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First in a four day series
When he was 8 years old, he wanted to belong.
Other boys his age were joining soccer teams, studying for vocabulary tests. In bed by 9 o’clock.
This boy, who was raised by his mother on Toledo’s south end, instead braced for the first punch.
The jump-in lasted 30 minutes. Six boys, about his age, jumped him. Hit him, kicked him. Then two “older homies” — boys about 15 — had their turn. The boy ended up inside a trash can.
“I couldn’t get mad at the situation — I put myself through that. I was sore for, like, three or four days, and after that I was cool,” he said, recalling his initiation to the Manor Boyz.
In order to hear and share this man’s story, The Blade agreed to not use his name or nickname. Identifying him, he said, could put him and his family in danger if anyone believed he’s a snitch.
Although he said that, even at 8 years old, he knew what joining the gang would mean, his initiation was only the beginning: shot at 12; in juvenile lock-up at 13; stabbed at 17; and convicted of a felony at 21.
Now, being 22 years old seems like a miracle.
THE SERIES: Battle Lines: Gangs of Toledo
THE MAP: Interactive Map of Gang Territories
PHOTO GALLERY: Defining boundaries
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“That gang stuff, man, ain’t sweet, man,” he said. “ … I’m surprised I’m here to see 21. My brother ain’t here to see 21.”
This Manor Boyz’ story is one of hundreds like it in Toledo. He’s one of thousands of young men and women who, over the past two decades, have pledged allegiance to a neighborhood, to a block, to a corner, to the same violent gang lifestyle that’s killing them and the people they care about most.
Police track known gang members in an electronic database and, although police won’t make public exact numbers, Lt. Ed Bombrys, who oversees the gang unit, said there are an estimated 2,000 gang members in Toledo. There are, he said, anywhere from 25 to 40 “big, major gangs.”
In 2012, gang-related homicides were down from 2011, said police Chief Derrick Diggs, but police and gang members themselves said it’s more dangerous now than it has been in decades.
“Most of our problems are gangs, guns, and drugs,” Chief Diggs said. “It’s all related. … Are gangs more violent today than they were back in the late ’80s around here? Absolutely.”
Fear no one.
In July, not long after a violent 24 hours in which eight people were shot — two fatally — The Blade filed a lawsuit against the city of Toledo for refusing to make public the police department’s gang-territories map.
The suit, filed in the state’s 6th District Court of Appeals, claimed that, by not disclosing the map, police were violating the Ohio Public Records Act.
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The city responded that the map was being used in active criminal investigations and was not a public record.
“They ain’t going to help y’all,” said “Maniac,” 22, a member of the Lil Heads gang, which controls a large swath of central Toledo north of Dorr Street and west of I-75.
Bogged down in court proceedings, The Blade in January set out to create its own gang-territories map with the help of gang members from various parts of the city.
“We know best because we out there,” said “Chaos,” a 28-year-old Southside Folk, which controls an even larger area south of Lil Heads’ turf stretching into South Toledo.
The Blade’s investigation found there are dozens of gangs in the city, each claiming territory for protection from rivals and to earn money — from drug sales, burglaries, and robberies.
The first gang identified by police — the Lawrence Blood Villains — claimed streets in the Old West End in the early 1990s; gangs quickly spread to many other parts of the central city.
Gangs are heavily concentrated in the inner city, North Toledo, and the Old South End. In East Toledo, small pockets are based in public housing complexes.
All of South Toledo — including neighborhoods, such as River Road, with little crime — has been claimed by the Folk. They call it the “backyard.” Gangs aren’t actively patrolling the entire area but claim it for drug sales.
Paul Raczkowski, a Block Watch chairman in the Beverly neighborhood, said a gang can claim a territory, but he acknowledged it might not be a visible problem until a gang needs to “act or react.”
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There are no known gangs operating near Westfield Franklin Park mall or in Old Orchard. Neighborhoods like Library Village and Five-Points are known, gang members said, as “white west.”
There is very little gang presence there, but established inner-city gangs are slowly pushing into parts of West Toledo: the Manor Boyz in Five Points and the Lil Heads just outside Library Village.
Two people were shot at a March 8 party hosted by a member of the Manor Boyz, who lives in the 3900 block of Vermaas Avenue in the Five-Points neighborhood.
And it isn’t unheard of for gangs to venture outside city limits.
Lucas County sheriff’s Sgt. Tony Grove said that for about a month in 2009, reports of shots fired and other crimes increased at a Springfield Township apartment complex where officials believe members of the MS-13 — which reportedly claims territory in North Toledo — were living with relatives.
