It's something we reported on a few years ago: Gang members are using social networking sites to represent their neighborhoods, show pride in their sets and display their muscles, weapons and bravado. Today, authorities are one step closer to them online, however, and postings on Facebook and Twitter are now being searched and cataloged as evidence of a user's gang affiliation or membership.

The “cyberbanging” can be useful to police and prosecutors, who often have to confront the tricky issue of gang membership in prosecuting crimes. Sometimes evidence of being a gang-banger can make or break a case or prove a suspect's innocence. (Highland Park teenager Mario Rocha famously served 10 years for murder largely because an eyewitness' flawed account and the prosecution's argument that he belonged on trial with two other gang members, even though he was not a member).

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, authorities are turning to social networking sites more often to check out evidence or lack thereof that will give them clues about a suspect's gang affiliation.

“When the gang member has basically put his or her admission of gang membership up on the internet, it can not only help prosecutors prove a case, it can also help us disprove a false defense,” Bruce Riordan, director of anti-gang operations for the Los Angeles City Attorney's office, told the paper

Using social networking sites could have dispelled some of the misinformation about the 2008 murder of high school athlete Jamiel Shaw in Arlington Heights, allegedly by an illegal immigrant and suspected 18th Street gang member. The killing sparked an uproar as Shaw's family pushed for “Jamiel's Law,” an ordinance that would have required police to check the immigration status of suspects and turn them over to federal authorities for deportation.

While the suspect, Pedro Espinoza, had a long rap sheet and seemed like the kind of bad seed you'd never want to run into, Shaw's own MySpace page displayed evidence of his affiliation with the neighborhood's Bloods gang, which was at war with 18th Street. (Shaw was also reported to have been wearing a red belt when he was slain).

Authorities, meanwhile, say gangs are using the sites to circumvent gang injunctions that prevent members from congregating on their turf. Using handles and aliases online can allow gangsters to have virtual meetings.

According to the Daily News, “Two of the Valley's fiercest gangs – Barrio Van Nuys and Canoga Park Alabama – have also used social networking sites to get around court injunctions secured by the Los Angeles City Attorney's office that forbid members from meeting in public, law enforcement officials say.”

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LA Weekly