The truth about Tulsa gangs

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 08/27/2019, 12:13 PM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(TULSA, Okla.) “Drive down Peoria from the north to south or south to north you drastically see the difference in life, especially when you cross the train tracks. A literal divide. It happens slowly but it starts to get a little better, a little worse.” Allen Collins was born and raised in North Tulsa, and still lives there to this day. “I’ve seen gang fights next door to me,” Collins said. “Where someone was jumped in, or someone was jumped because of a conflict with another gang. I had cousins that were in gangs that lived around the corner from me. My cousin was killed around the street from me due to a setup from former gang violence. Disaffiliated at that point but it didn’t matter.” But it’s not just North Tulsa that struggles with gang activity. Tulsa Police Sergeant Brian Hill is with the Special Investigations Division. He told VNN North, South, East and West: gangs are networking all throughout Tulsa. Hill said black gangs have the largest concentration with dozens of subsets. But that could change at any time. There are eight main gangs operating within city limits. With the black gangs, it’s the Hoover Crips, the Neighborhood Crips, and the Bloods. You have the Hispanic gangs, Sureno, Cerritos and Florencia. And you also have the white gangs. The Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang. And the Irish Mob Gang, who are typically more prevalent in West Tulsa. Hill estimates there are roughly 3200 to 3500 people connected to Tulsa gangs, slightly less than the national average of one percent of the population. That includes associates like family members or girlfriends, not just actual members. Tulsa Police have conducted two recent operations in east Tulsa and operations in south Tulsa as well, but with the highest concentration of gang-related crime in North Tulsa, that is where you’ll also find the greatest police presence. “There are plenty of people that have lived up there their whole lives, up here in north Tulsa where we are right now, that have had zero problems their entire lives,” Hill said. “We certainly want people to be diligent but at the same time it’s not like you have to live in fear of every waking moment. It’s isolated pockets of violence.” Hill attributes most of the shootings to the drug trade. “Very few random acts,” Hill said. “Everything has a basis. Typically what we see is as far as the reason is or the base level of why things are happening evolves around money, guns and drugs.” Innocents caught in the cross-fire are usually those related to the gang members. “I probably speak for all officers but specifically the gang unit that, you know, any loss of human life is tragic. Even if it’s a gang member. It’s still a human life being taken by themselves, as far as in gang warfare,” Hill said. “But when there are innocents involved, especially children… and I read the same reports as you do… these debriefs. And these children are literally crawling on their hands and knees trying to get away from gunfire in their homes and they have no idea what’s going on. That why we’re out here.” When that’s your earliest childhood memory, Collins said, it’s not surprising that many of those children grow up to join a gang themselves. Collins said his earliest memory of gang activity is when he was in the fourth grade, in which a fellow student who had been held back often spoke of being the Neighborhood Crip. “He was very proud of his gang,” Collins said. “It was passed down to him. His father was in the gang and he was going to be in the gang and his friends were in the gang. And they raised him up as an apprenticeship.” Collins told VNN a strong family is what prevented him from being enticed into Tulsa’s gang system. “I came from a two parent household,” Collins said. “I had four older sisters. Three of them lived with me for the good part of my life.” He said he knows he is the exception, recalling working at a non-profit with children who didn’t understand how that could be. “I’ll remember probably for a lifetime, was a kid asking me what gang I was in as I was in his classroom and I told him I wasn’t in one,” Collins said. “And he was like, well which one were you in? I told him I was never in one. He just looked at me like he was so puzzled because that was the only reality he knew. “A lot of my friends growing up that I went to school with at Carver and Booker T were in gangs. With my experience playing youth sports, I got to see the “other side of town”, playing a lot of kids from south Tulsa, east Tulsa, I knew just based off of what our team makeup was and what the other team makeup were something was different. And I knew that we were more economically disadvantaged but I didn’t know why.” Collins said he made it a personal quest to find out why that was, leading to the discovery of discriminatory housing policies, land valuation and a lack of certain public and private development resulting