“A lot of people in the inner city move out [into the county] and bring the same mentality,” Sergeant Grove said. “[They bring the] same gang affiliations, the same shootings — not as large scale as Toledo gets them, but we do see that.”
In 2012, seven of Toledo’s 36 homicides were gang related, but police won’t say which. In 2011, 13 of 37 homicides were gang related, Chief Diggs said.
New data-driven initiatives — surveillance cameras and software that identifies crime hot spots — are working, the chief claims, citing preliminary data that suggest gang-related crimes are down.
Veteran police officers don’t disagree — the first months of 2013 were relatively quiet. Although there have been eight homicides to date, the number of total shootings were cut in half.
Instead of making officers optimistic, it makes them cautious.
Summer always seems to be the true litmus test.
From June through August, 2011, Toledo had 78 shootings — five of them fatal — according to police records. In the same period of 2012, there were 55 shootings, seven of them fatal.
Police did not start tracking gang-related shootings until April, 2011. Since then, 218 of a reported 897 shooting incidents — anything from a fatality to shots fired into the air — are considered to have been gang-related.
Toledo police refuse to make additional statistics on gang-related crimes in the city available.
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The gangs depicted in movies and on television — those don’t exist. Not here. Not anymore.
Shootouts between gangs are rarely about colors or which “nation” you belong to. It stopped being exclusively Bloods versus Crips a long time ago.
Fights these days are about everything, but mostly nothing. Money, shoes, drugs, who you have sex with, whose sister you cussed out.
Most of Toledo’s gangs still associate with one of the nations — the Bloods, the Crips (born in Los Angeles in the 1960s), or the Folk, which grew out of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods in the 1970s — but run in smaller sets, usually the kids you went to elementary school with, or are defined by neighborhoods.
And each gang could have subsets — including girl gangs — created by younger generations who don’t quite fit the profile of the older homies.
Look at the Moody Manor. The apartment complex was built in 1973 and has played host to Bloods-affiliated gangs for most of its existence.
First it was 55 Piru. Then, a younger group that didn’t want the same reputation as 55 started 45 Piru — both were known as the North Side Posse. Eventually, those who chose a gang affiliation there became the Manor Boyz, a third generation, considered by police to be one of the more violent gangs in the city.
Affiliated with the Manor Boyz are the Kent Boys, the Kent Heads, the Manor Girls, the Gotti Girls, Gotti Boys, Young Money, and Young Savage.
In some cities, like Chicago, joining a gang isn’t an option. You are basically born into one as a means of survival in a city that saw more than 500 homicides last year.
That’s not so in Toledo.
Joining a gang is still considered optional. You can be neutral. A “neutron.”
“Being in a gang is a choice,” said Maniac. “It’s up to your discretion if you want to be part of it. … Me, personally, I feel like if you want to join a gang, you got to be a peon.”
But chances are, if you’re from a neighborhood that’s known for gang activity, there’s hardly the chance to be neutral. Someone — be it the police, the media, society, or a rival gang — will associate you with whomever claims the area where you live.
If you do want to join, you have to be initiated.
You have to want it.
The initiation process varies but is always commanded by a more senior gang member. You can be beat in — what is, on the block, referred to as being “i’d in.” You might have to “put in work” — rob someone, shoot someone, kill someone.
“Could be anything to earn your stripes,” said the 22-year-old Manor Boy.
For females who want to join a gang, it’s not much different, although she might have to engage in sexual activity with one or several members of the gang — referred to as being “sexed in” — said “Kid,” 21, a female member of XBlocc, a Crips-affiliated gang just outside the boundaries of the Old West End.
XBlocc, Kid said, doesn’t do sex-ins; you’re more likely to be jumped and beaten.
Once you are in, things can get more complicated.
A matter of loyalty
Families can have different gang affiliations. And even if there is a “war” between the gangs on the streets, families expect peace at home. Loyalty.
“Loyalty get you killed at the same time,” said Anthony Moore II, 24, a member of the LBV — Lawrence Blood Villains, which claim Hollywood and Lawrence avenues.
Members of the same gang — who often define themselves as family — can turn on each other too.
Take Justin Smith.
Smith, a member of the Lil Heads, a Blood, was 25 when, late on Oct. 23, 2011, he was shot on Fernwood Avenue while he and others attended a vigil for their friend, Deandre Green, who was killed exactly one year earlier.
Hours later, Smith was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
A Lucas County grand jury declined to indict Martrece Dobson, who also hung with the Lil Heads, on murder charges from Smith’s death. Dobson, they ruled, fired in self-defense after Smith pointed a gun at Dobson’s cousin.
