Hail, hail the gangs are all here

According to agencies that keep track of such things, violent gangs have moved into Southwestern Virginia and control much of the serious drug trade.

The Virginia Gang Investigators Association surveyed law enforcement agencies in Virginia and gang activity is increasing throughout the Commonwealth. Says VGIA:

While all jurisdictions that responded to the survey in Virginia don’t agree to the extent of the gang problem in this state, most agreed that there is a problem. The number one reason for the escalation of gangs and gang violence appears to be tied to drugs, money and claim over ones territory. The biggest rise reported is that of Hispanic gangs, especially MS-13 with the major concentration being located in Northern Virginia. MS-13 was also reported in the Hampton Rhodes Area, the Richmond Metro Area, and the Shenandoah Valley.

Other well-known gangs such as the Latin kings, the Bloods, the Crips, the UBN, the Gangster Disciples, and the larger Asian gangs are also being recorded in Virginia. Well the organizational level of their brothers in Los Angeles does not appear to be here yet; they are being reported as off shoots or factions of their west coast counter parts. Most of the reporting Jurisdictions are acknowledging them but have them associated with the areas of Virginia they reside in.

Motorcycle gangs including: Hells Angels, Outlaws, Pagans, and Bandidos are also being reported as increasing in numbers in Virginia

Homegrown or ”neighborhood” gangs are also being reported in record numbers. The difference between the reporting jurisdictions is just whether they classify these homespun crews, sets, posses, clicks and mobs as gangs. They refer to them by specific names that reflect the area that they either live in or hang out in, but some areas refuse to call them gangs. By definition in Virginia, they are.

Says Roanoke-based community activist Jeff Artis:

Does Virginia have a gang problem? Yes, even in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. Most of the communities in Virginia and in SW Virginia have admitted that gangs are a problem and are aggressively fighting against gangs and gang violence. Unfortunately, some communities in SW Virginia have decided to ignore the problem, especially in Roanoke, Va. What are their names? What are their colors? What territories do they control?

The Gangs of SW Virginia: (These gangs are both national gangs and homegrown gangs.) The Latin Kings, Sureno 13, The People Nation, The Texas Mexican Mafia, The Bloods, The Crips, The Skinheads, The Folk Nation, UBN, the Pegans OMG, MS-13, 18’th Street,, The Danville Kings, and The Country Boys, among others.

Gang-related "tags" (graffiti that defines territory) have appeared in Floyd County, mostly-related to the Mexican prison-born gang MS-13. A sheriff’s department investigator told me recently that they are aware of activity by MS-13.

The U.S. Department of Justice says Southwestern Virginia leads the rest of the Commonwealth in drug-related death and the drug of choice is crystal methamphetamine:

Most of the methamphetamine available in Virginia is produced by Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and criminal groups using the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method in high volume laboratories in Mexico and California.

However, Virginia-based Caucasian criminal groups, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and local independent Caucasian dealers sometimes produce methamphetamine using the phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) and Birch reduction methods.

Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of most of the methamphetamine available in Virginia. These groups usually transport the drug from Mexico and southwestern states into Virginia using private automobiles, couriers aboard commercial airlines, and package delivery and express mail services.

Mexican criminal groups, some based in Virginia, are the primary wholesale distributors of methamphetamine in the state.

Never trust air you can't see

As I battle my latest round with bronchitis, a light goes on: My increasing bouts with respiratory problems increased sharply after we left polluted urban environments and moved to the clean air of the mountains.

Since moving here in 2004, both Amy and I have encountered allergies we never knew we had.

Maybe it’s the clean air. Maybe after so many years living in toxic environments, our lungs can’t take fresh air.

Sounds ridiculous. Or maybe not.

Amy was born in East St. Louis, Illinois — hardly a shining example of clean air and green living. The Metro East area of St. Louis was a lung-contaminating hodgepodge of oil refineries, steel factories and ammunition plants.

I moved to Metro East in 1969 and lived there for nearly 12 years, breathing the air from the refineries in Hartford, Illinois, and the coal-fired electric plant in Portage Des Sioux, Missouri just acorss the Mississippi River.

We moved to the Washington, DC, area in 1981 and lived there for 23 years, breathing the exhaust fumes of cars in one of the most traffic-clogged regions of the country. My profession took me to some of the most toxic places on earth, ranging from the polluted air of East Germany and the Far East to arsenic-filled leach pit ponds of gold mines in the Western United States.

Neither of us had much problems with allergies or respiratory problems then. For both, problems set in after we moved to the mountains where the air is clear and the water clean (well, except for the iron sulphate).

Maybe our lungs are in full rebellion, revolting against air they can’t see.

Or maybe we’re just finally paying the price for breathing too much polluted air in too many other places on earth.