An inside look at gangs in Las Vegas - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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An inside look at gangs in Las Vegas

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FOX5 takes an inside look at gangs in Las Vegas. FOX5 takes an inside look at gangs in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

Last year, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said it investigated 166 homicides, and by the year’s end law enforcement said, enough is enough.

This year, the department brought back its gang unit and just last month, an combined inter-agency police task force made history arresting 19 gang members.

“This is not just individuals committing individual street crimes,” Steven Wolfson, Clark County District Attorney said. “These are hoodlums, these are somewhat terrorists if you will, in our community.”

Wolfson said gang violence is on the rise, but FOX5 wanted to know why and spoke with people who grew up in what locals call Las Vegas’ Westside during a time that gangs controlled a majority of the neighborhoods.

That journey started with a man who calls himself Bizzle.

“There are no type of resources for these kids,” Bizzle said. “If they’re hungry, they’re going to run in the store and they’re going to steal, they’re going to figure it out.”

That is what growing up in Las Vegas was like for Bizzle. Unlike the glitz and glamour of the Strip, he saw flashing red and blue lights, gunshots and crime tape.

“This environment was like Grand Theft Auto in a way,” Bizzle said. “It was activity everywhere, everywhere the culture was forming.”

Bizzle is a well-documented member of a gang called the Bloods and he said he grew up in a once Blood-gang run neighborhood called the Marble Manor Projects.

“That’s the 3 right there,” Bizzle said, pointing to a red three tattooed on his neck.

Walking around his only neighborhood, there were three’s all over.

“It meant three shots to the head,” Bizzle said. “It’s a retaliation thing.”

It was a tough life that started at just nine years old when he joined his first gang, and by his teens, he used his first gun.

“At 17, I was probably the one passing them out, it was just the streets,” Bizzle said. “You have to grow up a little faster than the rest of them because you’re going through your most critical period through tragedy."

Tragedy to him meant losing a lot of friends and families. A lot of those deaths happened because of rival gangs like the Crips.

“It’s very tough to make it out of here,” Morgan Harris said. “It’s almost like a trap.”

That is how Morgan “Mook” Harris said he grew up, trapped in a Crip neighborhood.

“(One member) got killed right here,” Harris said. “He ran into the store bleeding from his head.”

Harris is a good example of growing up fast, not even 30 years old, and already attending more than 30 friends' funerals.

“Even if you don’t want to live this type of lifestyle, I believe you have to know about it,” Harris said. “You gotta know where you’re going. You have to know who you’re around.”

It's important to know the history too.

“Everything on this side of Lake Mead is Crips, Gerson’s and everything on the other side of Lake Mead going towards Washington, all Bloods, Harris said.

Harris also said that two of the cities largest gang groups lived across the street from each other in an apartment complex that has been abandoned called Carey Arms. The Vegas-born gang group named the Gerson’s once called it their home, and their rivals lived blocks away. Two groups who hated each other lived right next to one another and created one of the largest gang fights in Las Vegas history.

“Just think about the traffic and the type of violence that went on right there,” Harris said. “They [the Gerson’s] still exist, they’re actually the biggest gang in Las Vegas."

The three major gangs in the city, the Bloods, the Crips and the Gerson's took over neighborhoods and blood was shed.

Some like Harris said they were born into it.

“My dad was tied in with the gangs unfortunately,” Harris said. “Once his rank got higher, in the gang stuff, they started calling him Mookfasa, king of the jungle, king of the area.”

Others were just seeking mentorship.

“If they come to these influences, looking for some type of direction,” Bizzle said. “This is somebody that they feel is powerful and they lead them in the wrong direction, they’re just gone.”

By 17, Bizzle said he robbed a jewelry store adding murder, robbery and kidnapping to his rap sheet. Eventually, he spent nine years behind bars and came out as an elder in the gang world or an OG, Original Gangster.

“You are held accountable for somebody else’s life ... just by the simple fact that they’re looking at you for guidance," Bizzle said.

That accountability is what led Bizzle to speak out. Instead of watching the cycle of violence continue, he said he wanted to show others there is more to life, that is the same reason Harris spoke out.

“To wiggle through these cracks around here is a blessing,” Harris said. “I feel highly favored to know that I’m taking the origins where I come from and switched it up, I’m doing something different.”

While gang activity is still alive in Las Vegas, the violence seen in recent months isn’t the work of the large organized gangs of the 1990s like the Crips and Bloods or even the Gerson’s.

