The latest in National Public Radio’s four-part series on gangs looks at how law enforcement targeted the 18th Street gang, a Latino street gang considered the largest in Los Angeles. The FBI has been trying to take down the 18th Street gang for more than a decade. The gang has as many as 30,000 members spread across Los Angeles and as far away as Central America. It is made up of a collection of smaller groups, or cliques.
One of those cliques is the notorious Columbia Lil Cycos. L.A. gang detective Magdaleno Gomez says the Columbia Lil Cycos has ruled the streets of Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park neighborhood since the 1960s. Last September, one DVD vendor stood up to the gang. He was shot, as was a 23-day-old baby in a stroller nearby. Six Columbia Lil Cycos members will soon stand trial in connection with the baby’s death. Bruce Riordan, who prosecuted gang cases in federal court, says federal informants and wiretaps make it possible to lock up top-tier gang leaders in federal prison. The cases “are no different in scope and significance from the cases that many people are familiar with that have taken down the five families of New York,” Riordan says. Retired L.A. sheriff’s deputy Richard Valdemar, who was on the FBI task force to take down the 18th Street gang in the 1990s, argues that locking up gang leaders has only strengthened the Mexican Mafia, whose members find ways to send out orders to the street gangs from behind bars.