Blue, Black, and Violent

The 18th Street Gang is one of the largest gangs in the Western Hemisphere. Also known as Barrio 18, 18th Street has become the largest transnational criminal gang in Los Angeles. 18th Street was formed in the 1960’s and it consisted primarily of Latinos, but over the last decade it has recruited members, specifically targeting youth and low-income immigrants from a variety of backgrounds and races. Their colors are blue and black, and thousands of members have tattooed the number 18 on their bodies. Some experts say the 18th Street possesses the capacity to become an organized criminal and a highly successful operational gang due to their illegal activities across national borders, but others view them as no more criminally organized than other street gangs. Due to their high crime rates, hundreds of homicides, and growing drug trade operations, the 18th Street gang operates as a predatory gang.

18th Street has been identified in over 120 cities, and 37 states, including the District of Columbia, the United States, Mexico, and Central America; El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. In Los Angeles, their main grounds, 18th Street has committed over one hundred homicides. Cars are stolen, houses burglarized and assaults and robberies happen every day. Their main source of income is street-level distribution of drugs, but more illicit crimes include human and weapons trafficking, illegal immigration, kidnapping, prostitution, and copyright infringement.

Murder rates in Central America, specifically El Salvador, have sky rocketed to over 10 murders a day, due to the 18th Streets bitter rivalry with Mara Salvatrucha, (MS13). In March of 2015 in El Salvador, 18th Street and MS13 agreed to a truce after years of violence and fighting between the two gangs. An emotional Ismael Guererro said that “the time is right, and we are showing the Salvadoran people we can be peaceful. I have lost too many friends and relatives in the violence. We don’t want another war because we are thinking about our children.” Already the murder rate of this small Central American country has decreased. A big question has now emerged: can this peace last, and if so, for how long? Many Salvadorans believe that the truce only happened because gangs have been paid to participate in the truce, or that the Mexican drug cartels are somehow involved. The truce has been in place now for over eight months, and overall the murder rate has fallen from 15 a day to around five a day, which is a huge decrease.

In recent events, the 18th Street has taken excessive actions in El Salvador’s transportation systems by attacking popular bus routes and murdering any innocent victims riding the buses, including the drivers, bringing the country to a halt. Bus drivers all around the country have been encouraged to go on strike to prevent any further deaths. Due to the 18th Street’s violence, the bus companies have lost over $750,000 a day, and there has been an estimated $60 million in losses for the country’s economy. This takeover has only exposed the major weaknesses of El Salvador’s government, specifically the country’s president, Sanchez Ceren, who promised additional security forces to protect the citizens, but instead left for Cuba for his own personal needs. These instances have been the gang’s latest power play in spreading fear in a country where their presence is only increasing in power

Multiple policies have been initiated to curb 18th Street’s power. One of these has been the peace truce with MS13, but in Los Angeles, a Superior Court judge placed multiple restraints on the gang. The restraints consisted of various bans on three or more gang members from congregating, standing, sitting, walking, or driving in public together anywhere in a 17-block area of Jefferson Park, a large populated and terrorized neighborhood consisting of immigrant families. It also restricts members from possessing any tools that can be used for harassing citizens. However, a 16-year-old youth named Torrie Jackson from the Jefferson Park neighborhood said that “It’s been the same, and it’s always going to be the same. You can bring in the police, but things will never change. They’re still going to be here. It really ain’t going to stop nothing.”

The U.S has only created laws that have restricted the 18th Street, a gang that has always broken the laws in general. Instead of trying to restrain the gang, the government should create programs for low-income youths who have no place to go. They need to help the people in poverty who are forced to fall back into a gang because they have no other options in life. By creating these programs, youths will be protected from violence, and they will be further educated to make a better future for themselves. Though these programs would come off as a threat to gangs, and could further anger them, people will still begin to see that there are other options than joining a gang. They can be saved if they come to the realization that gangs only bring hardships and violence. If the U.S. could better educate low-income families, it would soon become a successful trend, and trends can change a culture dramatically.