BY JEFF DEENEY There’s a street memorial on the corner of 10th and Tilghman Street in Chester so large that from a distance it looks like a growth engulfing the tree it sits under. The memorial commemorates the night in April, 2006 when Carl “Bo” Johnson was shot and killed by a Pennsylvania State Police trooper. The trooper was in Chester as a part of Operation Trigger Lock, a state run program aiming to sweep illegal guns off the streets. The trooper responded to a call of shots fired in the area of the notorious Bennett Homes housing project and found Johnson wielding a handgun and a shotgun. After a short foot chase Johnson turned and pointed the handgun at the trooper, who in turn shot Johnson dead.
At the time of the shooting police reported that Johnson had been a part of previous incidents involving weapons, though a search of Delaware and Philadelphia County court records turned up only one set of charges that included aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and harassment stemming from a 2004 incident that were eventually dropped. There was no mention of Johnson’s gang involvement in the newspapers then, but information now posted online about Bo, as his friends refer to him on their Myspace pages, paints a clear picture of a rugged gangbanger.
One friend calls Bo his “Blood brother.” Another proclaims, “R.I.P. Bo, Blood Gang rider.” In one picture Bo is lined up with a group friends leaning against the black iron railing that lines the walkway through the maze like, sprawling Bennett Homes. All of the men pictured are wearing red t-shirts, ballcaps and bandannas. The picture’s caption reads, “One million percent Bloodz.” In other photos, Blood gang members can be seen at a recent block party, posing in front of the graffiti memorial painted on the side of the house near where Bo was killed.
Underneath the cartoonish smoking gun in Bo’s graffiti memorial are the letters “JSG,” which stands for Johns Street Gang. There are actually a number of smaller gangs in and around the Bennett Homes that have each recently come under the Bloods banner. Another Myspace photo shows a group of kids in the Bennet Homes throwing gang signs and smoking blunts. Around the picture’s edge are the names of different local gangs, each in red letters: John Street, Shu-Gang, Locke-Gang, and Buck$town. Shu-Gang members on their Myspaces also refer to Bo as their “Blood brother.” It’s evidence that Chester’s small street corner crews are consolidating into a larger, more unified body pledging allegiance to Los Angeles.
This is particularly troubling considering that Lamokin Village, hub of Chester’s Crip sets, is practically around the corner. Within blocks of the Bennett Homes, in plain view on 9th Street – Chester’s main drag — is another street memorial. But this one, for a young man called Lil Kev who was killed in January of 2005, sports different colors then Bo’s, as you would expect.
There is no indication of hostilities between the two groups, but with the Chester police admittedly not gathering gang intelligence it’s hard to know how they relate to each other, or if other crimes in the area have been a result of gang activities but weren’t reported as such.
But what is most troubling about Chester’s emergent gang culture is its role within the context of the region at large. Camden and Trenton have gone strongly Crips/Bloods in recent years, and in the New Jersey prison system especially the groups exercise tremendous influence. Now with overwhelming evidence that Chester has gone Crips/Bloods an arc of dominance around Philly’s south and eastern borders is complete. Philadelphia’s street culture has been resistant to national gang influence to this point, instead favoring a mosaic-like structure of numerous small groups exercising control over small areas. But will it remain like this? There are already signs of Crips/Bloods presence in Philly, though their sphere of influence is minimal. The present scenario of national gang franchises rising to regional dominance offers an opportunity to establish a baseline for intelligence gathering that could be useful in preventing potential turf wars to come. Hopefully we won’t regret having missed the opportunity.