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Organized Crime

Hispanic Gangs

Just like black Americans, Hispanics flooded into Southern California during the World War II years in search of war industry jobs. They crowded into the poor Mexican neighborhoods and Hispanic street gangs grew. By the early 1940s gang members had adopted a specific form of dressing, wearing what was called a "zoot suit." Originating in El Paso, Texas, and catching on in Los Angeles, the zoot suit consisted of pleated baggy pants, a long loose fitting coat, highly polished shoes, and a long chain hanging from the belt into a trouser side pocket.

In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s Hispanics moved into various housing projects in East Los Angeles. Fights between gangs were common, generally over protecting a gang's territory or "turf."

Hispanic gangs continued growing in membership in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Gangs preyed on gangs, fighting turf battles, and often victimizing innocent residents of their communities. Residents, fearing retaliation, would not help law enforcement investigate gang violence. Around 1980 Hispanic gangs began to sell drugs supplied by the Mexican Mafia to make money. Selling drugs was so profitable for the gangs that even more young Hispanics wanted to join.

Community violence escalated with 452 gang-related murders in Los Angeles County in 1988, with 50,000 reported gang members in 450 different gangs. Seven years later in 1995, there were 1,500 different gangs with 150,000 members located in the Los Angeles area. Although the Crips and Bloods were part of these figures, most of the street gangs were Hispanic.

The Mexican Mafia began requiring a tax on the sale of drugs supposedly to help members in prison. Some street gangs refused to pay the tax and called themselves the "green lighters"—tax free and proud of it. Soon they were known as the Green Light Gangs. By 2000 Hispanic gangs were better organized, operated in cities around the country, and were the fastest growing kind of U.S. gang.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawOrganized Crime - Rico, Organized Crime Offenses, Characteristics Of Organized Crime, Early Las Vegas And The Mafia