By Ed Brock
A teenage boy walks out of a seemingly benign North Clayton house, bedecked in a red jersey and red baseball cap emblazoned with the letter P.
"That's a ?Tiny Loco Boy,'" Clayton County Police Lt. Mark Thompson says. "The P doesn't stand for Philly, it stands for ?People Nation.'"
Thompson is the county police department's gang expert. On Wednesday he was patrolling an area north of Riverdale between Forest Park and College Park, looking for activity from a gang called the Hit Squad.
Driving an unmarked vehicle, Thompson was in a neighborhood near the "triangle" of three apartment complexes on Riverdale Road where they believe gang activity is the highest. Last Monday 17-year-old Derrick Henry was injured in what police think might have been a shootout between gang members involving the Hit Squad at Kimberly Forest Apartments, one of the three in the triangle.
Cruising through the apartment complex during a major operation designed to make police more visible to residents, Thompson scans the passers-by in an attempt to identify possible gang members. They know who most of the 40 some odd members of the gang are, and Thompson said members of the gang usually wear white T-shirts.
The Hit Squad formed about a year ago.
"Initially it was a group of young men who wanted to be rappers and musicians and it sort of spun out of control," Thompson said.
There have been other instances of violence at Kimberly Forest and the other apartment complexes. Around 6:51 a.m. July 15 a bullet crashed through the window of a woman's apartment near where Henry had been shot the day before.
Resident Thomas Jackson said after Henry's shooting that he sees armed youths walking through the complex almost every day, but Jackson and Thompson both said most of the troublemakers don't live in the complex.
And the Hit Squad is far from the only gang problem in the county. Thompson and members of two municipal departments, Riverdale Officer Ryan Bynum and Forest Park Lt. James Warner, have formed the South Metro Gang Task Force that is cooperating with departments in neighboring counties to share information on area gangs.
Bynum keeps track of the Hit Squad as well as other area gangs, like the Asian gang Red Dragon Mafia and the Hispanic gang Vita Locos.
Most of the smaller gangs fit into larger gangs. The Tiny Loco Boys, for example, are under the People Nation flag.
"They're against the Folk (Nation)," Bynum said.
The gangs inside each nation are called sets. They identify each other by using colors (Folks are mostly blue, People are red, the color worn by the Tiny Loco Boy Thompson identified) and signs. People "represent" to the left by wearing caps and bandanas pointed to the left or rolling up a left pants leg. Folks represent to the right in a similar fashion.
Much of the gang activity here is influenced by the constant influx of people moving into the area from other parts of the country.
"Georgia is what I would consider a hybrid area," Bynum said. "You have some kids who were involved with it up there and are setting up their cliques down here."
It's all about making money, Bynum said, and running "businesses" in drugs, robbery, thefts and assaults. The Hit Squad targets people who show them disrespect, or people with something they want, Bynum said.
Gangs change names and membership over time, Thompson said, complicating the process of tracking them and identifying actual gangs as opposed to just groups of young people who happened to be together.
"To categorize somebody as being part of a gang you have to have patterns," Thompson said. "If we see these kids in the same area all the time showing the same colors, we do define them as a gang and not just a gang of kids."
If members of the group have criminal records that strengthens the definition of a gang.
Locations of gang activity shift as well.
Most of the county's Asian gangs have moved due to construction on the fifth runway at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport that has plowed down many of the neighborhoods where they lived. Latin Gangs, members of the Gran Familia, are growing in number, with about nine main gangs and about 100 different cells in the Forest Park and Morrow areas.
Another group, the 18th Street gang, is starting to show up as well.
"They're coming down and trying to get a feel for how big a foothold Gran Familia has," Thompson said.
During Thursday's operation things were fairly quiet in the triangle. Clayton County K-9 units found a man wanted on a warrant, pepper-sprayed and arrested a man who fought against police while being served a criminal trespass warning and stopped a trio of two men and a minor who had several small bags of marijuana in their possession.
"It's hit and miss sometimes," Thompson said.
Thompson talked to the management at the complex and gave them information on gang activity and a contact number to report such activity to him. They have other operations ongoing in the area that are less visible.
"Just because we're not wearing a blue uniform does not mean that we're not there," Thompson said.