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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Durham's Gangland


Street gangs or gang-rape, which one should be the real issue in the November election for Durham district attorney? Durham has a growing gang problem, but the November 7th election is a referendum on Mike Nifong and his prosecution of three innocent Duke lacrosse players. The street gang problem is being ignored in favor of focusing on a racially charged rape hoax. That's too bad for Durham, which could use a full debate about solutions to its gang, gun, and drug problems.

Facts about gangs in Durham:

  • number of known gang members in Durham: about 750, up from 600 last year
  • some gangs in Durham: Crips and Bloods
  • number of gang related cases per year: more than 200 (according to WRAL)
  • number of assistant DA's assigned to gangs: 1
  • Durham's population in 2003: 201,726
The Democratic primary for district attorney in May was supposed to be about gangs. The N&O reported:
Before news broke of an investigation into a rape at a Duke lacrosse team party, the campaign was likely to be about gang and drug violence in Durham.
Mike Nifong & Freda BlackFreda Black, who opposed Nifong in the primary was very concerned about the gang problem:
Freda Black, 45, grew up in Alamance County. She got her law degree from Campbell University School of Law and went to work for a law firm in Lumberton. Later she became an assistant public defender in Robeson County. Black joined the Durham District Attorney's Office in 1991. For the next 14 years she was a prosecutor in the office. Black handled serious felony cases...

Black has railed against the gang and drug violence in Durham. Black said she would want to aggressively monitor and target gang leaders while working to keep youth from joining them.

"They're going to these gangs maybe to find a sense of belonging," Black said.
When the primary hung in the balance, Mike Nifong was also paying lip service to the gang problem:
During the campaign, Nifong also has talked about the gang problem in Durham. At a candidate forum April 12, Nifong said that in addition to law enforcement, one way to attack gangs is by keeping the city's youth out of them. His office participates in a program to notify parents that the parent will be charged with a misdemeanor if his or her child continues to miss school. Nifong said he would like to see an end to out-of-school suspensions, which only give young people time to get into trouble.

"It's not our desire to turn kids into criminals," Nifong said.
Freda Black lost to Mike Nifong by 883 votes, primarily because blacks voted for Nifong by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio. The gang problem had been blown away by the Duke lacrosse issue in the minds of Durham voters.

What happened to Mike Nifong's concern about gangs? What has he done about the gang problem in the four months since the primary election? The answer is - nothing. Nifong does not care about the gang problem; instead he has staked his professional reputation on prosecuting the Duke rape hoax. The Duke case consumes his mind and all of his energy. Someone else will have to worry about fighting gangs.

Nifong was able to offer a sound bite about the gang problem after the Durham courthouse erupted in a gang melee last Tuesday:
Tuesday's courthouse melee erupted on the fifth-floor, after key witnesses backed out of the Nicholson trial. They said they were being threatened.

"An incident occurred when information came up that caused people from one courtroom and gang to come to the other courtroom, where members of a rival gang were involved," said Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong.

Durham police are investigating the threats, which are a major challenge in prosecuting gang-related trials.

"You can't really conduct trials in an atmosphere, where there is intimidation of witnesses, or where there is fear that something might happen," Nifong said. "The District Attorney's Office is not equipped to protect witnesses in any situation. There aren't any local witness protection programs, or anything of that nature. The fact is people are to some extent on their own, in terms of their protection."
So when it comes to prosecuting gang-related crimes and witness protection the good people of Durham are "on there own." Thank you, Mr. Nifong, for your concern. Maybe the thousands of dollars you are wasting on the Duke prosecution could be used to do something for witnesses in the 200 gang-related cases that end up in your office.

Mike Nifong has completely washed his hands of the gang problem. He has abdicated all gang responsibility to assistant district attorney Stormy Ellis.

Stormy Ellis graduated from North Carolina Central University School of Law, in Durham, in May, 2002. Prior to that she earned a B.S. from Western Carolina University, Chilowhee, NC, in 1999. Stormy worked for the Wake County District Attorney's Office until she took the job of Durham assistant district attorney for gang-related cases in August 2005.

Stormy Ellis(l) and Ashley Cannon(rMikeNifong.com on gangs and guns:
Gangs & Guns The problem of guns in the possession of teenagers and young adults is not new, but the increased prevalence of that problem over the last decade has forced us to seek new approaches to the prosecution of such cases that afford our community greater protection. In Durham, two prosecutors have been assigned to focus on the twin problems of gangs and guns. Stormy Ellis concentrates on the issue of gangs, focusing her attention on both the suppression of gang activity through the prosecution of gang-related crime and the prevention of such activity by helping to coordinate law enforcement efforts at intervention and intelligence gathering. Ashley Cannon oversees our attempts to monitor the involvement of firearms in criminal activity and to get those guns off our streets.
Fighting and defeating gang culture and violence will take a coordinated effort between the police, prosecutors, elected officials, public workers, civic groups, churches, and the citizens of Durham. But who will provide the leadership?

Churches in Durham are trying to do their part to stop gangs. NPR.org reported on September 19th - Churches Aid Families with Gang Problem:
Gang membership is growing in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas. In some of those places, such as Durham, N.C., the gang problem has driven some affected families to seek help. Churches have been helping members leave gang-life behind...

