Ray Ramos and Gerry Pizzano, members of the Queens Gang Unit, gave a presentation at a recent 114th Precinct Community Council meeting in Astoria to give attendees an update about the lifestyles and activity of local gang sets.
“Every time there's a gang incident in the city, we find out about it,” Pizzano said of their work. “Any time there's a gang incident in Queens, we have to investigate it.”
During the presentation, Pizzano showed clips of gruesome videos taken off Youtube and Facebook in which gangs such as the Bloods “bless in” new members by beating them up for 59 seconds.
One video showed a girl getting beaten by three female members of a Mexican gang set. Another, which was shot at Riker's Island, showed a man get “blessed in” by roughly seven gang members at once.
The presentation started out with some background information about gang activity. For example, Ramos and Pizzano said they've arrested gang members as young as 13 years old.
While gang members do kill their own, “most of the time if you're a gang member, chances are you're going to be killed by a rival gang,” Pizzano said.
He said although it's rare for a member to leave a gang, it does happen, usually because of the birth of a child or “they go to jail so many times they realize 'you know what? It's not the life for me.'”
In addition, gang members don't often associate with non-gang members, according to the presentation.
“If you're walking in the street as a regular civilian, they won't bother you,” Pizzano said. “Very rarely does a gang member come in contact with just civilians.”
But they will target members of rival gangs with violence and robbery, usually in a turf war, he said.
As for signifiers, Pizzano said it can be hard to spot gang members on the street. Although they do mark themselves with colors, others wear those colors for fashion purposes or because of a sports team.
“You can't really go by colors just alone,” he said.
The Bloods, for example, wear red on their clothing, although sometimes very little, and in beads that hang around their neck. Some get the beads tattooed on their chest.
They flag to the right on the East Coast, meaning their colors, such as red bandanas in their back pockets, are displayed on the right side of their bodies.
They can also have signifying tattoos, such as “MOB,” which stands for “Member of Bloods,” Pizzano said.
Crips, on the other hand, wear blue and flag to the left on the East Coast.
Gang members also have special hand shakes, but so do non-gang members, Pizzano said, so that is a difficult signifier to go by as well.
As for the videos they obtained online, Pizzano said the Internet is a major source for gang information, recruitment and communication.
“All you have to do is jump on a computer and do a Google search and you can find out even gang members that are living next to you by Facebook,” he said. “So what I would tell parents, you have to be a cop in your own house.”
Gang sets also host “hookie parties,” usually in members' house when the parents are out of town or at work.
He added that a lot of parents don't know their kids are gang members until arrests are made, and advised to also be weary of colors and graffiti they display.
However, Pizzano and Ramos stressed that they did not visit the council meeting because of a prevalent problem in the 114th Precinct.
They said the area rarely experiences gang activity, but they know that members of the Bloods, LA13 and several Mexican gangs do live there.
The heaviest concentration of Hispanic gangs is in Corona and Jackson Heights, with the highest population of black gangs in Jamaica, they said.
The most difficult activity for them to interpret is among the Asian gangs in Flushing, they said.
Asian gangs are more associated with organized crime, don't display identifiers and members are usually born in through familial blood lines.
“It's kind of hard to get a good feel for them because they're so insular,” Pizzano said. “They prey on their own, and for us to be able to break through, first the language and also the mistrust, it's kind of difficult.”