Nearly a dozen men, labeled gang members, were arrested for reportedly robbing and attacking homeless people and others who had been deemed "vulnerable" in the D.C. area. Namely, the attacks occurred in Chinatown, Adams Morgan and U Street.
D.C. criminal defense lawyers know anytime a person is labeled as a "gang member," the crimes for which they are charged are going to carry more weight because prosecutors can then argue that the action was taken in order to further the cause of a criminal organization. That's bad because it means stiffer sentences and higher fines.
In 2007, the District passed a law called the D.C. Criminal Street Gang statute, found in D.C. Code 22-951. It makes it a misdemeanor offense to solicit, invite or otherwise recruit another person to join a criminal street gang. These are groups of six or more people that require crimes of violence as a condition of membership or that perpetuate such criminal acts as part of its frequent activities or core purpose. The law also makes it a felony - punishable by up to five years - if you knowingly or willfully participate in either a felony or a violent misdemeanor for the purpose or benefit of the gang. This is on top of whatever sanction you would receive for the underlying crime.
In this case, the men, between the ages of 18 and 20, were reportedly led by a "president" who directed a series of violent actions against numerous individuals. In June alone, prosecutors say the group carried out the following acts:
- Assaulted, beat and robbed a man around 3:30 a.m. as he walked near a bus stop on H Street NW;
- Targeted a Hispanic man for an attack around 3:45 a.m., hurling racial epithets at him as they punched him, leading to additional charges under the district's hate crime statutes;
- Targeted a homeless man around 4 a.m. near K Street NE, stole his backpack containing his clothes and tried to take his shoes. Crimes against the homeless are also considered hate crimes;
- A "flash mob" of members targeted a gas station on Florida Avenue to steal numerous items;
- Surrounded a woman leaving the Metro train and robbed her of her phone;
- Gained entry into an unoccupied house, sprayed graffiti throughout and broke a window;
- Targeted a former member at night at a bus stop and threatened to kill him if he spoke to police;
- Robbed a man at Metro Center.
Among the charges the men are facing are theft, robbery and assault.
The group reportedly didn't call themselves a "gang," but rather a "crew," that organized using social media, including YouTube and Facebook.
Still, they might, under the technical definition, qualify as a criminal gang.
According to the FBI, some 1.4 million people in the U.S. are members to some 33,000 gangs. A recent report indicates those organizations are responsible for nearly half of all violent crimes, with a number of organizations sourcing weapons from the military.
Business Insider lists the gangs that are highest on the FBI radar as:
- The 18th Street Gang;
- Florencia 13;
- Barrio Azteca;
- The Almighty Latin King Nation
- Somali gangs;
- Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos;
- Mexican Mafia;
- Vagos Motorcycle Club;
- Wheels of Soul.