From Rubies to Blossoms
Exclusive to npr.org: Take an audio tour of Long Island's gang hot spots with gang experts Wes Dailey and Herman Pyatt
A Portrait of American Girlhood: The New Gangs of New York
View a gallery of photos taken during NPR's ride-along with Dailey and Pyatt
Retired Detective Wes Daily, right, and retired Capt. Herman Pyatt, patrolling suburban Long Island. Daily was with the Suffolk County Police Department for the 30 years. He specializes in street gang activity and is the current president and co-Founder of the East Coast Gang Investigators Association, and the public information officer for the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, representing more than 13,000 law enforcement professionals in the United States, Canada and England. Pyatt was a 20-year veteran of New York's Correction Department at Rikers Island. Today he works for Hype For Life, an organization that speaks to parents and students about the dangers of gang activity.
Photo: Jacki Lyden, NPR News
Long Island gang graffiti -- the words read: "REI, your (sic) gonna die, and a word to da wise, you should have killed me!!"
Photo: Davar Ardalan, NPR News
Daily and graffiti-covered dumpster in Suffolk County, about an hour from New York City
Photo: Davar Ardalan, NPR News
The Gangs of Long Island
Retired Detective Wes Dailey has been patrolling the suburban enclave of Suffolk County, on Long Island north of New York City, for 30 years. During a recent tour of gang hot spots, Daily casts his practiced eye over the action at the video arcade of the Bayshore Shopping Mall, looking for signs.
He recounts the action in October 2000, when two girls, 17 and 18 years old, slashed a girl they didn't know in the face -- in the middle of the mall's food court, in broad daylight. The attack, he says, happened because the girls were trying to join the Crips -- a notorious criminal gang with branches nationwide.
Dailey says the girls had all the things going for them that many inner-city gang initiates don't have -- a stable, middle-class home, good grades, church and family. Now, they're each serving a 10-year sentence.
"Gangs on Long Island is a very interesting phenomenon," Dailey tells Jacki Lyden. Suffolk County, he says, is "known as one of the educated communities -- you wouldn't think it, but we do have a growing gang phenomenon."
More than 1.5 million people live in Suffolk County, an hour from New York City. Suffolk County isn't the first place many people think of when the think of gangs. But Dailey says that he's seen a big increase in the type of gang behavior that was once confined to the bigger cities.
Dailey describes what he's seen on the beat: 200-strong groups of gang members who once congregated at the local elementary school football field, and the rise of girl "gang bangers" dressing in gang colors and making hand signs before an attack.
"It outrages him that gangs have penetrated central Long Island, with its housing developments and streets lined with split-level and ranch homes," says Jacki Lyden. "But it no longer surprises him."
Dailey is considered one of the top gang investigators in America, and works with a network of 13,000 law enforcement officers in the United States and abroad. His work is key to researchers trying to decipher why any teenage girl would want to join a gang. The usual reasons have been clear for decades: abuse in the home, low-self esteem and poverty.
But according to a recent study funded by the U.S. Justice Department, girls also join gangs because of "peer pressure, the desire for group affiliation, excitement... and money-making opportunities."
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