He didn't want the gang
Â Jason Warick Saskatchewan News Network
SASKATOON -- Darren (not his real name) thought the three people claiming to be members of the street gang Crazy Cree were just going to rough him up a bit.
The 21-year-old Saskatoon man had gone to a party last May. During the party, Darren joked to one aboriginal man that he "almost looked white."
"I know it was stupid to say," he said during a recent interview from a Saskatoon youth care home.
The man took offence. He and two of his friends severely beat Darren.
Darren was taken to another house, and tied up in the basement for three days. The trio took his wallet, forced him to reveal his PIN number, and drained his bank account.
The group was almost constantly drunk, and all three would beat him frequently. They broke his nose and punched him so many times his face was almost unrecognizable.
"They kept saying they were Crazy Cree and were trying to toughen me up to join their gang," he said.
They even used Darren's bank card to buy him new clothing in the gang's colours.
Darren repeatedly refused to join, so the assaults continued. On the third night, they took him to a party and said they'd kill him if he tried to get away.
Darren had no choice. They had taken his glasses and the identification in his wallet told them where he lived. At least there would be some alcohol for him at the party "to get rid of the pain," he reasoned.
After the party, they beat another man and his wife and stole the couple's new car. They drove to a reserve near North Battleford, stopping several times along the way to beat Darren some more.
He was taken to a house on the reserve, and left there while the trio went looking for alcohol.
Darren escaped from the house and somehow staggered more than a kilometre to the highway, where a passing RCMP officer picked him up and took him to North Battleford.
Darren hesitated briefly before reporting the incident, as he feared retribution from the rest of the gang.
But when he got back to Saskatoon, he went to the police station and charges were laid against the three kidnappers.
The brutality of Darren's ordeal is unique, but street gangs are a growing menace to Saskatoon residents in many other ways. Another young man who lives in the same care home as Darren is currently nursing a broken jaw after he refused to join another gang.
The problems are the same in Regina and other parts of the province. One 16-year-old Regina youth said he's been been jumped several times by gang members, sustaining black eyes and other injuries. "Sometimes they do it just to be cool. It's just messed up," he said.
He has to avoid certain parties, and doesn't go places with his friends if he knows they'll be meeting gang members.
He said he'll never join a gang, because he would probably get arrested for doing crime. That would make finding a job nearly impossible, especially because he wants to be a firefighter.
Some of the bigger gangs are "starting to recruit much younger," said Regina Police Service Sgt. Bill Dombowski.
Dombowski, who works in the department's organized crime unit, said there are youth chapters of many street gangs now, and they hook in children as young as 12.
Regina was the first city in Saskatchewan to see gang activity. It's believed the street gang problem began in Saskatchewan in the late-1990s. Following a 1997 gang riot inside Manitoba's Headingly Prison, corrections officials decided to split up the gang members.
Street gang members were moved to prisons across the Prairies, and began chapters there. It wasn't long before they began getting out of prison and recruiting in Regina, then in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, and other cities.
"It's still a relatively new problem," Dombowski said during a recent interview at the police station. "It's a small number of people involved, but a lot of crimes they commit are very violent."
The Regina Police Service, like their Saskatoon counterparts, keep a database of known street gang members.
Regina police used it and other information to secure Saskatchewan's only conviction for participating in a gang, a relatively new Criminal Code provision.
They believe the database could lead to more such convictions.
Saskatoon is also struggling to cope with an epidemic of gang activity.
"We've got to realize we've got a gang problem. It's a huge issue," said Bill Thibodeau, executive director of Saskatoon's Egadz youth centre. "It's escalated. It used to be fisticuffs to resolve things, and now they've got guns. They've got firepower."
The problem is incredibly complex.
"Some of these kids have so much anger. If you've only experienced violence and pain, the threat of prison isn't going to affect them," Thibodeau said. "These kids think the gangs are the only ones that will accept them."
There are currently more than 300 street gang members, most of them young men.
The gangs used to limit their recruiting to adults age 21 or older, but now go after children of almost any age, said one man who left the Crazy Cree just a few months ago.
"Now they're just recruiting everyone to try and get as powerful as possible," said the 19-year-old man.
Many of the gangs have youth chapters, and some members are as young as 13, according to various sources.
"There's a huge push to recruit going on now. There are non-aboriginal kids being recruited too now," said Karen Pine-Cheechoo, director of the White Buffalo Youth Lodge in Saskatoon.
