By Alex Alonso Staff Writer Streetgangs
updated December 22, 2002
updated June 25, 2008
“The spread of 18th Street’s violence is shown by 154 murders linked to the gang from 1985 to 1995. This only plots homicides within Los Angeles where the killings have been tied to the gang.” The killings on the map show 18th Street as both victims and assailants of murder and one can see a concentration west of the 110 Freeway near downtown Los Angeles, November 17-19, 1996.
In Los Angeles the 18th Street gang is considered the largest gang in Los Angeles County but that label is very misleading. Even though 18th Street 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 Street 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 indicted by the Federal Government in a RICO case in 2007 on drug trafficking and murder charges.
The 18th Street gang formed around 1965 in the Pico Union area when members of larger Westside Clanton 14th Street neighborhood decided to start a new click. Originally, 18th Street was a click of the bigger Clanton 14th Street neighborhood (First Hood) who had another neighborhood, Eastside Clanton that was split by the freeway construction of the early 1950s.
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. One of the reasons why original Clanton members began to reject the 18th click, was because it was being led by a non Mexican-American, named Rocky Lee Glover (b. 1950 – ).
The new click members had to make a decision between falling in line with Clanton 14 and the strict rule of Mexican-Americans only, or take a defiant position to start their own gang and create Varrio 18th Street.
Some decided to stay with the more established Clanton identity, but Rocky Glover and a dozen other teens decided to just simply dropped the Clanton off their name and then became rivals against them. As the years progressed, Clanton lost most of their first westside hood in the Pico-Union area, and today that area is completely dominated by 18th Street and a few other gangs. Other early 18th Street members during the 1960s included Beto, Eddie Boy, Goofy, Indio, Penguin, Tank, Toro and Smiley who were initially Clanton members of the 1st hood that all decided to take their click into another direction.
Clanton did not disappear though as their neighborhood in Hollywood off Beverly has survived and their other Eastside neighborhood still exists in two areas. 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 members even if they were not Mexican-American, the name of this gang has caught on and has been copied and mimicked in several other cities and countries around the world. Contrary to popular belief, not all of the 18th Street neighborhoods operate in unison, know each other, or even get along.
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 and Mara Salvatrucha 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.
Any suggestion that these gangs operate in this sophisticated manner has been considered propaganda from law enforcement and designed to stigmatize the gang and its members by 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 membership in California consists of illegal immigrants but according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department only about 10 percent of the gang membership in Los Angeles County are illegal citizens.
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 effect.
Warring with BloodsCertain 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.