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Lost library of gangs in Athens

By Joe Johnson

Soon after I arrived in Athens back in 2003 it

wasn't too long before I began a dance with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department about the issue of gangs in the community.

Each time I would see gang graffiti scrawled blatantly on a wall or building, or ask about an assault by a group of young guys all dressed in the same colors, or a fusillade of bullets pounding into the walls of someone's home, I'd get virtually the same response from the police department's brass, that there are no gangs in Athens, just loose associations of youths who identify with their part of town.

The cops walking the beat knew otherwise.

So, with photographer Allen Sullivan by my side and watching my back, I set out to prove definitively that yes there ARE. gangs in the good old ATH.

After weeks of hanging out in such places as Pauldoe, Garnett Ridge, and Pinewoods Estates, we presented the Banner-Herald with a package of stories and loads of photos that irrefutably illustrated that nationally recognized gangs like SUR-13, 18th Street, Bloods, Crips and Gangster Disciples were firmly entrenched in Athens-Clarke County, along with such local hybrids as Los Primos and the Trap Boyz.

One week after the ninth part of the Gangs in Athens was published in the ABH, there was a high-profile drive-by on Wynter Court in which a line of slow-moving cars passed by a duplex apartment, and automatic gunfire erupted from every window of those cars, sending bullets tearing into that apartment, injuring that two young Hispanic males.

It was a scene straight out of Colors or Boyz in the Hood.

Even then-Police Chief Jack Lumpkin could no longer deny the existence of gangs in the community, and he announced the first-step measure to begin addressing the issue, creation of a Gang Intelligence Unit for ACCPD.

Unfortunately when the Banner-Herald was sold to Gatehouse Media in 2011, every single one of the gang series stories disappeared because apparently the new owners failed to archive those and many other ABH stories.

It is a loss to the understanding the evolution of gang awareness in Athens akin to, dare I say it, yes I will, the fire that destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria.

I could only find the following artifacts of their one-time existence, thumbnails from the jounalism clearinghouse Muckraker:

Gangs in AthensBy .Joe Johnson joe.johnson@onlineathens.comRetaliatory shootings. Cryptic graffiti. Secret handshakes. Those are among the hallmarks of the modern urban gang, and gang evidence abounds in parts of Athens. Staff reporter Joe Johnson spent three months immersed in the local gang culture to produce a series of nine stories examining what's happening here and why.Signs of a ProblemThe writing is on the wall: Seeming to mock the party line that Athens-Clarke County doesn't have a gang problem is a street gang's "tag," spray-painted some 6 feet high on a wall directly across the street from the Clarke Central High School faculty parking lot.Young Hispanics vulnerableIt's hard enough trying to start a new life in a new country, but many Mexican immigrants newly arrived to Athens have the added burden of trying to keep their children out of gangs.'P-wood' and 'The Duplex'When the New Life Baptist ministry was trying to establish a presence in Pinewood Estates North five years ago, gang members repeatedly broke into the chapel, vandalizing it and tagging the walls with their gang's name, Sur 13.A directory of local street gangsDuring a three-month investigation the Banner-Herald was able to identify the several named gangs.Their side of town - an identity that bindsWhen one of his friends was cut down in a hail of bullets last March, the teen calling himself Taliban Soldier knew there was only one thing to do: He and his fellow west-siders got their guns and went looking for payback. ''If someone is giving you a hard time, your people from the 'hood are going to represent you 100 percent,'' explained the teen, who lives at Jack R. Wells Homes, a public housing complex ensconced in the heart of Athens' west side.Gainesville takes gangs to taskCruising along Atlanta Highway one recent evening, Joe Amerling brings his SUV to a stop and points at the Red Barn pool hall on the other side of the street. "That's where four Mexicans with the BSV were shot by the BSL and MS 13," Amerling said. "One of them died."Violence hits home for family"Mario - Siempre estaras en nuestros corazones." That message - "Mario, you will always be in our hearts" - is tacked to the wall above the tub in Olga Hernandez's bathroom. It is signed by many of the friends left behind by her son, an Athens resident killed at the age of 17 in a gang-related drive-by shooting last year at a birthday party in Gainesville.Resisting gangsThey don't have to step over the painted outline of a dead body any more, but children going for help at an after-school homework program must still walk by the memorial of flowers marking the spot where two men were gunned down last summer. The crime scene is next door to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Athens' Garnett Ridge unit, which provides an after-school program and other services to the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of rental duplex homes in northwest Athens. Some taking actionMarco Silva once belonged to the Latin Kings, one of the nation's most violent street gangs, but now he's a cop.Club a refuge from the streetIt's 11:30 a.m. on a school day, and here and there in the Jack R. Wells Homes public housing complex youths are gathered in groups of twos and threes and fours, casting wary eyes at passing cars. Down the street from one such group is a building set apart from the other drab brown duplexes by the blue and white trim on its front, and sign stenciled on the door identifying it as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Athens' Jack R. Wells unit. Ex-A-C officer saw writing on the wallGang graffiti was becoming such a problem in Athens several years ago that Jean Horton took up a new hobby - photographing the gangster's "tags." Since then, the hobby has become more of a second vocation for Horton, a Georgia probation officer who believes gangs are firmly entrenched in Athens-Clarke County, and that the graffiti is not just the work of ''wannabes,'' or youngsters mimicking gang behavior.Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on December 14, 15, & 16, 2003.

1,153 views3 comments


Good article Joe.


Mar 06, 2023

It isn’t like these kids have ever hidden the fact they are in gangs. All anyone has to do is ask a teacher. Kids are proud to talk about which gang they are with.


Arthur Crumpton
Arthur Crumpton
Mar 05, 2023

Do worry! Rest assured…our District Attorney and her proactive team of hard nosed law and order minded prosecutors and ADA’s are proactively, relentlessly and doggedly pursuing all these gangs in our city with a ruthless, dedicated determination, worthy of Elliot Ness!

So sleep peacefully Athenians

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