Monday, February 23, 2015
Sam Quinones is an author and journalist who lives and works in Los Angeles. He spent many years with the Los Angeles Times, and has done some of his best work since leaving the organization, including recent pieces in the New York Times, National Geographic, and Pacific Standard magazine. The author of several books, including the forthcoming Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, he is also the originator of the Tell Your True Tale workshop which we have featured here on L.A. Taco (here, and here). Sam is a nationally known as an expert on gangs in Los Angeles, and we wanted to get some basic information that could be useful for all Angeleños…
You recently said that the Mexican Mafia is something all Angelenos should know about. What are some basics that you can share with our readers?
That’s a big topic. Basically, the Eme is perhaps an enormously important institution in the lives of people who live in Latino barrios across Southern California. It is so because two decades ago it began organizing, from prisons and county jail, the Latino gang members on the streets, ordering them to tax drug dealers in their areas and funnel part of the profits to whatever Eme member controlled the gang’s area, or his associates or family members.
This new system was instituted by one or two, then copied by many other Mexican Mafia members. The taxation system transformed a prison gang into a mafia on the streets. It transformed local neighborhood gang members from guys who strictly were about controlling their turf into guys far more interested in making money and acquiring power.
The local Eme member, from his cell in Pelican Bay or Corcoran maximum security, could in broad terms control things on the street, ordering a gang to kill its own members, which is something that never happened before. They also have ordered some gangs to tax certain businesses that have nothing to do with drug sales but are on the edge of legality – like ice cream and fruit vendors, cantinas and bar operators.
Some Eme members have ordered what amounts to crime waves in their areas. Many have let it be known that they didn’t want blacks operating in their territories, leading gangs to go on ethnic cleansing crusades for a several years. (Continued)