Dobson was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and sentenced to six months at the Lucas County Correctional Treatment Facility, an alternative to prison in downtown Toledo, and three years of community control. Smith’s friends see Dobson as a free man. And, for that, he has to pay.
He killed someone we loved, said members of the Lil Heads, who are adamant that they are a family, not a gang.
Since his release, Dobson’s grandmother, Anna Branch, said her house on West Woodruff Avenue has been shot up so many times that an investigator told her the only way to determine new bullet holes would be to plug the old ones with erasers.
“You never know when they’re watching you,” Ms. Branch said. They walk up and down the alley. They stalk the house. Then they ambush you. I wish, truthfully, they would leave me the hell alone.”
But, in gangland, that’s the way it works.
“That’s the culture. You know, that’s what comes with this because another … person’s grief and suffering is always going to end up in some more pain and bloodshed, especially if someone was [taken] out for the wrong reasons,” Chaos said.
“Or no reason,” Kid added.
There are rules to this lifestyle, though they’re mostly unspoken. The most important? Don’t snitch. Not if you don’t want to have your house shot up, your car set on fire, or to constantly be looking over your shoulder.
Even the rules for the gang lifestyle have changed in the past few decades. Laws for the lawless.
Elders and children used to be off limits, said Harold Mosley, a retired Toledo police officer.
That, it seems, is no longer the case.
In 2010, a much-adored barber, Racole “Cocoa” Hill, 42, was shot to death outside a friend’s party on Fernwood Avenue, a tough inner-city street with a violent reputation. No arrests have been made so a motive is unclear, but most everyone agrees that Ms. Hill was not the intended target.
Fannie Mae Smith wasn’t supposed to die either.
The 81-year-old grandmother was watching television in her enclosed porch on Jan. 3, 2012, when someone outside of her Fulton Street home started firing.
Ms. Smith was shot three times, once each in her chest, abdomen, and left arm.
Apparently a case of mistaken identity.
No one has been charged in her death, but the streets seem to have an idea of who is responsible.
The shooter was after Ms. Smith’s grandson. A Manor Boy.
“That’s unacceptable and, typically, the community would give them up because … children and senior citizens are hands off. You don’t mess with them. It ain’t that way and it tells me a whole lot,” Mr. Mosley said.
In August, two young girls were shot during a hail of gunfire while they slept on the floor of the Moody Manor apartment where they lived.
It was dark and storming. At least 12 rounds were fired into a rear sliding-glass door. A single shot to the head killed 1-year-old Keondra Hooks. Her 2-year-old sister (now 3), Leondra, miraculously survived a shot in her chest.
In the days after the shooting, ministers and community members gathered at the apartment complex for prayers and mourning.
One of the vigils was attended by dozens of officers from the Toledo Police Department, the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, and Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.
They were stationed at every entrance and exit.
Police had been warned: The violence wasn’t over.
Within a week, three Manor Boyz — Keshawn Jennings, 21; Antwaine Jones, 19; and James Moore, 21 — were arrested. They are facing trial on May 13 for one count each of aggravated murder, murder, and improperly discharging a firearm into a habitation, two counts each of attempt to commit aggravated murder and attempt to commit murder, and four counts of felonious assault, each with gun specifications. They face up to life in prison if convicted.
To understand how Toledo got to this point and where it is headed, you must know how this all began.
Entire families have been swallowed by violent gang culture, resulting in numerous deaths and imprisonments. It has ripped families apart, creating new “street families,” left children without parents, and parents without children.
Crips and Bloods
On the playground, at recess, Alton Williams and his classmates at Spring Elementary School played Crips and Bloods.
It was the late 1980s. The movie Colors had just come out.
Williams, who would have been about 6 years old, and his friends were the Bloods. Another class was the Crips.
“It was just a game,” said Williams, now 31, “but it was a violent game.”
The kids on the playground jumped one another, beat each other up.
Just a game.
The movie about gangbanging in Los Angeles, the birthplace of modern gang violence, didn’t just make for a fun time on the playground, it changed the way gangs in Toledo did business.
“When they say life imitates art … that’s exactly what happened,” said Mr. Mosley, who worked for years in the police department's youth services bureau. The bureau handled any juvenile-related crimes; it was disbanded about the same time Colors was released.
Within a week of the movie’s 1988 debut, red and blue bandanas — means to distinguish Bloods from Crips — started to show up.
People from outside of Toledo — California, Chicago, New York, Detroit, and Cleveland — moved in to basically teach young people how to turn gangbanging into a business, how to establish territory, and, perhaps most critically, how to defend it.
Gang members then became drug dealers and drug dealers became gang members. That’s where the violence came in, and drive-by shootings — which hadn’t really been seen in Toledo since the end of Prohibition — returned.
