“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 six 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 about 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 6th season there were 11 episodes dealing with the following gangs:
Vagos (Snitch Slaughter):
San Bernardino County in California is the largest county in the country in square miles. You’ll only find about 2 million people there, however. It’s the birthplace of McDonalds. The county also saw the very first chapter of the dreaded Hell’s Angels. But, you will also find the biker gang Vagos. This gang trades in stolen bikes as well as the manufacture and sale of meth. They are particularly harsh on snitches. They coined the term “snitches get stitches”, but it’s much worse than that. They’ve been known to dissolve snitches’ bodies in vats of acid and grind up what bones remain.
The Vagos were a spinoff of the LA gang The Psychos. They do not fly their patches or colors when they commit crimes. They’re known for trying to keep a low profile on their criminal activities, hence the brutal treatment of rats. In contrast, they’re not particularly loyal to each other. They’ll kill a fellow brother if he happens to be holding a big enough wad of cash.
Tri-City Bombers (Trinity Of Blood):
Brownsville, Texas is the southernmost city in Texas and shares a boarder with Mexico. It is also rated as the most poverty-stricken city in the United States. The population is over 60% Hispanic. The town is loaded with gangs of all ethnic groups and cultures. It’s a breeding ground for illegal immigration and drug smuggling. Gangs thrive here. The most brutal and populace of these gangs is the Tri-City Bombers. They share an intense rivalry with the Texas Chicano Brotherhood who use the same initials. The tension between these gangs is one of the worst in America. The gangs’ codes call for attack of anyone representing the rival gang on sight. No provocation required.
They were once the same gang that split over a woman. Now they are bitter enemies with so many murders of each other that it doesn’t matter what the original beef was about. They actually began as a street football team. Soon they were dealing in a little pot. Before long they were a full-fledged gang dealing in big-time crimes.
Sur-13 (Street Law):
Atlanta, Georgia is home to over 100 gangs. The city is one of the fastest growing metropolises in the nation. It’s prime breeding ground for gangs who struggle to control the drug traffic on the I-75 corridor from Miami to the North. Sur-13 migrated from California in 1995. They are divided into sub-chapters and crews. They carry blue bandannas. It’s a throwback to a seriously misguided policy of the California Corrections Department. They issue bandannas as part of the prison uniforms in the inmate’s choice of blue or red. What were they thinking? The organization runs like a mob crew. They do their own criminal activities and kick up a percentage to the higher bosses.
The name stands for the Southern United Raza. There is infighting between the crews as well as with rival gangs. That puts this gang in the middle of a lot of violence. They are considered the most violent gang in Atlanta and one of the most brutal in the country.
VolksFront (Skinhead Assault):
The motto of this Portland racist organization is “Race Over All”. Their goal is to create an all-white nation or “living space” harking back to Hitler and his dreams of the Third Reich. They utilize many Nazi symbols and ideals. They hate almost everybody from blacks to Jews. They are also violent toward gays, drug users, and sexual predators. It all is a part of an idea of purity they wear about them to justify their violence.
The group was founded in 1994 by Randy Krager. Krager got an early start in his violent life. He was caught in high school planting a stick of dynamite on an outside wall of the school. The gang earns red bootlaces by spilling blood. They believe the United States government is secretly controlled by an underground Zionist organization. Like most people who believe in conspiracy theories, they don’t let the lack of evidence sway them from their thinking. In fact, it only proves they’re correct.
Southside Locos (Crazy Killers):
You wouldn’t think that Oklahoma City would have much of a gang problem. You’d be wrong. The heartland city is home to a gang of thugs and killers called the Southside Locos. At 600 members they are a force to be reckoned with. They were organized as a retaliation against an influx of LA gangs into their neighborhoods. They pride themselves on being homegrown.
