Invisible Scourge

While society frets over the threat of school massacres, a more insidious and lethal rampage mounts on the streets, unacknowledged

According to a police report obtained by New Times, several teens told police that Ciulla, a member of a "tagging crew" called "Destructive Children," or DC, was upset because a fellow DC member had been shot at (drive-by style) by members of another "tagging crew" -- Ditching Cop Krew, or DCK. Fortunately for the intended victim, the shooter missed.

To avenge the alleged drive-by, Ciulla tagged DCK's on-campus meeting place -- a park bench -- with the letters DC.

And then to avenge the tagging, DCK members reportedly threatened to kill Ciulla.

Larry Jack received a death threat from a gang after interviewing with New Times.
Doug Hoeschler
Larry Jack received a death threat from a gang after interviewing with New Times.
Guadalupe resident Lucia Madril insists her brother Jesse was one of many killed by gangs in the past few years. But town officials deny a gang problem.
Paolo Vescia
Guadalupe resident Lucia Madril insists her brother Jesse was one of many killed by gangs in the past few years. But town officials deny a gang problem.

So Ciulla, police say, plotted to burglarize a house known to have weapons, then planned to shoot DCK kids during lunch.


For one year, New Times has written about gangs in Phoenix and other parts of the Valley. To report the "Hard Core" series, staff writers covered every aspect of gang life -- from the gangs themselves, their neighborhoods, their culture, their commerce, their victims and their crimes to prevention programs and intervention programs and pilot programs and even programs designed to monitor programs. New Times writers talked to gang members, their parents, their teachers, their neighbors, their pastors. The newspaper interviewed nationally known criminologists, as well as police, prosecutors, defense lawyers and social workers. Staff writers covered court trials involving gang-related crimes and also analyzed special laws that pertain to gangs. New Timesreviewed numerous gang-related databases and conducted computer-assisted searches of 10 years of gang coverage in the state's largest daily newspaper, the Arizona Republic.

We learned:

• Media coverage of gangs is uneven and often police-driven. Following police recommendations, the press itself frequently withholds information on gangs from readers. "You [the press] give them notoriety, that's what they want," says Sergeant Paul Ferrero, of the Phoenix Police anti-gang unit. Police believe glorymongering gang members get off on seeing their names in print, and are prompted to commit more crimes when they read about themselves. Arizona Republic "Reader Advocate" Richard De Uriarte says the newspaper tries to cooperate with police and does not name gangs unless they are "integral" to the story. But those stories are rare. In most articles published in 1999, readers were not informed of gang affiliations.

Although some gang stories in the Republicwere well-researched and informative, especially in 1993 and 1994, when law enforcement agencies were seeking more money for anti-gang initiatives, the newspaper has not published a single in-depth, project-level series on gangs in 10 years.

• In comparison to the dearth of gang stories, the media devote considerable time to stories about child drownings and people who lost their lives to domestic violence or random gunfire. Yet in 1998, 12 people were killed by domestic violence while 17 were killed by gangs. And a total of 28 children drowned in Phoenix in 1996, 1997 and 1998, compared to 37 people who died at the hands of gangs in those same three years.

• The media often balk at airing anti-gang public-service announcements, or PSAs. The reason: By depicting minority gang members, the PSA messages could be construed as racist or politically incorrect. Those PSAs that include gangs into a more general anti-violence message get more air time ("Is It Time to Pull the Thug?" Michael Kiefer, November 11).

• At both the national and state levels, gang-related homicides and other crimes are underreported. The FBI, which gathers crime statistics nationwide, does not require reporting police agencies to single out gang crimes.

And police departments disagree over what, exactly, constitutes a gang-related homicide. In Los Angeles, police say any murder committed by a gang member counts as a gang-related killing. In Phoenix, police use a more conservative method. They count a murder as gang-related only when a gang member kills a person while doing official gang business. Cities that follow the Los Angeles method would log twice as many gang-related homicides.

• There is no law enforcement agency in Arizona that meaningfully monitors statewide gang crime statistics.

• State commissions set up by the Legislature to oversee programs and gang-related crime are all but paralyzed by neglect, incompetence and lack of funding.

• Gangs themselves use intimidation and retaliation to further shroud gang activity in Arizona. Far from being the glorymongering chatterboxes portrayed by police, gang members were reluctant to talk to New Times, and actually threatened to kill sources who cooperated with the newspaper. After New Timesinterviewed Larry Jack, for example, about a crackhouse killing ("Larry Jack's Last Shot," Michael Lacey, March 25), Jack received a death threat from the Broadway Gangsters. In another case, the West Side City Crips ordered a hit on fellow member David Roland, a.k.a. Wink Dawg, after he granted an interview for a New Timesstory on a police crackdown of a Maryvale apartment building that had been taken over by the gang ("Crackdown," Chris Farnsworth, June 24).

• Gangs terrorize trial witnesses routinely, and this year went so far as to threaten prosecutor Laura Reckart as she prepared to prosecute 10 members of the Park South Crips for raping a mentally retarded girl ("The Gang's All Fear," Paul Rubin, September 30). When an attorney asked accused rapist TaRon "T-Bone" Auzenne if he knew what the word "intimidation" meant, T-Bone answered: "To put fear in people's hearts."

All of these factors contribute to the invisibility of gang murders in Arizona.

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