By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Carlos & Co. get their weed a half-pound at a time from another eighteen-year-old in the southwest Florida city of Cape Coral. "I call him my brother, but he's not," says Carlos, reluctant to disclose more but pining for gangsta credibility. "If I told you all about him, this motherfucker would feed you to the alligators."
It's the same dilemma he must face in his everyday life: He desperately wants to brag about how bad he is, but he lacks the true nihilism to be seriously bad. "I don't give a fuck," is one of his staple phrases -- "I don't give a fuck about school" or "I don't give a fuck about the poh-lice." Yet he admittedly doesn't want to get into the kind of trouble that will land him in jail. Or upset his mother. "Moms got enough stuff to handle, yo," he says.
Carlos did have some brushes with the law as a juvenile, thereby adding to the stuff that Moms handles. He also boasts that he has some knowledge of the nighttime police-station assault and of the three kids who had large-enough cojones and little-enough sense to fuck with the authorities.
On a cold afternoon late last fall, four months after the parking-lot caper, the streets of the Hammocks are swarming with teenagers. Like maggots on a sun-swollen carcass, they're emerging from every possible crack and crevice in Hammocks Town Center, a strip mall housing a Publix, CVS, and Hallmark store, as well as the West Kendall Regional Library.
The twelve- and thirteen-year-olds who've come from adjacent Hammocks Middle School try to act like they're already in training for the tough life. Skinny-armed boys in muscle shirts and socks pulled up into the shadowy, billowing depths of their jean shorts smirk under wispy mustaches as they clasp sweaty palms with too-tall girls. Clones of those younger girls, with the same baby-fat bellies spilling over tight hip-huggers, have graduated to dating older boys. They wrap their arms around the waists of their leering Lotharios, making out against the columns across the sidewalk from Publix or the Magic Wok Chinese Takeout.
Boys with visors and blown-out fake Afros or quarter-inch buzz cuts and girls with ponytails and bandannas sit in clusters in front of the library, some sneaking smokes. The girls whisper to each other while the boys preen. They make trips back and forth across the parking lot to McDonald's.
In an alley behind the mall, one group, seemingly presided over by a huge boy in a black Raiders ski cap pulled down almost completely over his eyes, passes around a glass pipe. The pot-smokers joke enviously about the tall and gangly boy, his back to the wall, standing across the alley. He has a Fu Manchu and a Canes cap, but most important, he has a girlfriend enfolded in his huge winter coat. She sucks on his neck, her hands hidden deep within the folds of his jacket.
About a hundred yards away, in the loading zone behind DJ's BBQ and a martial-arts gym, and separated from the bulk of the mall by a vacant lot, a black boy protected from the cold only by a tight, sleeveless T-shirt and shorts chases two Hispanic kids, one of whom holds a length of pipe. They're bigger, but he's all muscle -- maybe five-four, but built like a clenched fist. They cross the huge parking lot, bursting through the doors into McDonald's, and the black kid stops, gives up the chase. Behind him some high school kids have jumped a fence behind the loading zone and sit next to a manmade lake surrounded by town homes, passing a bottle in a paper bag.
The neighborhoods that comprise and surround the Hammocks range in age and appearance, but almost all bear the distinctive imprint of South Florida's faux Mediterranean, stucco-and-tile aesthetic. The walls separating back yards from busy streets show the ubiquitous signs of teen vandalism: spray-painted tags, mostly in black or red and thoroughly indecipherable. Only a few of the glyphs indicate the truly nefarious, such as a lazy scrawl on the side of DJ's BBQ that reads simply: "Crips."
"On the one hand," says Detective Rego, the gang-squad cop, "you couldn't necessarily say that just because these kids aren't from the inner city, they're not capable of being hard-core." Serious crimes -- assaults, robberies, and drug dealing -- are being perpetuated by the local suburban youngsters. On the other hand, he adds, as far as police know, the kids in Southwest Miami-Dade don't have the connections to big-time drug suppliers that make gang life truly lucrative and lethal. Nor has he seen evidence of organized gang activity. Rego, who looks like he should play the strait-laced younger partner of a cynical vet, works with the kids who get involved in what passes for gang life in the Hammocks area. "Most of these kids sell a little weed or Ecstasy and sit in the house playing video games all day," he says. "They're not on the corner protecting their territory or anything like that."
In short, misdemeanors abound, but events like the vandalism of a police HQ are unheard of. "This was a sign," he says. "If they're getting that brazen with us, they might get a lot more dangerous to the average citizen."