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.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What exactly makes a gang member a gang member?

In the previous post (Gang members don't belong . . .) we referenced the ongoing conversation over at the Modesto Bee.

Here's the recent thought provoking dialog update:
What exactly makes a gang member a gang member? Sounds like a lot of stereotyping going on. You could consider a bunch of Marines with USMC tattoos consider gang members when they are hanging out together right? -

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Opinion: Gang members don't belong in the military or our community

A citizen from California is of the opinion that Street criminals and gang members must not be sent to the military. Bert Cook writes, "If they have not previously been good, honorable citizens in their communities, they will not become trustworthy members in uniform."His experience was in the late 1950s . . . has anything changed?

UPDATE: Been in conversation over there (this post, see "read more" below) with thattalldude. Check out his solution to state budget crunches, especially regarding the notion of early release of prisoners.

read more | digg story

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mother of sergeant fatally beaten in gang initiation takes aim at son’s killer, military

Saturday, May 24, 2008
By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes European edition, Sunday, May 25, 2008 Steve Mraz / S&S

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – Losing a child is like somebody stabbing you in the heart with an ice pick and leaving it in just so they can apply pressure. The ice pick is never ripped out of your heart, just constantly ripped at.

That’s how Stephanie Cockrell, the mother of a soldier beaten to death by fellow troops during a 2005 gang initiation, described the feeling of life without her only child, Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

During a court-martial last week for Airman Nicholas Sims, Cockrell told the court she is not proud her son joined a gang hours before his death on July 4, 2005. She wonders how she’ll tell her grandson about the identity of the father he will never meet.

The 28-year-old Sims — who has been in pretrial confinement for 162 days — was sentenced Friday to eight years’ confinement, dishonorable discharge and reduction to the lowest rank for his role in Johnson’s death. However, Sims will serve no more than six years’ jail time because of a pretrial agreement and credit for time already served. On Wednesday, Sims pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, disobeying an order by being a gang member and distribution of marijuana and Ecstasy.

On July 3, 2005, Sims was one of at least six Gangster Disciples who beat Johnson for six minutes during a gang initiation near Kaiserslautern, according to testimony. Two soldiers were convicted last year for their part in Johnson’s death. They were sentenced to 12 years’ and six years’ of confinement, respectively. A third soldier tried in 2007 was acquitted.

Sims’ court-martial, which initially was set to begin Monday, started Wednesday afternoon.
During roughly four hours of questioning Wednesday from the military judge, Air Force Col. Gordon Hammock, Sims detailed his participation in Johnson’s initiation.

Hammock repeatedly sought to determine why things got so out of hand on July 3, 2005.
"I have no idea as to why it escalated to the point that it did," Sims told the judge. "It just got out of control."

Sims, who trained as a boxer in his youth in Queens, N.Y., was asked several questions by Hammock about the ferocity of Johnson’s beating.

"You’re a strong guy," Hammock said. "If you were on the receiving end of that (beating), how do you think you would have fared?"

Sims’ reply underscored the severity of what the 5-foot-3 Johnson went through.

"I don’t see how anybody could have made it out of that," Sims said.

On Thursday evening, Cockrell took the stand to deliver testimony that captivated the courtroom and brought Sims to tears.

Cockrell talked of raising Johnson as a single mother in Baltimore. At times, the former drug addict and current counselor had courtroom spectators laughing. At times, Cockrell had the gallery crying. At times, Cockrell broke down.

The gang, in which Sims said he served as the second-highest-ranking member, fashioned itself as a family that would do anything for its members. Cockrell wondered where those family values were when gang members continued to punch and kick her son, even after he fell and could no longer stand during his initiation, she said.

Just like the other convicted gang members, Sims expressed regret for his actions on July 3, 2005, and what happened to Johnson. Cockrell wasn’t buying it Thursday night.

"Isn’t it funny," she said. "None of them showed remorse until you bring them to justice."
Twice Cockrell was asked if she had anything else she would like to say to the judge, Sims or the court.

She turned to Sims and then the judge.

"I say to you (Sims)," Cockrell said, "how could you beat [Johnson] when you didn’t even know him? I would say to the judge: At what point do we do something different to make sure this doesn’t happen in our military?"

In an intensely emotional moment, Cockrell addressed Sims a final time.

"I hope you feel some remorse for killing (Johnson) because at the end of the day that’s what you’ve done," said Cockrell while sobbing. "You robbed me of not only my son but my best friend."

Seated among his three lawyers, Sims uttered a tearful "I’m sorry."

Sims quietly wept in his chair for minutes afterward.

© 2007 Stars and Stripes. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Airman details involvement in gang beating

Friday, May 23, 2008

Airman details involvement in gang beating

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Friday, May 23, 2008

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — A military judge on Thursday accepted the guilty plea of Airman Nicholas Sims, who admitted to charges of involuntary manslaughter, disobeying an order and distributing marijuana and Ecstasy.

Sims is the first airman to face legal punishment for his role in the 2005 gang-beating death of Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson.

The decision came a day after Sims pleaded guilty to the charges as part of a pre-trial agreement that limits his potential sentence. Neither the full details of Sims’ pre-trial agreement nor his sentence were announced as of press time Thursday.

The involuntary manslaughter charge stems from Johnson’s death. Johnson was beaten for six minutes by at least six members of the Gangster Disciples on the evening of July 3, 2005. Johnson was found dead in his Kaiserslautern barracks the next day.