in the gentrification of North Tulsa. “Things were done and have happened to ensure that north Tulsa is not as thriving as the rest of the city,” Collins said. Merriam Webster defines gentrification as “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents”. It’s something Collins said has been going on in Tulsa long before he was born, dating back to days following the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in which nearly 200 black-owned businesses were burned to the ground. An estimated 300 black people were killed. Ten thousand were left homeless. After the massacre, Black Wall Street was rebuilt even bigger than before, but was plagued by urban renewal projects and new highway development. Now there are less than two dozen black-owned businesses. More recently, according to Governing Magazine, gentrification in Tulsa has increased over the last two decades, with multiple areas moving from the bottom 40th percentile of household income and home value to the top third percentile in home value and percentage of adults with bachelors’ degrees. “I think they want it to die a little bit so people leave,” Collins said. Collins believes this pattern of pushing poor people out to build for wealthier newcomers has led to an increase in crime in poverty stricken areas, resulting in a stigma he said has led to the dehumanization of not only gang members in North Tulsa, but the community as a whole. “Talking about people as if they were not human; or making jokes about the crime and the shootings when this was a place that I would leave and go to after work at night,” Collins said. “I understood how they viewed us. It’s almost as if they forgot I was a North Tulsan because I didn’t carry myself in the way that they saw North Tulsa. I’ve heard people tell me that, or don’t go over there. I know you live there but still… but you’re not like a real black person, like you’re not actual black. I’m like what? I live in the thick of it. I grew up right around it. I still live there.” Hill said the crime is a multi-tiered problem that includes multi-facets of the community, with the police being one small cog in the machine. “And so we’re doing what we can as far as the enforcement and trying to develop relationships from that angle,” Hill said. “But at the same time knowing that, based on pure analytics and pure statistics, this is going to take a much bigger buy-in from the community to do things in order for us to make everlasting change.” Meanwhile, officers are working around the clock, conducting special ops like the recently completed Operation Muster, which resulted in 25 felony arrests, 9 guns seized, and 19 felony warrants served. “I’m not talking about people that are dealing small bags of marijuana on the street corner,” Hill said. “We’re talking about people that are causing chaos in our city. Shooting because they have no fear of repercussion. Those are the people we go after.” Collins said he believes there are still a lot of good, damaged people in the gangs. “Maybe they didn’t have a great family, household,” Collins said. “They didn’t have a father, they didn’t have a mother. They saw someone killed, they wanted to get revenge, they heard about someone killed. They have a family history in it. There was something that led them to it. A lot of the people I see that I know that are in gangs are very talented athletically, musically even mathematically. Poetry, the arts. All those kinds of things but they didn’t feel they had support. They didn’t think anyone cared.” For those who want a life outside of the gang, there are resources available. Click here to connect with a local organization: The Tulsa Police Department has several crime prevention and community involvement programs that are also designed to deter/prevent gang membership. Some of these programs include, but are not limited to: The Police Athletic League (PAL) The Tulsa Police Activities League (PAL) is a city-wide crime prevention program designed to build positive relationships between youth, police officers and the community. Recreational, educational, enrichment and mentoring programs are offered to youth ages 7 to 17, at no cost to participants. Tulsa Crime Stoppers Last year this program worked with over 53 neighborhoods in the Tulsa area to make a difference in the community. Read with a COP Program This program pairs a Tulsa Police officer with a group of Tulsa’s youngest citizens to explore the joy and excitement of reading. By engaging Tulsa’s youth in a fun and educational way, TPD is able to strengthen community bonds while building trust and understanding.
TPD Ropes Course: The HelmZar Challenge Course was operated by Tulsa Public Schools, however operations at the facility were suspended effective July 2017 due to funding issues. In cooperation with the Tulsa Police Activity League, the TPD Foundation is working to provide access to this outstanding facility once again. Public education request Click here for more information about gangs and nationwide programs:


This story has no comments yet