A man was shot in the face in Pearl last year as he drove down I-20.
Police initially thought the shooting might have been a road rage incident, but they later determined it was a hit called down by the Aryan Brotherhood, according to the Pearl Police Department. Brett Davis, 29, and Andrew Walters, 27, both of Picayune, were charged with attempted murder in that June 2016 assault. Investigators said the man they shot was also a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, the nation’s oldest major white supremacist prison gang and a national crime syndicate.
In many municipalities around Mississippi, the idea of gang activity is downplayed or denied. Most law enforcement officials say, however, that the organized crime is everywhere.
Nationally renowned gang expert Tony Avendorph says he regularly hears the stories from officers with Jackson hospitals in the classes he teaches in Mississippi.
“They get the shot-up gang members, the stabbed-up gang members, and when the ambulance brings them into the emergency rooms, the gang members of the victims come in to make sure their homeboy is alright,” Avendorph said. “A lot of times the rivals will follow them in there to start more stuff, so you have to be aware of what you’re dealing with out here, you have to know what you’re looking for, you have to look for ink, you have to understand their mentality.”
The University of Mississippi Medical Center has 70 certified police officers and 32 security guards on staff, in addition to security measures such as metal detectors, which keeps such groups from coming on to campus. UMMC confirmed its officers are certified through the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy and trained in gang recognition.
If gangs are so prevalent, why isn’t more heard about them? Officials say a suspect’s gang involvement usually isn’t included in official statements or information released to the media, and it doesn’t always show up in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.
And yet, there are several major cases each year in which large numbers of suspects identified by investigators as gang members have been arrested, indicted and convicted together in charges ranging from drug sales to gun theft to human trafficking to murder.
The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics says, if not every case, then the overwhelming majority of the drug cases they work in Hinds County are gang-related. Some are neighborhood gangs, some are national gangs with rank structures that MBN agents say are “more organized than some of our state agencies.” And that’s apparently not unusual.
“Fact of the matter is we have a gang problem in Mississippi, we have a gang problem in Hinds County, we have a gang problem in Jackson. But it’s not just Jackson. We have a gang problem in pretty much every municipality in the state,” said MBN Director John Dowdy.
Of all the validated gang members in the state, Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators says 53 percent are white, while the rest are black, Latino and other minorities.
The Fusion Center, which is an intelligence center made up of personnel from many federal, state and local agencies and which operates under the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security, is working on keeping up with people in the state who have been validated by various agencies, said MDHS Director Mark McKee.
“We’ve put together a database of known gang members and we’re continuing to build on it,” McKee said. “A lot of people are contributing to that. It’s not just us, not just MDOC (Mississippi Department of Corrections), the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators is working with us on that, too.”
The three biggest national gangs in the state are the Gangster Disciples, the Bandidos, and the Simon City Royals, according to the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators. But there are healthy numbers of many other gangs as well.
There are at least two major outlaw motorcycle gangs in Mississippi: The Bandidos and the Sons of Silence. The Bandidos have chapters in north Mississippi, in central Mississippi, and on the Coast.
According to authorities, there are Gangster Disciples, Crips, 4-Corner Hustlers and Vice Lords in Hattiesburg, and a recent crackdown by Hattiesburg Police Departmentand other agencies was set up after several shootings and other crimes police deemed to be gang-related. They wanted to make a statement that gang violence is not acceptable in the Hub City, officials said.
On the Gulf Coast, authorities say they are aggressively pursuing gang crime. District Attorney Tony Lawrence said the majority of their crime comes from Gangster Disciples, Simon City Royals, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings.
According to MBN, the Coast also has a population of Asian gangs known as the Dragon Family/Royal Family, True Viet Boys, and the Viet Boyz. The Dragon Family is a known rival of the Viet Boyz.
When Jeremy Jerome Jackson, 30, was found decapitated with his body burned in Jackson in June, talk of certain organizations popped up immediately. Decapitation and burning of the body are signatures of some Mexican drug cartels and the MS-13 street gang, which often work in conjunction, according to gang experts.
Both the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators and Avendorph have confirmed the presence of MS-13 in Mississippi, however at this point no suspects have been identified in the homicide.
“We definitely have a violent crime problem, and some of that problem is attributed to the gang problem that we have,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze. “Local law enforcement, state law enforcement, federal law enforcement are actively involved in trying to combat it.”
When Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher headed MBN, he said he’d ask each of his captains to identify the biggest drug dealer in his area of response “and we’d go after them.”
“And more times than not, that big drug dealer has a gang connection,” Fisher said.
But in some neighborhoods in some cities, the organizations don’t have familiar names. They are the Bound Street Posse, the 200 Money Gang (2MG), the North Inn Playas, and the like.
