SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT | Investigating gangs in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- More than two dozen gangs are on the streets of Louisville.  

"We don't have a gang problem like California, Oakland or Chicago, but we have a gang problem," councilman David James said.

"Little guys carrying guns ... I look out my door and I see a gun," said a neighbor who lives in the Cecil and Greenwood area. "He's putting a gun in his pants, 13, 14-year-olds. That's too much."

Even some middle schoolers and elementary school students are involved in gangs, and residents are tired of the violence.

"We have citizens that live here in some areas of this community who are scared to come out of their houses," James said. "Some sleep on the floor so they don't get shot at night."

Sayheed Ashanti, who is now a Hood 2 Hood program mentor, speaks openly about the gang issues to help the public understand what is happening in Louisville. He knows first-hand.

"The largeness of Bloods and Crips, they dominate our area of town," Ashanti said. "You can't really put a number on it because there is a Blood or Crip being born every day." 

The 33-year-old says he's been jailed for drug charges, but is trying to make a difference by turning his life around. He was in the Clarksdale Housing project gang called CDP. That housing project has since been torn down, but he says tearing down the projects has moved gang members to other areas.

"You have different gangs staying next to each other now. It can be a conflict, it can not be a conflict depending on how they handle themselves. If it was positivity, a lot of time we don't get to see that. All we get to see is another one is gunned down."

And that's what happened to his brother. Jerry Taylor, 23, was shot to death on Derby Day in 2009. It happened on West Kentucky Street while Taylor was asleep in a parked car. His murder still remains unsolved.

Ashanti was behind bars when his brother died, and that helped him realize he needed to change.

"An inactive state (in a gang) is a state of achievement, but it also allows you not to be on call for mandatory violent acts or mandatory violent criminal acts," he said.

Cecil and Greenwood is home to the Cecil and Greenwood gang, known as CNG. Sources say it's one of the five most active gangs in Louisville.

James is working with police trying to come up with a solution to Louisville's gang problem. He met WDRB at Cecil and Greenwood and says there are not enough police patrols in this hot spot area.

"I wouldn't say one gang is more dangerous than another gang, but I would say this particular gang is dangerous, and we are focusing efforts on their activities."

At the Public Safety Committee Meeting, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said there are 25 gangs in Louisville, but won't give specifics.

 "I've spoken with the new major here the second division here, and what their plan is in relationship to that gang is to target hard core members of that gang and try to place criminal charges on them so we can try and help reduce some of the violence that's taking place in this neighborhood," James said.

"I'm just concerned for the kids, my kids," said one neighbor who is making plans to move if the violence doesn't stop. "There is a lot of stuff going on. They come around the corner, down the street, and the guy down the street has got a bullet in his house."

The spike in crime has gotten the attention of the FBI. Jennifer Moore is the Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Louisville FBI.

"In 2014, there were 56 homicides in Louisville, and in 2015, the number almost doubled to 86 homicides," Moore said. "So those are the trends. We are seeing an increase in violence, and that's what's greatly concerning us."

Moore says they don't have a specific number on how many of those are gang-related.

Nationwide, the FBI says there are about 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs and prison gangs with about 1.4 million active members. In Kentucky, the FBI has about 30 agents and task force officers assigned full-time just to investigate gang issues throughout the state.

"The types of crimes we see from gangs are murders, homicides, robbery, rape, human trafficking," Moore said.

"I can tell you what we are doing right now, we are researching each of those. We are trying to develop a pattern for them and who they are. We don't like to identify gangs ... by name, because it gives them notoriety."

"People affiliate with whoever they want to affiliate, and they become who they want to be," Ashanti said. "You can be a money bag clique, a hard hustle clique, you can be the get money clique. People associate with people who are kind of on their level from their environment."

The Victory Park Crips, Market Street Crips and YNO gang, which stands for Young 'N Off That," have made headlines over the years. Gang names are released in court records when there are indictments. The FBI says gangs in Louisville are not limited to one area of town, but couldn't release details.

"The FBI will target any group or affiliation with three or more individuals that are similarly motivated that identify themselves as a gang ... signs, clothing, colors," Moore said. "So we look for the most serious gangs, and that's what we would look to investigate."

"There is no one demographic to a gang. It can be Hispanic, it can be white, it can be African-American. Here in Louisville, we see the broad spectrum of that."

Before, gangs marked territories by spray painting their name, signs and symbols. But now, the FBI says gangs are using social media as "electronic graffiti walls." They post messages and pictures to mark their territory, recruit new members and communicate to rivals. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter are the main sites used, and they're being monitored by the Feds.

"As parents, we say to our children, 'I love you,' but for a gang member, one of the things they say to your child is, 'I'll die for you,' and for a child, one seems a lot more important," James said.

Ashanti says you'll find drugs with these gangs.

"Drugs is always involved, because now everybody has an addiction, whether it's marijuana, cocaine or pills.

Ashanti wears a "We All we Got" T-shirt and is trying to help people get their lives back on track. They relate to him because he understands what they're going through. Their events give people a neutral zone to talk, no matter what gang they're in, what part of town they're from or what color they wear.

"People still feel like they are defending or representing their hood," he said. "We are going to have a lot more challenges until we can sit down and really try to impact the minds of young people. Not get them a community center so they can play basketball, not a community center so they can swim, we need community centers that is going to deal with the development of our people's minds."

"We are addressing this," Moore said. "We are going to move forward to make sure everyone does feel safe here."

Wednesday on WDRB News at 6, Valerie Chinn sits down with LMPD to ask what's being done about the gang problem and why they're see kids committing violent crimes.

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