Corporal Vincent Pearsall is a police officer assigned to Durham's gang unit. He says his office knows of about 750 gang members in the city.
The Durham police are trying to stop gangs, last month, USA Today reported:
Around Christmas last year, Durham police Cpl. Vincent Pearsall was summoned to the home of a 13-year-old boy whose distraught, single mother claimed she was losing her son to the Crips gang.

For years, the Crips and Bloods have been at war on the streets of Durham, a city of nearly 200,000 where homicide rates were up slightly last year to 36, from 32 in 2004. Local police estimate there are 745 gang members in the city, up from 600 last year.

Pearsall says that when he visited the skinny, eighth-grade boy that December day, the youth was showing signs of being a gang recruit. The boy had become withdrawn and was unusually belligerent. His clothing rarely varied from shades of gray and black, the uniform of his apparent new family, the Folk Nation, a group affiliated with the Crips.
Durham's gang problem is spilling over into Chapel Hill. Many NC schools are now worried about gangs - Schools weigh how to keep out gangs:
Some of the trouble is bleeding over from true street gangs in Durham, said Mitch McKinney, a Chapel Hill Police Department officer trained to investigate gangs...

Counselors, school social workers and family specialists will get ongoing training, said Margaret Blackwell, director of exceptional student services with school system.

The plan is to help school staff see a pattern of gang symptoms -- certain speech, symbols or behavior -- instead of nailing a teenager for dressing like a gang member.
Some members of the Durham City Council are worried about gangs - Durham City Council meeting, MONDAY, AUGUST 7, 2006 (pdf):

Council Member Stith raised a concern that he did not have complete information on what the prosecutor had accomplished. He raised a question regarding the return from the investment and tracking results.

Stormy Ellis, Gang Prosecutor, made comments on the incomplete gang database that she is working on, but will include tracking results/information requested.

MOTION by Council Member Stith seconded by Council Member Catotti to authorize the City Manager to execute a contract between the City of Durham, Michael B. Nifong, District Attorney for the Fourteenth Prosecutorial District and the Administrative Office of the Courts under which the Administrative Office of the Courts will expend City funds to continue to support one full time Assistant District Attorney position to act as prosecutor for the Gang and Habitual Felon Task Force in the amount of $59,331; and To authorize the City Manager to modify the contract before execution provided that modifications do not increase the dollar amount of the contract and the modifications are consistent with the general intent of the existing version of the agreement was approved at 12:03 a.m. by the following vote: Ayes: Mayor Bell, Mayor Pro Tempore Cole-McFadden and Council Members Brown, Catotti, Clement, Stith and Woodard. Noes: None. Absent: None.
(aside: apparently Stormy might be a little overworked give her case load and her administrative responsibilities.)

Law enforcement officials in North Carolina are worried about gangs - NC Gang Investigators Association:
Welcome to the web site for the North Carolina Gang Investigators Association. We are an association of law enforcement and criminal justice professionals who are dedicated to the prevention of gangs and suppression of gang-related activity within the state of North Carolina.

Through enhanced inter-agency intelligence exchange, legislative activism, citizen awareness, innovative anti-gang operational tactics and by providing professional education and training, we play a significant role in creating a safer environment for residents of and visitors to this state.
So some concerned officials are aware of the gang problem and are working to do something about it. Given the limited resources in a small city like Durham no public official can be on the sidelines in dealing with the gang problem. But, that is exactly where Mike Nifong is - on the sidelines.

The Durham City Manager, Patrick Baker, apparently shares Nifong's priorities. He thinks cracking down on Duke students' partying is "a high priority," forget gangs, guns, and drugs. N&O reported:
In an interview Sept. 8, Baker said cracking down on the partying was an enforcement priority but that "to his knowledge" Gottlieb was not under any specific direction to treat Duke students differently.
The News & Observer and the Herald-Sun also do not seem too concerned about the gang problem. The News & Observer never even did a story about last week's gang incident at the Durham courthouse. The Herald-Sun didn't get too excited either. Compare these two story headlines about last week's courthouse gang melee:

Witness issues delay murder trial - Herald-Sun, Sept. 27th
Police: Gang Threats Postpone Murder Trial - abc11tv.com, Sept. 27th

The Herald-Sun called gang threats, witness issues? Witness issues are what Mike Nifong has in the Duke case, that is not what you have happening in the Durham courthouse during the first-degree murder trial of Calvin Nicholson.

Witness intimidation is what happened at the Nicholson trial. Nifong<>

"When it comes to trial, everybody's kind of scrambling and coming up with excuses and that's when the intimidation tends to start," she said.

Ellis says the threats may slow down prosecution, but not justice.

"It's not going to keep us from prosecuting cases," she said. "We will work with victims, we will work with the facts, and we will bring people to justice."

So Stormy, some cops, schools, and a few churches in Durham are on their own in dealing with gangs. The local newspapers do not seem to be too worked up about Durham's gang problems. Have they written any editorials about the gang problems? It's probably a chamber of commerce thing. Who wants to point out that Durham is turning into a gangland.

