Al Jazeera shines light on Mpls’ Native American mobs

Al Jazeera America this week has been peeling back the veil of indifference that has masked a reality of life in parts of Minneapolis — Native American gangs.

Earlier this week, it focused on the gang ties of Reuben Crow Feather, who was convicted of drug trafficking in 2008 and identified by law enforcement as a leader of the Minneapolis-based gang Native Mob. It’s a charge he denies.

Crow Feather, 38, is poised to become a leader of the American Indian Movement.

Now, Al Jazeera America has profiled “Boots,” a member of Native Mob who escaped indictments in a sweep of Native gang members in 2013.

The 19-year-old renounced his gang ties when his first child was born.

“I loved robbing people. That’s what I used to love doing,” he said. “I used to rob people all down here on Chicago [Street] all night.”

Here’s how it worked: Boots, his brother and one other accomplice would take a pellet gun and the snub nose out with them and wander the night looking for people who looked as if they had cash or other valuables. Usually victims handed over everything when Boots put a gun on them. If they refused, he said, he would fire a round into the ground near their feet.

He robbed stores, couples, food stands, anyone who might have had something he wanted. The money went to marijuana, clothes and food. The rush kept him coming back. He learned about his opposition. There were other gangs, like the Native Vice Lords, Native Disciples, Bloods and Sureños.

As a member of Native Mob, Boots quickly learned that his rivals took gang life very seriously.“When I was just a little boy, I got grown people walking up to me talking about ‘F*** Native Mob, I’m gonna whoop your ass,’” he said. “There was nothing fun about it. Shooting at people? There ain’t nothin’ pretty about it.”

This, he said, is how he got his name: After beating a rival gang member unconscious, Boots and an accomplice dragged the boy off the sidewalk to a gutter, then they opened his mouth and made him bite the curb. When the boy woke up, Boots’ friend pulled a gun, and they ordered him not to move. Then Boots stomped the back of the boy’s head, forcing his open mouth onto the curb and spraying blood and teeth across the pavement.

According to Boots, the boy lived.

“I don’t believe in heaven, but I damn sure believe in hell,” he said. “When I die, I may go to hell, but I’m trying to make right for what I done in my life. I’m trying to tell my story about how wrong I was.”

In an earlier installment of the series, Al Jazeera asked what moves Native Americans to join gangs?

It got an answer from James Cross and his twin brother, Gerald Cross, who both joined Minneapolis’ Latin Gangster Disciples.

Both of them were taken from their Anishinaabe and Dakota parents at the age of 4 because of alcoholism and were adopted by a white family. Gerald says the home was safe, clean and a loving environment, but James says he knew he didn’t belong. The two joined the Latin Gangster Disciples primarily because it was something to do and seemed cool.“

Just being able to count on people, not feeling like you were rolling alone — just seemed like it was a good thing,” said Gerald. “We were part of something. We were clicking. We had things.”

Between 1992 and 2002, Native Americans came into contact with violent crime at double the rate of the rest of the nation;around 60 percent of victims described their attackers as white. And between 2005 and 2009, over half of all violent crimes that took place in Indian Country were declined by authorities for prosecution, according to the story.

Archive: Guilty verdict in Minnesota Native Mob trial (Minnesota Public Radio News).

  • Gary F

    Why does it take Al Jazerra to run a story like this? Where is MPR, Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, MNPOST or the local TV stations?

  • James

    Gratuitous final paragraph to a disjointed post. But I do appreciate you calling attention to the AJA series.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    It’s Chicago Avenue, not Chicago Street. Butt out, al Jazeera.

    • Kevin. Find a life. On a Boulevard perhaps or on a Lane. Maybe drive in a Circle or just take the Bypass…but stay off the Freeway, a little to fast for you I think.

    • The series was edited by Katherine Lanpher (formerly PiPress and MPRer) who’s forgotten more about the Twin Cities than most people will ever know.

  • Al Jazerra has done many really exceptional documentaries on American Indian issues…they are virtually the ONLY ONES doing this at all, much less on a regular basis. Of all the stories that could be told, it is to bad that this bad news episode is the one of them that now gets some US attention…and also there is the nonsense that OF COURSE a story about American Indian violence gets the attention, which is about the only activity of American Indians that CAN get any attention. Anyway, it is a pretty powerful documentary and kudos to Al Jazerra for their good work. The American media just could care less. The so-called “American Indian Movement” by the way is just another gang and collection of gangsters and criminals. It lost ALL credibility with mainstream American Indians in 1977 after the destruction of American Indian community Wounded Knee BY AIM, and its allegations that AIM leadership, Rusell Means, Dennis banks etc (AIM leadership) murdered Anna Mae Aquash, as well as an African American activist who tried to participate in the 1977 Wounded Knee farce that the uninformed media has turned into nonsense.

    • The star Tribune just finished an excellent editorial series on the broken down schools on reservations. And, of course, a year ago NPR created plenty of waves with its focus on the removal of Native American children from homes in South Dakota.

      Unquestionably, Native american issues are woefully undercovered, but it is happening. That said, the reaction of every story is a shrug.

      • Kassie

        I seek out stories about Native American issues. I’ve seen a lot of press lately about the local chef (The Sioux Chef) who is working to bring Native Foods to a wider population. That’s very positive coverage and not about violence. Earlier this year I remember reading about Native American women basketball players on this blog. Also not about violence. While Native American issues are woefully undercovered, there are stories out there and I think NPR/MPR does a fairly good job.