Part 1 of 3
Gangs are fact of life. The numbers appear intimidating until one views the national average. “We have 250 gangs with 78,000 members statewide.
This is compared to 33,000 gangs and 1.4 million members nationwide,” said Tamara Marcantel with the New Mexico Gang Task Force in Santa Fe.
Of the four people interviewed, three local and one from out of town, only Marcantel was willing to be named. For the purposes of this article, the remainder will be referred to by their occupations. These include an undercover agent with the Chaves County Metro Gang Task Force, a student who grew up in gang territory and a criminologist who made a specific study of the local gangs.
The police agent reported that local gangs are neither as organized nor as competitive as gangs elsewhere. “Guys from the Eastside gang will attend parties with people from Westside or Southside. It’s not like California, where a member of a gang can be shot for walking down the street in rival territory.”
The student, who grew up in the Eastside gang territory, disagreed. He said as he showed the gang sign, “You could get shot if you didn’t give the right sign.”
He spoke of intimidation and pointed to a map of Roswell. “This is Barria Fruta, and there used to be quite a few shoot-outs here between them and the Eastside (Chihuahuita) gang.
The criminologist supported the student’s statement. “Some kids have to join a gang for their own safety.
Marcantel acknowledged that New Mexico gangs fought turf wars and often competed in criminal activities. However, she concurred with the local agent, saying they did not have the hard-and-fast hierarchy found in gangs elsewhere.
The criminologist presented another perspective. “These guys are not dumb. They are organized and do have a certain hierarchy. If you want to know who is in charge, you got to ask, ‘Who has the keys?’”
The police agent said the vendettas and drive-by shootings were not associated with gangs, but tended to be more personal, familial revenge reminiscent of the Hatfields and McCoys. According to the agent, crime, too, was a matter of individual choice rather than specifically gang-related.
During a court case tried in November 2011, a gang member testified about a gang-related murder that he witnessed. “All I could think was, ‘This is it. My mother was right. She tried to tell me to change.’ But that’s the gang lifestyle. There are only three ways out of a gang: You’re going to end up dead; you’re going to prison; or you’re going to be injured.”
The criminologist agreed. “The only way to get out of a gang is death, going to prison, or injury. Do you know why injury is a way out? When you get injured you are semi-retired.”