Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Gang role in prison fight no surprise

The Baltimore Sun

All 18 men injured in the clash at the Metropolitan Transition Center last Friday have been released from the hospital and placed at other state prisons, according to Maj. Priscilla Doggett, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

With the proliferation of gangs in Maryland prisons, I'd have bet money that the fracas started as a beef between the gangs known as the Bloods and Crips.

I'd have lost my money. But I'd have been half right.

Sources say one of the groups involved was indeed the Bloods. The other group was made up of Sunni Muslims. I've heard at least two different versions of how the fight started, and there are probably as many more as there were witnesses.

Doggett said yesterday that the facility is still in lockdown but that prisoners are now being allowed to shower, have hot meals and have access to ice because of the heat. Doggett said that corrections officers who searched cells have recovered more than 100 weapons, and the shakedown isn't done yet.

Doggett remains adamant about not identifying who was involved in the prison fight.

"This is an ongoing investigation," Doggett said Wednesday. "The institute remains locked down. I didn't specify who the groups were. As part of the investigation, we are looking at gang involvement in that incident."

I usually cringe at the words "ongoing investigation," but I can't blame Doggett for being tight-lipped about this one. With the number of gangs now in Maryland prisons, our penal system is a powder keg. Doggett, stressing that she used the singular word "gang" in her comments, told me what gangs have been identified in Maryland prisons.

We have the aforementioned Bloods and Crips, each of which originated in California.

The gang called the Black Guerilla Family has found its way to Maryland. The late prison activist, writer and Black Panther Party member George L. Jackson is said to have started the BGF at California's San Quentin prison in the 1960s, according to some news reports. (Ironically, Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton was killed in 1989 by a member of the BGF. Newton had been on the outs with the BGF for a while, not exactly a good career move.)

The Aryan Brotherhood began at San Quentin in 1967, according to some news reports. (Because, we may surmise, white guys need gang affiliation, too.) The AB is now in Maryland. If this list is starting to read like a good reason to give California back to Mexico, that's because it is.

We have the country of El Salvador to thank for the 10 members of MS-13 that officials say are in Maryland prisons. The origins of Dead Man Inc. (DMI) are unclear, but officials say it is a predominantly white gang known for carrying out contract killings for other prisoners.

Conspicuously absent from the list of known prison gangs are any of the Muslim sects. Muslims are technically a religious group, not a gang. But there are those who believe some inmates convert to Islam to gain a very important benefit of being in a gang.

"Islam is not a gang," said Imam Anees Abdul-Rahim of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, "but a lot of young guys are attracted to it because of the protection it provides."

Abdul-Rahim said that some young men who have a "gang mentality" join Muslim groups, even though being in a gang violates the basic tenets of Islam.

Good point. But getting shanked by two or more inmates from rival gangs violates the average inmate's tenets of basic survival. Some of those inmates may convert to Islam, and not because Muslims in prison are a gang. They convert because Muslims in prison, even though not a gang, still have a certain amount of "juice" - street slang for "respect and credibility."

Another way of putting it: behind prison walls - and on some of Baltimore's streets - juice means "mess with us, and there will be consequences."

So it's really immaterial what started the Sunni Muslim-Bloods mini-war at MTC last Friday. Doggett is still riding a tiger at DPSCS, as are all officials there. It's perfectly understandable that she says "At this point, it would not be wise to talk about what caused the incident."

She doesn't have to. We all pretty much know it was all about beef and juice. That's the way of life - and sometimes death - behind prison walls.

Beef and juice are often what it's about on Baltimore's streets too. That's why we've had 130 homicides already this year. It's a safe bet that whoever killed taxi driver Ghulam Mustafa earlier this week in what's been called a "road rage" incident believed he had some major juice to settle even a minor beef.

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