Gangsta Killer Bloods (Bloody South):
Columbia, South Carolina is quite a small city. There are only about 100,000 residents in the town. But that doesn’t protect them from gang troubles. Here’s where you’ll find the dangerous Gangsta Killer Bloods. They protect their turf with instant violence. It’s a “shoot first and ask questions never” situation for anyone who might be caught walking down the wrong street.
The gang started in Riker’s Island facility in New York. They joined forces with other Bloods to fight the Latin Kings. The gang was brought to Columbia in 1999 by a James “Munchie” Powell. The gang has evolved into a bit of a split between the old-school bangers and the younger, more violent members who call the gang G Shine. They are one of the nation’s few gangs that treat women as equals.
The Devil’s Deciples:
This gang dominates Detroit. They also deal with the manufacture and distribution of meth. They also dabble a bit in prostitution, murder for hire, and weapons. They attempt to fly under law enforcement radar but it doesn’t stop them from having a reputation of sheer brutality.
They were formed in Southern California. A power struggle caused the gang to split into two separate groups, and they divided the country between west and east coasts. Eventually they discovered cooperation was more profitable and reorganized in Detroit. Members are required to carry a minimum of a $10,000 life insurance policy listing a brother as the beneficiary.
Logan Heights (The Assassins):
San Diego is home to this ruthless gang of killers. Logan Heights get their name from their 4-square-mile neighborhood. They work with the Mexican drug cartels as enforcers and hired killers. It provides the 400 members with plenty of drugs and weapons to be able to easily compete against the other gangs. This gang has a bad reputation with everyone. Other gangs hate them. Even cops won’t patrol the parks in Logan Heights where they conduct their business. The cartels provide them with military weapons and advanced training.
This gang doesn’t fly colors or use many of the traditional gang symbols. They do throw hand signals like many gangs. Their level of weapons and training makes them almost a paramilitary organization and quite violent.
Galloping Goose (Beware The Goose):
Kansas City, Missouri is known for a lot of things. There’s the tasty BBQ and the fanciful riverboat gambling. It has its own brand of music. They are also home to one of the oldest biker gangs in America. They claim a 100-mile rule. No other gang is tolerated within a 100-mile limit. This episode focuses on a detective who assembled a team to create a fake biker gang to get info on this gang by violating this rule.
The gang remains small by design. But they are a tight group. They still believe in hard riding. Many biker gangs use the bikes as a symbol. These guys put in serious miles. They make their money any way that they can.
Sex Money Murder:
Trenton, New Jersey is home to a gang whose name says it all, Sex Money Murder. Trenton was once a steal town with the motto: “What Trenton Makes The World Takes”. But all of that is gone now. Drugs are the largest industry here now. At 500 members, Sex Money Murder dominates that drug trade.
The gang was originally formed in New York by Pistol Pete Rollack. He ended up sentenced to life plus a hundred years. It made him a legend, and now the gang bangs in Pete’s name almost as if he were a martyr. They are known for an activity they call a “wet T-shirt contest”, but it’s not what you think. The idea is to stab someone so brutally that their shirt becomes soaked in blood. They follow the 31 rules of the United Blood Nation.
SNM (Hell House):
In New Mexico the Hispanic brotherhood known as SNM run the streets. The gang came out of the prison riot at the pen in Sante Fe in the 1980’s. The group formed as protection. They based their structure on the Mexican Mafia. They’re not afraid to go after law enforcement officers. They currently have a $20,000 bounty on a sheriff’s head.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The high-definition image is arrived at through an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. You get a strong bit rate. 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. Still, it looks as good as the limited source footage allows.
The Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is not really anything to write home about. You can hear everything, and the dialog works just fine.
Obviously there is quite a dramatic flair to the presentation. Not that the subjects aren’t stunning and dramatic on their own. Still, the episodes go out of their way to ratchet up the tension. There are plenty of gang participants that are surprisingly unrepentant about their deeds and the result of their actions. I find that the most sobering part of the show. It’s all pretty intense and maybe a little hard to watch all at once. But that’s what I did. Watching this show convinces you more than ever that “it’s a violent world”.