Magazine trumpets western gang life

January 02, 1995|By Chris Payne | Chris Payne,Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Guns, violence and drugs aren't the only signs that Southern California gang culture has spread.

Indications can also be found in a magazine sold in some convenience stores.

In a street-gang version of GQ, Mexican-American gang members display their own sense of style in the glossy pages of a $6.95 bimonthly magazine called Teen Angels. The magazine is published in the Los Angeles area, police said.

The identity of the magazine's publishers, however, is a mystery.

The magazine offers no staff box, which typically lists the editor and the publisher, circulation figures and other information about publications. The only identifying information is a post office box in Rialto, Calif., a far western suburb of Los Angeles. There is no listed telephone number in the Los Angeles area, and police in Southern California say they have no idea who publishes it.

The publication has drawn overwhelmingly negative reviews from police officers and community members. Police said it glorifies the very gang violence they are working to combat, and organizations that work to reform young gang members say the magazine doesn't note the negative aspects of gang involvement.

But the magazine has proved useful to police, who use it to study gang trends. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department subscribed, a gang investigator there said.

A youth coordinator for a Latino-rights advocacy group in California said that some of the poetry in the magazine can be a positive influence on young people but that the numerous images of gang signs, graffiti and guns send the wrong #i message.

Teen Angels is filled with photographs of gang members striking menacing poses as they throw hand signs and flaunt their Uzis and tattoos. Fort Worth-Dallas gangs have found a place to express their identities by sending group photographs to the magazine, police said.

The 17-year-old leader of a Texas gang that claims to have more than 300 members in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Dallas and Irving said his fellow gang members have had their photos featured in Teen Angels.

"It's a popular magazine, you know, for just people who like that kind of stuff," said the gang leader, who requested anonymity. "When you're gangbanging, you look at your competition. You say, 'They've got that gun, and I want to have that gun, too,' and, 'They look bad in that picture, so let's take a picture and send one in, too.' "

The small children of gang members are often pictured in the magazine holding semiautomatic pistols and liquor bottles, police said. Photos in the "Pen Pals" section show muscular, tattoo-covered prison inmates attempting to attract female companions by sending their pictures and addresses to Teen Angels.

Many of the photos show Los Angeles-area gangs, but members from Texas, Colorado and Arizona send photos, graffiti, artwork, poetry and even the obituaries of gangsters to the magazine's post office box.

Teen Angels has been sold for about five years at a convenience store in Grand Prairie, Texas, said the store's owner, Gloria, who would only give her first name. She said that the magazine is kept behind the counter and that she tries not to sell it to people younger than 15.

"I don't particularly agree with a lot of the stuff that's in it," she said. "There are a lot of things I think the magazine could censor better. That is the reason why we've taken it upon ourselves to keep it behind the counter."

Many of the teens who buy the magazine are interested in its artwork, she said.

"There's two ways to look at it. There's gangs in it, but also if you censor it a little better, there's good deeds in it," Gloria said. bTC "The first thing the kids are interested in is the drawings."

Police said the magazine has occasionally proved useful to them.

"We refer to it every now and then," said Sgt. Mark Labbe, who heads the Grand Prairie Police Department's gang unit. "It's a good reference book for anybody who doesn't know anything about gangs."

Sgt. Wes McBride, gang investigator with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said the magazine has been used by police in Southern California to document gang members during criminal investigations.

"It's great for cops for gang intelligence," Mr. McBride said. "We used to have a subscription to it."

The magazine's circulation has steadily risen since its beginnings in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, said Detective Terry Wessel, who heads the Los Angeles Police Department's CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) unit.

"Obviously, it's expanded, and I can see it in the future covering gangs from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles," Detective Wessel said.

There are some redeeming qualities to be found in the pages of Teen Angels, said Kathy Marujo-Thurman, youth coordinator for El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, a Latino-rights advocacy group in Oxnard, Calif., that works with troubled youths.

"The part that I like is some of the poetry, because it comes from the heart," Ms. Marujo-Thurman said.

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