L.A. Cracks Down on a White Supremacist Gang (for a Change)

An Aryan Brotherhood tattoo (not a Peckerwoods one)
An Aryan Brotherhood tattoo (not a Peckerwoods one)

For years, law enforcement has used gang injunctions to ban certain people from hanging out in certain areas. This tool ostensibly cuts down on gang activity by denying gang members a place to congregate. But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, argue the tool is unconstitutional and often used against innocent people, many of whom have no idea the injunction even exists.

The other charge is that gang injunctions are only used against blacks and Latinos. Until now. Sort of.

Yesterday, City Attorney Mike Feuer filed complaints for injunctions against three homes owned and used by the San Fernando Valley Peckerwoods, a "white supremacist criminal street gang," according to a press release issued by Feuer's office.

The action isn't a traditional gang inunction – Feuer is asking for an injunction only against those three houses.

"A gang injunction, by law, has to have a safety zone – a geographic area the gang operates in," says Alex Alonso, a professor at Cal State Long Beach who writes about gangs at the StreetGangs.com. "Peckerwoods aren’t a territorial street gang. So it makes sense that you'd go after a property they congregate at."

The complaints accuse the Peckerwoods of dealing methamphetamine, heroin and firearms. One defendant, Erik Cumshaw, according to one of the complaints, "was arrested for, among other narcotics and weapons-related charges, pointing and exploding a pipe bomb at the nearby residence of a rival gang member. The pipe bomb exploded directly across the street from a public middle school." No one was hurt.

City attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan says he couldn't recall an injunction against a white gang. Neither could Alonso.

"There are zero injunctions against Asian gangs or white gangs," Alonso says. "Never. This is the first one I’ve heard of."

Earlier this year, a couple of surfers filed a civil suit seeking a gang injunction against the Lunada Bay Boys, a surfer gang that holds court in Lunada Bay, a crescent-shaped cranny of highly affluent Palos Verdes Estates. The suit accuses the Bay Boys of being a criminal street gang, of dealing drugs and of defending their turf from outsiders. The Bay Boys, as well as many homeowners in Lunada Bay, have denied those accusations. It's unclear if the court will grant the injunction.

"There are enough white gangs in the San Fernando Valley that could be investigated," Alonso says. "But I think because the fear of gangs is associated with black and Latino gangs, that's where all the suppression efforts are geared toward."

Alonso, who has studied Southern California gangs extensively, says nearly all of the white gangs in the L.A. area are "associated with a white supremacist ideology," with the possible exception of a few surfer gangs.

According to a website maintained by the Gang Identification Task Force, which covers gangs from a decidedly law enforcement perspective:

The typical Peckerwood gang has approximately 5 to 20 members who range in age from their early teens to their mid-20s. Most of these gangs lack leadership and structure. The Peckerwoods exhibit the standard Aryan symbols in various manners to denote their support of white supremacy ideology. In addition to these symbols, their tattoos usually display the phrases "Peckerwood," "Pure Peckerwood," "100% Pure Wood," "Pure Peck," "Pure Wood," "Peckerwood Inc," "Peckerwood Tribe," "100% Peckerwood," or images of the woodpecker bird to indicate set affiliation. Clay Smith's "Mr. Horsepower" logo, and Woody Woodpecker tattoos are popular with Peckerwoods.

Peckerwoods are similar to Skinheads except for one major difference. Drugs. Neo-Nazi Skinheads are completely against any type of drug use. Peckerwoods, much like typical street gangs, make much of their money from the sale of drugs. The "Peckerwood style" is derived from both Latino gangs (Pendleton shirts and baggy pants) and Skinheads (Doc Marten boots, flight jackets, and in some instances, shaven heads).


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