Bangin' in L-Dub

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An L.A. woman named Veronica Alonzo extended the reach of the Maniac Gangster set when she moved to Lake Worth last year, MLK members told the Palm Beach Post. Not only did she help set up a new branch office; she was the main suspect in the stabbing of a 16-year-old MLK member.

Hermanson contends that some of the leaders of the Lake Worth 18th Street sect are female. According to Hermanson, "A couple of girls who've been at it for a long time are recruiting young guys by, uh, having sex with 'em to get 'em to join."

But Carlos scoffs at the notion of female gang leaders. Even if the girls were part of 18th Street, he says, they'd have had to sleep with a guy just to get in — so to him, it's a moot point.

"I saw kids — even girls — who were altar servers," Sister Rachel says with audible dismay. "I saw the best of our youth ministry of Sacred Heart Church on those gang websites. So sad. But I'm not surprised, because culturally these kids are coming from a society where boys and girls have different gender responsibilities."

The L-Dub gang epidemic shows signs of spreading to other cities.

James Howard pulls his lawn-care service truck into a McDonald's parking lot in downtown Riviera Beach. Via a local church, he's working as a mentor to gang members in this notoriously poor African-American city, with 26 murders — many of them yet-unsolved drive-by shootings — over the past two years.

"The female gang members are even more ruthless than the men!" he insists. "I knew this shorty from Lantana. She wanted to be part of a gang, and they wouldn't let her in. So she killed some dude at a Walgreens here in Riviera Beach. She got the $8 in his wallet — and the gang still turned her down."

Twenty years ago, Howard hung out on the same corners, and most of the kids today know he has a couple of drug arrests on his record. Hence, his street cred.

"I haven't always been such a standup, role-model citizen," he says, eyes peering over his glasses. "And they know that."

Despite Riviera Beach's violent streak, Howard hasn't seen the Latin gangs from Lake Worth making inroads there yet. But when he took his daughter to a skating rink in Lantana last year, where a performance by local rapper Suave Smooth was taking place, he watched as a fight broke out between Lake Worth and Boynton Beach gangs.

"It got out of hand," he says. "The front plate-glass window was broken, kids were trampled, it was pandemonium." The event left him feeling uneasy about the Lake Worth area and the looming threat of gangs like MS13, MLK, and 18th Street.

After all, the last thing Riviera Beach needs is gang members with websites, AK-47s, and big beef against one another.

"Their aim is the superiority of their group over another group," Howard says, "and it isn't that organized up here yet. [The local murders] could just be that A shoots B because C shot D. Or kids hanging out, just a group from the neighborhood, and now they call that a gang."

A tall, skinny black kid in a red Nissan Altima pulls into the parking lot and nods at Howard. "What's up, Mr. James?" he asks politely as he ducks into the restaurant.

"That's one of the kids I've had over to my house," Howard says. "I'm living out in a nice place on PGA Boulevard, and I'll bring 'em up there and say, 'This is a style of life you'll never see again at the rate you're going,'" he says seriously. "Who else is gonna talk to these kids? Who's even gonna sit down with 'em, knowing they have a gun?"

A few yards from Howard's lawn-care truck is a light pole that marks the spot where a young man was killed late last year in a still-unsolved robbery/murder. "They'll tell me what's up," he says of his teenaged confidantes. "Someone will say, 'This is who did the actual shooting, Mr. James,' and I'll get that word to law enforcement — and still protect my sources."

Despite the technological innovations, Hermanson's beat is a lot like any other police beat. It involves a lot of shoe leather — or, at least, tire rubber. The web will take you only so far. Eventually, you have to hit the street.

Just a few interstate exits south of Riviera Beach, Hermanson muscles his SUV though an alleyway clogged with tall weeds and shattered bottles. Garage doors have been recently repainted with a roller in mismatched shades of beige and brown. His cell phone awakens to the sprightly melody of "Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)." He studies the caller ID on his cell phone and answers, "Hola. Happy St. Patrick's Day to you too. Hey, where's all the gang boys hanging out out your way?"

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton