The History of Gangs in Spokane

Criminal street gangs began to emerge in the City of Spokane and Spokane County in the early 1980s.  Crack cocaine served as the initial catalyst for the migration from several key gang-infested areas.  Crack cocaine appeared primarily in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami in late 1984 and 1985.  This drug provided a means for gang members to invest and profit from the drug trade on a significant return.  Gang members travelled in communities untouched by the scourge of gang violence and large scale drug markets.


In the mid-1980s Spokane County law enforcement officers began to recognize the influx of gang members from southern California, particularly the area of Los Angeles.  Many of the arriving gang members in the late 1980s were from the Palmer Block Crips, and the Rollin' 60's Neighborhood Crips.  In 1993 and 1994, the Insane Crips and the Rollin' 20's Crips arrived; this coincided with California's 3-Strikes Law.  In 1996, the Eight Trey Gangster Crips arrived and were heavily involved in the drug trade. The predominant drug they brought with them was crack cocaine, although other drugs were exchanged.  Other gangs followed and the quantity and diversity of controlled substances increased.


Other gangs and gang members from California, Seattle, Chicago, Nevada, Texas, and Arkansas began to move into the surrounding community.  Many migrated here through military assignment.  Others relocated to escape a violent past or chose to move to Spokane to raise their families in a new environment.


The influence of these early gangs served to polarize many youth in the community who had no previous gang involvement. These youth began forming gangs of their own, tutored by the migrating gang members in the drug trade and in the gang lifestyle.  These initial gangs of local origin began to confront one another and engage in violent acts centered on drug territory and gang representation.  These acts of violence caused the formation of other local gangs for protective reasons.  As these local gangs grew and became stronger, many aligned with the larger gangs that had migrated here from other parts of the country.  Others began to engage in violent conflict with the other gangs to establish their own level of respect and dominance.  In 2003, several of the local origin gangs began establishing subsets or cliques with a different gang name, but falling under the established gangs' rules and hierarchy.  These subsets, or cliques, served as a proving ground for many Spokane youth wanting to become gang members.  This practice allowed an established gang the ability to conduct its business in an insulated fashion and to exploit the characteristics of the juvenile justice system.


During this same time period, the gang culture in Spokane began to flourish and gangs began to hybridize, blurring the once easily defined characteristics of criminal gang members.  Criminal activities became more diverse and many gangs are involved in several different types of crimes in order to protect streams of revenue.  These gangs began to include Skinheads/White Supremacists and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs).


At this time, Spokane's predominate criminal street gangs are Crips (California origin), with more than 60 Crip sets represented.  Of these, 11 are of local origin, meaning that they originated in Spokane and have been assisted by outside gang influences.  Bloods & Pirus (California origin) are also represented, but on a much smaller scale. There are 19  Blood sets represented in the Spokane area as well.  The Gangster Disciples (Midwest origin) are represented with 8 different sets. People Nation (Midwest/South origin) gangs are poorly represented in the Spokane region, although they are present, no gangs are currently active and their numbers are small.  Hispanic-style street gangs  are on the rise with more than 20 different Norteño sets active in the region; this comprises the second largest group.  Norteño gang members (Northern California and Central Washington origin) in this region show a high degree of solidarity, making delineation of the different sets difficult. Sureño sets (Southern California and Central Washington origin) are also present and increasing in numbers. Currently 50 Sureño sets are represented in the Spokane County region.  Several Norteño and Sureño sets are also of local origin from Spokane County.  The Inland Empire has also had a strong presence of White Supremacist and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.  While their presence diminished somewhat due to aggressive law enforcement tactics, their membership and number of criminal gang organizations are currently on the rise once again.


Spokane has a unique gang sub-culture unlike most areas of similar size in the United States.  Although many of the gangs that have moved here are familiar in other parts of the country, the dynamic interaction of Spokane's demographic make-up and the diverse origins of the many gangs that are present, serve to give the region a different dynamic.  Gang alliances and rivalries may be based upon the traditional rivalries or may be formed to promote financial gain and cross all stereotypical gang behaviors.


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