JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - When Jonathan Blankenship was on the run after escaping from Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, many thought he wouldn’t be out long because of his bold face tattoos.
Blankenship was a validated Simon City Royal, and face tattoos are not unusual in the national gang born in Chicago. Mississippi has Simon City Royals in every county, according to the 2017 Gang Threat Analysis done by employees of the Mississippi Analysis and Information Center, better known as the Fusion Center.
The Simon City Royals are the third-largest gang in the state, behind the Gangster Disciples and the Vice Lords. Recently both of those gangs were in the spotlight after a days-long fight broke out in the Hinds County Detention Facility at Raymond.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba recently told 3 On Your Side he needs credible evidence to verify the extent of the problem.
“If there’s credible information coming from the community then I think that we need to at least hear it out and see if it leads to you know, to a solution to these issues that we see," he told 3 on Your Side’s Maggie Wade.
Members of the Jackson Police Department have, through the years, said there was no gang “problem” in Jackson, calling the hybrid gangs and neighborhood sets “wannabes" and saying there were no turf wars like the nation saw in the 1990s. They have also brought up the fact that some gangs who used to be rivals are working together now.
But according to Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy, it’s true that the gangs are working together now, collaborating to make more money in the drug trade.
Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators Vice President Jimmy Anthony, who teaches gang classes around the state and at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy, said the lack of turf wars is attributable to there being enough drug money to go around.
“They don’t have to fight over territory, because everybody’s making money on drugs,” he said.
Anthony has been studying and researching gangs ever since 1997, when he was shot by a young gang member. He has one specific reason he wants to help educate others on gangs.
“I want to save these children," he said. “Ultimately I want the next generation of children to succeed and not be used up and abused up. They don’t even get a chance to be children.”
Anthony explained that gangs will recruit children sometimes even younger than their preteens. They’ll take them under their wings and let them run errands for them, giving them a sense of community and belonging. Another thing they do, Anthony said, is get the children to give clean urine samples so they can pass drug tests when the probation officer checks on them.
Dowdy backed that up based on what his agents see in the communities they work in. He said there’s a disturbing trend that has been growing over the last several years.
“A number of these organized gangs are infiltrating a number of the youth programs in the city of Jackson,” he said. “They use it as a recruiting ground."
There are national gangs, local gangs, hybrid cliques, neighborhood sets -- new gangs are springing up every day, officials said. They splinter over leadership or ideology, or sometimes over women. The national gangs tend to have more of a structure, with heirarchies and bylaws, while the cliques and sets often can be more dangerous because they lack that structure and feel they need to earn respect and credibility on the streets.
Some think that gangs stick to large urban areas like Chicago, Detroit and LA, but Mississippi has a legitimate birthright in the gang world. Gangster Disciples Supreme Prince Larry Hoover was born in Jackson. Larry Fort, the leader of the Black P. Stone gang, is from Aberdeen.
“Any time you move away, you leave family behind,” Anthony said of Hoover.
And of Fort: “I think one of his last arrests was by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, so he wasn’t just operating in Chicago. It’s not hard to put together how gangs find their way to Mississippi.”
And they’re not sticking to the drug trade, though that is their bread and butter.
“Intel we’re getting and have been getting for sometime is that a lot of these organized gangs are getting involved in human trafficking and they’re trafficking them for prostitution particularly,” Dowdy said.
There’s a strong Simon City Royal presence in Rankin County and South Jackson, several narcotics agents said. The Gangster Disciples, who used to be the strongest gang in the Metro area, have lost steam and the Crips, another gang which falls under the People Nation, have started moving in.
As evidenced by the Crip population in Jackson, and prior to that in places like Hattiesburg and Meridian, it’s not just Chicago gangs with their straight shot down I-55 and the Mississippi River whose influence are being felt in the Magnolia State. The Crips were founded in California, as were the Bloods, who have a stout presence in the Delta.
But as for the metro area?
“We have a gang problem,” Dowdy said. “I don’t know why anyone would dispute that. If we don’t acknowledge it, we can’t fix it.”