While some American gangs have lumped together to fuel their love for motorcycles or to protect members from the heat of poverty-stoked urban fires, certain gangs are clearly demarcated by their founding cultures.
Founded in mafia-mecca Chicago in the middle of the 20th century by Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrants, the Latin Kings gang has grown to charter groups in nearly 40 states, with as many as 50,000 members — 20,000 in Chicago alone.
According to George Knox, director of the National Gang Crime Research Center, however, the Latin Kings is still dwarfed in Chicago by the Gangster Disciples. Though various criminal enterprises are facilitated by most of the most infamous gangs, much of the effort surrounds efforts to corner markets for drug trade. The Juvenile Justice Fact Sheet provided in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Justiceestimated that as many as 30,000 gangs were operated in 3,500 municipalities by 756,000 members. The department showed declining membership through the ’90s, increasing membership during the ’00s and level membership in the first years of the ’10s.
Before the Latin Kings, American gangs of Hispanic descent known as Pachucos formed in the 1930s in border towns like El Paso, Texas. Many credit these enterprises for the organized structure and assistance with immigration that Latin gangs would soon take in northern strongholds like Chicago.
Though not as infamous or widespread as the Latin Kings, other gangs like the Spanish Cobras, Mexican Mafia, Mara Salvatrucha and innumerable unaffiliated neighborhood and prison gangs across the nation have contributed to Latin gang membership showing the greatest leaps in the United States in the beginning of the 21st century. Some studies, like one from the Department of Justice, estimates that as much as 60 percent of Latin gangs consist of illegal immigrants, some with ties to narco- and gun-smuggling organizations in Central and South America.
Some groups like the Mara Salvatrucha have grown in membership by actively revolting against anti-immigration groups like the Minutemen, which helps the United States patrol its southern border with Mexico.
Latin gangs show now signs of petering out. In late 2012, the leader of the Huntington, N.Y., Latin Kings, Angel Cordero, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for violent, gang-related offenses. Fifteen other New York Latin Kings were imprisoned in the wide-ranging indictments. On May 24, six other Latin Kings in and around Chicago were sent to prison in an unrelated racketeering and conspiracy investigation that blamed 20 murders on the group. According to an FBI press release reporting the May sentencings, “The Latin Kings enforces its rules and promotes discipline among its members, prospects and associates through murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, assault and threats against those who violate the rules or pose a threat to the Latin Kings.”
When that will end is anyone’s guess.