Life & Times on the Trail of Gangs

Host: Val Zavala.

With:
Narrator: Dena Dietrich.

Host: Val Zavala.

Once “Life & Times” gets the news across that L.A.-area gangs are metastasizing to cities as far away as Seattle and Pocatello, Idaho, “On the Trail of Gangs” covers what gangs are doing in each city and what those cities are trying to do about it. Docu’s a head-shaker but no news-breaker.

With more than 150,000 members in about 1,100 L.A. County gangs, it was inevitable that gangs would seek Lebensraum. Program spotlights their Las Vegas, Denver and Portland stands, but law enforcement generally has no more success than in L.A.

Much larger and more violent in L.A. than they were 13 years ago, the two major orgs, the Crips and the Bloods, have spread out, with secondary gangs mushrooming.

Drug dealing is mother’s milk to warring groups, and Vegas proves a gold mine as gangs take on something no one’s ever done before — the city’s hotel casinos. Vegas now has its second generation of gangs, whose members feel they owe allegiance to only the gang.

In Portland, the Tortilla Flats gang and the 18th Streeters are ardent enemies. One gang forcibly moved into a house owned by an elderly married couple , took it over and caused $ 30,000 damage. The elderly husband died of a heart attack, the wife went to the hospital. “I don’t know why they’re scared of us,” muses a member.

Seeing the young men and women in action, tattooed and armed, unafraid and self-sufficient, is reminiscent of German hooligans attacking Jews and other innocents in the 1930s. The present-day descendants come in all colors and races in an oddly democratic demonstration; the docu offers little comfort or hope.

Though it isn’t mentioned in the ambitious docu, gangs are substitutes for home, for substance and for parents; everyone pays the price.

Program, efficiently edited, gets across its message of hopelessness, of near despair. Most ominous aspect of “Trail” is how often the scenes videotaped in four major cities are replicated in so many other burgs — and look like scenes from nightly TV news.

Life & Times on the Trail of Gangs

(Wed. (20), 7:30-8 p.m., KCET)

Production: Taped in Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; Denver; and L.A. by KCET. Exec producer, Val Zavala; producers, Dan Leighton, Frank Feldinger; co-producer, La Tanya Squires.

Crew: Camera, Peter Stone, Bill McMillin, Ed Belmudes, Trace Percy, Tina Kopnick, Millon Mitchell, Squires; editor, Jeff Markgraf; audio, Michael Haley, Tom Levy, Philip Pratt; music, Ron Aston; theme, Miriam Cutler.

Cast: Narrator: Dena Dietrich.

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