Gangs of St. Paul

In the capital city, a generation of younger, harder, more randomly violent gangsters wage war on themselves

ST. PAUL POLICE OFFICER TIM BOHN un-holsters his squad microphone. The eight-year veteran cop is idling in the parking lot of the BP gas station on Lexington Parkway just north of Interstate 94. It's a sleepy night in St. Paul, just two days into the new year. The police radio is largely silent.

"Rap for me," Bohn instructs over the squad intercom. "Rap for me, Wilber." The young black man to whom this plea is addressed, also known by his rap moniker Dubb J., appears to be uninterested in participating in this conversation. Slouching on the sidewalk outside the convenience store, dressed in baggy jeans and a black coat, he ignores the officer's request.

"He's not in a very good mood," Bohn observes, replacing the microphone and pulling up closer to the young man's sidewalk perch. The gang investigator then queries Dubb J. about a recent traffic stop in which officers allegedly pulled a bag of marijuana from a car that he was riding in.

Michael Dvorak

Tim Bohn: A little birdie told me it was yours.

Dubb J.: Who?

TB: A little bird.

DJ: Who that?

TB: I can't tell you that.

DJ: A little bird?

TB: Like if you told me something I wouldn't be telling other people you told me. I hope that wasn't yours.

DJ: Oh no, man. I don't do that stuff.

TB: I know you don't do it, but you might have to sell it.

DJ: Man, I don't sell it either. I got a regular job like you.

The topic then turns to Dubb J.'s fledgling rap career. Bohn, who worked patrol in the western district for eight years before recently joining the gang unit, professes to be offended that Dubb J. has so far failed to name-check him in a song.

DJ: I ain't gonna put you in no song. I don't want no ass whuppin'.

TB: C'mon, it's an honor to be in there.

DJ: I don't want no ass whuppin', man.

TB: When have I ever given you one?

Dubb J. has no response to this last query. "All right," Bohn finally says. "You be careful. Don't go getting shot now." The officer then pulls away from the curb and out of the BP parking lot. "There he is in the flesh," Bohn laughs. "Dubb J."

According to Bohn and other officers, the fledgling rapper hanging out at the BP gas station is also a prominent member of the Selby Siders street gang. In recent months, gang investigators say, the Selby Siders have been feuding with various other St. Paul-based gangs, most notably the East Side Boys. The gang landscape in St. Paul cuts across all races—from white supremacist groups to Latin Kings to Asian youth gangs—but the shootings and violence have been most intense recently among predominantly black gangs. Over the last 18 months, police have documented more than 20 shooting incidents involving members of the Selby Siders and the East Side Boys alone, although few of these have resulted in homicides. "Luckily, these guys aren't very good shots," notes Tim Flynn, commander of St. Paul's gang unit.

While gang investigators believe that these two groups are currently the most active and violent of the predominantly black gangs operating in St. Paul, they are hardly the only players. In fact, the landscape is always shifting, with new subsets and permutations of gangs popping up on a continual basis. The Lowertown Gangsters, Get Money Boys, Lawson Boys, Grown Man Click, Get Money Girls, and 5th and Minnesota Boys are among the other groups operating in the city. The gangs are also younger, less organized, and more volatile than in years past. "It takes nothing for these guys to get pissed at each other and a war is starting," notes St. Paul gang investigator Daniel Zebro.

Some of these gangs are loosely affiliated with better known, national criminal operations such as the Gangster Disciples or the Crips, but the connection is often symbolic more than substantive. "How affiliated are these local kids with some of those guys?" asks John Pyka, a St. Paul sergeant assigned to the Metro Gang Strike Force. "I don't know. They've gotten a lot of influence from them. They've picked up the monikers. They've picked up the philosophy of the gang."

While these gang disputes are often juvenile and seemingly pointless, the presence of guns means that the results are frequently bloody. Last year St. Paul police officers pulled 665 guns off the streets. In addition, they collected ammunition from 461 crime scenes and recorded 838 incidents involving shots fired. "Are we just targeting the black gangs?" asks Sandy Kennedy, a St. Paul investigator assigned to the Metro Gang Strike Force. "No. It's just that right now they're the most active with the guns and shootings. The [amount of] guns that we're recovering off these kids is just incredible. They're just blatantly going down the street shooting. You have a target, but you don't know what you're going to hit."

ON JANUARY 10 OF LAST YEAR, at approximately 7:00 p.m., St. Paul police officers were dispatched to Johnson High School on reports of a fight. Officers arriving at the East Side school found a chaotic scene. The fight, which broke out during a basketball game between Johnson and Arlington High School, had dispersed and moved outside the building, where dozens of students, parents, and school officials were milling about.

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