Automatic weapons. Rule by committee. Power-bestowing amulets. And extreme violence.
These are some of the features that police say distinguish Haitian gangs from other criminal groups in South Florida’s tide of youth violence.
Gangs have proved so fearsome that the Justice Department vowed in May to spend nearly $50 million this year to battle gangs and guns.
Observers say Haitian gangs surfaced in South Florida in 1992, months after a military regime seized control of Haiti and set off an exodus of a few thousand. Within a few years, the Zoe Pound gang emerged as a brutal force in Little Haiti, waging street-level fights against black Americans.
Haitian gangs quietly rose to power because they eluded the public eye by not assuming the conventional signs of gangs, such as red and blue colors and hand signs, police say.
Most Haitian gangs fight among themselves, moving along Interstate 95 to peddle drugs and do their battles.
Automatic rifles known as “choppers” are their weapon of choice.
Unlike other gangs, Haitian gangs rule by committee rather than with a leader, so the group doesn’t suffer a setback if the leader gets taken out. Such a structure means everybody’s the fall guy.
“Three people get into the car,” said Alex Morales, a detective with the North Miami Beach police department.
“They’re all told they’ve got to empty the gun. . . . You look at scenes and there are 50 casings on the ground. It takes only one bullet to kill somebody.”
Police say gangs do this so nobody gets off. It also lends a sense of credibility.
“It shows you’re fully committed,” said Carter Hickman, a crime intelligence analyst for the Florida Department of Corrections. “Everybody has to participate in the crime in order to be a member in good standing.”
ON THE LOOKOUT
In their quest for taking over drug corners, Haitian gangs employ aspects of Vodou to stay strong.
Morales said he has stopped gang members carrying amulets and crosses. One time, he stopped a gang member carrying a $2 bill folded seven times—a signal to keep the money coming.
Inside was a black square, which is supposed to render gang members invincible.