“They’re neighborhood to neighborhood, but they’re the same people by different names,” Avendorph said. “And either you’re in a gang or you’re not... They might name themselves after the particular side of town they are, or the apartment complex they might live in, but they’re just as dangerous as the national gangs like the Gangster Disciples or the Vice Lords. For this to be a denial and for politicians or law enforcement to refer to these folks as wannabes only pumps up these gang members into showing them that they’re not.”
One local organization that has put itself on the map in recent years is the Sipp Mob in Batesville. Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators spokesman Jimmy Anthony, who works for the Panola County Sheriff’s Department, said Sipp Mob is a prime example of the violent hybrid gangs looking for recognition.
“If you check the surrounding jurisdictions from us, someone from the Sipp Mob has been involved in almost every club or party shooting. They go in and antagonize so they can be recognized. They come rolling four, five, six members deep and if they see some Gangster Disciples or some Vice Lords and there’s only two of them, they’ll challenge them if they see they have bigger numbers,” he said. “They’re the perfect example of the neighborhood clique. They’re trying to earn their status.”
The FBI’s Violent Crimes Unit and Safe Streets Task Force work against gang activity and other violent crime around the state. In recent months, team efforts with the FBI, MBN, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, and local agencies have turned over several cases in which both national and neighborhood groups have been targeted.
“There are neighborhood gangs, small groups that operate in parts of a city, parts of the state, that may not have a national affiliation,” said Freeze. “Yes, I think they are as dangerous. Whether or not they’re as pervasive, we can discuss that, but they’re still gangs that are involved in organized illegal activities that you would think about when you think about the national gangs.”
Those activities include drugs, prostitution and human trafficking, and violent crimes such as armed robbery, carjacking and homicide.
“They’re going to be more violent because they want people to be as scared of them and have as much respect for them as they do a national gang,” Anthony said. “Wannabe gangs will kill you faster than the ‘real’ gangs.”
Things can get complicated with organizations on the local level, which are likely to splinter when their members go to prison where they’re more often than not forced to join a national group, or when leaders disagree or someone decides they want to start their own group.
“They might be in the same gang this week, and next week one decides he wants to be the boss, so now you have two gangs instead of one,” Anthony said. “The neighborhood Crips turn into Rollin 60 Crips, then you have Rollin 40 Crips, then 30 Crips, then 20 Crips because everybody wants to be in charge because the ones in charge are making more money.”
That’s the reason investigators are seeing gangs that used to be rivals working together, Dowdy said.
“It’s not about red or blue anymore. It’s about green. It’s about money,” he said.
“Anytime a gang engages in criminal conduct and resorts to violence, I think it should be taken seriously to let them know that we will not stand for the dangerousness they bring to our communities,” Lawrence said. “Gangs are increasingly more organized, dangerous and emboldened in their criminal activities. They recruit the youth to join their organizations, they threaten and fight law enforcement, and they often commit violence on law-abiding citizens.”
Some argue there is no gang issue in Jackson for that reason. The Jackson Police Department’s stance on the issue is that the capital city does have gang members who are involved in crimes, but that Jackson does not have problems with competing gangs.
On page 12 of the 2015 National Gang Report put out every two years by the FBI, it says collaboration among street gangs has seen a marked increase, with “approximately 43 percent of jurisdictions reporting that rival gangs formed alliances over the past two years. Multiple jurisdictions report gangs in their jurisdiction merged or formed hybrid gangs to thwart law enforcement efforts through their use of unknown names and symbols. However, the most common reason survey respondents cite for these alliances is mutual benefit, particularly to maximize profits from drug activities.”
But a gang crime, according to the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators, is defined as any crime in which the victim or perpetrator is a member of a gang. It can be gang-related, in which there’s just someone who is affiliated, or gang-motivated, in which the crime is ordered or caused by gang activity.
Denying the problem allows it to spread, officials said, and makes it hard to exact vital numbers of affiliated members. But in addition to that, keeping statistics on gang crime can help a jurisdiction qualify for grant money. Currently, not every agency in Mississippi reports its other violent crime statistics to the FBI for the Uniform Crime Report.
In 2020, the UCR will become the National Incident Based Reporting System, which brings in statistics on the incident level as opposed to the summary-based approach the UCR takes. Once the national system kicks in, specifics will be paramount, Freeze said.
“At that point an agency must be NIBRS compliant in order to qualify for a number of Department of Justice or federal grants to help in their area,” Freeze said. “Whether it’s a carrot stick approach I don’t know, but we do take it seriously, we do need that data.”
The data is also imperative because that’s how officials can pinpoint certain kinds of crimes.
“You need to be able to say, ‘It’s this part of the city, not that part of the city, we have this type of crime here, but we don’t have it there,’” Freeze said. “Where do I put my resources? Everyone talks about how resources are scarce, and they are, and if I’m going to direct them effectively I’ve got to know where they need to be and the best way to do that is through the reporting of detailed statistics.”