Not Kid Stuff

Natalie Wiggins struggles with gangs, cops, and her children in Hallandale Beach

A few minutes after Armando leaves, he's back with his girlfriend in tow. His car conked out a couple of streets away, and he shouts for Eduardo to help him get it going. After a few minutes, the 18-year-old emerges from his bedroom, sleepy-eyed. A few steps behind, a high school-age girl, M., walks past Natalie and toward the front door, staring straight ahead. Natalie had shooed M. away this morning, told her she couldn't spend the day at the house when she was supposed to be in school. When Natalie lay down for her nap, the girl sneaked inside. "I won't be back here no more," M. says glumly as she walks out the door. Later, Natalie explains that M.'s father has threatened to report Eduardo to the police.

Eduardo, the quiet one, has been in the most trouble. Last year, Natalie caught him hanging out on nearby Foster Road in a spot where drug dealers ply their trade. She says she stopped her car on her way home from work and hollered at the men gathered there, threatening to call the police. "That embarrassed him," she says, self-satisfied. She hasn't seen Eduardo there recently, but that may be because he's keeping a low profile these days.

In November 2000, Eduardo was arrested for cocaine possession and distribution. In August 2001, he was charged with destroying evidence. Adjudication was withheld on those charges. And then on January 28, 2002, he was arrested for cocaine use. He has not gone to court yet on the latest charges.

Just another day in the neighborhood: A group of kids threatens an interloper with sticks in the Wiggins front yard, while across the street, six-year-old Cierra (top) sips juice and her grandmother, Josephine Edwards (bottom), calls on the Lord with song
Colby Katz
Just another day in the neighborhood: A group of kids threatens an interloper with sticks in the Wiggins front yard, while across the street, six-year-old Cierra (top) sips juice and her grandmother, Josephine Edwards (bottom), calls on the Lord with song

Now, Natalie's youngest son, Fernando, a 13-year-old with a small-engine obsession who fiddles with go-carts, has begun skipping school too.

Without much else going, identification with the '80s Babies provides what the older Wiggins boys lack -- a font of meaning and respect. They may have gotten kicked out of school, but with the '80s Babies, they still rule. They may not have jobs, but they still have their friends. They may not have goals, but in the company of the '80s Babies, the good times keep rolling. And if someone gives them a hard time, they always have the homeboys to catch their back.

The '80s Babies name started innocently enough as a tag of neighborhood and generational pride. But as it has become known, it has brought grief -- in the community, with police, and with kids in nearby Dania Beach, Hollywood, and Carver Ranches.

About three years ago, a group of the guys from Hallandale Beach, including Armando and Eduardo, got together with some youths from Miramar, Fort Lauderdale, and Hollywood and rented a bus to go to Adventure Island in Tampa. Wanting to distinguish themselves, they had T-shirts made with their pictures and the tag '80s Babies. The name was chosen because they were all born in the 1980s. "It was the adults that called us that," Tony explains. "We just took it up." When the other kids on the bus asked what the '80s Babies were, Tony says, the guys jokingly replied that it was a rap group.

Pretty soon, word of the '80s Babies got around, Rolando says. When he would go with his crew to the movies in Hollywood, a group of kids from that town would circle around them, shooting dirty looks. If girls they knew had a problem with boyfriends, they'd invoke the name of the '80s Babies, intimating that they had special protection. "It's the girls that keep things stirred up," Rolando says.

Their reputation as thugs really took off after Hallandale Beach's Martin Luther King Jr. parade in January 2001. Some of the guys wore their shirts. They walked through the crowd gathered on Hallandale Beach Boulevard in a group, shoulder to shoulder. Kids started following them, thinking there was going to be trouble, remembers Sgt. Dwayne Flournoy of the Hallandale Beach Police Department.

Toward the end of the day, perhaps pushed by the crowd's expectations, the '80s Babies and some kids from Hollywood rumbled at Oreste Blake Johnson Park, first with fists and then with baseball bats. The incident was mentioned in an April 2001 Sun-Sentinel article in which Hallandale Beach police said they were keeping an eye on an emerging gang.

For Natalie, the MLK parade fight was just one skirmish in an all-out war. It started before the MLK confrontation and gathered intensity, she says, until it seemed that every weekend, cars pulled up with kids from Dania Beach, Hollywood, and Carver Ranches challenging her sons and their friends to fight. They came armed with baseball bats. Fights erupted at parties. Cars were run off the road. Kids walking down Northwest Hallandale Beach streets were jumped and pummeled. A Hollywood teen pulled a gun on a neighbor walking his dog one evening last year. Natalie became conversant in the names of the '80s Babies' adversaries -- the 'Bout-'t-Jits, Liberia, the Ghetto B's, and Carver Ranches Park, also called CRP. "I spent many a night watching out the window," she says. The situation seemed out of control.

Shortly after the MLK fight, a girl sympathetic to the '80s Babies called Natalie's house to say the Hollywood boys were on their way. Raven remembers she was watching Nickelodeon when a line of about 15 cars eased down the street. Many of the kids were just spectators, Rolando points out, tagging along to watch the action. When the car doors flew open, the Hollywood boys jumped out brandishing baseball bats and Mace cans. "They're girls," Rolando mocks. The insults flew back and forth. A couple of the Hollywood kids picked up bricks from a neighbor's yard and hurled them through Natalie's front windows. "The homeboys were swinging golf clubs," Tony recalls. Someone smashed the windows of Rolando's car with a baseball bat. Raven just screamed. "I was too scared to move," she says.

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