The largest gang is the Indian Posse. Members sport red bandanas and clothing, and have ties to chapters in Alberta and Manitoba.
The Saskatoon-based Crazy Cree are the second largest. They also carry red bandanas or "rags."
But the Crazy Cree's bandanas are kept in their pockets to avoid attention by police, and are only shown when intimidating members of other gangs.
The Mixed Blood is another major gang, and sport dark blue colours. They originated in the Green Lake area of the province, and are often Metis.
Other gangs include the Native Syndicate, the Saskatchewan Warriors, and the West Side Boyz.
Street gang members used knives and blunt objects as weapons at first, said Saskatoon Police Service Sgt. Gavin Morgan. But during recent raids, police have found barrels and butts of sawed-off shotguns.
"That's a real concern to us," he said.
Only a handful of the members are actually hard-core criminals, and the street gang's level of sophistication is still low, said Morgan. However, the random nature of their crimes makes them more dangerous to the general public in some ways, he said.
Pellerin calls it "cafeteria crime."
Street gangs "intend to commit a crime but don't have a specific target in mind," he said. Whatever automobile, home, business, or individual happens to be nearby becomes a target.
One profitable gang crime is the "john setup," he said. Prostitutes working for their gang will be picked up by a customer or "john."
Several gang members will follow behind in a car, then beat the john and take his money. These crimes are almost never reported, as the john does not want to identify himself.
Most of the profits of crime go toward drugs or binge partying, Morgan and Pellerin said.
The initiation process can be as brutal as some of the crimes the gangs commit against outsiders. Some choose to join the gang, but others are forced in by friends or family members. Once they have a sponsor, males typically have to commit a crime such as a break and enter, beat a rival gang member, or do what's called a "minute."
They are forced to fight several of the gang's toughest members. The new member often suffers broken bones or other serious injuries.
"There's no mercy. You hit him as hard as you can," said the former Crazy Cree member who participated in several of these initiations.
A 17-year-old on a First Nation in northwest Saskatchewan said friends in both the Native Syndicate and Crazy Cree tried to recruit him two months ago. He told them "I don't know" and has managed to avoid them since.
"They said I'd have to take a beating for one minute," he said. "I wouldn't want to take a beating like that. Anything goes."
Females, who make up about 10 per cent of the gang's membership, also must endure a minute.
"But they aren't allowed to hit us in the face," stated one Regina girl who joined the Native Syndicate three years ago at age 14.
Other girls are reportedly forced to have sex with several members of the gang in succession as their initiation.
Gang members often cannot leave. But if they are permitted to leave to care for a newborn child or some other responsibility, they are often subjected to two "minutes."
The exceptions are members who have high-ranking gang family connections, or who have access to drugs, weapons or money. They are exempted from many of the violent rituals.
"It is a very violent life for many of these youth," Pellerin said.
Once in the gang, they can increase their status by committing certain crimes. For gang members inside the prisons, attacking a guard is often looked upon favourably by the gang.
"That's really alarming for the staff that have to work there," Morgan said.
For some of the gangs, serving a sentence of two years or more in a federal penitentiary entitles them to get a "back rocker." This is a tattoo of the gang's name across the gangster's upper back.
The larger street gangs are controlled from inside the prisons, with a "chief" in each province on both the "inside" and "outside."
The outside chief of the Indian Posse was contacted for an interview, and agreed to meet at a Saskatoon restaurant the following day. But something changed, and the 20-year-old man did not show up. He then stopped returning calls to set up another appointment.
"Whoever runs the inside runs the outside," said one former high-ranking Indian Posse member.
Morgan said the leadership of these gangs is relatively fluid in Saskatchewan, but other provinces have become more organized.
"Our greatest worry is a charismatic, violent leader will move in and organize (the street gangs). Then we'll really be behind the eight-ball," Morgan said. "We'll be no different than Winnipeg with drive-by shootings and contract killings."
In the prisons, there are some signs that the gangs are consolidating. The Native Syndicate members have been swallowed or "patched over" to the Indian Posse in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert recently, said the former Indian Posse member.
Something has to be done soon to improve the situation, Morgan said. "We've got to get on this," he said. "It isn't just a police problem. It's a problem for our whole community.
"We need help from everybody."
Â©Â Copyright 2004Â The Leader-Post (Regina)
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