18th Street gang

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18th Street Gang
18th Street graffiti
Founding locationLos Angeles, California, United States[2]
Years active1960s–present
TerritoryUnited States, Mexico, Central America, Canada[3]
EthnicityMexicans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans
Membership (est.)30,000-50,000[2]
ActivitiesDrug trafficking, auto theft, extortion, identification theft, robbery, assault, homicide[2]

The 18th Street Gang, also known as Calle 18, Barrio 18, Mara 18, or simply 18 in North America,[1][12][13][14] is a multi-ethnic (largely Central American and Mexican) transnational criminal organization that started as a street gang in Los Angeles. It is one of the largest transnational criminal gangs in Los Angeles, with 30,000-50,000 members between the United States, Mexico, and Central America and is also allied with the Mexican Mafia, another US-based crime organization.[citation needed] A United States Department of Justice report featured the following statement regarding 18th Street and rival gang MS-13, "These two gangs have turned the Central American northern triangle into the area with the highest homicide rate in the world."[15]


The 18th Street Gang was formed in the Rampart District of Los Angeles in the 1960s by Mexican immigrant youths who were not accepted into existing Hispanic gangs.[1] They were originally part of Clanton 14[further explanation needed] but wanted to make a separate "clique" called Clanton 18th Street and allow immigrants the opportunity to join. This proposal was rejected by the Clanton 14, which led to the formation of the 18th Street Gang.[3][16] The two gangs have been bitter rivals ever since.[16]

18th Street grew by expanding its membership to other nationalities and races, and it was among the first multiracial, multi-ethnic gangs in Los Angeles.[1] In the beginning, they were made up largely of second-generation Hispanics.[1] As the 18th Street Gang began to battle with more established Hispanic gangs, they began to recruit outside the Hispanic community. There are approximately 200 separate individual autonomous gangs operating under the same name within separate barrios in the San Fernando Valley specifically in North Hollywood, the San Gabriel Valley, South Bay, Riverside, East Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, Hollywood, Downtown Los Angeles, Northeast Los Angeles, Pico Union, Westlake, Koreatown, Inglewood, South Gate, Huntington Park, Maywood, Bellflower, [[]], Orange County, San Bernardino County, Tucson Arizona and Los Angeles' Westside or West LA, according to the latest figures from the NDIC.[citation needed] In the early 2000s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated wide-scale raids against known and suspected gang members, netting hundreds of arrests across the country.

Central America[edit]

18th Street started as a Mexican American gang, but the gang also became Central American as it started to recruit more members of other ethnic groups.[17][18][19][20] When Central American gang members were arrested in the United States, they were then deported back to Central America where the gang rose out-of-control on different levels of violence not just in El Salvador, but in Honduras and Guatemala as well, becoming one of the most violent gangs in Central America.[21][22][23][24] 18th Street later became a bitter rival of MS-13 as both gangs wanted the top spot in Central America. Members of 18th Street are mainly Mexican, Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan, but the gang does have members from other parts of Central America. 18th Street influences have recently been spotted in Belize as well.[25][12][26][27]

In El Salvador a faction called the "Revolucionarios" ("Revolutionaries") split off 18th Street in 2005,[3][28] becoming rivals with the other members, who came to be known as the "Sureños" ("Southerners.")[29][30][31][32]



The majority of 18th Street cliques operate throughout Southern California, but are active in other states and internationally as well. Los Angeles members began migrating to other areas outside California and started to establish their own gangs. 18th Street gangs is active in 44 cities in 20 U.S. states,[2] as well internationally reported in Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Lebanon, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Venezuela.[33]


The organization of the 18th Street Gang differs from location to location. With the gang being spread so vastly nationally and internationally, it is difficult to have a universal organizational structure. The gang is organized in such a way that allows for leadership at every level. One common organizational structure seen used by Barrio 18 is as follows. At the very top are “palabreros” or “leaders,” a majority of these members are in prison, but still help run the gang by coordinating all criminal activities. “Palabreros” also exist outside of the prison and are known as “en la libre.” Lastly, there are civilians who are known as collaborators. They are not officially gang members, but they are responsible for helping the gang with small jobs, like obtaining intelligence, and moving or holding illicit goods. The 18th Street Gang also designates positions in their organizational structure in another way. In this structure, at the top are the leaders, known as “toros,” meaning bull. Underneath each “toro” is a clica, which is led by a “homie.” Under each “homie” are the “soldados,” meaning soldiers. Outside of the prisons, Barrio 18 is organized into divisions based on territory called “canchas.” The gang is horizontal in structure, allowing for a more decentralized approach to things. Although, overall 18th Street Gang is not very organized compared to some other modern day gangs. Women were also able to join the gang, but were treated very poorly. The women that joined the gang had three ways to do so, first was an 18 second beating, second was sexual intercourse with multiple members, and the last option was being the girlfriend or wife of a member can potentially lead to membership over time. The women were expected to take on male-associated roles often involving violence, as well as playing more of a mother role by caring for children and taking care of the sick.[34][35][36]


