Summarized by Kent Larsen
LA Times Says Mormons in Gilbert, AZ In Denial Over Gang Violence
GILBERT, ARIZONA -- In a major article detailing the trouble
Mormon-dominated Gilbert, Arizona has had with gang violence, the
newspaper claims that Mormons and city officials have failed to
acknowledge the gang trouble. It also says that Mormon culture has
led witnesses and victims to prefer handling the trouble through the
Church, rather than with the local police. The article ties the gang
to both racism and to a mafia-run drug ring.
The center of the difficulty is a gang, now called the Devil Dogs,
that the article claims was founded by a group of athletes at Higland
High School, some of whom were Mormon, according to police. In its
six or seven year history, the gang has been invovled in violent
incidents involving seemingly random attacks, many of which had
racist or homophobic overtones. The Times details four horrific
attacks, including an assault on an Asian-American couple in which
the attackers yelled ethnic slurs and an attack on two men in which
anti-gay and white power slogans were yelled.
The gang's founder, Michael J. Papa, eventually became friends with
the son of mafia turn-coat and former hit man Salvatore "Sammy the
Bull" Gravano, who was in Phoenix as part of the federal witness
protection program. Gravano used the gang for muscle to protect his
growing ecstasy drug ring, Arizona's largest. When Gravano was
arrested in a raid last February 24th, at least a dozen of those
arrested in the same sweep were connected to the Devil Dogs gang.
The allegations in the article involving Mormons come from claims by
victims that the town's Mormon culture protected some of the
perpetrators and kept town authorities from the problem. For example,
employees at a Taco Bell where gang members hung out called the local
LDS bishop when incidents occurred instead of calling police,
according to former Gilber police detective Mike Sanchez. He claims
Mormon culture was an impediment to solving the gang problem. "The
whole thing is part of the Mormon culture--'We don't have a problem,
we can deal with it.' A circling-the-wagons type of thing. That's the
way they do it in Gilbert. They see it as an internal problem. All
the leaders of the town are in the church. It's how things are done."
An LDS city concilman, Steve Urie, confirms that the workers at Taco
Bell called Church leaders instead of police, "It was easier to call
the [LDS] stake president to handle it than bring in the police. It
was [the Taco Bell employees'] decision. The stake presidents did
talk to the youngsters and try to straighten them out."
Arizona NAACP president Wilbert Nelson goes farther than Sanchez,
however, saying that LDS Church influence in town is at fault. "It is
the heart of the problem--we can't dance around that," Nelson added.
"The heart of the matter is that church leaders in the Mesa-Gilbert
area have tremendous influence. The issue is not discrimination. The
issue is the institutional foundation upon which the discrimination
But city councilman Urie disagrees. He says LDS Church influence is
merely a perception. "One may perceive that because someone is LDS
and knows people across town, then they may have a higher status.
What I can say is that we have higher standards of moral conduct for
ourselves than we expect for others, and when one of our kids does
something that is not right, we are very disturbed." The LDS Church's
Arizona spokesman Wilford Andersen says the Church's teachings are
not the problem. "I hope that the youth members of our church are not
participating in racism of any kind," he said. "If they are, they are
doing so against the teaching of our church.I am not suggesting that
every member of the church is without fault, but as a church and as
an institution, we teach that all men and women are brothers and
sisters. If there are members of our church [involved in gangs]--and
I'm certain there are, as there are in other churches--it's not
coming from the church."
Meanwhile, school superintendent Walter Delecki, who is not LDS,
dismisses the claim that the Devil Dogs are racists, noting that many
of their victims are white. "White supremacists don't beat up white
people, to my knowledge," he said. (However, Delecki didn't address
claims that the gang is homophobic.) Delecki also claims that the
charges that Mormons get special treatment are not supported by the
facts. "We've had that accusation, and I haven't seen any facts.
That's not how I run this district or work with people. There is a
lot of religious bigotry here: In my opinion, it's from the people
who are anti-LDS. This town has been accused. I haven't seen it. Be
factual. In my 22 years here, no one has been treated better or
lesser because of their religion or ethnicity."
A Culture of Violence and Denial
Los Angeles Times 26Oct00 D2
By Julie Cart: Times Staff Writer
The havoc wreaked by white supremacist high school athletes is downplayed by an Arizona town's elders. Then a drug bust finds the teens acting as muscle for a former Mafia hit man.