Chicago-based youth street gangs have been a problem in the Mississippi Delta since the 1980s, owing to family connections between the regions dating back to the Great Migration of the 1940s and 1950s, reports USA Today. Federal authorities have cracked down on gangs in an attempt to shut down a pipeline that sends guns to the North and drugs back South, says Randall Samborn, an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago. Gang activity in the Delta is significant because the area is rural and poor. Youth street gangs mostly are associated with larger urban areas. It came as some surprise when authorities this year arrested 13 people on gun-trafficking charges from the crossroads community of Jonestown, Ms. The arrests were the latest in a string of indictments over the past four years as federal officials have worked to shut an enterprise that they say takes advantage of Mississippi’s liberal gun-purchasing laws.
In 2001, Clarksdale, Ms., a city of 19,000, had 131 violent gun crimes. U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee says most of the violence was connected to gangs battling over turf. In 2006, a combination of federal and state law enforcement efforts had cut that down to 83 crimes. Gang violence played out this summer inside the walls of Mississippi’s state prison in the Delta town of Parchman. Two homicides in the maximum security wing were blamed on to warring gang factions; four corrections officers were fired over suspected gang ties. A big reason the gangs seem to flourish in the area is that the Delta is fertile ground. Andrew Papachristos, a sociologist at University of Massachusetts Amherst, says gangs evolve over time and become institutionalized in communities, particularly in areas where young men have few other opportunities.