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The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation

The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation: Street Politics and the Transformation of a New York City Gang

David C. Brotherton
Luis Barrios
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation
    Book Description:

    From Los Angeles and New York to Chicago and Miami, street gangs are regarded as one of the most intractable crime problems facing our cities, and a vast array of resources is being deployed to combat them. This book chronicles the astounding self-transformation of one of the most feared gangs in the United States into a social movement acting on behalf of the dispossessed, renouncing violence and the underground economy, and requiring school attendance for membership.

    What caused the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation of New York City to make this remarkable transformation? And why has it not happened to other gangs elsewhere? David C. Brotherton and Luis Barrios were given unprecedented access to new and never-before-published material by and about the Latin Kings and Queens, including the group's handbook, letters written by members, poems, rap songs, and prayers. In addition, they interviewed more than one hundred gang members, including such leaders as King Tone and King Hector. Featuring numerous photographs by award-winning photojournalist Steve Hart, the book explains the symbolic significance for the gang of hand gestures, attire, rituals, and rites of passage. Based on their inside information, the authors craft a unique portrait of the lives of the gang members and a ground-breaking study of their evolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50906-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    As youth street gangs throughout this century have ebbed and flowed, largely organized around class, racial, ethnic, and gender configurations, their relationship to the problems of society has been consistently framed by the most powerful interests in society. The ex-mayor of New York City, quoted above, is just one example of the almost visceral reaction that representatives of the dominant social and economic order exhibit when asked to discuss the “gang question.” It is as if the gang today had achieved an unassailable status among the panoply of demons that the keyholders to our moral economy would have us expunge....

  5. Part I Toward a Theory of the Gang As a Social Movement

      (pp. 3-26)

      It is probably safe to say that the majority of studies of inner city inhabitants, particularly those that focus on members of youth gangs, have been carried out within the tradition of positivistic social science.¹ With natural science as the paradigm of good research, a premium has traditionally been placed on the value neutrality of the observer, the scientific rigor of the methodology, the unpolluted character of the data, and the generalizability of the findings, all with the aim of proving or disproving testable hypotheses (see Lincoln and Guba 1985). In this way, the gang phenomenon, whether it is understood...

      (pp. 27-37)

      To come to terms with the evolution of the ALKQN, to explain its appearance and its transformation, requires a rigorous engagement with those theories that purport to provide us with the analytical tools for just such an undertaking. In the event, however, that the dominant paradigms fail to serve our purpose—a predicament similar to what Cohen (1955) refers to as the need for “facts the theory must fit”—then we must search for alternative conceptual schemas to make sense of our data. This process of theoretical testing is similar to the approach of Burawoy (1991), which he describes as...

      (pp. 38-54)

      It is perhaps surprising that, while so much has been written on the liberalhumanistic side of the causation debate, little has been forthcoming on the political capacity of gangs to actually change their environment and thereby, to use a Marxian argument, change themselves. In the following, we offer an alternative theoretical approach to the study of “street organizations” (see chapter 1). By this term we primarily mean that gangs and gang members can be (1) change agents as well as adaptive social animals/groups in the world of highly unequal power relations, and (2) active repositories of knowledge of sociocultural resistance...

  6. Part II The Making of the ALKQN:: Subcultural Traditions

      (pp. 57-86)

      In part 2 we will concentrate on an analysis of the data, principally organized into themes developed from the model outlined above. This model has been drawn from the literature and represents the most accurate conceptual framework for the type of hybrid, dynamic organization we are studying. Some readers may object, saying that we are trying to fit the organization into a preconceived paradigm, thus effectively departing from the traditions of induction. We would argue that this model provides us with both descriptive and hermeneutic devices that have emerged directly from the data collected, which have then been compared to...

      (pp. 87-121)

      In this chapter we will discuss the role of the Latin Kings under King Blood’s leadership during the period from 1986 to 1996. What kind of a group was it during this time? How did Luis Felipe become the most heavily sentenced federal inmate since World War II? Is or was he the “amiable sociopath,” as his lawyer, Lawrence Feitell, described him? What kind of legacy did King Blood leave behind, such that he was revered by many in the organization as a Latino hero, an indestructible visionary, and someone of great courage who was willing to sacrifice his life...

