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January 14th, 2009 JAMES PITKIN | News Stories
 

Gangland

Digging deeper into the landscape of Portland’s latest gang war.

     
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LIFE CUT SHORT: A gang outreach worker holds a picture of Darius Perry, 18, outside his funeral at Northeast Portland’s Calvary Christian Center on Jan. 9.
IMAGE: Darryl James

The day before he left his North Portland home to spend New Year’s Eve with a friend in Gresham, 17-year-old Ramond Lawrence logged onto his MySpace page.

His mood icon on the social-networking site was set to “savage,” with flames bursting from an angry face. His personal update read: “FUCK MY OG’S MY YG’S IZ READY F4 WAR.”

The war is on.

Police in Portland and Gresham have investigated 11 gang-related shootings since an Unthank Park Hustler was gunned down by a Kerby Blocc Crip in a North Portland church. The slaying set off a monthlong chain of violence among the city’s black gangs, who had gone more than a year without killing each other’s members.

From the moment Darshawn Cross, 31, was slain Dec. 12 at the funeral of his friend’s mother in New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, gang outreach workers say all rules were off.

“It just hadn’t gotten to that level in Portland, and now the barrier has been crossed,” says Michael Johnson, an outreach worker and former member of the Columbia Villa Crips. “There’s no boundaries.”

Outreach workers say the war has drawn in disparate elements of Portland’s gangland, uniting former rivals and making unlikely allies in a bid for mutual protection.

Lawrence’s alleged involvement in one New Year’s Eve slaying is a case in point.

In a shootout near Southeast 188th Avenue and Burnside Street, Lawrence is charged with killing 18-year-old Willy Butler, a Kerby Blocc Crip, just seconds after Butler gunned down Lawrence’s friend, 18-year-old Darius Perry.

Lawrence’s MySpace page boasts he’s a member of Hoover Criminals 74, a Crips-affiliated gang out of Los Angeles. He throws the gang’s sign in his MySpace photo, thumb jutting between scissored fingers. His street name, according to court documents, is “Groove Face.” “H74VER DID IT GR74VE,” his MySpace profile says, with “74” replacing “oo” in both words.

Though he is a Crip, Lawrence told police he was hanging out on New Year’s Eve with Perry, an Unthank Park Hustler. The Crips and their rivals, including the Unthank Park Hustlers, had been shooting at each other almost daily since the Dec. 12 slaying at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

But the friendship between Lawrence and Perry—and the fact that Lawrence is now in juvenile detention accused of killing a fellow Crip—shows that bonds of blood and loyalty can transcend gang affiliation.

Lawrence and Perry grew close while doing time together under supervision by the Oregon Youth Authority, says Robert Richardson, director of Emmanuel Community Services, which provides job assistance to gang youths. In Portland, a small city with an even smaller minority population, Richardson says it’s not unusual for members of rival gangs to become buddies through mutual friends, family bonds or incarceration.

“It’s not like L.A. or Chicago, where you grew up on the South Side, and that’s just who you are,” says Pernell Brown, co-founder of the gang-outreach group Crew. “Portland is a city where it’s not really territorial by neighborhood.”

But that also means when war breaks out, anyone could be drawn in on either side. Especially when one of the main antagonists is the Unthank Park Hustlers, a group named for the park on North Shaver Avenue. Usually associated with the Bloods, Unthanks mix in Crips as well.

“[Unthanks] were more about their money” than strict loyalty to either Bloods or Crips, says Johnson. “That’s what a lot of people don’t know. You had relatives that were either Bloods or Crips, and they were friends with either Bloods or Crips.”

One effect of the Crips’ war with the Unthanks is to reunite splintered factions of the Crips. Groups like the Rollin 60s, the Kerby Blocc Crips and the Columbia Villa Crips now have come back under the blue Crips banner after years of internecine rivalry.

“What were once opposing gangs that had split up are now working together,” says Rebecca Black, executive director of Oregon Outreach. “There was a real rise in Latino gangs over the last few years, and at this point that’s kind of shifting again back to the Crips and the Bloods.”

The New Year’s Eve shootings in Gresham were at the Barberry Village Apartments, a complex formerly associated with the Latino gang South Side Sureños. Now black gangs, pushed out of North and Northeast Portland by gentrification, are moving into the area, referred to by some as “The Numbers.” Cops fear that could lead to interracial violence.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before somebody ruffles somebody else’s feathers, whether it be drugs in a certain area or a girlfriend issue,” says Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Burkeen of the East Metro Gang Enforcement Team.

Police hope the Jan. 6 arrest of Latwan Brown near Oakland, Calif., in connection with the church slaying of Cross, quells some of the violence. Since then there’s been only one gang-related shooting, with bullets fired into a North Portland home Jan. 8. No one was injured.

“I’m hoping the arrest of Latwan brings down the violence,” says Lt. Mike Leloff of the Portland Police Gang Enforcement Team. “There’s still some anger out there.”


FACT: Portland police list 51 criminal gangs in the city and estimate there are up to 3,000 gang members in the metro area.

 
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