Community help movement ripped straight from gang literature

Gangster Disciples behind the ‘Growth and Development’ initiative not just statewide, but nationwide
Updated: Nov. 3, 2019 at 8:22 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - “I don’t want to lose another child in Mississippi to the prison system because they’ve been educated about a subculture that is there just to use them.”

Those are the words of Jimmy Anthony, the Northern Vice President of the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators. Many years ago, Anthony was shot by a 14-year-old gang member who, to this day, is still in prison for it. To Anthony, it’s become his job to try to save kids like that young man, who is in his 30′s now, from taking the same path.

Anthony and other gang cops say a recent statewide movement known as “Growth and Development” is one that comes straight from the literature of the Gangster Disciples street gang, named after a subsection of the literature and rules they memorize in order to become part of the gang. The movement hosts community events such as backpack drives and carnivals. Some of the mentoring programs in North Mississippi give kids bracelets inviting them to be “Larry’s guys.”

“Larry” is Jackson, Mississippi-born former Gangster Disciples leader Larry Hoover. He is currently serving 150-200 years in a maximum security prison in Colorado for murder and orchestrating gang activity.

Bracelets being given to kids involved in the "Growth and Development" movement in some parts...
Bracelets being given to kids involved in the "Growth and Development" movement in some parts of the state. The six-pointed star is the symbol of the Gangster Disciples street gang, "Larry" is Larry Hoover, one of their founders, and the plug in the caption means that child wearing the bracelet is "plugged in" with the gang.(Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators)

“Larry Hoover took over the Gangster Disciples in around 1980," Anthony said. "When he took over, he developed this plan of growth and development. He was about being positive in your neighborhood and making sure your neighborhood survived. But it all changed when they got in the drug trade and burglaries -- the quick money.”

“Mr. Shepherd” is a reformed Gangster Disciple who is out of that life, but we’ve withheld his identity for safety reasons. He said some of the Growth and Development activities really are about giving back, and that there are members of the Gangster Disciples that take the commitment to protect and give back to the community seriously. But still, he said, if his child came home wearing a “Larry’s Guys” bracelet, he’d be concerned.

“There are several guys that are really doing growth and development the way they’re supposed to do it, because it’s supposed to be making sure everything is going good in your community and making sure that everyone’s doing the right thing. But there are some guys who take it out of context,” he said.

“As a parent and as prior to this having been involved in that, I’d be nervous because it has its good points and bad points, but really to me, going through what I went through, I’m glad I went through it so I’ll know for myself but I thank God he brought me out of it,” Mr. Shepherd said. “Basically what I’m trying to tell you and everyone else is if you get involved in a gang or organization you’re basically sentencing yourself to go to hell.”

On one of Anthony’s Facebook posts about the growth and development bracelets, a Facebook user calling himself Choas G Kirkwood commented the following:

“So first and foremost we don’t go by gangster disciples anymore thats dead we go by growth and development because we are putting kids first we are trying to keep them in school keep them on the right path be mentors to them since we have been in those streets and know nothing’s out there that’s why that band (sic).”

Anthony said while the movement does help communities and children in a lot of immediate ways, it also puts children and their families in direct contact with gang members.

“You understand their main income is narcotics. They’re going to advertise ‘Kids Day.’ ‘We’re going to have bouncy houses, free school supplies, and hot dogs and hamburgers for the community,’” he said. “That gives them access to our children. It’s paid for with drug money. With gang money. With the money from when they robbed your house last month.”

Other gangs do similar things. Outlaw motorcycle gangs are known for their charity motorcycle runs. The Simon City Royals do toy drives, often through their Mississippi 501c3 known as the Sip City Royals. It’s not only positive public relations, it’s a way of recruiting through familiarity, Anthony said.

“I’ve had letters from children from schools where I’ve spoken, and they’re scared to go to the bathroom because the gangs are in the bathroom, so they’ll wait all day to go to the bathroom, because they’re scared of them,” he said. “So once they are allowed to see inside and they feel like they’re accepted, they want to be part of it because they don’t feel like they’re scared anymore.”

Mr. Shepherd said recruiting isn’t hard with children. He joined when he was 14 years old. He said he saw the money and drugs and he wanted to be part of what he saw as a glamorous life.

“Kids want to come to them because of the eye candy. The cars, the clothes, the money, all that kind of stuff,” he said.

Gang cops say that up to a certain age, those children are assigned tasks like delivering drugs, standing watch for the police, or providing urine for drug tests. Once they get old enough, they move up to crimes such as armed robberies and burglaries. That’s one of the reasons those arrested for crimes seem to be so young.

Police say there have been such gatherings with ‘Growth and Development’ influences around the state, but it’s also happening nationwide. They say among others, there was one in Panola County in September and one in Jackson just a few months ago at Lake Hico Park. City and County officials attended the one in Jackson, taking photos with some of the organizers of the event.

One of the photos posted on Facebook from the Panola County event had the heading, “With Great Integrity and Dignity.” A subsection of the Gangster Disciple literature labeled “Keep up not catch up” starts with the phrase, “With integrity and dignity we should stay focused...”

A photo taken after a growth and development work day. Several of those pictured here are...
A photo taken after a growth and development work day. Several of those pictured here are holding up Gangster Disciples hand signs.(Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators)

Most gang literature is passed down by being handwritten, copied from a previous copy which was copied by someone before them. It includes the philosophies, the lingo, the meanings of their tattoos and symbols, codes, and other important information about their organization, their ally organizations, and their enemy organizations.

In Mississippi, gang structures are not as well-defined as in other parts of the country. Gang cops say now it’s not unusual to see gangs that are known to be rivals like the Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples or Crips and Bloods working alongside each other, and they work in concert with the Aryan Brotherhood, the Latin Kings, the Simon City Royals and other gangs. Race and territory are much less of an issue than they have been in the past because at this point in the war on drugs, there are more than enough drugs to go around. Demand is high and everyone has a piece of the market.

Mr. Shepherd and Anthony both warn parents to watch who their kids are interacting with, what they’re wearing, and how they’re talking, even check through their backpacks and see what they’re doodling. And the reason why is important.

The Gangster Disciples are one of the most violent and prolific gangs in the country. They’re the largest gang in Mississippi with their affiliate gang Simon City Royals as the third largest, and both have been linked to murders, human trafficking, drug trafficking, armed robberies, burglaries and the like. They, like other gangs, recruit members at a young age.

So what should a parent do if their child seems to be exhibiting behavior that points toward their possible association with a gang?

“Just monitor, you don’t have to tell them you’re doing it. Stay in good communication with your kid. Please just do that for you,” Mr. Shepherd said. “Do all you can to keep them away from that, I would advise. Join Christ’s gang.”

It’s just not worth the risk to the children, they said.

“Speak to someone that done been there and done that. I’ve been shot 5-6 different times, I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been to prison twice," Mr. Shepherd said. "That’s not a life for a man. And it’s my own fault.”

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