Since 1998 I have taught the Basic Gangs class at the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy (RCTA) in Meridian, Mississippi. The majority of the criminal justice professionals who attend are from the Southern States, but in 2009 I was very surprised when two officers from the Columbus, Ohio Police Department introduced themselves. One of the questions my partner Tom Nagy and I ask each student is, "Why are you here?" Both officers said their main focus were Somali Gangs inside Columbus. In 2004 in an area known as Langley Park and Hyattsville inside Prince George's County, Maryland saw an increase in the African population, primarily Nigerian, Sierra Leone, Ghanan, Liberian, Ethiopian, Somali, Eritrea, Senegalese, and Gambian. African presence in Maryland goes back to the days of slavery. History tell us about the life and times of Ayub Ibn Sulaiman Jallow, the African prince who was involved in slave trading but ended up Annapolis, Maryland. There he witnessed the plight of his fellow Africans who made the Middle Passage. His story is remembered in Douglas Grant's book "The Fortunate Slave". This African Prince shared the attention of writers and contemporaries with Yarrow Mamout (Yorro Mahmud) who is now remembered at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as the Maryland Muslim. This man served as a slave for many decades and was given his freedom in his later years. According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, Somali gang presence has increased in several cities throughout the United States. Somali gangs are prevalent in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, San Diego, California, and Seattle, Washington primarily as a result of proximity to the Mexican and Canadian borders. Unlike most traditional street gangs, Somali gangs tend to align and adopt gang names based on clan or tribe, although a few have joined national gangs such as the Crips and Bloods.
West African countries, especially Nigeria, have been documented as transshipments centers for Golden Crescent heroin. After the heroin arrives in the United States, it is sold only to one or two American distributors in a given area. Distribution networks are most active in New York City and Washington, D.C. and are operative in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and Boston. Chicago street gangs have been documented as couriers and protection for Nigerian cartels.
In the early 2000's the Prince George's County Police Intelligence Unit investigated a Nigerian fraud ring involved in the Nigerian Letter or "419" fraud. Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed from Nigeria offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author, a self-proclaimed government official is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria.
Sudanese gangs in the United States have been expanding since 2003 and have been reported in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tennessee. Some Sudanese gang members have weapons and tactical knowledge from their involvement in conflicts in their native country.
In 2008, I investigated an African female gang operating from a Prince George's County High School. They named themselves the "Wild Stars," and got into fights with their African-American counterparts. The members all had roots in Sierra Leone.
Many people from foreign countries come to the United States of America for a better life. But history also tells us that the criminal elements from those foreign countries also come here, not so much for a better life, but to increase their criminal enterprises.
Tony Avendorph retired in 2009 after 40 in law enforcement, serving with the Illinois Department of Corrections, Los Angeles (CA) County Sheriff's Department, and Prince George's County Police Department (Md.).