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At about the time Toledo youth started to claim Bloods or Crips, and most were claiming Bloods, Hispanic gangs started to form, said a former La Mafia gang member, called “Bowman.” Now 35, he grew up as a gang member in Toledo’s Old South End.
He and his friends banded together under La Mafia, he said, to protect themselves from the Bloods, who were always looking to fight.
The demographics of gangs haven’t changed much in the past 25 years. Most active members are young — generally about 15 to 24 years old — and most, in Toledo, are black. There are Hispanic gangs – Locs, Choloz, East Side Vatos, MS-13, Sur-13.
There were white street gangs in the 1990s — notably the Bill Boys who made money by testing drugs for Stickney 33, a Blood set in North Toledo — but white street gangs don’t exist now in Toledo. There are, however, whites who are members of traditionally black and Hispanic gangs, police said.
Most gang members are males, Lieutenant Bombrys said, but girl gang members and girls creating their own subsets are becoming more prevalent.
In 1990, the Toledo Police Department established its first gang task force, made up of 12 officers who patrolled the city in six two-man units.
Detectives were armed with Polaroid cameras taking photos of every gang member they encountered, said Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp who, by the time he was appointed to the unit, had been with TPD for 23 years.
“When crack cocaine came out and then the movie [Colors] came out, … we could see the violence just skyrocketing,” Sheriff Tharp said. “And it was young fellas that were getting involved in gangs. And girls. It was just unbelievable. I’m talking about seventh graders that were involved in gangs.”
Nathaniel Bibbs was one of those seventh graders.
Police arrested Bibbs, a member of the now defunct Blackstone Rangers, time and time again, each offense more violent than the last.
Bibbs, now 37, is serving a life sentence in the Toledo Correctional Institution for murder.
“That young fellow, there was just no helping him,” Sheriff Tharp said. “Every time we would run across him, it would be something more aggressive, more aggressive, more aggressive. You could see the pattern. It was just too bad it wasn’t an avenue to be able to intervene and stop his activities before he ended up killing somebody.”
In the 1990s, gangs were easier to track. They identified themselves by the colors they wore, the tattoos on their arms, whether or not a hat was tilted to the right or left. And you knew where to find them based on their graffiti. You also knew who was next to die.
Whenever a gang was targeting a rival, they would spray-paint on the side of a building a tombstone with the victim-to-be’s name inside. Within two weeks, the person was dead and next to the spray-painted tombstone was an eye with a teardrop, a Toledo police officer told The Blade.
The animosity between the two groups — the gangs and the police — tempered. It at least was manageable, Sheriff Tharp said.
Almost as soon as progress was made and the shootings slowed down, the gang unit was dissolved because of budget cuts in 1991.
Within six months, any headway was lost.
In 1994, a permanent gang unit was brought back under then police Chief Gerald Galvin and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. In a September, 1994, Blade article introducing the unit, Chief Galvin said gangs, in the year prior, had been linked to more than a dozen homicides and 146 shootings.
The organization and structure of the unit has changed in the almost 20 years since its rebirth.
The gang unit is now made up of 18 officers — most working an 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift. In December, five new officers were added to the unit.
“Violent crime and gang-related violence will always be a top priority for the department,” Chief Diggs said.
But even with the gang unit in place, the violence has persisted. Gangs have spread; the number of members has multiplied.
“When we first start claiming this stuff, it was probably, like, 75 [or] 80 of us,” said the member of the Manor Boyz who was jumped in at 8 years old. “Now it’s like 200. The gang just be expanding.”
Now 22, he said he is done with the gang life. It’s nearly killed him more than once.
“Honestly, I done seen a lot of stuff,” he said. “I seen [homies] shoot at polices. [Homies] get shot. My big brother got shot three days after my brother got killed. I’m this close from getting hit by a bullet. I already been shot. I know what it feel like.”
When he was 12 years old, just after he got rid of his first gun — which he stole from his mother’s boyfriend — he was shot in the buttocks during a fight with the Crips.
He’s been stabbed, jumped, beaten with a sledge hammer. He’s stolen cars, broken into houses, robbed people. Shot a few. And if he continues, he knows he could die by the streets.
But what would happen to his 5-year-old son?
This Manor Boy said he grew up without his father, who is in prison for murder.
“I feel like, if my dad was there, I wouldn’t be the man I am today,” he said. “I would probably be better because I had that male role model in my life, who taught me right from wrong, showed me the ropes. Show me how to go out there and get a job instead of gangbanging, shooting [stuff] up.”
This Manor Boy swears he won’t abandon his son. His son will have a chance. He’ll never allow his son to join a gang. “He could be the person to break the chain.”
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.