Bangin' in L-Dub

A half mile from Lake Worth's trendy eateries, a war is under way. With guns and cyber-graffiti.

"Yeah, the bitch that shot Silent ran," acknowledges Jose, a cocky 16-year-old Lake Worth MLK member, in an e-mail to a reporter. "Cuz he's a lil ho."

Memorials to Silent abound. Jose set up his MySpace page (http://profile. viewprofile&friendID=48471799) as a tribute not only to his fallen friend but to the MLK gang. His terse narrative of Silent's life and death is as succinct as any:

The driveway where Silent was gunned down remains a memorial today.
Colby Katz
The driveway where Silent was gunned down remains a memorial today.

"Silent was a North Side MLK gang member he was one of the best fighters we ever had. He studyed the bible an' went to church but he was always down for the set... silent wasn't no pussy that disrespect his barrio — he gave his life 4 what he believed in... if i die i wanna die like silent cuz i wanna die 4 what i believe in — barrio MLK."

On MySpace, Jose, filling in the box that site owners generally use to explain their general range of interests, enumerated these: "Chilln wit my homies, beating the shit out of scraps [rivals] with my homies, smoking out with my homies, ridin' out with my homies, taggin', going 2 places deep as fuck with my homies, watching movies, also tryn to keep my ass out of trouble, but it don't help none."

Until a few weeks ago , at least one Lake Worth gang maintained an active, dedicated website. Krazy Locos, affiliated with MLK, issued threats to "Sewer 13" and other opponents and even taunted police. KL Joker, a 19-year-old member, bathed in the glory. "I know police R listening and reading this... showing me on TV like yesterday 3/26/06 on Univision and Fox 29. Thanxx for the rekognition... I didn't want it, but hey."

Within days, the website, along with Joker's profile, went dark. Naturally, Hermanson noticed. Most likely, he updated his "Book of Knowledge" — a black binder with a red bookmark on his desk where he keeps track of local gang members: street name, real name, description, tattoos, web page.

Many teenagers proudly represent the L-Dub online. Like Dreamer561 MLK or Lazie Loco, who says "Krzy Loco to the muthaphukkin fullest... fuck Sureno."

An opposing team member, Sureno Soldier, takes the opposite tack: "Surenos don't die, motherfuckers, we multiply. Kill a Norteño, win a prize. Kill a Sureno, your whole fucking family dies!"

Hermanson is used to outsiders shocked by the cutthroat mentality. "Hatfields and McCoys," he says with a laugh. "Crips and Bloods. They're fighting over north and south, over red and blue. There's no more answers than that. It makes no sense at all — to us. But to them, it makes sense."

Sister Rachel begs to differ: "It makes all the sense in the world, because it's about ego. It's about turf. Unfortunately, they have their own rites of passage. It's Lord of the Flies all over again."

Time and again, Hermanson would click on a kid's profile and find a valuable clue. "These guys make it easy for you," he says. He finds one kid's profile, "Tocho_MLK," and says, "I busted that dude." And now he knows where to read about him in cyberspace.

"I always look for a street name," he adds, a vital piece of the puzzle most gang members won't give up to a cop. He finds some black-bandannaed teen he's encountered before. "Headbuster," he whispers. "Hey, I know who Headbuster is." Now, the next time Hermanson spots him on a street somewhere, he can call him by name: "OK, we know each other."

As a narcotics detective for the force ("I just do this part-time," he says half-seriously about his gang monitoring), Hermanson began making connections and examining clues. By photographing and studying gang-related graffiti and reading whatever written material he could find about the gangs, he turned into something of a self-styled expert. And out in the field, he worked overtime developing a mutual pathway of trust.

"Gangs are such a closed society, it's hard to get any information," he says. "That's why this intelligence thing is so important. You gotta be able to talk to 'em. You can't play all hard-nosed cop with 'em, because it just doesn't work. First, you have to earn their respect, and I did that by working street crime for so many years."

Bad-ass gang boys know him by his first name. And he helps them out too: "The next thing I do is let them know they can call me with any problem they have at any time. A couple of weeks ago, I was counseling this guy who was having marital problems. If they come to me and say, 'I need a job,' then I give 'em a couple of numbers. If they have custody problems or need help navigating social services, I'll give 'em a number and say, 'Tell 'em I sent you. '"

Cruising down dusty D Street in the center of town, Hermanson reads cryptic gang graffiti as easily as Stuckey's signs on the turnpike. Each one is interpreted on the spot. "SSC," he says, pointing to a cement lamppost. "South Side Chicos." Angry black streaks across a slat fence need no explanation: "FUCK MLK," reads one. "FUCK THE WORLD" blares another.

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