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Minneapolis Gang Member Sheds Light On Turf Wars: 'Death Keeps It Going'

Originally published Feb. 21

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Bullets ring out, day and night.

People who call the Minneapolis north side home know the sound all too well, and they tell WCCO that gang violence is the driving force.

For the first time, we're getting inside perspective from a gang member. He agreed to talk openly if we concealed his identity. We interviewed him in shadow and re-voiced his message word for word. We'll call him "John."

"I'm from the 'lows,'" John said. "The big gangs are the SUBs and the YNTs. Those are the biggest gangs on the north side of Minneapolis."

And John says these rivals belong to territorial groups known as the "highs" and the "lows." We're told West Broadway Avenue is the landmark that separates the highs from the lows. Anything south of West Broadway is lows territory, while north belongs to the highs.

"There's not no structure on the streets no more," he said. "Death keeps it going."

John refers to gangs without structure as cliques. Their disorganization makes them dangerous.

"It's leaders out there in gangs, in cliques, there ain't no leaders," he said. "Everybody wants to be a leader."

I met members of these cliques during a ride along with Minneapolis Police gang expert Sgt. Andrew Schroeder last fall. He says these cliques are usually led by people who have the most money and guns.

"I would describe it more as not a fight, not a battle," Schroeder said. "It's a war."

The war is fueled by retaliation -- this for that. Back-and-forth messages that play out on social media, then the street.

"It's not over today or next week. There's no victory," Schroeder said. "There's no ending point. It's you took one of ours, so we took one of yours. There's no end."

He's also seen the recruiting of kids.

"We have seen shootings this year where it's very clear that older gang members are present on scene, have conversation with younger juvenile gang members, almost directing them to then go do shootings," he said.

These new youngsters are recruited for one particular reason.

Gangs Generic
(credit: CBS)

"Young guys, they won't get no prison time," John said.

Kids as young as 13 are instructed to grab cars, and cash them in for money. It's the driving force behind the Twin Cities' carjacking crisis.

"You see a [Dodge Challenger SRT] Hellcat running at the gas station, you still got it in the back of your mind that there's a guy out there that will give you $60,000 right now for that Hellcat. That $60,000 going to run all the good thoughts that you had because you're broke," John said.

You read that right. Carjacked, and then sold for $60,000. That fast money is the reason Schroeder says it's hard to get kids out of gangs. Fifteen-dollar-an-hour jobs can't compete when you can make thousands stealing cars.

"Young people are making $20,000 in a day, and sometimes doing it several times a week. How do you stop that?" Schroeder said. "And when there's no real consequences to that, how do you say no?" he said.

Schroeder thinks the system needs to hold people accountable. From parents being active parents, to tougher penalties.

"We're looking at a guy right now that has seven open felony cases. This isn't one case, this is seven times being arrested for felonies," Schroeder said. "This isn't stealing a candy bar, right? Seven felony cases and he's out again committing more felonies."

For John, serving prison time and raising a new family has him thinking that there's more to life then gangs.

"I just want to get the message out to the gang members: Just leave it alone, bro," he said. "It's not gonna go well. It's not gonna go well at all, you know what I'm saying? You're either gonna end up dead or in jail."

We learned the thieves will sell the cars for parts or use them in other crimes and then crash them as they ditch the vehicles for new ones.

They also told me about guns and a device known as switches. That's where people legally buy an inexpensive part online that turns handguns into illegal automatic weapons.

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