The 18th Street Gang in Los Angeles
By Alex A. Alonso for StreetGangs.com
posted December 22, 2002 | updated June 25, 2008
LOS ANGELES – In Los Angeles the 18th Street gang is considered the largest gang in Los Angeles County but that label is very misleading. Even though they are estimated to have approximately 15,000 members in Los Angeles County, they are actually a collection of approximately 20 separate individual autonomous gangs operating under the same label with separate barrios in the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, the South Bay, South Los Angeles, Downtown Los Angeles, Pico Union, Inglewood, and Cudahy. Some estimates of the 18th are as low as 8,000 members. The notoriety of the gang is based on four distinct barrios, three near downtown Los Angeles west of the Staple’s Center and the 110 Freeway, and one in the West Adams area.
The individual factions can number from 50 to several hundred members and they are dispersed throughout the County, but their strong hold and their oldest barrio is located in the Pico Union (Grand View, Hoover clicks) area east of the Staples center between the Harbor 110 Freeway (east) and Hoover Ave (west). Slightly to the north are two other barrios in the Shatto Park and MacArthur Park (Colombia Lil Cycos click) areas. There are also two significant size 18th Street Barrios in South LA, one between Vernon (north) and Slauson (south) along Vermont Avenue and the second one being between Florence (north) and 91st Street (south). One of the most infamous 18th Street neighborhoods would be in the West Adams (Smiley, Alsace, Lil Lowks) because member Catorina Gonzales was convicted for killing LAPD officer Filbert Cuesta in 1998, and more recently, member Pedro Espinoza was charged in the murder of High School star athlete Jamiel Shaw stemming from the conflict with the Bloods.
The media often states that 18th Street is the largest gang in Los Angeles, but the largest single Hispanic gang in terms of turf size and membership would be one of 18th Street’s main rivals, the Florencia 13 gang that has a turf that stretches from Western (west) to Compton Avenues (east). Members of this gang were recently indicted by the Feds on drug trafficking and murder charges.
The 18th Street gang formed around 1959 in the Pico Union area when members of larger Clanton 14 neighborhood decided to start a new click. Originally 18th Street was a click of the bigger Clanton 14th Street neighborhood. As membership of Clanton grew, newer members who lived off of 18th Street decided to start Clanton 18th Street. Forming a new click of a gang can sometimes be a challenge, because some members may look at it as an action that does not unify but separates the neighborhood, and possibly creates division between members that will be forced to choose sides during a conflict. On the other hand, adding a click can expand the turf, bring in more members, and make the neighborhood appear to be stronger. There is usually a protocol to creating a new click and each neighborhood is different when it comes to that, but ultimately Clanton 14 core members did not approve of having Clanton 18, so the new click members had to make a decision of falling in line with Clanton 14, or taking a defiant position to start their own gang, hence the birth of 18th Street. They just simply dropped the Clanton off their name and then became rivals against them. As the years progressed, Clanton lost their main strong hold off 14th Street, and today that area is dominated by 18th Street.
Clanton did not disappear though as their neighborhood in Hollywood off Beverly has survived and their other neighborhood on the South Side near San Pedro is still thriving. Most gangs today have clicks and there is usually little resistance from the rest of the gang when members want to start a new click, because there is a perceived benefit to the entire gang as outsiders will assume the gang is growing, and it provides a psychological edge against their rivals. Through a small act of defiance, one of the most well known gangs was born in Los Angeles. Because of its aggressive recruiting techniques of accepting any all new comers the name of this gang has caught on and has been copied and mimicked in several other cities and countries around the world.
Global Reach: Real or Perceived?
Since its inception youth from every large city in the US, Canada, Mexico and countries in Central & South America America, Europe and most likely several other cities and countries have adapted the use of the name 18th Street. Because of the wide spread popularity, the FBI has labeled this gang a transnational gang with global reach, but there is no evidence to support the existence of any such global network in which the 18th Street gang operates between cities or across national borders. Because of deportation, the gang culture of LA was introduced into Mexico and Central America, but transnational linkages in which the 18th Street gang operate have not been uncovered thus far. A study from 2007 found that international connections among Hispanic gangs like 18th Street were over stated and that there were no signs of transnational coordination among gang members. Academic studies have also fell short from identifying these types of networks among Los Angeles based Hispanic gangs.
The typical propaganda from law enforcement is designed to stigmatize the gang by over exaggerating the extent to which the gang operates. Phrases like “violent foreign-born gang members” and “their behavior is often deadly” uses the fear card to gain public support for what ever law enforcement action is desired against the group. For years the FBI has been telling us that there exists parallels between 18th Street and international crime but many of those linkages have been overstated and just because the federal government says that 18th Street possesses weapons of mass destruction does not necessarily mean that it is true. United States Senator Dianne Feinstein published a report in 2003 which erroneously stated that 80 percent of the 18th Street gang in California consists of illegal immigrants.
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has three gang injunctions against the 18th Street; two in the Rampart Division and one in the Southwest Division of the LAPD against the same faction that Catorino Gonzales and Pedro Espinoza were from. This specific 18th Street gang has several clicks including Alcase, Lil Lowks, and Smiley Drive.
The Rampart injunctions were under review and temporarily halted in September of 1999 because of the Rampart corruption scandal that implicated several LAPD officers in criminal activity. In 2002 these injunctions were refiled by the City Attorney’s Office and placed back into affect.
Warring with Bloods
Certain factions of 18th Street in South Los Angeles are feuding with Black gangs, specifically the Bloods. In 1994, members of the Rancho Park click that were hanging out on Gibraltar Avenue in the Jungles got into a conflict with members of the Black P Stones in the Jungles. The actual source of this conflict remains in question, but an argument ensued, and an 18th Street member was murdered, thus starting the cycle of violence between the Bloods and the 18th Street. The Black Stones from the City joined the conflict, then in 1996 the Rollin’ 20s Bloods got involved. More recently the Fruit Town Brims, the 4th Blood gang joined the conflict against the 18th Street. This conflict followed the war between the Venice Shoreline Crips, a predominately black gang and the Hispanic Venice 13, that saw 17 murders in 9 months from 1993-94. Eventually, Venice 13 had the support of three other Hispanic gangs; Culver City Boys, Sotel, and Santa Monica 13, but that war was over by 1996.
18th Street in the News
18th Street Gang: Another Injunction?, August 4, 1997, KCBS
Judge Bans 18th Street Gang, July 11, 1997, KCBS2.com