Which gangs hang out downtown at Third and Pine? Which are responsible for all the graffiti tags in South Park? And why is the dividing line between Central District and South Seattle gang territory a Burger King? These questions and more can now be answered by Google.
Proving once and for all that the Internet really does know everything, there now exists an interactive Google map of Seattle gang territory. The map was produced by Northwest Gangs (nwgangs.com), a website that documents gang graffiti across the region and tracks gang-related crime.
The site is maintained by a 31-year-old Yakima native named Brad, who keeps his last name secret to guard against potential backlash from gang members. He says he created the site in 2004 after a series of gang shootings in his hometown. He wanted to find out more about the gangs operating in his neighborhood, found no resources online, and turned his research into his site and a Flickr feed of gang graffiti.
The Seattle map, says Brad, is primarily based on areas where he has photographed gang graffiti, and on information crowd-sourced from his contacts online (his Facebook page has more than 1,300 "friends," a number of whom claim gang affiliation in their profiles). He cross-referenced that information with neighborhood demographics, and again with statistics for crimes like car prowls, armed robbery, and assault. The map has been posted for more than a year now, but was updated and refined only recently.
A detective from the King County Sheriff's gang unit says that although the territory map contains some useful and accurate information, it should be taken with a sizable grain of salt. A graffiti sighting could indicate merely that a gang member passed through a certain neighborhood, and gang members themselves are likely to overstate their presence and numbers.
Brad defends his methodology, but also includes a disclaimer that acknowledges that the map is a "rough estimate of where certain gangs hang out and operate." He took a few minutes to discuss some of the more interesting elements of the map, and Seattle gangs in general.
SW: What was most challenging about putting this thing together?
Northwest Gangs: The most difficult part was mapping out the South End area, which is traditionally the Gangster Disciples and the Crips. To me it seems like they all blend in together. I know certain gangs hang out in certain areas. But the gangs in Seattle aren't like L.A.'s, where if you cross a certain street you know you're in trouble. Our gangs tend to go to different neighborhoods to sell drugs. A lot are allies with different gangs—you'll have different Crip gangs hang out with each other. There's really no way to pinpoint some of those areas.
How has the map changed since the last version?
I was able to pinpoint a couple different territories. I didn't want to post info I wasn't sure about. The Holly Park Crips area, for example. At one time I was told the Holly Park Crips weren't actually in Holly Park, which didn't make any sense to me. I think they really are [in Holly Park], but the members are just scattered around so much.
When a lot of the old housing projects got torn down and they built all those new projects along Martin Luther King [Way], those gangs are now down in Kent and Federal Way and different parts of Seattle. It's not that they're not based there [in the CD]—they do have a strong membership there—but they have scattered around all over the place.
The Hoovers are the same way. You can find Hoovers all the way up and down Pacific Highway, as far down as Federal Way and Tacoma. The CD [Central District] is that way too. They're building condos and pushing out those older families, so you're seeing CD gangs in Kent and Renton now.
What is the most established or well-defined stretch of gang turf in Seattle?
Probably South Park. I have a lot of evidence with graffiti and from people I've been contacted by that various Sureño gangs pretty much run the South Park neighborhood, with a little influence from Crip gangs and Tiny Rascals, an Asian gang.
Also, Down Wit Tha Crew: Their main territory is 53rd and Henderson. Since as far back as I could track down, to the early '90s, that's been their territory. I read about a lot of crimes committed by their members there, and I've seen their graffiti.
The more sketchy areas are in West Seattle and White Center. That tends to mix in a little of everybody, no matter where you're at.
How did you decide on the dividing line between the Central District and the South Side?
That was actually told to me by a Down Wit Tha Crew member . . . He just said it's common knowledge within the gangs that the Burger King on Rainier Avenue South is kind of like the dividing line. Anywhere north of the Burger King is CD territory, anywhere south is South End territory. And, based on the graffiti, that's true. I very rarely find CD tags south of that, and South End north of that. I've asked others, and they've had the same response: That general area is the dividing line. Some people have said it's the I-90 bridge, but I think where that Burger King is is accurate.
The area at Third and Pine is notorious—tell me about the two gangs that are active there, according to your map?
I don't know why, but it has always been a Blood area. It does fluctuate when people get arrested, or some people get harassed by cops for selling drugs and get pushed off the corner. But those two [Valley Hood Piru and West Side Street Mobb] are the gangs that dominate that area. I've been told gangs will come in from outside areas, they'll come from the CD and West Side to do drug dealing downtown, where they make the most profit. That's like their day job, working at Third and Pike.
So the gangs are actually commuting to downtown?
Yeah, they'll put in their eight hours and go home at the end of the day. I've heard that happens with a lot of drug dealers from Kent. They'll come to downtown to sell drugs and go home when the day is over.
It also kind of happens in the University District. I don't know who is running the drugs there, but a lot of CD gangs will sell up on the Ave. It's sort of uncharted territory; they go and sell their drugs and go back to their neighborhoods. All the research I've done [indicates] Seattle is just crazy when it comes to the gang territory. It's so hard to keep track of everything and how all these gangs blend in with each other.