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Published: Sunday, 10/10/2010

Toledo's gangs grow more violent, brazen

BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Shaliah Lacy was home with her children when gang members used bricks and stones to bust every window of her place at Brand Whitlock Homes one evening recently.

Her terrified 12-year-old child fled, leaving his 2 and 3-year-old brothers alone on a couch covered with glass and a gang of teenagers who call themselves the "Wreck Squad" outside his front door.

Since the incident on Sept. 21, Ms. Lacy is so frightened that the gang violence will escalate at the low-income housing complex where she's lived for five years that she sleeps in her car with her three children.

"In the last three years, I've seen this Wreck Squad develop into something out of this world. Going from playing outside to sitting on the stoop smoking weed, that kind of growing up. And nobody is doing anything about it," Ms. Lacy, 30, said.

Gang violence has escalated beyond the fistfights, petty crime, and acts of revenge against rivals that the criminal groups were known for in the last decade.

The violence is intensifying and innocent people are being hurt.

Ms. Lacy isn't the only victim.

Last month, a popular barber was shot and killed by a bullet intended for someone else in central Toledo gang territory.

Soon after, two teenage bystanders were shot and seriously hurt by rivals of the nearby gang.

Toledo police gang unit Officer Herbert Higgins handcuffs a man outside the IGA store on Bancroft Street for possible drugs and weapons violations. Toledo police gang unit Officer Herbert Higgins handcuffs a man outside the IGA store on Bancroft Street for possible drugs and weapons violations.
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"They don't have any sense of life and death or what the hell they're doing," said Toledo Police Capt. Ray Carroll, supervisor of investigative services. "I don't want to give these guys too much credit or give them any sense of bra-vado. They're punks. They're criminals. They are tearing up neighborhoods. People are afraid to leave their house."

Young, upcoming gang members are more likely now to use firearms to hurt each other, Toledo police and former gang members say.

Local activists are calling for a peace treaty among the gangs and improved mentorship programs for at-risk youth.

"We have seen more activity in the last month or so. They are just not getting along lately," said Toledo Police Lt. Brad Weis, head of the gang task force.

Ms. Lacy said the same gang has terrorized at least a half-dozen other families who also have left her housing complex.

One of those is Ebony Depp, 23, who said the Wreck Squad knocked out all the windows at her Brand Whitlock apartment on Aug. 24 hours after she reported her home burglarized.

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Now, she and her two young sons are also virtually homeless, bouncing among the homes of their father and other relatives. She tries to focus on her college training to become a medical assistant and new job as a phone survey interviewer.

Both women have refused a placement in another housing complex operated by the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority. They believe members of the Wreck Squad could turn up there.

"Even if I'm low-income or not, I'm still human and I'm not going to subject myself to something that's not safe for me and my children," Ms. Depp said. "I get up and go to work every day. What I would like is a place where my kids can go out and play in my own backyard."

Linnie Willis, executive director of the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, blames the vacancy problem at Brand Whitlock for the outbreak of gang violence there.

"This is obsolete housing built in the 1930s. It is just not functional, it's just not serving the people," Ms. Willis said of the Brand Whitlock complex. "New housing, you build it in a way that eliminates these security issues. It's all open. You don't have those hiding places."

At least 130 of the 400 units in the Brand Whitlock and adjacent Albertus Brown complexes at Nebraska Avenue and Division Streets are empty and boarded up because units were not reassigned there after many tenants left because of a widespread mold problem.

The housing authority is due to submit an application to demolish the 25-acre Brand Whitlock, Albertus Brown site next month but can't begin razing the complex without permission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development office in Chicago.

It will likely be six months before the application is processed.

When the complex is razed, the tenants will receive federally allocated Section 8 vouchers to move into any traditional neighborhood in the county, Ms. Willis said.

The waiting list for the Section 8 voucher program included 6,000 names when it closed in 2008.

Until then, both women are stuck.

The Wreck Squad was created by former Libbey High School students who haunt Brand Whitlock Homes, and their activity caught the attention of the gang task force about three years ago, said Sgt. Norman "Chip" Giesige, a supervisor on the night shift of task force.

Two teenage girls blamed for initiating a February melee involving about 150 people at the Westfield Franklin Park mall claimed to be members of the Wreck Squad, police have said.

It took about 30 officers nearly three hours to disperse the mob. Police arrested 16 youths, ages 14 to 16.

"It's just a bunch of young kids out of control, and they're pretty abusive, too," Sergeant Giesige said. "Whatever they do, they do it en masse. Ten or 15. Whatever it takes. They cause problems."

Police believe that gang violence is becoming more random and widespread, Captain Carroll said.

It is widely known in the law enforcement community that most gang violence is tit for tat - criminal acts are typically committed as vengeance against a rival.

"Typically, if a 'Blood' gets shot, we pretty much know a 'Crip' is going to get shot," Captain Carroll said.

This year has been different.

Racole "Coco" Hill was killed Sept. 7 by a bullet intended for someone else on a crowded central Toledo street, an act police say was gang-related and in an area known to be ruled by the Bloods-affiliated "Smith Park Boys."

Two weeks later, two teenage boys riding a bicycle were seriously hurt in a drive-by shooting on Cherry Street near Mettler Street, which is claimed by the rival Crips gang "BeeHive."

Dorian Belcher, 16, was hit in the abdomen, and Eric Saunders, 18, was struck in the right knee.

