Where Sugar and Spice Meet Bricks and Bats

Girl Gang Violence Alarms D.C. Officials

By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 28, 2004; Page B01


Neither side recalls exactly what sparked the feud. But more than two years after fists first flew, dozens of members of two District gangs continue to clash, swinging baseball bats and slinging bricks at rivals.

Jaws have been broken. Arms slashed. Faces sprayed with mace.

The gang violence is familiar to law enforcement officials, but the type of player is not. The Knockout Honies and the Most Wanted Honeyz are girl gangs, the District's largest, with about 200 members between them.

Girl gangs have been on the rise for several years in the District and other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, gang experts say. No one has been killed in girl gang confrontations in the District, but an escalation of gang-related violence in recent months has officials alarmed about the possibility, particularly during the city's school holiday break, which continues through Sunday.

"Everything that is going on in the city is with the girls," said Bridget Miller, a contractor hired by the D.C. schools as a supervisor with the Youth Gang Task Force.

Miller, 39, a self-described "former knucklehead," or troublemaker, from southeastern Virginia, counsels students in the District and Prince George's County. She said girl gangs have been emerging in the area for six to seven years. She said there are now at least 35 such gangs in the District, including the Loony Tunes and Always Been Hated On.

The Knockout Honies and the Most Wanted Honeyz exemplify the challenges facing officials, as most of their fights occur after school, on street corners and outside nightclubs and out of sight of adults.

The two groups were formed five to six years ago. Each is a loose collection of friends and acquaintances who typically live in the same neighborhood or attend the same schools. Members of the Knockouts live mainly along the 14th Street NW corridor; Most Wanteds typically live in near Northeast and near Southeast Washington.

Like other such groups in the city, the Knockouts and the Most Wanteds did not consider themselves gangs in the beginning, and even now, the gang label is generally used only by police and school officials. Widespread violence between the two groups did not take root until about two years ago, police said.

The Knockouts, Most Wanteds and other D.C. girl gangs are not affiliated with male gangs, as girl gangs are in some cities, and as far as police know, they are not typically involved in drug dealing, street robberies or other criminal acts. The gangs tend to pick only on their rivals, not on others in the community. Ego is a major motivator, experts said.

Most girl gang members in the District do not seem destined for a life of crime, experts say. Some are honor-roll students. They band together for camaraderie and protection and sometimes to explore their sexual identity, members and experts said.

"I'm about to be 18. I'm trying to make a future out of my life," said Shakita McBrayer, a senior at Cardozo Senior High School in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Northwest. McBrayer, a member of the Knockouts, who apparently were given the moniker by a school official and male students at Cardozo, plans to study social work at Morgan State University in Baltimore next fall.

Dorothy Washington, 18, another of the Knockouts' approximately 75 members, plans to study business at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania next year. Until then, the senior at Luke C. Moore Academy High School in Northeast has a simple response to anyone who would attack her gang.

"We're going to hit them back, no matter what," said Washington, who otherwise comes across as genial and reserved. "I'm going to squad up and come back for you."

The talk of violence is not idle. Tiny metal braces jut from the top and bottom of Washington's mouth. The wires do not straighten her smile, but bind her jaw together. It was broken this summer, she said, when members of the X-Rated Hunniez gang "stomped [her] with boots" on a city street. Other gang members proudly display their "tattoos," or scars, from fights outside of go-go clubs or sports events.

"Girls want to show their strength. Girls want respect," Miller said.

Neither McBrayer nor Washington has been implicated by officials in any of the recent attacks.

Rose Gordon, a police detective in Chicago who has investigated many of that city's 700 gangs during a 29-year career, said girl gangs don't receive much attention because their violence is rarely lethal.

"Many times our law enforcement doesn't pay any attention to females. They don't carry a lot of" .357 magnum guns, she said.

Though no one has died in girl gang attacks in the District, police records contain reports of serious attacks, retaliations and threats:

On Sept. 17, an 18-year-old was jumped by several gang members who broke her jaw with a brick on Warder Street NW.

On Oct. 12, three teenage girls were stabbed during a hallway scuffle at Shaw Junior High School. A 14-year-old gang member, who police believe is one of the Knockouts, was arrested.

On Nov. 23, D.C. police intercepted several dozen girls outside Cardozo. Police said that the girls were members of the "X-rated/Most Wanted Honiez," two groups that are loosely aligned, and that they had ridden a Metrobus there to start a fight, police said. No one was injured.

On Dec. 5, two girls were beaten and sprayed with a noxious chemical on U Street NW, after an altercation at a go-go show. The brawling continued the following two Sundays, said Inspector Diane Groomes of the 3rd Police District.

On Dec. 19, a 68-year-old Northwest woman told police that gang members telephoned her and said, "We're going to put you in a coma." The woman's granddaughter belongs to a rival gang. The threats allegedly have been going on for more than a month.

"It's been bad," Groomes said. "It's frustrating, because you think you have a handle on it, and then bam, they get riled up again."

Officers also have responded to reports of brawls at high school football games, fights that included bats, belts and bricks, Groomes said. Guns have been drawn but not fired, gang members said.

Fights often erupt after go-go bands yell "shout-outs" from the stage, recognizing individual gangs, which can prompt taunts and fisticuffs. Tempers also are inflamed on Internet chat boards.

On the streets, the teenagers said, they generally won't recognize a rival gang member, unless a girl spots an attacker who jumped her previously.

"Out of 150 of them, I can't tell but like three of them on the street," Larazza Miller, 19, a member of the Knockouts, said of the Most Wanteds.

Groomes fears that tensions between gangs could produce a targeted shooting or random victims. In recent months, 3rd District officers have been getting to know many members and trying to keep the violence from escalating.

Members of the Knockouts and Most Wanteds say they want peace. And youth gang workers, D.C. police officers who work at schools and command officials have tried to negotiate a truce for more than a year, with no success.

"Eventually somebody's going to get [badly] hurt," said Bridget Miller, the gang task force supervisor. "Unless we come to some kind of reason, that's what's going to happen."