The spread of Los Angeles-based gangs to other Western U.S. cities perversely symbolizes L.A.'s dominance of the entire region. In a kind of reversal of American history, the drug-driven Diaspora of Crips and Bloods is an eastward expansion of street imperialism. Denver, Portland and Las Vegas are nothing but fresh territories for gangs to increase the profit margin of their drug business.
This is old news (a Denver acquaintance told me of Crips in that city in 1985), and yet KCET's superficial report, "On the Trail of Gangs," treats it as if it's breaking stuff. The concern remains how smaller Western cities can put a lid on the gang warfare that has long plagued L.A. In that regard, this report on "Life & Times" should be broadcast in the vulnerable burgs, not the one already overwhelmed by the problem.
In Las Vegas, a rise in drive-by shootings has been the precursor for the development of home-grown gangs inspired by L.A. veterans. The city's heavy cash turnover makes it a ripe target for the drug entrepreneurs, who have recently begun to stage shootouts in casinos.
By contrast, Portland's gang problems appear slight, although this report's only notable moments come when a nighttime camera tracks the violent escapades of the Tortilla Flats gang--mostly aimless kids whose parents moved to the Northwest to get away from . . . gang warfare.
Gang culture, Denver-style, is as entrenched as in any big city. With a poor inner-city core as old as Denver's, it seems unlikely that the current turf battles--as the report suggests--are strictly an L.A. import. The culture has spread to the white suburbs, but a real examination of gang style as a fashion statement goes begging here. The cops on camera sound resigned to the worst, since budget cuts have sliced into the kind of interagency coordination that may have nipped the West's gang war in the bud.
* "Life & Times' " "On the Trail of Gangs" airs at 7:30 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.