Gang Migration

The appearance of Crips, Bloods, Vice Lords, Black Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, and other well-known gang names in new gang cities across the country has created concerns that gangs are expanding and migrating. Migration is a term that actually includes several distinct patterns: franchising, opening "branch offices,'' or acquiring and operating local subsidiaries. Gang migration was virtually unknown until the 1980s, when law enforcement and media reports claimed that gang members were setting up illegal businesses in other cities to expand their drug-selling territories.

There are few instances of gangs operating directly in other cities. Migration seems to be concentrated along interstate highway routes, such as I-75 ('Caine Lane, named for its volume of cocaine traffic) connecting Detroit with Ohio cities, or the I-5 route from Los Angeles through California's Central and San Joaquin valleys (Huff, 1992). Others (Waldorf, 1992) found no evidence of gang migration among San Francisco gangs, either in-migration from Los Angeles gangs or reports of gang members doing gang ''business'' in other cities.

More often, what appears as migration reflects natural social dynamics of residential relocation, court placements, mimicry, and other forms of gang diffusion. Gang migration also has been confused with the enterprising behavior of individual gang members. There have been sporadic incidents of deliberate migration, isolated among specific gangs in specific cities. But most often, local gangs are composed of local youths who may have adopted the names, graffiti, and other symbols of established gangs from the larger cities.

There are few documented instances of gang migration. Hagedorn (1988) reported that Milwaukee gangs adopted the name of the Vice Lords, a Chicago gang, but had little contact with them. Some Crip or Blood members relocating from Los Angeles may have organized small crews to sell drugs, but law-enforcement officials interpreted this as evidence that Crip chapters had opened in their cities. Chicago gang graffiti appeared in Mississippi as young males were sent away to live with relatives to escape gang violence; but this event was viewed as signs of Chicago gang expansion into the South (Lemann, 1991).

Critics suggest federal initiatives and funds to control gangs have created incentives (and funds) for zealous law-enforcement agencies to identify streetcorner groups or drug gangs as interstate gang conspiracies. Indeed, there have been isolated instances of what Carl Taylor (1990b) calls gang ''imperialism,'' where gangs have established business locations in other cities. Most often, this includes drug selling—and nearly always among entrepreneurial or corporate gangs. Their motives appear to be simply market expansion and increasing profits. Chicago gangs have influenced the gang scene in nearby Evanston. Chinese street gangs operate both regionally throughout the New York metropolitan area and in cities in the Northeast including Philadelphia, Albany, and Hartford (Chin, 1990). The Chinese gangs are not involved in drug trafficking, but their multiple enterprises include extortion and the smuggling of illegal aliens.

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