“They rob, kill, and terrorize, and they’ve left their mark on our nation’s history.”
It’s hard for me to believe that Gangland has been on History for five years now and I’ve only recently heard about it. Certainly, there are a ton of shows on every year, what with so many new networks trying to come up with original material. History has found a way to consistently bring out relatively solid programming without having to spend a lot of cash on the production budget. Everybody wants their 15 minutes, and it’s exactly shows like Gangland that manage to take full advantage of that fact. It doesn’t hurt that we have a morbid curiosity of such things. Credit the show for doing more than exploiting that fascination with violence, particularly when it reflects the real world, as well. I have to admit that there is more than a little bit of educational value to the series. I spent 12 years as a detective, so I’m more than a little familiar with the gangland elements plaguing our inner cities. I also spent many years working with at-risk children to help give them a chance to avoid the traps depicted in this series. But with all of that experience, I still discovered there was a ton I did not know about the various gang elements and how they varied from city to city or region to region across this troubled country. It also brings the recent immigration controversy into crystal clear perspective. Watch a few episodes of Gangland and you won’t find it so hard to understand why states like Arizona are trying to do anything they can to protect themselves. The answers might very well be open for debate. The problem sure as heck isn’t.
Each episode of Gangland focuses on a different criminal organization. In the 5th season there were 11 episodes dealing with the following gangs:
The Imperial Klan Of America:
This modern-day white-supremacy group combines the old-school hatred and racism of the infamous KKK with a more modern gang philosophy. These guys have built on the ashes of the old organization and created a loose confederacy of organization with similar racist ideals and policies. While they claim to be a non-violent version of the old system, their members have been responsible for some horrible crimes of hatred. What surprises me most here is how many of these people are proud enough of these beliefs to waive the usual blurred faces and distorted voices. At least their predecessors were ashamed enough to hide behind those white hoods.
This Dominican gang is known for their brutal use of the machete to attack their victims. It has the dual effect of being an efficient killing technique as well as instilling terrible fear in any would-be enemies. This is primarily a New York City gang with roots going back to Riker’s Island prison.
This is a Mexican gang. Again, this gang formed in the Texas prison system where it spilled over into the streets of both sides of the border. This is a big drug-smuggling operation. Their partners are the ruthless Mexican drug cartels. They’ve made their reputation by an unflinching willingness to carry out executions for the cartels. These guys have been responsible for killing over 1600 people in one Mexican town alone in a year.
4 Corner Hustle:
West Chicago is the birthplace of this ruthless gang. This black gang is all about the green. They’ll do anything to make money. They’re not afraid to fight. They’re not afraid to die. They proudly show off their gunshot wounds and knife scars as badges of honor. Like many such gangs, an insult to one is an insult to all.
This Haitian gang has terrorized the streets of South Florida for decades now. They are different from most gangs in a few ways. They do not display colors. They don’t usually gather in the streets. They use the world of gangsta rap music to spread their brotherhood and their violence. It’s all about the street cred here. There is no real hierarchy, so it’s a tough gang to identify and bring down. That doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.
These guys have been around for a long time. You might think there isn’t anything new to learn about these dudes. This episode looks at the Canadian branch of the biker gang. There just hasn’t been a more successful gang in history.
Houston, you have a problem. This white-supremacy gang makes its home in the heart of the Texas city. This is a family gang that incorporates women and children in an attempt to indoctrinate them into their racist ways. They utilize Norse mythology in their symbols and structures. This is more of a religion to these folks than a gang.
This isn’t the Georgia football squad we’re talking about here. They’re far more violent than most gangs dare to be. These guys take on the cops, and they’re not afraid to kill one if he gets in their way. They’re one of the largest street gangs and are over 4500 strong. They started in Fresno and have co-opted that school’s team name and symbols as their “colors”. That makes them that much harder to recognize.
This is a small but extremely violent group. They thrive in the Philly area, and I’m sure glad I never ran into these guys when I lived in those parts. These guys are so brutal that even the DA guys on this episode are hiding their identity. They mainly deal and take meth, which contributes to their violent nature.
Nashville is singing a sad song indeed whenever these guys are out and about. They’re less about the money crimes and more about gang-banging and killing. They like the violent lifestyle and just don’t plan to grow old.
At 14,000 members, this Houston gang is one of the largest in the country. They began strictly as a prison gang, and while many members are able to leave that life behind once they’re out, many don’t. You actually have to have served at least 8 months in prison to be considered for membership. They have no colors or dress. They use modified version of civic pride dress like Houston shirts and caps. Their symbol is the old Astros star and rainbow.
Watching this show you’ll learn that many of these gangs share things in common. Most express great pride in their “brotherhood”. They’re not afraid of violence. Most of the gangs began as protection organizations in prison and spilled out on the streets. There is often a huge racial element to the gangs. Tattoo art is a primary way that these gangs show their affiliations and pride. The episodes give you a good history on each gang and show the group’s evolution over the years. You’ll hear from plenty of gang members both former and ongoing, as well as law enforcement officers and task force members. The episodes are often quite graphic, and while there is an advisory warning before each episode the language is bleeped throughout. It’s a sobering look at parts of this country most of us never see.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It’s disappointing that the image is a non-anamorphic presentation. Haven’t we gotten past that yet? It annoys me because I have to readjust my picture after each and every episode. Otherwise, this show is not about the image presentation. Much of the footage is raw street stuff and badly preserved news broadcasts. It reminds me of those old Geraldo specials. The interviews are often against a black background, so again nothing special.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is not really anything to write home about. You can hear everything and the dialog works just fine.
Some might consider the show to be exploitive. It certainly hypes the action, so I can’t say that I disagree. There are dramatic devices that are obviously intended to ratchet up the fear factor. Let’s be honest here. Television is a ratings game, and this series hasn’t lasted ten years as an educational public service. If you want to blame someone for that, we have no farther to look than ourselves. Networks air what we watch. It’s that simple. Still, there is an educational value to it all. No matter how street-smart you might consider yourself, there’s something here you didn’t know. I can guarantee that point. For any of us who might wish to, as Southwest invites us, travel freely around the country, “You got to be aware of where you at”.