Monday, December 01, 2008

Tango Blast differs from other 'security threat groups'

Not all prison gangs are created equal.

Tanya Eiserer at the Dallas News had a feature yesterday ("Texas Tango Blast gang draws kids with tattoos, loose affiliation rules," Nov. 30) focusing on the rise of the Tango Blast, an alternative to hard-core prison gangs created by Texas prisoners for self-protection which has now become well established and is much larger than traditional "security threat groups" (the bureaucratic euphemism for gangs) in prison. (See prior Grits coverage.)

Eiserer calls the Tangos "a violent, drug-dealing gang born in the Texas prison system," but that generalization slightly misstates what's going on, IMO - a misstatement she somewhat qualifies elsewhere in the article.

This new type of prison gang came to being in the early 1990s when Hispanic inmates from Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston banded together to protect themselves against more organized prison gangs such as the Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate.

They called themselves the "Four Horsemen," after the four cities they hail from, and became known as "Tangos" – which came to be known as slang for hometown.

While old established gangs such as the Texas Syndicate, which was weakened last year as part of a federal racketeering investigation, have seen their fortunes decline, the Tango Blast's loose affiliation rules have made it attractive.

Earlier this year, Texas prison officials added the group to their list of regularly monitored gangs. So far, they have identified about 700 confirmed Tango Blast members.

Prisoners flocked to the Tango Blast because its laissez-faire philosophy is the antithesis of the established prison gang mentality of blood-in, blood-out – the notion that members have to commit an act of violence to get in and that the only way out is to die.

So by this description, Tangos were a) created for self-protection, not as a criminal enterprise, b) don't require their members to engage in violence or criminality on the organization's behalf, and c) members are not bound to the group once released from prison. That's a different kind of prison gang than the Texas Syndicate, Aryan Brotherhood, Bloods, Crips, etc.. However, reports Eiserer:
More recently, authorities say, Tango Blast has been locked in a pitched battle for control of illegal prison activities. The group is becoming more predatory, and prisoners who refuse to join are getting beaten over it, prison officials said.
If that's accurate, it's a marked change from what the Tangos have been in the past. However, much of the rest of Eiserer's account disputes this trend. For example:

Paul, who asked that his last name not be published, went to prison in early 2005 for burglary of a habitation and theft. He said Tango stands for "Tejanos Against Negative Gang Organizations."

He became a member because he liked the idea of not having any strict obligations as a Tango. "I knew they weren't going to ask me to go beat up or kill," he said.

Joining was as simple as meeting several inmates in the prison yard and getting "jumped in" – a beating that serves as an initiation. It lasted about a minute.

He's been out of prison since 2006 and says he's not involved in criminal activity.

Eiserer writes that Tango Blast "rejects old notions of prison gang exclusivity and lifelong commitments." What's more, even an assistant DA said of Tango Blast members who commit new crimes on the outside, "I don't think they are committing their crimes for the purposes of the gang." That description better fits my own understanding of what Tangos are and how they actually operate (though I hope readers with first-hand experience can give us even more background in the comments).

The Tango Blast phenomenon is worth officially monitoring, but distinctions should be made: These are loose-knit affiliations while the major, traditional prison gangs are actually ongoing criminal operations, several of them with ties to multinational drug cartels.

I was told once by a former prisoner that the Tangos are gaining membership explicitly because of guard understaffing at TDCJ - with so few guards around per prisoner, everyone knows TDCJ officialdom can't protect them while the Tangos can and do.

A major result from the Tango Blast phenomenon not mentioned in Eiserer's article is that it reduced violence by traditional prison gangs, who fear reprisals by the much more numerous Tangos. TDCJ gang specialist Javier Leyva told The Back Gate last year that "security threat groups across the state have declared truces amongst one another in order to present a unified front against the tangos."

So while I agree officialdom must pay attention to the growing phenomenon, I'm not at all sure that simply cracking down on Tangos as though they're the same brand of creature as the Mexican Mafia or the Texas Syndicate will help TDCJ's security problem. Prisoners flock to Tango Blast because they need protection TDCJ does not or cannot provide, not necessarily to engage in crime and thuggery.

Fully staffing prisons (TDCJ is 3,000 guards short right now) while maintaining or reducing the number of prisoners incarcerated would do more than anything else to improve safety, which is why TDCJ's bid to increase pay for prison workers is so important. When the agency is able to provide security itself, the Tangos, given their lack of hierarchy and discipline, will inevitably see their role reduced.


Anonymous said...

So explain to me then, what exactly they are doing that warrants any special look from the Prison System? If they are not involved in illegal activities, are not escaping, and generally are only defensive; what exactly are they doing that is wrong again.

I understand (not having been in prison mind you) that there is a system in prison where one cell mate watches out for another, atleast that is what I hear. If this is the case, shouldn't every group of two or more also be watched?

FleaStiff said...

For those who've become confused, the following summary should be of help:

Republicans and Democrats are the major political parties, whereas Peace and Freedom is a lesser political party.

Crips and Bloods are the major gangs, whereas Tangos are a lesser gang.

Differences between all the above entities are more illusory than actually existing.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's a decent analogy, FleaStiff, but you've drawn such a wrong conclusion from it I wonder if you aren't the one who's "confused."

