The New Today

Commentary

Gang violence worldwide

A gang is a group of people, especially young people, who go around together and often deliberately cause trouble.

Gang activity means any act (e.g., recruitment with use of intimidation, tagging or marking, assault, battery, theft, trespassing, or extortion) performed by a gang member or on behalf of a gang, and intended to further a common criminal objective.

Countries worldwide have been battling a spike in violence from global gangs that run rampant criminal syndicates involving drug trafficking, extortions, and homicides.

NORTH AMERICA
USA: Some 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs are criminally active in the U.S. today. Many are sophisticated and well organised; all use violence to control neighbourhoods and boost their illegal money-making activities, which include robbery, drug and gun trafficking, prostitution and human trafficking, and fraud. Many gang members continue to commit crimes even after being sent to jail.

CANADA has about 434 youth gangs with roughly 7,000 members nationally. Ontario has the highest number of youth gangs and youth gang members in absolute terms, with 216 youth gangs and 3,320 youth gang members.

There is a violent Montreal street gang which is now selling drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, raising concerns about increased tensions with local drug sellers.

MEXICO: A wave of violence terrorised Mexico as criminals killed with impunity in late 2023. These killings left dozens of Mexicans dead, and few held accountable. Five medical students were found dead inside a vehicle, their bodies bearing signs of torture. Four bystanders were fatally shot by gunmen who fired at a hair salon. Eleven young people were gunned down by criminals who shot up a holiday party.

THE EUROPEAN UNION
Criminal networks in the European Union are penetrating legal businesses across the 27-nation bloc and rely heavily on corruption to develop their activities. Countries have been confronted with crime and violence committed by various types of criminal groups, varying from (juvenile) street gangs to hooligan firms, and from outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) to mafia-type organisations, for example, in Belgium, with Antwerp, the main gateway for Latin American cocaine cartels into the continent, gang violence has been rife in the port city for years.

With drug use on the rise across the whole country, federal authorities say trafficking is rapidly penetrating society.

THE UNITED KINGDOM
In the United Kingdom, gang-related organised crime is concentrated around the cities of London, Manchester, and Liverpool and regionally across the West Midlands region and the south coast and northern England, according to the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency.

In London, gang violence accounts for a relatively small proportion of overall levels of violent crime, but it represents a significant percentage of the most serious offences (for example, 81 percent of all shootings).

LATIN AMERICA
For most of the 20th century, Latin America was portrayed as one of the world’s most peaceful regions. Coups and repressive military regimes had long been commonplace but widespread civil disorder and war were relatively rare.

Today, however, the world is slowly waking up to a very different reality.

Surging levels of violence now mean that mortality rates in Latin America often exceed those seen in the world’s conflict areas.

In 2021, Latin America had the highest murder rate in the world at almost three times the global regional average. Ecuador is one country that has seen a particularly massive spike in violence in recent years. Masked gunmen stormed a live news broadcast on January 9, 2024, and the Prosecutor investigating the attack was murdered just days later.

Ecuador’s military was sent in to seize control of the country’s prisons last month after two major gang leaders escaped and criminal groups quickly set off a nationwide revolt that paralysed the country.

In Brazil, in April 2024, two inmates with connections to a major gang became the first to escape one of the nation’s five maximum-security federal prisons, officials said.

Officials in Colombia have declared an emergency in its prisons after two guards were killed and several more targeted in what the government said was retaliation for its crackdown on major criminal groups.

Inside prisons across Latin America, criminal groups exercise unchallenged authority over prisoners, extracting money from them to buy protection or basic necessities, like food. Those sent to prison are often left with one choice: join a gang or face their wrath.

As a result, prisons have become crucial recruitment centers for Latin America’s largest and most violent cartels and gangs, strengthening their grip on society instead of weakening it.

Prison officials, who are underfunded, outnumbered, overwhelmed, and frequently paid off, have largely given in to gang leaders in many prisons in exchange for a fragile peace.

THE CARIBBEAN
HAITI: In Haiti, gang violence has eroded the rule of law and brought state institutions close to collapse. More than 1,500 people have been killed in gang violence in Haiti so far this year. The U.N. human rights office reported that gang violence had left 1500 people dead and 826 injured this year, as of March 22.

A new report released by the agency described a surge in sexual violence by gang members, including rapes of women, often after having witnessed the killing of their husbands. The gangs have overthrown the government, allegedly with the support of political and economic backers.

JAMAICA: In January 2024, thirty-one (31) alleged members of that country’s most notorious gang, Klansman, were arrested across the parish of St Catherine and charged for being members of a criminal organisation, and other crimes.

Last year, 15 members of the ‘One Don’ faction of the same gang, including their leader, Andre ‘Blackman’ Bryan, were sent to jail for various terms after a trial that began with 33 accused gangsters. The police say Klansman factions have been linked to at least 800 killings in the past decade.

BELIZE: The spread of gangs among Belizeans accelerated in the 1980s. Following a wave of gang violence in the USA, ethnic Belizean gang members were deported back to Belize. Deported Belizean gang members quickly spread the culture of Bloods and Crips in Belize City. While the gang was in Belize, it adopted its current name.

The Rollin’ 30s Harlem Crips were established in New York City by Dalmin “Diamond” Mayen, his two brothers and several other associates, who set up a drug enterprise in the blocks surrounding 118th Street and Fifth Avenue after arriving from Belize in the late 1980s or early 1990s. By 1995, the gang was active in Harlem and responsible for several assaults and shootings. In 1997, the gang was making $4,000 per day in drug sales.

THE BAHAMAS: Gang-on-gang violence has resulted in a high homicide rate primarily affecting the local population, with the most-affected islands of New Providence, including Nassau and Grand Bahama, where Freeport is located. Violent crimes such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults, occur in both tourist and non-tourist areas.