      (pp. 122-148)

      At the end of the previous chapter, we discussed how the ALKQN was turning in on itself. In the absence of any consistent external enemy to unify the membership¹ (such as the Chicago Latin Kings have in the many gangs that make up the People Nation in the “Motherland”), together with the isolation and increasing authoritarianism of King Blood and no clear set of political goals, the organization internally corroded. As King Blood himself often warned, the Kings will be their own worst enemy when they are not moving together as one and do not live by their “five points”...

      (pp. 149-178)

      As the leading French sociologist Alain Touraine (1981, 1988) suggests (above), one of the most important questions that a sociologist can ask is: How do people who are not generally considered the makers of “history” become movement actors in the postindustrial epoch? We argue that the ALKQN, in its incarnation (i.e., during the 1996–1999 period of research) as a quasi-social movement provides a perfect case study through which to pursue this interrogation.

      Nevertheless, as we excavate these movement “possibilities” in the data, it is clear that the gang literature alone cannot adequately guide our inquiry or our analysis. The...

  7. Part III The Form and Content of a Street Organization

      (pp. 181-213)

      Jankowski is largely correct when he claims that “although researchers have an intuitive understanding that the gang has organization traits, for the most part, studies of gangs have not closely examined the nature, dynamic, and impact of the gang’s organizational qualities. I believe that one of the reasons that society does not understand gangs or the gang phenomenon very well is that there have not been enough systematic studies undertaken as to how the gang works as an organization” (1991:5).

      Jankowski explains that this deficiency is a consequence of the dangers associated with doing gang research and that few investigators...

      (pp. 214-249)

      In the ensuing chapter, we will describe some of the primary background characteristics of those who joined the ALKQN during its reform period as well as those members who stayed loyal to the group during this tumultuous time. The data are drawn from sixty-seven life history interviews carried out with thirty-nine Kings and twenty-eight Queens. In previous studies of mostly black and Latino/a gangs there have been attempts to chart gang members’ family histories, occupational experiences, educational backgrounds, and criminal orientations. What we have mostly learned from these studies is that gang members are generally isolated from the kinds of...

      (pp. 250-265)

      In the process of liberation, all social movements in some way have the ability to claim, deconstruct, construct, and reconstruct their identity. According to the literature, there is some consensus that a relationship exists between the construction of identity and collective action (Melucci 1989; Calhoun 1991; Calderon, Piscitelli, and Reyna 1992; Escobar 1992; Castells 1997; Della Porta and Diani 1999). This finding accords with our own analysis of the ALKQN and distinguishes our work from the tradition of mainstream psychology, which limits its analysis of identity issues to the causal properties of individual deviance. In contrast to the prominent analytical...

      (pp. 266-295)

      In the gang literature, there are few attempts to fully understand or document the qualitative changes in a gang’s subcultural practices, which emerge when such a group begins to reshape its core identity. The closest treatment to such a project comes from the insightful autobiographical work of Dawley (1982), in which the author records his organizing experiences with the Chicago Vice Lords during the later years of the civil rights movement.¹ Other treatments from social scientists have generally dismissed the possibility that gangs can achieve any meaningful transformation, arguing that the gang essentially remains a primordial group, bound by tradition,...

      (pp. 296-326)

      The notion of adversaries in Touraine’s schema is critical for the impetus of social-movement building and is a key to any movement’s claim to historicity. In order to have a coherent sense of itself (what Castells calls its “resistance identity”; see chapters 1 and 9) the movement has to have a somewhat articulate grasp of its adversaries, otherwise it is difficult to see how a process of identity construction that claims to be oppositional can proceed with any momentum. In the world of gang literature, such an intrinsically political process with regard to oppositional conflicts is almost entirely absent, as...

      (pp. 327-342)

      In this final chapter, we want to reiterate briefly and perhaps add to some of the major findings and lessons of our study that we have outlined in the previous pages. Although we have essentially come to the end of this part of the journey, we are sure that we will be spending many more years with our friends and acquaintances on the streets of New York as they struggle to do what they think is best for themselves and for their community. While we cannot predict with any certainty the future of the group, one thing is for sure:...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 343-360)
    (pp. 361-376)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 377-398)