Stop SnitchingCash Michaels is another media guy who doesn't worry or write about gang problems. Michaels, editor for the Carolinian and staff writer for The Wilmington Journal, even gets totally confused about the difference between the street gang "code of silence" and "attorney-client" privilege.

Cash "No Snitch" Michaels said:
To me there’s no difference between the LAX players attorney-directed stonewalling of the police, and the “no snitching” fad the hip-hop community has made horribly fashionable that has crippled various police investigations into murders and gang activity. There is no difference, and yet the LAX players are being hailed as “heroes” for their non-cooperation.
First, Cash it's called "stop snitching," not "no snitching," it helps to get your terminology correct. And once again you are demonstrating what a clueless nitwit "journalist" you are. "Stop Snitching" and it's hip-hop connections have absolutely nothing to do with the Duke lacrosse players and what they did under the advice of their many attorneys. The lacrosse players cooperated with the investigation, provided DNA, gave statements without lawyers, until the police and Nifong went into thug mode.

You are comparing apples and barbecued ribs.

But, since you mentioned it, how many articles have you written about the Durham and North Carolina gang problem and the infiltration of the "stop snitching" culture? Google says none.

Stop Snitching by Skinny Suge RecordsIt's surprising that more hasn't been written about this insidious hip-hop "stop snitching" campaign. Hip-hop intellectual, Marc Lamont Hill said:
Over the past year, the hip-hop community has come under intense scrutiny and criticism for the wildly popular "Stop Snitching" campaign. The movement, which has been accompanied by a flurry of t-shirts, songs, websites, and DVDs, is ideologically grounded in the belief that people should not cooperate with law enforcement authorities under any circumstances...

It has become increasingly apparent that the practice of snitching is undergirded by tragically flawed public policies that have vicious effects on the stability and integrity of black and Latino communities....

The most prominent critiques of the "Stop Snitching" campaign represent yet another failure of the general public to acknowledge the depth and truth-value of the hip-hop community's social commentary....

we ascribe a level of unearned trust and moral authority to formal institutions, such as the government, despite its consistent indifference to the well being of its most defenseless citizens.
So the "Stop Snitching" campaign is building a fan base, developing an "ethical justification," and attempting to draw distinctions between snitching and witnessing. That is scary. Now mix this attitude with gangs, guns, and drugs and let's see what happens.

However, in Durham the only "gang" that Mike Nifong wants to take on is the gang rape that he is trying to pin on three Duke lacrosse players. Leadership is a luxury that Nifong wants nothing to do with. The work regarding real gang activities will be dumped on others.

Good luck Stormy, you will need it.

update: Forgot to mention the rise of Hispanic gangs that are impacting Durham. Latino gang activity surges (North Carolina):
The Hispanic population in the Triangle has grown about fourfold in the past 10 years. Experts say the ingredients are here for gangs to grow, too: Disaffected teenagers lost in a new society and more hard-core gang members from other states seeking new opportunities...

School resource officers have documented nine Hispanic gangs in Durham County public schools and at least four in Wake County public schools.

In Durham, the city's gang unit counted 75 to 100 suspected Hispanic gang members when it started tracking them three or four years ago, "and we've seen that number increase by 75 to 100 each year thereafter," said Lt. Norman Blake, a spokesman for the Durham Police. Of those, about 50 gang members were confirmed each year through photographs, graffiti and interviews, he said.
Given the growth in the Hispanic population, in the NC triangle region, international Hispanic gangs like MS-13 are probably recruiting members in the area. This is the type of gang, against which, a small city like Durham with few Hispanic police officers would find itself overmatched.

2nd update: The number of actual gang members in Durham is probably in the thousands. Follow the discussion of Durham's gangland at - Durham's Gangland [z9.invisionfree.com]
And see the new movie about Durham's gangs - Welcome 2 Durham.

Durham County Gets New Gang Prosecutor [wral.com, Aug. 9, 2005]
Nifong to remain Durham’s DA [NewsObserver.com, May 2, 2006]
Rape case is a factor [NewsObserver.com, April 28, 2006]
Police: Gang Threats Postpone Murder Trial [abc11tv.com, Sept. 27, 2006]
Mike Nifong District Attorney [mikenifong.com]
Families relocate gang members to save them [USAToday.com, Sept. 7, 2006]
Schools weigh how to keep out gangs [NewsObserver.com, Aug 11, 2006]
Study says black vote aided Nifong [NewsObserver.com, May 6, 2006]
Police OK'd Duke crackdown [NewsObserver.com, Sept. 18, 2006]
No retreat here, Cash says [Ruth's Metro Blog, Aug. 30, 2006]
Damned If You Do. Damned If You Don't. [popmatters.com, Feb. 24, 2006]

Hispanic Gangs in Rural America [TJN, Aug. 18, 2004]
Latino Gangs swarm back to US [TJN, Sept. 27, 2004]
Latino Gangs working for Al Qaeda? [TJN, Oct 12, 2004]

Duke Lacrosse Case [TJN Archives]

Calculated Risk

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naked capitalism - Yves Smith

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