“A lot has changed with gangbanging,” says a former gang member, telling the Washington Post that the rival 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha gangs now are working together. The gangs, which have established formidable outposts in Northern Virginia, have realized that it’s more profitable, and healthier, to focus on business –drugs, extortion, prostitution — than avenging petty turf struggles. The result is a lower public profile: more sedate cars, fewer tattoos and shaved heads, less overt menacing.
The evolution of Hispanic gangs in Los Angeles may foreshadow a trend in the Northern Virginia suburbs, experts said. Gang offshoots in Virginia so far have not shown a tendency toward such classic gang crime as drug dealing and extortion, specialties of L.A. gangs. Police on both coasts said Mara Salvatrucha is trying to export its business model to the East Coast. The gang’s Los Angeles-based “shot callers” are reportedly impatient with the violent squabbles unfolding in Northern Virginia and are urging the leaders to get serious about making money. L.A. police officer Matt Zeigler was told that MS leaders were “going to send a group of guys to the East Coast to teach them to do it L.A.-style.” Sgt. Steve Newman, head of gang intelligence for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said the West Coast gangs “have migrated because it was easier to sell their dope there.”