News Fact Check
posted by February 2 at 11:12 AMon
A story in the P-I announces disturbing news about a new gang in our area: a drug dealer arrested as part of a small-ish local bust by the ATF “allegedly belongs to the Norteno street gang. The mostly Hispanic gang is rooted in California but has extended its presence and illicit drug dealing into Washington…” Eek!
Here’s my issue: the term Norteņo is very unspecific. Norteņo is more of a classification, a perceived allegiance or alliance. It’s not one gang with a clear leadership and organization. The P-I story furthers a law enforcement myth that these gangs work like a super secret scary brown mafia. The drug trade is real—and a lot of these guys are involved in it. But it’s not like a lieutenant in a California prison is ordering drug sales in Yakima. And Norteņo gangs aren’t a new presence, here or in California.
The Norteņos began as Nuestra Familia at Soledad State Prison and grew to control another No. Cal prison at Pelican Bay. The gang started back in the 1970s to offer protection from their natural rivals, the Sureņos, So. Cal prison-bred sets tied to the Mexican Mafia (which is not the mafia in Mexico but a prison-based gang). (The gangs did not form, as the P-I states, because of a split in the Mexican Mafia.) Since then, the gangs have spread and diversified. When Latino thugs decide to align themselves with a gang somewhere in the United States, they often choose between Norteņo and Sureņo — and then add their own local flavor. There’s an endless list of specific gangs tied to one or the other, and often one Norteņo will fight another if they’re in a different clique.