LOS ANGELES—As George Avlos de Jeda cruises the streets these days, fresh graffiti still mark the boundaries of countless turf territories, but the clumps of ominous-looking thugs are disappearing.
“A lot has changed with gangbanging,” the former gang member remarks as he drives through the Rampart neighborhood, the origin of the Mara Salvatrucha gang’s empire. “A lot of guys, they’re not fighting anymore. We got 18th Street,” the city’s largest Latino gang, “and MS working side by side.”
This is not exactly a positive development. The two rival gangs, which have established formidable outposts in Northern Virginia in recent years, have realized that it’s more profitable, and healthier, to focus on business—drugs, extortion, prostitution—than avenging petty turf struggles.
The result, police and former gang members said, is a lower public profile: more sedate cars, fewer tattoos and shaved heads, less overt menacing. And while internecine violence may be declining, the emergence of a lasting underworld is an even more daunting prospect.
“Before, you could tell who was gangbanging and who wasn’t,” said de Jeda, who now works to steer gang members off the streets and into jobs. “I think it’s scarier now.”