“Instead of having people in different gangs ... we took the best out of every gang and meshed them together," Harris said. 

That turned the cities major gangs into a melting pot of smaller ones called cliques. The word “clique” in this instance comes from individual gang-members “clicking-up” to make hybrid organizations. Many of the members are just kids.

“It don’t make sense that you’re hanging with someone that comes from a totally different gang,” Harris said. “Actually, some people from their gang killed people from your gang.”

That had to do with the environment changing.

“What it came from was not having older people around us, they all went to jail or were dead,” Harris said. “We kind of raised ourselves.”

Though officials said gang violence is on the rise, people have been finding unique ways out of their situation.

“At some point it’s always about getting out,” Bizzle said.

Some of them have been using a mic and a dream to express themselves through music rather than act it out in the streets.

“Las Vegas has its own story,” Yowda, a recording artist, said. “The story needs to be told.”

The music is comparable to stories from the streets, from artists born and bred in the Vegas Valley.

For some people, the stories lyricized through rap promote sex, drug use and violence, but for locals like Yowda, the music has a deeper meaning.

“Music has really saved my life,” Yowda said. “I did five years in prison, in and out the streets, homeless stuff like that so music gave me an outlet to get away from the negativity."

The lyrics don’t just discuss the downsides of the city, some lyrics talk about dreams and prosperity.

“If they allow more of a doorway for the music ... it wouldn’t be as bad out here,” Bizzle said.

Bizzle used music to share his story, but the road hasn’t been easy.

“I dropped music when I was on parole before and I was violated for that,” Bizzle said. “I was sent back to prison for it because it had gang content. You know, I went to jail at 17 years old, so yeah I have anger in me, but my philosophy was 'At least I’m not out here trying to reenact none of it.'”

The music even brought rival gang members together like the rap duo Harris is a part of. Harris grew up as a Crip and his friend, raised with Gerson's.

“The music scene ... that was the breakage of, he can be from over there, but I like his music, Harris said. "I know his struggle, I know his story.”

The artists said it also helped break down conflicts and connected opposing neighborhoods.

“I didn’t think that it would leave Northtown,” Harris said. “I didn’t think it would leave the westside, so it’s pretty dope how music can bring us together.”

“I’ve been in the studio with two or three gang members that probably would’ve never spoke to each other a day in their lives and now they're buddies, because we came to the studio and we did something positive.”

A lot of the rap music classified as Trap Music, which speaks of blood shed in the streets of Las Vegas, connects with people living in similar environments.

“It sounds like something I went through,” Harris said.

No one knows that better than Yowda, he said.

“When you’re down and out, there is nothing to look forward to ... your life is kind of grim. So with me telling my story and people knowing where I’m coming from, it’s like ‘oh there is a way out, there is something behind this,'” Yowda said.

Still, Vegas rappers haven’t made it big time.  Rap fans think about East Coast Notorious B.I.G., West Coast Tupac Shakur, but the Valley hasn’t turned out any superstars. Soon that may change.

“I started recording out of a closet,” Yowda said. “My first mixtape that got me signed I recorded out of a closet.”

Yowda is signed to rapper Rick Ross’s label Maybach Music Group. It’s a major label under Atlantic Records.

“That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t work,” Yowda said. “I’m in the studio like 15-16 hours a day; my whole life is music.”

He said he has high hopes that Las Vegas will be the new Atlanta or Los Angeles, with labels looking for talent in the valley, but it takes work. When he isn’t recording, he’s shooting videos straight out of the Las Vegas streets.

“We have parts of town that are dangerous,” Yowda said. “(It's) just like any other city, so I express that."

He said he doesn’t believe the music glorifies anything negative.

"I don’t think it really glorifies that,” Yowda said. “Becuase we tend to watch the same kind of movies, as long as you're educated and know the difference between right and wrong, I don't think there is nothing wrong with the way you express yourself."

"No matter how you try to put it, no matter how they try to say about its influence,” Bizzle said. “All these people are looking for a way out."

They tell said, rather than continuing the destructive web played out in real life, they'll just leave it in a verse.

“I made it, they can make it too,” Yowda said.

All of the music used in the broadcast version of this story belongs to the three artists we interviewed. To learn more about their stories, anyone interested can hear it in their music.

Yowda - https://www.facebook.com/KINGYOWDA/

Morgan “Mook” Harris – http://hyperurl.co/2RCG

Bizzle - http://bit.ly/2hgNvzd

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