The Norteños (Spanish: [noɾˈteɲos] meaning Northerners, Norteñas for females) are the various, loosely affiliated street gangs that pay tribute to the Nuestra Familia while in Federal and State correctional facilities. Norteños may refer to Northern California as Norte, Spanish for "north." Their biggest rivals are the Sureños from Southern California. The statewide north-south dividing line between Norteños and Sureños has roughly been accepted as the rural communities of Delano and Bakersfield, California.
In 1968, Mexican American inmates of the California state prison system separated into two rival groups, Norteños (northerners) and Sureños (southerners), according to the locations of their hometowns. Norteños, affiliated with the Nuestra Familia, were prison enemies of the Southern Latinos, who are composed of members and affiliates of La Eme, better known as the Mexican Mafia. While the La Eme had initially been created to protect Mexicans in prison, there was a perceived level of abuse by members of La Eme towards the imprisoned Latinos from rural farming areas of Northern California. The spark that led to the ongoing war between Norteños and members of the Mexican Mafia involved a situation in which a La Eme allegedly stole a pair of shoes from a Northerner. This event put into motion the longest-running gang war in the state of California put in motion the founding of Nuestra Familia.
Norteños use the number 14 which represents the fourteenth letter of the English alphabet, the letter N, in order to pay allegiance to Nuestra Familia. It is sometimes written in Roman numerals as XIV, or a hybrid of Roman and Arabic numerals, X4. Norteño emblems and clothing are based on the color red, and sometimes black. A typical Norteño outfit is being "flamed up" including a red belt, red shoes, and red shoelaces. They will also favor sports team apparel that shows their affiliation through symbolism such as the Chicago Bulls, UNLV Rebels, K-Swiss, Oakland Raiders, and San Francisco 49ers. Some Norteños will tattoo themselves with four dots. A Norteño derogatorily refers to a Sureño as a "scrap" (Hispanicized scrapa) or "Sur rat" (sewer rat). Norteños also lay claim to images of the Mexican-American labor movement, such as the sombrero, machete, and the logo of the United Farm Workers which is a stylized black Aztec eagle ("Huelga bird").
On January 9, 2005, in Ceres, California in Stanislaus County, Officer Sam Ryno was the first to respond to a call of a man with a gun in front of George's Liquors. Andres Raya, a U.S. Marine on leave after serving in Iraq, was armed with an SKS rifle and opened fire on officers, hitting Officer Ryno and killing Sergeant Stevenson. Raya was shot dead some time later after he opened fire on SWAT team members.
Law enforcement officials claimed Raya had been involved in gangs for years prior to him signing up for military service. Modesto authorities discovered information during the investigation into the shooting that shows Raya was a Norteño gang member who was not involved in combat during his tour of duty in Iraq. A cooperative effort between local law enforcement, federal and military agencies revealed a large amount of information about Raya in a short amount of time.
Operation Black Widow
Federal law enforcement agencies, long unable to infiltrate the group, began to step up their investigations in the late 1990s. In 2000 and 2001, 22 members were indicted on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges including several who were allegedly serving as high-ranking gang leaders while confined in Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California. Thirteen of the defendants pleaded guilty; the other cases are still ongoing. Two of the defendants face the death penalty for ordering murders related to the drug trafficking. The largest of the federal investigations was Operation Black Widow. In the aftermath of Operation Black Widow, the five highest ranking leaders of the Norteños were transferred to a federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
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