City of devils

Putting faces to LA’s brutal gangbangers.

LA gangs as captured by Andres Herren
Chain gang The Sur Town Chiques in their back garden. Image Pictures Andres Herren

Narcos and Sicario have put questionable cool into cartels.

And that cool factor is questionable: Mexico’s drug war recently reached new levels of depravity when a mob sliced off one of their rival’s faces and stitched it to a football.

Yet still the public continue to get a kick out of the drug gangs’ brutality.

As well as Mexico’s reign of terror, federal investigators last year named Los Angeles as the centre of money laundering by international drug cartels.

“LA has become the epicentre of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses,” said Assistant US Attorney Robert E. Dugdale.

With an estimated 120,000 members in at least 1,300 gangs, LA is ripe for the cartels to continue their work in the States.

In June, LA’s most notorious mobs were rumoured to have entered into a “competition” to kill 100 people in 100 days – using the hashtag #100Days100Nights.

Swiss photographer Andres Herren is one of the few snappers to have been granted access to LA’s deadliest gangs.

He befriended the city’s much-feared gang Florencia 13, or F–13.

“They invited me into their families and homes to eat with them. They showed me a lot of love and respect”

The ‘13’ in the name is a nod to their allegiance to the Mexican Mafia prison gang. When it comes to drug trafficking in LA, F-13 have long been the leaders of the pack. It’s believed they also have members spread across New York, Chicago, Washington, Miami, Texas and Mexico.

More than 60 F-13 members carried out a campaign of racially motivated violence in 2007, targeting black people in LA as part of a “cleansing” programme.

Like the Mexican cartels of the past, LA’s gangs have their own ways of inspiring fear and loathing.

As well as F–13, Herren secured access to the Mara Salvatrucha 13 or MS-13 – an international gang mostly made up of central Americans who are notorious for their violence and merciless revenge tactics. In recent years, MS-13’s cruelty resulted in members being recruited by the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel to battle the rival Los Zetas cartel in an ongoing drug war close to the US border.

The MS-13 are so feared that 2,500 of their members have been left to run their own prison in Penas Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador, with guards only patrolling the outside.

LA’s gangs have some of the most hardcore initiation rituals. They range from being ‘jumped in’ – where new members are physically beaten to prove their courage – to forcing would-be female members to have sex with HIV-infected men. The women would only be allowed to join if blood tests showed they were negative for the disease.

Despite the brutality, Herren – who spent five years in LA working with gangs ­– told Loaded he found a family-oriented culture of respect behind the bloodshed which allowed him to warm to the gangs.

“They invited me into their families and homes to eat with them,” he said. “They showed me a lot of love and respect and I am so thankful for that. I’m from a foreign country. They didn’t know me but invited me into their culture.”

Here’s Herren’s pick of his top five LA gang portraits.

1

Nose

LA gangs' Crip as captured by Andres Herren
Header The Crip tattoo on Nose’s forehead is a small clue to which gang he’s in.

“This man’s gang name is Nose. He’s a Crip from South Central Los Angeles. When I took pictures of him, he was high while his girlfriend was at the hospital to get their little kid. This shows he was more into representing his hood instead of helping his girl. He even got ‘CRIP’ inked on his forehead.”

2

Huero

LA gangs Playboy as captured by Andres Herren
Playboy An LA gang member takes some downtime.

“This is Huero from the South Side Playboys, a predominantly Hispanic gang in South Gate. We were cruising through South Central Los Angeles to find his homies from the Westside clique, but we couldn’t find them on the streets. We drove back to South Gate to kick back on a parking lot. Huero’s boys from South Gate showed up and they wanted to light up. After hitting the pipe a couple of times he was high.”

3

The dealer

LA gangs weed as captured by Andres Herren
Sea of green An LA dope dealer at work.

“I can’t name him, but this is a big time dope dealer. He was raised in South Gate but now lives in Orange County. He drives to LA a couple of times a week to sell or pick up the weed. He has also got some famous clients from a well known rap group.”

4

Flaco

LA gangs tattoo as captured by Andres Herren
Ink sane An LA gang member shows his tattoos... and scars.

“This is Flaco from the Westside Playboys, who are aligned with the Mexican Mafia. Flack was shot and stabbed many times. He was a good friend to me, but sadly he couldn’t handle his drug addiction. He consumes crack, meth, pills – whatever he can get. Back in 2010, he went to a rehab program and did good for 90 days. But after that the daily hustle started again.”

5

Sur Town Chiques

LA gangs as captured by Andres Herren
Chain gang The Sur Town Chiques in their back garden. Image Pictures Andres Herren

“These are members of the street gang Sur Town Chiques. I met them in a backyard. After that they busted out some guns and wanted to take some pictures. The gang was in the media a few times, linked to numerous murders.”

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Loaded’s entertainment editor Jennifer O’Brien is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about popular culture as a national newspaper columnist and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_OBrien1

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