The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bill would ban gang membership in ranks

By Leo Shane III, Stars and StripesMideast edition, Saturday, December 15, 2007

WASHINGTON — Gang membership among military personnel for the first time would be specifically forbidden under language outlined in the 2008 Defense authorization bill.
Current department regulations prohibit membership in any organizations that “espouse supremacist causes; attempt to create illegal discrimination … advocate the use of force or violence; or otherwise engage in efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.”
But they don’t explicitly list street gangs among those groups, an issue lawmakers and law enforcement officials have criticized as a way to overlook possible gang affiliation among troops in the ranks.
“I’ve heard from police officers across the country that there are problems with gangs on posts,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who introduced the amendment.
“The FBI suggests there are problems not only in the states but on bases abroad. So somebody hasn’t been serious enough.”
Earlier this year, Army Criminal Investigation Command announced a jump in gang-related crimes, from 23 incidents worldwide in fiscal 2005 to 60 in fiscal 2006. An FBI report found links between gangs and at least seven military facilities in the U.S. and gang activity and graffiti in bases in Germany, Italy, Japan and Iraq.
Both agencies classified gangs as a small but growing problem within the ranks.
All four services have rules allowing commanders to discipline or dismiss servicemembers found working with gangs, but the new bill language would be the first departmentwide standard specifically banning those associations.
Department spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington said officials there do not expect any changes in policing of troops as a result of the amendment because the current regulation “is already broad enough to prohibit active participation in criminal gangs.”
But he added they did not oppose the language change, to explicitly state that troops must reject participation in gangs.
“Although the Department’s statistics do not support the conclusion that gang problems in the military are pervasive or significantly on the rise, anything that negatively affects readiness or undermines military values is of concern,” he said.
Thompson, a Vietnam veteran, said he hopes the new language also spurs more investigation into the problem by military officials. He said in many instances defense investigators don’t have the same resources of agencies such as the FBI to recognize or identify gang affiliation.
“We want to make sure they’re sharing the same list, identifying problems and minimizing the opportunity for gang members to get in (the military),” he said.
He added that he has discussed the issue with defense officials, and hopes to see more progress on weeding out gang members in coming months. Withington said officials are already working with FBI experts on accessing their gang databases.
House and Senate negotiators finalized their work on the 2008 Defense authorization bill earlier this month. The House gave final approval to the measure Wednesday, and the Senate passed it Friday. It now goes to President Bush to sign into law.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The fuss over alleged gang signs – on Page 1!

By Dave Mazzarella, Stars and Stripes ombudsman
Pacific edition, Friday, December 14, 2007
This photo — which shows a soldier from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division dancing with a Washington Redskins cheerleader at Patrol Base Dragon, Iraq, during a Nov. 27 appearance by the squad — appeared on the front page of Stars and Stripes’ Nov. 29 Mideast edition and inspired several letters to the editor from readers.

Once again, folks are talking about gangs in the military. In February, Stars and Stripes published thousands of words over four days on the subject. I have a feeling people took note, judging from the way it has surfaced now.

Two front-page photographs provided by The Associated Press and published last month in Stars and Stripes started the more recent buzz about gangs, more specifically about the signs gang members make to identify their allegiances. One photo appeared Nov. 14 in the Italy edition and Nov. 15 in the Okinawa and Japan editions and showed a group of soldiers being sworn in as U.S. citizens in Iraq. The second appeared Nov. 29 in the Mideast edition and showed soldiers dancing with Redskins cheerleaders. The event also took place in Iraq.

There were quick objections to both photos, expressed in letters to the editor. It was alleged that two soldiers in the first photo — the one with a group becoming citizens — were flashing gang signs. (The two were pictured close to the center of the photograph.) Matthew Fritch, writing from Iraq, said he understood the Army was cracking down on gangs, and asked why Stripes would show such an image. The matter “should be forwarded to the Criminal Investigation Command for immediate investigation,” he wrote.

In the second photo the soldier dancing with the cheerleader supposedly was flashing a gang sign with his hands in the air. Or so thought several letter writers. "This is unacceptable and your editors must do a better job of quality control," wrote Sgt. Brian Sladky from Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Capt. Joe Smith, writing from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, said: “This (showing gang signs) is a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, if I am not mistaken. Are you telling me that this is the best picture your staff could find, out of the many I am sure were taken there, to put on the front page?” (Smith also berated Stripes for depicting soldiers getting “up close and personal” with the scantily clad cheerleaders. And another writer, Sgt. Marsha J. Vega from Iraq, complained about what she called the authorities’ propensity to repeatedly bring in “hot females dressed in tiny outfits.” She didn’t mention Stripes. This is a debate, in any case, for another day.)

