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Virtual Gangs 

Wednesday, Jan 13 1999
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With much ado about the cleanliness of the Internet, it seems appropriate to note a rising virtual interest in online gangs. As of last spring, both the Crips and the Bloods have their own Web sites (Crips.com and Bloods.com, appropriately), devoted to giving gang members and potential gang members "a place to express their talents on the Internet" and boasting of several thousand hits each day.

The sites offer free Web space and free e-mail to anyone intent on posting information about their crew. There are pictures and rants from all over the globe — Los Angeles to Greece — and folders offering everything from detailed histories and perspectives of gang life to book lists with recommended gang reading, such as bios of notorious criminals.

Despite the dripping-blood graphics, numerous guns one has to click on in order to proceed, and a warning that all non–gang members should exit the premises immediately, these sites could be an early indication of a kinder, gentler gang era. This is certainly true of the three rules at each address: no pornography, no drug recipes and no targeting of opposing gang members. The Crips’ locale also offers a link to Tookie.com, a page designed by Stanley "Tookie" Williams — one of the original co-founders of the Crips, who has spent the past 17 years on San Quentin’s death row — with a clear message to "not follow in my footsteps."

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However, Rick Cruell, a detective supervisor with the LAPD’s street-hoodlum task force, is skeptical that real gangsters are logging on at the sites. "The problem sites require passwords and aren’t so obvious to the general public."

And it’s either a hint of prevailing peace or clever marketing that the Crips’ and Bloods’ sites are operated by the same provider, Dirkster Productions. The company seems committed to its mission of promoting a peaceful alternative to street life, even if its first sponsor for the sites is a hackers catalog, furnishing "all you need to know about electronic warfare and more!"

—Greg Brouwer

Need a Light?

The hugely successful 1984 L.A. Olympics transformed the way the world’s games were viewed and run. Now a coalition of grassroots groups working to end gang violence are hoping that the magic of one enduring symbol from that mega-event will help re-ignite a peace movement that has struggled to overcome a lack of economic resources, ongoing police suspicion and sporadic press coverage.

Starting last Sunday, the Olympic torch began its second journey across Los Angeles. One of approximately 100 that were used in 1984, this torch was lent to one of the event’s organizers, William "Blinky" Rodriguez, founder of the Pacoima- based Communities in Schools, by Steve Soboroff, L.A. Recreation and Parks Commission president and a participant in the Olympic relay.

"We wanted to do something dramatic, something to make people sweat, to publicize all the work going on to build a lasting peace in the neighborhoods," explains Rodriguez.

The weeklong event, organized by Cities and Schools, No Guns, Barrios Unidos/Santa Monica, Amer-I-can, Unity One, the Arcadia Chinese School Asian Youth Center and the L.A. County Probation Department, will travel across communities plagued by gang violence, including the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles and the beach communities.

Among those carrying the torch are Hector Marroquin, leader of No Guns; Bo Taylor, head of Unity One; and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "Our idea is to show people that brown and black can be together. We’re having the Crips, Bloods and Latinos all run together down here to demonstrate that," says Marroquin.

As for Soboroff, he says the torch reminds him of the ’84 run he worked hard to organize. "I want people to take away the notion of hope from this relay. And see there’s a lot of people out there working to stop gang violence and offer young people a way out of the darkness."

—Jim Crogan

Supply and Demand

Imagine making customers wait for nearly two years for their order and then raising the price. That’s what the INS is doing to thousands of immigrants who have spent years waiting to become citizens, only to be told to wait and cough up more money.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service more than doubled the price of becoming a citizen from $95 to $225, effective Friday, January 15. If the hike seems steep, consider the type of service the agency has been providing. Currently, applicants can expect to wait an average of 27 months to get their citizenship, according to INS estimates. But in cities with large immigrant communities, such as Los Angeles, the wait can be much longer — let’s just say that MTA subway projects get completed faster than a citizenship application gets processed.

The agency acknowledges that the fee increases are doing little to improve its tarnished image, but it promises that the extra moneys pouring in will really speed things up and would-be citizens will wait only a year before taking the oath of allegiance.

While that might seem like a big deal to bureaucrats, community groups and activists are taking a more critical view, saying that among immigrants even the IRS has a better track record than the INS. "Frankly, our clients are more satisfied with their dealings with the IRS than the INS," says Judy London, legal director at the Central American Resource Center. "At least the IRS doesn’t have huge lag times and doesn’t lose things, and they handle a huge volume of cases."

As for other INS fees, those went up in October, when many immigrants discovered that the cost of remaining in the USA increased remarkably — in one instance fees shot up from $110 to $610.

—Sandra Hernandez

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