18th Street Gang members are required to abide by a strict set of rules. Failure to obey the word of a gang leader, or to show proper respect to a fellow gang member, may result in an 18-second beating, or even execution for more serious offenses.[37] According to the FBI, some factions of the 18th Street Gang have developed a high level of sophistication and organization. 18th Street Gang members often identify themselves with the number 18 on their clothing and sporting clothing from sports teams such as the Duke Blue Devils, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers, LAFC, and Las Vegas Raiders. 18th Street will use the symbols XV3, XVIII, X8, 666, 99, and 3-dots in their graffiti and tattoos. 18th Street colors are blue and black; blue is to represent and to pay tribute to The Mexican Mafia, and black is to represent the original color for the gang. The 18th Street Gang is occasionally referred to as the "Children's Army" because of its recruitment of elementary and middle-school aged youth. They also allow other ethnicities to join their ranks making the gang multi-ethnic. In El Salvador it is common for members of the gang to be tattooed on the face with a large "18". In many cases the tattoo covers the entire face.[38]

In California, the majority of the 18th Street gang's members are illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America.[2]

Criminal activity[edit]

The most lucrative activity of the 18th Street gang is street-level distribution of cocaine and marijuana, and to a lesser extent, heroin and methamphetamine. The gang is also involved in auto theft, carjacking, drive-by shootings, extortion, identification fraud, robbery, assault and homicide.[2]

Special Agent George Rodriguez of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) described the 18th Street gang as "one of the most violent street gangs and one of the most prolific in the United States". Cars are stolen and homes are burgled by the gang routinely. On average, someone in Los Angeles County is assaulted or robbed by 18th Streeters every day. The gang has left a bloody trail[clarification needed] at a pace three times that of many of the city's most active gangs. 18th Street is a well established gang that is involved in all areas of street-crime. Several 18th Street Gang members have reached a higher level of sophistication and organization in their illicit activities than other gangs. While their main source of income is street-level distribution of drugs, they also have been linked to murders, assaults, arson, copyright infringement, extortion, human trafficking, illegal immigration, kidnapping, prostitution, robbery, and weapons trafficking, as well as other crimes.[39] 18th Street Gang has also been implicated in the high-profile kidnapping and murder of the 16-year-old brother of internationally renowned Honduran football player Wilson Palacios.[40]

In 1998, Catarino Gonzalez was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted Gonzalez of first-degree murder for fatally shooting Officer Filbert Cuesta in the back of the head, while the officer was sitting in a patrol car.[41][42]

Kingston, New York police arrested and jailed several young men on the charge that they abducted a victim, took him to nearby woods, and murdered him. They were held on federal murder and racketeering charges.[43]

In 2019, an 18th Street gangster was fatally shot by a member of rival gang MS-13 in a Queens subway station.[44]

