Beyond the Rhetoric: Street Gangs – Detroit Style

By Harry C. Alford

NNPA Columnist


This is the beginning of a series of articles about street gangs in our nation. Gone are the days back in the 1960s and before when gangs were social organizations and were geographically linked.  Beginning in the 1970s, these street gangs evolved into criminal organizations.  They are the generators of murder, drugs, robbery, etc.  No longer are they cool or cute.  They are pure savages craving fast money and a fast life style. This week let’s take a look at Detroit.

One of the earliest gangs was the Errol Flynns. They took the name from the Caucasian movie star. Funny, Errol Flynn was a Nazi sympathizer and a complete bigot. The Flynns developed a good structure on the eastside of the Motor City.  Like most gangs, the members had creative nick names and hand gestures that would provide quick identity. Their specialty was heroin.  They became quite wealthy and had 400 members at their height of activity. A lot of smaller gangs began to pop up, especially on the west side. “Dexter Boys,” “Schoolcraft Boys,” “7 Mile Boys,” “8 Mile Sconys” and just about every major thoroughfare soon had a representative gang.

The new gangs eventually started cutting into the Errol Flynns market share. When crack cocaine hit the city and became a much cheaper alternative to heroin, the Flynns started to flounder and eventually faded away. Soon came the emergence of Young Boys Inc. (Y.B.I.). This gang was more sophisticated and showed organizational prowess. They eventually controlled more than 80 percent of the Detroit heroin business between 1978 through 1982.  That didn’t satisfy their greed and they started opening franchises in other cities.

Young Boys Inc. invented the scheme of having under age youth to move their crack cocaine throughout the city.  If caught by the police they would not snitch and were too young to prosecute.  They were making $250,000 per day in Detroit.  One of their more successful franchises was Boston where they were netting more than $50,000 per day.  Eventually, their top officers started arguing and the organization fell apart.  At the same time, the Detroit police department started catching up to them and long prison sentences were given to key members.  Their legacy was their organizational structure and new gangs began to copy it.

While all of the gang activity was growing in the Black community, there was something out of the ordinary.  A growing population of Arabs was taking shape in Detroit. These Catholics were mainly from Iraq and are known as Chaldeans (pronounced: kal-dee-uhn).  They are known for owning small supermarkets throughout Black neighborhoods in Detroit.  They eventually expanded to real estate, dry cleaners, gas stations, etc.  They filled the void of lack of entrepreneurship amongst the Black population.  They also began to enter the dark side of business.  Some from this community started a drug cartel.

Unlike the Black gangs, the Chaldeans jumped into the drug business in a very serious way.  They took the name “Chaldean Mafia.”  Somehow, they linked up with Medellin Cartel from Columbia; Sicilian Mafia; Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels from Mexico.  The drugs would come through Phoenix or San Diego and then journey to Detroit. They were making millions.  Soon, their leaders became ruthless and were not exempt from murder, kidnapping, arson, etc. Just like the Italian Mafia, the leaders of the group began having differences and murder contracts on each other started becoming routine.  Finally, the Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI, local police and others finally went after the group and made 111 convictions.  They have toned down but they still exist.  A major bust by the authorities happened as recently as 2011.

Another popular gang was The Chambers Brothers. They caught the epidemic of crack cocaine at the right time (from a criminal’s point of view).  The brothers operated a “factory” out of a vacant apartment complex.  They also had the nickname “Cash Money Brothers.”  Does this sound familiar?  Yes, the movie New Jack City was based on the Chambers Brothers.  The film makers used New York City as the venue but they channeled this Detroit operation.  The novel Warpath by Jeffry Scott Hansen writes about “The Six-Mile Syndicate” which is also based on the Chambers Brothers.

Probably the most notorious drug trafficking gang in Detroit was the Black Mafia Family (BMF).  The Flenory brothers, Demetrius (nick name Big Meech) and Terry, grew an elaborate criminal empire.  They grew so large that they decided to spread out all over the nation.  Their source was the Mexican cartels and they made a partnership with the Crips street gang network to distribute the heroin.  These guys made more than $270 million.  The Atlanta authorities broke them down and the brothers along with 150 members received long prison terms.  Big Meech and Terry are doing 30 years in prison today.


Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.  Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

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