Gangs? I thought we only had “wannabes” here in Caroline County, along with some other thoughts on gang denial.

Does anyone remember the Caroline County constitutional officers debate back in 2007 at the Bowling Green Town Hall? Perhaps when the question of gangs and gang crime came up to the candidates for Sheriff? Tony Lippa stated that we only had “wannabes” in the county.

Here are some pictures that were taken of graffiti found in Port Royal in mid-July (photo credit: My brother, Garrett Watson; shameless plug: check out his own two hate-blogs, On The Right and Orange, VA Independence Day Tea Party):

Here’s some information about the graffiti from my brother as well:

This is the second time there has been gang graffiti in Port Royal, about 2 years ago there was Bloods graffiti in the trailer park in the western end of the town. Now this is on the town square. […] The graffiti is at the intersection of King and Middle street in Port Royal.

Judging as far as the graffiti goes, it is from the Traveling Vice Lords, or TVLN, TVL, a gang unified under the People Nation. The gang started in Chicago. They are united with Bloods and the United Blood Nation on the east cost. The heart symbol in the graffiti is a Vice Lord symbol, the upside down 3 pointed pitchfork is a disrespecting symbol to the Folk Nation, the rival to the People Nation, Vice Lords, and Bloods in the area. The name “duece” is most likely a street name of the writer of the graffiti or could be another Vice Lord clique that the TVL are affiliated with. If the “duece” is the gang members street name, the 2 under the two hearts means he is a 2 star Lieutenant within the gang.

He sent that information to several people in the Sheriff’s Office and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and never got a response. So much for that ‘community policing’ the Sheriff’s Office is supposed to pride themselves on. Thankfully, at least the property owner, or someone else, had painted over the graffiti by the next day.

And it get even funnier when you read Portsia Smith’s “Caroline Crossroads” blog, where she notes the events for last night’s National Night Out:

Ladysmith Neighborhood Watch, the Attorney General’s Office and the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office will host “National Night Out” August 4 at the Ladysmith Village Residents Club starting at 5:30 PM.

At 6:30 PM the Attorney General’s Office will discuss gang prevention, and screen an award-winning educational video, The Wrong Family-Virginia Fights Back Against Gangs.

Wait a second, I thought we only had “wannabes”! So, do we have gangs or a gang problem or not in this county? And where do I go to get a straight answer to that question?

Then we have someone else involved in the criminal justice system in Caroline County — who shall remain nameless — that says we don’t have gangs, we have “different groups” which commit crimes.

That’s right, different groups. That commit crimes. Let’s review the definition of a “criminal street gang” in Va. Code § 18.2-46.1:

“Criminal street gang” means any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, (i) which has as one of its primary objectives or activities the commission of one or more criminal activities; (ii) which has an identifiable name or identifying sign or symbol; and (iii) whose members individually or collectively have engaged in the commission of, attempt to commit, conspiracy to commit, or solicitation of two or more predicate criminal acts, at least one of which is an act of violence, provided such acts were not part of a common act or transaction.

What constitutes a “predicate criminal act” and an “act of violence” are also defined in the same section.

Looks like these “different groups” that go around committing crimes are pretty close to the definition of a “criminal street gang”, if they don’t meet the requirements already.

Other sections of the Code of Virginia provide for increased punishment for crimes that are committed to the benefit of the gang, such as recruitment, as well as for gang activity in school zones, and provides for civil asset forfeiture for the proceeds of gang crimes.

But this problem isn’t restricted to just Caroline County. A couple of years ago, a Virginia State Trooper who worked in Fredericksburg stated to a room with 30 people in it, “Fredericksburg does not have a gang problem, it has a gang presence.” To which anyone with a brain or a sarcastic bone in their body would think: Isn’t the presence a problem? (The Trooper also stated that there was no gang graffiti in the city, and any vandalism that you saw was the work of “taggers”. Um, yeah, sure.)

To demonstrate how absurd that comment is, think about this: Would anyone state the following?

“We don’t have a mafia problem, we have a mafia presence.”

“We don’t have a serial-killer problem, we have a serial-killer presence.”

“We don’t have a terrorist problem, we have a terrorist presence.”

Heck no. And if anyone stated that privately — much less publicly — they would be kicked out of their organization faster than you can say “gang problem”. But that doesn’t happen in this case, of course, because the Trooper is just repeating the company line.

One thing I want to make clear, however,  is that I’m not advocating for a ‘moral panic’ liked what happened in Las Vegas and Nevada from the late ’80s to the early ’90s. (If you want to learn more about that, read The Political and Organizational Response to Gangs: An Examination of a “Moral Panic” in Nevada [PDF] by Richard C. McCorkle and Terance D. Miethe.)

The problem here is that people in the government — state or local — refuse to acknowledge and accept the reality of the situation. And while gangs may commit the same types of crimes that individuals do, there are support systems, tools (some of which I outlined above), and strategies that can used specifically against them. If the police and prosecutors in the area refuse to acknowledge the existence of gangs in their jurisdictions, those support systems, tools, and strategies are useless.

There’s also another possibility: The police and prosecutors know full-well that there are gangs and/or a gang problem in their jurisdictions and they just choose to lie to the public while simultaneously refusing to use those support systems, tools, and strategies.

Someone tell me which option is worse: Willful ignorance or lying to citizens?

Cross-posted at Virginia Virtucon.

3 Comments

  1. David says:

    The Virginia State Police gang task force is one of the best in the nation, and that’s for a reason. VA has one of the (if not the highest) gang presence in the country. That’s hard for folks to believe I know. Contact the GTF and get the facts. If local officials choose to ignore it, it’s either from ignorance or fear. Or just plain incompetence.

  2. william e. sparks says:

    Sheriff Lippa is an idiot.His comment about “wannabes” is ridiculous.The past chief of police in Richmond told a certain gang “If you want to act like a gang we will treat you like a gang!”RPD did just that and served multiple search warrants and prosecuted this certain gang!!Now, why is it possible for a busy department to get tough on street thugs but, not Little Lippa?(uh, he’s a moron).

  3. anon says:

    It wasn’t too long ago that PWC Chief Deane was adamant that all we had here was “wannabes”. Now we’re MS-13 central. Any police chief or sheriff who uses the term “wannabe” needs to be canned/voted out ASAP. Denial is a dangerous thing.

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