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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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GANGS. Groups of disruptive individuals are not a recent development in Dubuque. In 1890 the Dubuque Herald writer reported:

          A crowd of hoodlums congregate every Sunday on a vacant lot near
          the Barracks, corner of Walnut and 11th streets, to play ball.  
          They are a terrible annoyance to the residents with their loud
          and boisterous language, swearing, fighting and insulting men or
          women who pass along...the right of peaceable citizens should be
          respected. (1)

In 1896 a twelve-year-old was sentenced to five days in jail for cutting open the nose of a member of "the Greys." (2) In January 1897 eight members of the "Avenue Gang" ranging in age from 11-14 were arrested. (3)

In 1993 the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT formed a Gang Task Force with Don Moody, principal of STEPHEN HEMPSTEAD HIGH SCHOOL, as its chairperson. The purpose of the group was to address gang activity in schools and ensure that the district's discipline policy included gang activity, assault, and repetitive fighting. Police officials were on record that up to a dozen men were positively identified as gang members belonging to the Vice Lords of Chicago and Milwaukee. Police also suspected the presence of Black Gangster Disciple members. The task force studied the gang policies of districts in Burlington, Clinton, Davenport, Sioux City, and Waterloo and planned to report to the school board in January or February, 1994. (4)

In January, 1994 the Task Force recommended that the district's disciplinary policy be amended to include a prohibition of gangs and gang activities. That policy said, "no student on or about school property or at any school activity shall: wear or display any gang clothing, gang jewelry, gang emblems or the like; use any gang speech or gang signals; recruit other students for a gang, ask others to pay protection, violate school policies or incite others to violence. (5)

On April 15, 1994 members of the Task Force on Gangs, Drugs, and Youth Violence held a press conference. Members announced the focus of the group would be on alternative activities for youth, legislative solutions, and providing public information and education. The composition of the task force would include policy makers from the schools, police department, city, juvenile justice and the judicial system. (6)

Task force goals were: (7)

    a. to promote equal enforcement of rules by authority figures including
    courts, parents, teachers, school administrators, and policy makers,
    b. provide accurate information about gangs, drugs and youth violence,
    c. to identify prevention, support and intervention programs in order
    to minimize environmental factors which might influence young people to
    affiliate with gangs
    d. urge community responses concerning gangs, drugs and youth violence
    such as "zero tolerance" of signs, symbols or behavior

Churches had a key role in stopping gangs according to a local police leader charged with investigating gang activity. Involving young people in church life was important. Church leaders also had to be aware that some white supremacist organizations called themselves "churches." This was used to confuse the general public into thinking what the organization did was positive. Parents needed to be aware of gang signs too. Wearing certain colors could be fine in Dubuque while in other cities it could lead to violence. (8)

According to an article in the Telegraph Herald on May 4, 1997, graffiti associated with violent street gangs first appeared in Dubuque around 1992. These signs were associated with the Vice Lords, Crips, Gangster Disciples, and Latin Kings. (9)

Statics associated with gangs included that 90% of the members had been arrested by the time they were 18, 75% had been arrested twice and 95% had dropped out of high school. By the time they were 20, 60% of gang members were dead or in jail. Police were taking a "zero tolerance" toward gang activity. (10)

People affiliated with gang activity in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Rockford were found to be moving into Dubuque because there were no local gangs and plenty of room for everyone. The drugs being sold including cocaine, first seen locally in 1992, which brought up to three times the price charged in larger cities. Disagreement existed over whether police were targeting blacks. Lettie Prell, an analyst with Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning stated that 55% of those convicted for drug dealing in Dubuque County were white. (11)

In February 1994 police were dealing with the meaning behind graffiti found in various locations around the city. When used to mark "turf" in a city, these symbols were sometimes crossed out or painted over with a rival gang's symbol. This had not happened in Dubuque. (12)

A seminar for school and law-enforcement officers held in August, 1999 introduced both groups to "retreatist" gangs, or hate groups. This type of gang included such groups as the White Knights and the World Church of the Creator. These groups committed violence against people they felt were unlike themselves and tended to dislike the government. Another group mentioned was called the Extortion gangs." Tending to be highly organized, groups like the Asian Dragons and the Laos Boys used extortion for material or personal gain. Occult groups organized themselves around Satin worship or the belief that moral codes were simply man-made rules invented to keep people back from fulfilling their desires. Retreatist and occult groups were most common in rural areas. (13)

2013 data. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

Dubuque police reported in 2005 that they had spotted about 85 gangs in Dubuque from the early 1990s until 2005 with Hispanic gangs on the increase. During a three day meeting of the non-profit Midwest Gang Investigator Association's annual training seminar and conference. Police had identified about 670 members representing these 85 gangs with most members of the Gangster Disciples and white supremacist gangs. (14)

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

Teachers, counselors and social workers attending an in-service at ELEANOR ROOSEVELT MIDDLE SCHOOL in 2010 learned how to recognize and interpret gang graffiti. When left uncovered, graffiti tended to increase quickly and spread. Messages painted on buildings or signs were sometimes intended to establish territory, recruit members or threaten other gangs. Dubuque police attempted to keep gangs from establishing territories. In their graffiti abatement program, police photographed the graffiti and then quickly removed it. Local graffiti usually was related to Chicago-based street gangs. Messages sprayed left to right used hard-to-decipher codes, abbreviations and lettering. Upside-down, crossed out, or inverted graffiti indicated disrespect for another gang. Not all graffiti was gang-related. Groups occasionally formed "tagging" teams to scrawl graffiti in an area. In some cities, businesses paid graffiti artists to cover buildings with murals which gangs usually respected and left alone. (15)



1. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, May 18, 1890, p. 4

2. "Police Court," Dubuque Herald, December 12, 1896, p. 8

3. "A Titled Gang," Dubuque Herald, January 16, 1897, p. 8

4. Krapfl, Mike. "Panel Wants Pro-Active Gang Policies," Telegraph Herald, December 1, 1993, p. 3A

5. Krapfl, Mike, "Draft Prohibits School Gangs," Telegraph Herald, January 3, 1994, p. 24

6. Eiler, Donnelle. "Dubuque Looks for Help to Stop Gang Activity," Telegraph Herald, April 15, 1994, p. 2

7. Ibid.

8. Jerde, Lyn. "Officer: Churches Key in Stopping Gangs," Telegraph Herald, April 27, 1994, p. 3A

9. Sweeney, Kathleen. "Police Advise Citizens, Community to 'Gang Up' on Gangs," Telegraph Herald, May 4, 1997, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970504&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

10. Ibid.

11. Sweeney, Kathleen. "Report: Gang Members Increase Dubuque Drug Sales," Telegraph Herald, August 22, 1997, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970822&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

12. Bagsarian, Tom. "Police Grapple With Graffiti Outbreak," Telegraph Herald, February 8, 1994, p. 5

13. Sisco, Becky, "Gangs at a Glance," Telegraph Herald, August 4, 1999, p. 3

14. Block, Emily, "Dubuque Police Closely Monitor Gang Activity," Telegraph Herald, May 26, 2005, p. 1

15. Blanchard, Courtney, "Expert: Gang Graffiti Sign of Danger," Telegraph Herald, September 27, 2010, p. 1