The acts are related; the teenagers were shot in retaliation for Ms. Hill's death, Sergeant Giesige said, adding that the pair were innocent victims.

Jimmy Henry, 21, of 1008 1/2 Pinewood Ave., was charged with felonious assault in the shooting of the teenagers. Mr. Henry is a known member of the Smith Park Boys, which runs the area where Ms. Hill was shot, Sergeant Giesige said.

Two detectives continue to investigate the killing of Ms. Hill, Captain Carroll said.

Ms. Hill, 42, was known as one of the most popular barbers in the city. She was with friends outside a party in the 1100 block of Fernwood Avenue late on Sept. 7 when two people appeared between two houses a few doors down and one started shooting.

More than 200 people turned out to remember Ms. Hill during a candlelight vigil the day after her death. Local activists from the Atlanta-based New Order National Human Rights Organization, run by Toledo native Gerald Rose, have called for the shooter to come forward and local gangs to sign a peace treaty.

"Seems to be more people shooting, the crazy shootings, like people shooting at houses, people shooting at crowds," Captain Carroll said.

In Toledo, some of the worst friction emerges between gang members from adjacent streets or low-income housing complexes.

Though most of the 3,500 members listed in the city gang database claim affiliation with "Bloods," conflicts are more often based on geography than affiliation, Lieutenant Weis said.

Experts say local gangs that adopt "Bloods" versus "Crips" distinctions are typically not franchises or true affiliates of the original modern gang rivals that emerged in Los Angeles in the 1970s.

More than 1,100 gangs in 115 cities nationwide identify themselves as one or the other, according to a 1994 survey by the National Institute of Justice.

Midwestern cities other than Toledo generally report more gangs that identify themselves with groups that have Chicago roots, such as "People" and "Folk," said Cheryl Maxson, gang expert and professor at the University of California-Irvine.

Borrowing these famous names affords a "sort of instant status and reputation" to a neighborhood gang and may be a tactic to recruit more members, said Malcolm Klein, expert on street gangs and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Southern California.

"It's like a brand," he said. "Give me a good brand name and I can sell more."

The "Manor Boys" call themselves "Bloods" and claim Moody Manor apartments behind Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center as territory.

They battle the "Woods Boys" less than a mile away on the other side of Cherry Street, which tout a connection to the "Crips" and rule the former Cherrywood Apartments, now called Greenbelt Place Apartments.

"They are constantly fighting. They are basically in walking distance of each other," Sgt. Giesige said.

Sergeant Giesige rolled out of the Scott Park District Station just after 8 p.m. on a recent evening to patrol hot spots of gang activity and provide mutual aid as a supervisor on the night shift of the gang task force. He keeps a special eye on the public housing complexes, home base for many of the larger gangs in the city.

The task force was looking for a dark, beat-up Chevrolet that was seen at the scene of a drive-by shooting at Moody Manor. When an officer stopped a car that fit the description at Dorr Street and Collingwood Boulevard at about 9:10 p.m., all six patrol cruisers occupied by gang task force officers responded.

False alarm.

Minutes later, another vehicle matching the description was seen in the parking lot of the IGA grocery store on East Bancroft Street in central Toledo. As the sergeant parked, Officer Amy Herrick drew her weapon toward a person in the backseat.

"Out, out, out, out," she shouted. "He's got a gun in the car."

The backseat passenger complied, dropping to the ground to be handcuffed. He later claimed he found the gun in a field near Moody Manor and picked it up for safekeeping, Sergeant Giesige said.

It was unclear whether the suspects could be linked to the shooting. In the trunk were seven small bags of marijuana and pills believed to be ecstasy, along with the firearm.

"We do see more guns," Sergeant Giesige said later. "Guns are definitely more prevalent. Somebody starts waving around a gun. That's what stops the fight."

Some gang members convicted of violent crimes in Lucas County may be sent to an alternative treatment program rather than lockup.

The criminal activity that led gang members to the Lucas County Youth Treatment Center has intensified over the past five years, said Daryl Wilson, residential specialist at the facility.

"It goes in five-year cycles. We have a way different batch of kids now," Mr. Wilson said. "More blatant. More volatile."

"As long as we've worked here, we are still shocked by some of what we hear," said Kineka Wallace, a supervisor of residential staff with 13 years of experience at the treatment center.

Four young men spending six months at the treatment center recently spoke with The Blade on the condition of anonymity. All agreed that gang violence has worsened since they joined as 12, 13, and 14-year-olds.

"I think there is a lot more shooting. Lot more guns. When I joined, it was a lot more rumbles. People were bringing bats and bricks but not shooting," said one teen whose brother is a gang member.

The use of firearms was typically reserved for protection or retaliation against a rival gang member. The youths said they armed themselves before they walked into a party, traveled to another part of town, or otherwise anticipated a fight.

Weapons might be stolen from a neighbor or borrowed from "people that got 'em, or let you use them. It was networking in a negative way," the 17-year-old boy whose brother followed him into the gang said.

According to their brand of street justice, spraying the outside of a home with bullets in a drive-by shooting is a warning that the victim is due a "give back," said another who first learned the code as a 12-year-old gang leader.

"Say I go to an unknown area and I get jumped and go back to my area. They say, 'Where they at?' And we plot and plan," the young man said, adding that most acts of gang violence have a meaning. "Basically when people shoot, bullets got a mind of their own."

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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