The teenager quickened his pace as he walked home from work. Though Hendersonville is typically considered a safe and family-friendly town, a recent influx in gangs has made going out after dark a threatening endeavor.
“In Henderson County there is a faction of the Bloods, but they are a nontraditional gang because they have no set leadership positions or structure, ” Steve Geyer, student resource officer at West, said. “We also have two or three Hispanic gangs in Hendersonville.”
However, this local faction of the Bloods is simply an extension of the original gang in Los Angeles, Geyer said.
“All it takes is for one guy who is an original Blood to move from Charlotte to Henderson County,” Emanuel Zaragoza, detective at the Henderson County Sheriffs Department, said. “They are going to organize a type of gang like their previous one.”
With this in mind, indicators of gang affiliation range from graffiti and tattoos to jewelry and hand signs, he said.
“There are few tell-tale signs that people are a part of gangs,” Geyer said. “The signs that indicate someone is a part of a gang can be from tattoos or clothing to the way gang members comb their hair or even shave their eyebrows.”
According to recent reports from the N.C. Department of Public Safety, 63 percent of gang members are between the ages of 18 and 25. In N.C., there are an estimated 10,164 male gang members compared to 490 female members.
“People steer away from talking about gangs because they don’t want to admit that their county has a problem,” Zaragoza said. “People also may not know about the gang problem because they are not educated on the issue.”
According to Zaragoza, Henderson County is also home to the Outlaw Motorcycle Club right off of Sugarloaf Road. Known as the “Outlaws,” they were originally established in 1935 and have more than 1,700 gangs in 176 chapters in America.
“There are more than 300 known motorcycle clubs in the U.S., and they are transnational,” Zaragoza said. “They call themselves a club as a conduit for criminal enterprises.”
Motorcycle gangs have a more strict code of conduct than street gangs, he said.
“One of their rules is that only males are allowed to join,” Zaragoza said. “However, if females do associate with the gang, they become the gang’s property.”
Even though street gangs are less exclusive, this does not influence the type of crimes they commit. For example, a drug-oriented gang will commit crimes by transporting and exporting, whereas some gangs commit theft crimes through shoplifting or stealing cars. Gangs that are not centered around a certain crime will engage in anything from forgery, bank fraud and murder to smaller crimes such as larceny and vandalism.
“Most gangs commit a lot of drug-related crimes,” Geyer said. “You face a higher crime rate because the people that need money for the drugs are going to rob or steal just to get the drugs.”
Certain gangs have set rituals they use to induct new members, such as beatings. Female members may undergo a ritual where they will be “sexed in,” a more appropriate term for “gang bang.”
“The most typical ritual to join a gang is to be ‘jumped in,’” Zaragoza said. “Being jumped in is done to prove their courage and dedication to the gang.”
Many times, domestic problems such as child abuse can push an individual to join a gang. The sense of community derived from the gang gives the member a feeling of respect and unity.
“A lot of times the gang members are looking for someone to accept them because they don’t have any leadership at home or anybody to care for them,” Geyer said. “They start looking at the gang as their family because they have a broken home or no structure at home or no guidance at all at home.”
By Kiersten Woodring