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).