E.g., if you're a political consultant, you don't give a rat's ass about the Peace and Freedom Party - they're amateurs who don't matter. There are HUGE differences between them and the two major parties. So if you're worried about the outcome of elections, the Dems and Repubs are who you focus on. Nobody's hiring oppo researchers to investigate the activities of Peace and Freedom candidates, by comparison, or spending money on TV ads to attack them.

Similarly, given limited resources, if we're concerned with public safety then law enforcement should focus on gangs that are actually organizing criminal activities. The Tangos trappings may appear similar - just like the Green Party and the Libertarians have nominating conventions, etc., that mirror the Rs and Ds - but their real world effect pales compared to the big guys. Or perhaps you disagree?

Anonymous said...

The Tangos are a major problem in Texas prisons. They are becoming more organized and have used intimidation to get others to join. The four horseman have challenged the traditional gangs Texas Syndicate, Mexican Mafia, and Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. The Tangos outnumber the traditional gangs in Texas prisons. The Tangos are not as organized as the traditional gangs, but are beginning to show more leadership.

If war breaks out between the Tangos and traditional gangs, it will be a blood bath. Texas prisons are not currently trained or staffed to handle any major incidents statewide. 2009 might be a very dangerous year in Texas prisons.

Anonymous said...

I just did 5 years in TDCJ. Let me just say that whoever wrote this article on Tango Blast and says that Tango differs from other STG's is seriously misinformed. I was on Gib Lewis and McConnell Units. I'll tell you right now that PTB (Puro Tango Blast) is just like the other "FAMA's" in TDC. I have seen them make people pay protection. They have people who call the shots for them, just like TS and MA do. True, TS & MM are joining forces to "smash out" Tango Blast because of the difference in the way they run their stuff. Bottom line, Tango is a force to be reckoned with - tdcj is looking the other way because there just isn't enough space to Seg them should they ever be declared an STG.

Anonymous said...

I find it humorous to see professional middle aged white guys riding as a club on Harleys dressed in leather and wearing a club patch being harassed by a podunk city gang unit like Arlington. Like in Wild Hogs the gang unit officers must have been, well liked the look of leather.
If “you people” running the show at TDJC would do your job there would be no need for a group to ban together for protection. I recall a statistic about gang activity increasing exponentially after TDC desegregated the races.

Anonymous said...

i am a member of ptb and i hear all these people say things about us and dont know what there talking about. for one u cant join anless u are in prison, 2 we dont force anyone to join think about it if you made some one be your friend u would worrie if thy would be there for you right. i know the homeboys looked up with me would have my back. 3 we are not a gang we just look out for each other inside. i cant speak for all yhe homeboys but we are not all pistol packing drug addicts we are sons fathers and brothers.i love dallas and will rep my city for life

Anonymous said...

Look I was a member of the ABT(Aryan Brotherhood of Texas) I know first hand that Tango Blast want the same respect and recognition as any other family inside. Its a serious problem that must be recognized as what it is a serious threat. They are just as dangerous in and out of prison as any other gang. No Blood in or Bloode out? Ha! Whats is it when you get clicked on by 6 or 7 dudes to show your down? Blood in to me! Try to leave the tango? Same thing you get jumped again. So don't count them out. They are much more numerous and more dangerous.

Anonymous said...

My friend is putting up his brother in law for now. He was TB in his two stints in prison. He's not now. He describes it exactly as the news articles do....its all about numbers. Enough guys, whether they can fight or not, is overwhelming. Once you're out of prison, if you want out of TB, you walk away.

Seems brilliant to me. How else can a low level criminal survive with brutal thugs, rapists, murderers, etc. MM and TS are just pissy cause they can't push people around no more. Unless they're masochists and want 20 dudes jumping them in return.

Prisons too lenient anyway. Everyone in state prison should be by themselves in a small cell and camera survellience 24/7 by an offsight civilian entity operated by someone other than the prison system. This way, the understaffing of guards would not matter. Fire 3/4 of the prison guards to pay for it. Let the prisoners out in small continuous groups for the yard and chow, rather than the ridiculous manner in which its done now.

Anonymous said...

hey , look i was in tdc in the late 80s early 90s i was there when we started tango . we looked for one another from the gangs . it was a good thing . to this day i am proud to be D-town tango . ive been out 14 years now and i here things are all twisted on the inside . from what i hear the homeboys have forgot what we stand for . we are not a gang . and some of the youngsters dont understand that. but not all of us .

Anonymous said...

a-town homeboy here. we are not a gang, we were not intended to be a gang.Everything has been twisted from its intent,extortion and all that shit. Fuck that, that shit means something (TANGO BLAST) real homeboys know what the fuck im talkin about.Check your own heart, you know right from wrong and what is suppossed to be done.Follow your regulas and leave that shit in there when you get out.That shit has spilled into the streets and is getting twisted and warped.We need to support eachother
and move on with our lives.

Anonymous said...

the real homeboys know what tango is about and what we stand for. all these bitch ass people talking shit need to get it right before u post shit. i was on gib lewis n when i left the blast stayed there. i still love all my homies n i show that everyday by making it in the struggle out here. thats what the blast is about. making it. thank u all my homies that made sure i made it out that bitch. much love n hope n i see u homies again one day.