed 72 times, Wennar said.
A jogger found Guzman-Saenz dead in the park at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 19.
The Washington Post adds this detail:
Immediately after the stabbing, one of the suspects went to a grocery store to buy a celebratory beer, police said in charging documents made public yesterday. The suspect then returned to his kitchen a knife used in the killing, and he and his roommate later used it to prepare food, according to the documents.
One could dismiss this incident as so much inter-gang warfare, not of much consequence to the rest of us.
That, however, misses several points.
One is the sheer brutality characteristic of both gangs. Another is the hazard anyone faces in crossing paths with such gangsters. Finally, gangsters like the ones involved in this little drama are the foot soldiers of much bigger enterprises connected to the illegal drug trade and to the trade in other contraband, including firearms and human beings.
Project what this will look like five or ten years down the road.