With the pre-trial agreement, Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Bishop, commander of the 3rd Air Force and the convening authority in the case, agreed to a deal with the man prosecutors called the No. 2 ranking member of the gang in the Kaiserslautern area. The gang numbered around 30 to 40 members, and Sims participated in at least 15 gang-beating initiations, including Johnson’s, according to testimony.

The gang provoked several fights at area bars and clubs during Sims’ involvement, beginning in 2002.

Sims faced a maximum punishment of 42 years in confinement, a dishonorable discharge, a fine and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

During roughly four hours of questioning Wednesday from Judge (Col.) Gordon Hammock, Sims detailed his gang involvement and participation in Johnson’s initiation.

Hammock repeatedly sought to determine why things got so out of hand on July 3, 2005. Johnson’s initiation was the most violent of the roughly 15 to 20 "jump-ins" in which Sims said he had been involved in the Kaiserslautern area.

"I have no idea as to why it escalated to the point that it did," Sims said. "It just got out of control."

After the first punch from local Gangster Disciple "governor" and former Ramstein airman Rico Williams, Johnson fell to the ground unconscious, Sims said Johnson fell at least three times during the ensuing beating and was kicked by Williams while he was on the ground, Sims said.

Sims, who trained as a boxer in his youth in Queens, N.Y., was asked several questions by Hammock about the ferocity of Johnson’s beating. At one point Wednesday, the bailiff fetched a box of Kleenex for Sims.

"You’re a strong guy," Hammock said. "If you were on the receiving end of that (beating) how do you think you would have fared?"

Sims’ reply underscored the severity of what the 5-foot-3 Johnson went through.

"I don’t see how anybody could have made it out of that," Sims said.

© 2007 Stars and Stripes. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gangs in the Military Ranks -- it's really nothing new (and neither is the debate)

At least it's nothing new that non-conformists who act in concert to disrupt the peace and tranquility of the community live among us . . .

Street gangs were found as early as the 1600’s when groups of roving peasants attacked villages and travelers in England. These early gangs had unique symbols and hand-signs to identify themselves (Tornabene, 2005). In the United States, most urban neighborhoods were (and often still are) divided by ethnic groups (Italian, Jewish, Irish, German, Polish, etc.). Curry and Decker (2003) observed that gangs have existed in the United States since at least the 1870s, and have transformed through several periods of growth since that time. Gangs from the late 1800s and early 1900s were comprised primarily of immigrants who committed crimes and represented the bottom of the economic and cultural scale (Curry & Decker, 2003). The members of gangs in the mid-1900s, however, appeared to have a slightly different composition, primarily comprised of racial minorities – both African-American and Latino, but still representing those at the bottom of the economic scale (Curry & Decker, 2003).

Gangs have evolved to where they are today — a very real threat to the safety and security of our communities. The gang "problem" is no longer simply an immigrant problem, and gang membership is increasingly represented across ethnic and racial differences (Butler & Garcia, 2006). Gang members come from all walks of life, represent a variety of household incomes, and often have stable households (aside from the existence of a gang member in them). Gang members are individuals from many ethnicities, races, and nationalities. Gangs have evolved to become what the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention referred to (back in 2000) as "an increasingly significant social policy issue" (Strategies, 2000).

Gang members can be seen in various businesses, and are employed in many organizations in the public sector. A presence in each of these areas can cause subtle changes to the actions and activities of the gangs, though the gang mentality exists in them all. The question we need to consider is whether allegiance to a gang creates a problem with employment – specifically employment in the military.

The Veterans Voice says: There have always been people in the military that had gang affiliations from back home. Good old white boys who had been members of the KKK or inner-city persons who had been street gang members. Back in the day when the military had a draft, being an ex-gang member was not a reason for keeping you from being forced into the armed services. The Department of Defense just looked the other way.

Moblito reports: in December 2007, Congress passed a bill that was intended to ban members of street gangs and other unsavory organizations. It’s been called The 2008 Defense Authorization Bill and it calls for the Pentagon to put membership in a criminal street gang on the list of prohibited activities for service members. The language of the bill prohibits 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.’”

Well the Klansmen who were doing double duty in the military were ignored, and the bill to criminalize gang membership in the military was vetoed by the President. I won't add a commentary on my suspicions, but you'll note that there were more than enough votes for passing the legislation to override the veto, and yet we've heard nothing about one.

Perhaps there was some concern about, as Dreadnaught reported, . . . while it is obvious that having active gang members in our Armed Forces is dangerous and should be avoided, it is not clear how the military will view past involvement in a street gang.

Or it could be something like rochester veteran's concern about the recent series with “Gangland: Basic Training” . . . that it could leave the gullible believing that our brave men and women in the US Armed Forces are bloodthirsty criminals and a danger to the civilian world.

But, like Right Mind observed: If DoD wants to get serious on gang issues, it needs to make participation in gangs as a disqualifying factor in enlistment.

But it think there's more to it than that . . . check the numbers for yourself -- here.

What do you think?


Butler, R. & Garcia, V. (2006, April). The parole supervision of security threat groups: A collaborative response. Corrections Today, 68(2), 60-63.
Curry, G. D. and Decker, S. H. (2003). Confronting gangs: Crime and community (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.
Strategies to deal with youth gangs. (2000, November). Organized Crime Digest, 21(21), 6.
Tornabene, R. (2005). Gangs 101 for School Personnel, G.A.T.E. America Inc.