Yet another writer, Sgt. Matthew Merchant, from Camp Speicher, Iraq, questioned whether Stripes intentionally displayed the ostensible gang signs: “[I]f the intent is to point out that the [gang] problem still exists, I applaud you.”

As to the two photographs of soldiers allegedly making gang signs, it turns out that Stripes editors, when examining both photos prior to publication, raised the possibility that the soldiers were in fact doing so.

Regarding the first photo, showing the citizenship ceremony, Leo Shane III, one of the reporters for the February gangs series, and copy editor Kate Moloney, scrutinized the image. They decided it was not possible to determine if the gestures were gang-related. The photo then was published.

Shane and Moloney apparently were correct. Chris Grey, chief of public affairs for the Criminal Investigation Command (CID) at Fort Belvoir, Va., told me: “It’s hard to say with any certainty that these allegations have merit. The hand sign displayed by the soldier in the rear of the picture is very similar to the hand gesture commonly found in the Hawaiian Islands and is not associated with gang activity, and the hand gesture made by the soldier in the front is not readily recognized as a common gang sign.”

The photo of the soldier dancing with the cheerleader was also studied by the editors. Executive Editor Robb Grindstaff said: “None of us recognized it from the chart [of gang signs] we had previously published with the gang package.” My check of law enforcement sources revealed a slightly more confident yet not definitive judgment. The hand gestures “closely resembled” those of a Harlem gang, said one source, who asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the subject. Another expert, Richard Valdemar, a gang expert formerly with the Los Angeles Police Department, said one hand looked to him as if it were giving a sign, but not the equally contorted other hand.

Still, as Grey of the CID noted, “displaying hand gestures is not a criminal act” and showing signs is not proof that the person belongs to a gang. Signals could be considered criminal if they threatened violence or menace — certainly not evident in the two photos Stripes published. And both Grindstaff and Grey pointed out that in modern times, rap artists and ordinary “cool” individuals often display gang signs even if they have nothing whatsoever to do with gangs.

As to the two soldiers pictured, only they know what they were doing. The captions on the photos did not include their names. For the record, I tried to identify them in order to make contact and ask, but I failed.

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. Here are four: Let’s just cool it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Airman to face Article 32 in gang beating

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes European edition, Thursday, December 13, 2007

Airman Nicholas Sims has become the first airman charged for allegedly participating in the 2005 gang beating of Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.
An Article 32 hearing for Sims of Ramstein Air Base’s 86th Maintenance Squadron is scheduled to begin on the base Monday, said Darlene Cowsert, a spokeswoman with the 435th Air Base Wing.
Sims, 28, faces charges of grievous bodily harm, aggravated assault and failure to obey a lawful order, Cowsert said.
The charges were preferred against Sims on Nov. 28.
The charges against Sims are much less severe than those faced by soldiers implicated in Johnson’s death.
Johnson, a soldier in Kaiserslautern’s 66th Transportation Company, was found dead in his barracks room July 4, 2005.
Johnson was beaten by nine current or former servicemembers — including Sims — for six minutes on the evening of July 3, 2005, during an initiation ceremony into the Gangster Disciples, according to previous testimony from Army Pfc. Latisha Ellis.
As a gang recruit, Ellis was an eyewitness to the alleged beating and now serves as a key prosecution witness.
If the matter proceeds to a court-martial and Sims is convicted on all charges, his potential maximum punishment would likely include confinement, dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest pay grade and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.
Sims served as the right-hand man of the local gang’s leader, former Ramstein airman Rico Williams, Ellis has testified.
During the July 3, 2005, beating, Sims punched Johnson 40 or more times, according to Ellis’ prior testimony.
Three soldiers, who stood court-martial this summer in the Johnson case, all faced the more serious charge of involuntary manslaughter.
The first two soldiers who were tried this summer — Pvt. Terrence Norman and Sgt. Rodney Howell — were convicted and sentenced to confinement for their roles in Johnson’s death.
In October, a jury found Army Staff Sgt. Alre Hudson not guilty in the matter.
An airman who previously worked at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and allegedly served as the timekeeper at Johnson’s beating remains under investigation.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Themitrios Saroglou is currently assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and no charges have been filed against him, according to Lois Walsh with the 96th Air Base Wing public affairs office.
Sims’ Article 32 hearing will determine whether enough evidence exists against the accused airman to proceed to a court-martial.
The hearing is similar to the convening of a grand jury.