1960s – present
Central America, United States, Mexico
Mainly Salvadorans, Hondurans and other Latin Americans
18th Street gang, also known as Calle 18, Barrio 18, La18 or Mara-18 in Central America, is a multi-ethnic transnational criminal organization that started as a street gang in the Rampart area of Los Angeles, California. They are considered to be the largest transnational criminal gang in Los Angeles and it is estimated that there are tens of thousands of members in Los Angeles County alone. Their wide-ranging illegal activities and notoriety has come to the attention of the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the early 2000s, the government initiated raids against known and suspected gang members netting hundreds of arrests across the country.
18th Street gang started near 18th Street and Union Avenue in the Rampart District of Los Angeles. There is conflicting information as to the exact area, but this is a generally accepted area by most academic sources. They were originally part of Clanton 14 but wanted to make a separate clique called Clanton 18th Street and allow immigrants the opportunity to join. This proposal was rejected by the Clanton 14, which led to the formation of the 18th Street gang. The two gangs have been bitter rivals ever since. The 18th Street gang grew by expanding its membership to other nationalities and races, and it was among the first multiracial, multi-ethnic gangs in Los Angeles. In the beginning, they were made up largely of second-generation Hispanics. As the 18th Street gang began to battle with more established Hispanic gangs, they began to recruit outside the Hispanic community. There are approximately 200 separate individual autonomous gangs operating under the same name within separate barrios in the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, South Bay, Riverside California, East Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, Downtown Los Angeles, Pico Union, Inglewood, Lynwood, South Gate, Huntington Park, Maywood, Long Beach, Orange County, and Los Angeles' Westside, according to the latest figures from the NDIC. In the early 2000s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated wide-scale raids against known and suspected gang members, netting hundreds of arrests across the country.
As what may have started as a Mexican gang, 18th Street quickly became mainly a Central American gang as the 18th Street started to recruit more members of other ethnic groups. When Central American gang members were arrested in the United States, they were then deported back to Central America where the gang rose out-of-control on different levels of violence not just in El Salvador, but in Honduras and Guatemala as well. The gang became one of the most violent gangs in Central America. The 18th Street later became a bitter rival of MS-13 as both gangs wanted the top spot in Central America. Most Members of 18th Street are now Central American. Members of Central America are mainly Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran, but the gang does have gang members of other parts of Central America. 18th Street influences have recently been spotted in Belize as well.
The majority of 18th Street cliques operate throughout Southern California, but are active in other states and internationally as well. Los Angeles members began migrating to other areas outside America and started to establish their own cliques. 18th Street cliques have been identified in 120 cities in 37 states and the District of Columbia in the United States, as well internationally in Spain, Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
18th Street gang members are required to abide by a strict set of rules. Failure to obey the word of a gang leader, or to show proper respect to a fellow gang member, may result in an 18-second beating, or even execution for more serious offenses. According to the FBI, some factions of the 18th Street gang have developed a high level of sophistication and organization. 18th Street gang members often identify themselves with the number 18 on their clothing and sporting clothing from sports teams such as the Duke Blue Devils, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Clippers, San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers and Oakland Raiders. 18th Street will use the symbols XV3, XVIII, X8, 99 (9+9=18), and 3-dots in their graffiti and tattoos. 18th Street colors are blue and black; blue is to represent and to pay tribute to The Mexican Mafia, and black is to represent the original color for the gang. The 18th Street gang is occasionally referred to as the "Children's Army" because of its recruitment of elementary and middle-school aged youth. They also allow other races to join their ranks making the gang Multi-ethnic. In El Salvador it is common for members of the gang to be tattooed on the face with a large "18". In many cases the tattoo covers the entire face.
"We recognize them as one of the most violent street gangs and one of the most prolific in the United States," says Special agent George Rodriguez, who until his retirement oversaw investigations for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Cars are stolen and homes are burglarized by the gang routinely. On average, someone in Los Angeles County is assaulted or robbed by 18th Streeters every day. The gang has left a bloody trail at a pace three times that of many of the city’s most active gangs. 18th Street is a well established gang that is involved in all areas of street-crime. Some members have even become involved in producing fraudulent Immigration and Customs Enforcement identification cards and food stamps. Several 18th Street gang members have reached a higher level of sophistication and organization in their illicit activities than other gangs. While their main source of income is street-level distribution of drugs, they also have been linked to murders, assaults, arson, copyright infringement, extortion, human trafficking, illegal immigration, kidnapping, prostitution, robbery, and weapons trafficking, as well as other crimes. 18th Street Gang has also been implicated in the high-profile kidnapping and murder of the 16-year-old brother of internationally renowned Honduran football player Wilson Palacios.
In 1998, Catarino Gonzalez was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted Gonzalez of first-degree murder for fatally shooting Officer Filbert Cuesta in the back of the head, while the Officer was sitting in a patrol car.