The Business of Gang War
The diary of a street gang member who wants to get out of the game: This is the story of Général, a Blood (Rouge) who changed his life. Reflet de Société recounts what life is like in a gang through the story of Général.
Général’s life in street gangs began in elementary school, when he had fun acting like the older kids in his neighborhood. Then in high school, he identified with his elders by fighting with his clan’s enemies. While growing up, Général was introduced to crime through his gang. The war took on a new meaning. He was no longer defending a family, but booty. As money entered the equation, his enemies multiplied.
Général spent his teenage years hating his enemies, les Bleus (the Crips). Little by little, he was called on by his elders to do crime: theft, reselling of stolen goods, dealing drugs, contraband tobacco, burning down businesses.
Anger in a Street Gang
Slowly, his anger turned away from his enemies. He started to take note of his own appetite for money. He liked the independence and the respect that money could buy. At age 17 he no longer listened to his parents and distanced himself from the family home. He was an adult that could earn his own keep.
He covered his girlfriends in cash, offering them late-model cars, jewelry and clothes. He had class. The friends he rolled with lived the same way. When he looked at them he saw his own success. He was a toughie with a full wallet. He had all he could desire: “I saw that the danger of money is that it attracted a lot of people. Especially women!”
He adds: “We partied every night. We planned our crimes when we were chillin’.”
Général’s clan was comprised of 70 members. The young thug had an embarrassment of riches if he felt like having fun.
“I could phone up someone, and he’d be with 5 other people, then I’d phone someone else, and someone else, and soon we’d be 30 people! We’d go out and never wait in line. We could say whatever we liked, create an uproar, be hateable, take up all the space in a bar, and no one would dare try to throw us out. No bar in Montréal North could refuse us.”
Général and his gang acted like tyrants even when they were on their own territory. This was despite the war with the Bleus, in which they posed as defenders of their territory. The gang war had changed its orientation.
Bloods and Money
The Rouges family came together to fight the enemy, but each member acted according to their own interests.
When young, they joined the group thanks to their friendships and similarities. Général observes: “There were some who just wanted to carry a gun. They entered the gang with their own hatreds. They were there for violence. They wanted to commit crimes. Others wanted to belong to something. Me, it was money. I was more a hustler than trigger happy. My crew, it was cash above all.”
At the beginning of high school, Général raised his hand to beat up the Bleus at his school. But by the time he’d reached his later teenage years, it was all about the dead presidents: “When I got up in the morning, I’d say to myself: I want a new car. But if I hadn’t made money during the day, I wouldn’t sleep! Not everyone makes money. You have to be wise, you have to want to. Most gang members, I’d say 60%, are poor. Really poor. They don’t hustle. All they do is work out. They’re not thinking day and night. They live on the street, couch surf from one apartment to another, at friends’ places. It’s a minority of us that have an apartment, a condo, a house. Those that hang around the Metro, the small time pushers, they aren’t leaders. They’re not serious.”
The individual interests of gang members diverge as they get older. The things that brought them together when they were younger slowly dissolve.
The Bloods’ Territory
The Général’s gang started looking for a larger territory to control so that they could expand their drug dealing business. They always bought their drugs from the oldest member of their clan, one of the first generation of Rouges. Of all the spin-off groups of his generation, Général’s group did the best.
“We made more money than anyone else,” he recalls, “and we were crazy. It was rollin’. Downtown, the West Island, Montréal North. With just 5 solid guys you could control a territory, and call for reinforcements when you needed to.”
Général couldn’t solve every problem himself. When he needed help he could always make a call and get another member to steal something, intimidate someone or even take someone down. “Any member could make a decision on their own. But we generally made decisions together. We’d call each other.”
Bloods vs Bikers Downtown
Greedy to expand their territory, Général and his friends discreetly envied Saint-Denis Street, an important Montréal artery.
“We knew that the street belonged to the bikers,” Général says. “One day 20 of us showed up there to attract their attention, show them that we were there. We sold our drugs. Until the local boss noticed us. So we confronted him. And usually, not a lot of people do this.”
The group grabbed a junkie and told him to call his pusher. When the pusher arrived, they tied him up and phoned his boss in front of the hostage: “If the boss doesn’t give up his territory, we’ll send our message by beating up the pusher.”
Général shows no emotion when recounting this part of his life. For him, it was business as usual.
“We went after everybody,” he says. “We didn’t care if they had patches or not. We were a gang too. We went after two or three of their guys. They said OK, but don’t touch Saint-Laurent Street. You’ll be overstaying your welcome. Bikers are warriors,” he says with respect.
Général and his group, over and above their expansionist dreams, had to protect the areas they already controlled. What they did to the bikers on Saint-Denis was copied by others against the Bleus.
Violence Attracts Violence
If one of his young pushers was beaten up by enemies wanting to send him a message, Général had to react. “I had no choice but to respond. If I didn’t, my young member would lose confidence in me. And the others as well. We had to solve our problems. In this milieu, you know who doesn’t like you, who’s watching you. It’s easy to get someone to talk. If you think it takes a beating to be understood, that’s what you do. But that can also turn sour. If you end up in a place and people are armed, anything can happen.”
Général and his gang fought first and foremost to protect their business interests. They walked in on the turf of the Bleus, the bikers and the Mafia. And their affiliation with the Rouges brought them to back the wars of other clan members.
One group’s business could bring everybody headaches: “The bikers aren’t afraid of anything. They have gangs that exist just to kill. They’re as nasty as we are. They’ll shoot you in the ass, no matter who you are. That was one of our biggest wars. In fact, the war with the bikers lasted a year. The oldest Bloods took part.”
Général speaks of these enemies with whom he has crossed swords with respect. But his tone changes when he talks about the Mafia.
Mafia, Police and Politicians
“They’re chickens, Général says. “When it came down to fighting they could never respond. They had a lot more to lose than we did. We could destroy their businesses. And all they could do is kill us. It cost them $50,000 to hire a hit man to kill just one guy! But for us to do the same, it costs nothing! During the war with the Italians, we burned 7 of their bars down in one night! They lost a lot. What saved them is that they’re everywhere. They’re plugged into the police and politicians.”
When it comes to a war for money and power, the enemy can even be a friend. Frictions can occur within a family. General’s best friend, a very ambitious and productive member, got shot in the leg by one of his good colleagues. He’d wanted the friend to know that he wasn’t bringing back enough money. “Both guys stayed in the gang, but they didn’t talk to each other. It divided the group. They talked behind each other’s back. But they were from the same clique. We made it clear to the shooter that we weren’t in favor of what he’d done. I didn’t see him as much after that. He sort of went into hiding.”
The cycle of the generations carried on. Général’s friends, with their business, started to distance themselves from the war, which was bad for business. They left it to younger clan members to strike while they went after the money. So the violence continued.