SURINAME: There are no notably powerful or well-structured mafia-style groups dominating important areas of criminal activity in Suriname.

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GUYANA: Guyana experienced a string of political and criminal gang activity between 2002 and 2006. This violence was the result of simmering political and ethnic tensions between the Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese communities.

The significant rise in crime came after a prison break in February 2002 during Mashramani, a day-long festival that celebrates the establishment of the Guyanese Republic. Five Afro-Guyanese criminals escaped from the Georgetown jail, quickly formed a gang, and began a ‘rash of robberies, carjackings, murders and kidnappings.

Like most countries in the Caribbean, Guyana has several local gangs and notable criminals. Unlike other countries in the region, however, Guyanese gangs lack many of the characteristics that tend to define street gangs.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: The most violent year in Trinidadian history was 2022, marking 605 deaths by homicide as compared to the 1.6 million Trinidadian population with approximately 40 percent of these homicides resulting from gang violence. While the number of homicides decreased to 576 in 2023, the change is far from significant.

With the first murder of 2024 being due to a gang-related crime, the problem of gang violence in Trinidad is far from over. In 2023, there was also a rise in the number of women murdered due to gang violence, with homicide rates from gangs second to those caused by domestic violence.

The number of women working for gangs has also increased, and there is a strong likelihood that some gangs may soon become predominantly female. Additionally, many young students in 2023 and 2024 have self-reported to being gang members.

BARBADOS: Barbados has so far avoided the major risk factors that have seen homicides soar in other Caribbean nations. Its gangs are highly localised and involved primarily in micro trafficking, as the island is not part of any significant overseas drug trafficking routes.

However, these gangs are far from harmless. They are behind many of the country’s homicides and members reportedly rent guns to each other for 10,000 Barbadian dollars (US$5,000).

ANTIGUA & BARBUDA: After popular gangs like Bloods and Crips fizzled out years ago, dangerous gangs are popping up once again in Antigua & Barbuda. In 2023, a 15-year-old student at the Antigua Grammar School, was rushed to hospital following what appeared to have been a premeditated attack by three unknown young men wearing hoodies and armed with a machete.

The child sustained chops to the back of his head and right elbow. It is said that gangs called – 2 Drilly, its affiliate 2 Drilly Girls, and alleged rival 700 Bones – were behind the attacks. The gangs, which consist of children between the ages of 13 to 16 years were reportedly formed in schools and the students have been observed posing with weapons in online posts and announcing their next targets-other school children.

ST KITTS & NEVIS: Gangs have been in existence in St. Kitts & Nevis for many decades, but recently there has been a very significant increase in their numbers, as well as an increase in the number of youths affiliated with gangs, gang-youth drug involvement and gang violence. Their activity has become more violent and a major social problem in the twin-island Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

DOMINICA: While there are no mafia-style gangs operating in Dominica, there are a number of minor domestic gangs, engaging in the local drug trade, petty crimes and feuds over territory. These gangs have a moderately small membership and do not appear highly organised.

ST. LUCIA: St Lucia’s street gangs are increasingly at each other’s throats as this country has been a transit hub for South American cocaine going to the US and Europe.

ST.VINCENT & THE GRENADINES: On the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, gun-related crimes and cocaine trafficking are accelerating like a runaway train, and the authorities appear to be at a loss for a solution. In addition to weapons and cocaine, violent crimes against women are on the rise.

Last year, one of two warring gangs in St. Vincent has promised to avenge the death of one of the two men killed in Ottley Hall. The groups have threatened to continue to attempt to kill each other’s members, saying that there will be “no white flag” or “peace treaty” and that it is not a “media war” or “police war”.

GRENADA: While there are no mafia-style groups operating in Grenada, there is evidence pointing to the presence of loose criminal networks of gangs across the country. These groups, which dominate micro-trafficking and petty crime, extort substantial control over the neighbourhoods in which they operate.

They have significant access to guns, and they have links to other loose criminal networks in Guyana, Venezuela, and St Vincent, who supply them with cannabis and cocaine for onward distribution to Europe and the US. Criminal actors from these countries – in particular, Venezuela and Guyana – have a presence in Grenada and are mainly in control of the cocaine that is shipped in go-fast vessels.

CONCLUSION
Gang violence is now a global problem. Once limited to a small number of cities in the United States, gangs can now be found on six continents. The spread of gangs is especially troubling because of the concomitant increase in violence and crime. Gangs reflect the culture and context of the country in which they are active, with important differences across countries and regions of the world.

In the Caribbean, Jamaica, Trinidad, The Bahamas, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and St. Lucia have been among countries in the 15-nation CARICOM group of countries complaining the most about violent crimes linked to gang warfare and drug smuggling among other issues.

Here in Grenada, gang violence is now in our backyard. There’s a loose criminal network of gangs across the country. They have links to other criminals in Guyana, Venezuela and St Vincent who supply them with marijuana and cocaine for onward distribution to Europe and the US.

Grenada is now a main transshipment point to North America and Europe. Being an island, it is difficult to defend its borders. Drugs and guns can be dropped in the night on any unmanned beaches or rocks by speed boats or fake fishing boats from Latin America or St Vincent & the Grenadines to be collected by locals who pretend they are fishing.

Most times these drugs do not come onshore but are collected on the water by larger vessels for onward shipment. Those that come onshore may make their way through our ports with or without the knowledge of port officials. Sniffer dogs and drug scanners might be necessary to assist them.

Simeon Collins is a former Director of the Grenada Bureau of Standards and first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA), a CARICOM Institution. He is also a certified OSHA Auditor