In Guatemala City, many bus drivers have been killed by 18th Street Gang members that drove through the alleged territory of the gang. Bus drivers were often victims of robberies and extortion. In one particular case the bus owners refused to pay the gang; a few moments later, a young man, the son of one of Libertad's bus owners was driving his bus along Route 4, which ran from the terminal down to the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala in the southern part of the city. As he passed through Zone 6, two men flagged down the bus. They boarded it and shot the driver in the head killing him instantly.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ribando, C. (2005). "Gangs in Central America" (PDF). U.S. Department of States, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division. Archived March 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e f Criminal Street Gangs justice.gov (May 12, 2015) Archived June 10, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c "Barrio 18". www.insightcrime.org. 27 March 2017. Retrieved 21 June 2017. Archived November 25, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ An Inside Look at 18th St.'s Menace Rich Connell and Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times (November 17, 1996)
  5. ^ "Barrio 18".
  6. ^ The Avenues: Highland Park Gang KCET (November 14, 2011)
  7. ^ Rival deadly gangs share the same prison cell: A look at El Salvador's controversial move Roberto Valencia and Noticias Telemundo, NBC News (May 22, 2020)
  8. ^ People v. Delgado casetext.com (August 31, 2016)
  9. ^ People v. Vasquez Court Listener (April 17, 2014)
  10. ^ People v. Gaytan casetext.com (October 14, 2011)
  11. ^ The Vineland Boys Gang Richard Valdemar, policemag.com (August 21, 2007)
  12. ^ a b Lynch, Tristam W. (2008). The evolution of modern Central American street gangs and the political violence they present: Case studies of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras (MA thesis). University of South Florida. Archived from the original on 6 July 2015.
  13. ^ "HSI dismantles '18th street' gang's fraudulent document ring". U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 2011. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  14. ^ Berlin, D.; Brizius, E.; Bump, M.; Garshelis, D.; Khonsari, N.; Pinheiro, E.; Rhudy, K.; Smith, J. (2007). "Between the border and the street: A comparative look at gang reduction policies and migration in the United States and Guatemala. Informally published manuscript, Georgetown University Law Center, Human Rights Institute, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA".
  15. ^ O'Reilly, Andrew (4 August 2017). "MS-13 isn't the only homicidal street gang in town - meet Barrio 18". Fox News. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  16. ^ a b Zilberg, E. (2011). Space of Detention: The Making of a Transnational Gang Crisis between Los Angeles and San Salvador. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  17. ^ Maras in Guatemala Increasing in Sophistication - published by Jeremy McDermott on 3 January 2013
  18. ^ "El Salvador's horrifying culture of gangs". By Associated Press. 6 November 2014. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  19. ^ Julie Suarez. "Gangs in Guatemala" (PDF). By ghrc-usa.org. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  20. ^ Lacey, Marc (9 April 2008). "Guatemalan gang culture conquers the abused with abuse". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  21. ^ "El Salvador organized crime". insightcrime.org. Archived from the original on 24 December 2014. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  22. ^ "Honduran gangs Salvatrucha and 18th Street announce truce". BBC News. insightcrime.org. 28 May 2013. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  23. ^ "Honduran Street gangs". worldbulletin.net. Archived from the original on 18 March 2015. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  24. ^ Honduras gangs "You can recognise the gangs from their murders" published By Rob Crilly on 14 November 2014
  25. ^ Honduran 18th Street gang member arrested in Belize publish by edition.channel5belize.com
  26. ^ "Central American Gangs, Made in L.A." Marlon Bishop. 12 September 2014. Archived from the original on 28 December 2014. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  27. ^ "Gangs in Central America" (PDF). Clare Ribando. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  28. ^ "The 18th Street Gang Just Set Out to Prove It Runs El Salvador's Transport System - VICE News". 5 August 2015.
  29. ^ "La Revolución en Mariona".
  30. ^ Partlow, Joshua (3 April 2016). "Two Salvadoran gangsters walk into a church" – via www.washingtonpost.com.
  31. ^ "Rivers of blood". The Economist.
  32. ^ "MS-13 y mara 18 planean unirse para enfrentar al Estado". elsalvador.com (in Spanish). 20 April 2015.
  33. ^ Bruneau, Thomas (1 December 2011). Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America (Google eBook). University of Texas Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-292-72928-5. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  34. ^ "Barrio 18". InSight Crime. 27 March 2017. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  35. ^ "Eighteenth Street: The Origins of 'Barrio 18' | Small Wars Journal". smallwarsjournal.com. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  36. ^ "The Mara Women: Gender Roles in CentAm Street Gangs". InSight Crime. 6 September 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  37. ^ Pollack, Ricardo (24 January 2005). "Americas | Gang life tempts Salvador teens". BBC News. Archived from the original on 12 August 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  38. ^ Ruck, Joanna. "El Salvador gangs celebrate a day without murders - in pictures". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  39. ^ National Gang Intelligence Center – National Gang threat assessment 2009 Archived 14 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  40. ^ Willie Gannon (10 May 2009). "Tottenham's Wilson Palacios' Brother Murdered By Kidnappers in Honduras". Bleacher Report. Archived from the original on 21 December 2014. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  41. ^ Life Term Given in Slaying of Officer published by TIMES STAFF WRITER
  42. ^ People v. Gonzalez published by scocal.stanford.edu
  43. ^ Jesse J. Smith, "DA: Gang behind brutal slaying is still in Kingston," Hudson Valley 1, 6 April 2018 https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2018/04/06/da-gang-behind-brutal-slaying-is-still-in-kingston/
  44. ^ Norman, Greg (6 March 2019). "Murders, metal pipes and baseball bats: How MS-13 is infiltrating one of NYC's most populous boroughs". Fox News. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  45. ^ "The Most Dangerous Job in the World". Saul Elbein. 3 June 2013. Retrieved 9 May 2021.

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