Gangs Use Internet to Bang Out Messages of Pride, Hate

Knight Ridder, Feb. 27

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Sal Rojas was working on his computer science degree when he created BrownPride.com to celebrate Latino culture. His site quickly evolved into a popular forum for urban expression, showcasing mural art, music and fashion.

But it has also become the target of high-tech taggers and “cyberbangers.”

As authorities crack down on gang activity on the streets, self-proclaimed gangsters are going online, turning portions of Web sites—such as BrownPride.com—into virtual turfs where rivals exchange threats and throw up their numbers and neighborhood names under the anonymity of the Internet.

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Bowing to pressure from police, Internet providers have shut down several of the more notorious gang sites in recent years, Lewis said. So “cyberbanging” has moved to other sites such as BrownPride.com; vidaenelvalle.com, which bills itself as the “Latino Voice of the San Joaquin Valley” and among other things offers sports highlights, news and feature stories; and Northern-Ridaz.com, which features new releases from Bay Area rap artists.

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“Clowner,” whose e-mail address includes the number 13—for Surenos—recently posted a message laced with expletives on a Web site originally intended to showcase Latino art and music.

“Yeah, I shout out for the hood,” he told the Mercury News in an e-mail. “It’s family, and I hate red.”

He explained that he had been in a fight at school with someone dressed in red and went online to continue the challenge.

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Another posting praised drive-by shootings: “Click, click, bang, bang puro Norte.”

Rojas, a Web master based in Fullerton, Calif., said he was bothered that his site—created to inspire and empower—now hosts a scrolling log of gang challenges. He shut down a live chat room about six months ago after the popular feature—which had sparked romances and friendships—had degenerated into a ‘hate fest,” mostly between Nortenos and Surenos.

“I wish everyone had the opportunity to study and go to college . . . but we’re caught up in the daily struggle,” he said of some of his site’s visitors. “They hate without even knowing the reason why they hate.”

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