The Latin Kings is a gang that started in the mid-1950s in Humboldt Park, an urban neighborhood of Chicago as a social organization to help Latinos but in the late 1960s began making money from drug sales. The Latin Kings are a highly-structured organization with than 20,000 members in the Chicago area. Nationwide, they total 50,000 members in 120 cities across the United States.
In the early 1970s as heroin and other street drugs became popular, Raul “Baby King” Gonzalez and Gustavo “Gino” Colon emerged as leaders of the gang. While in prison for murder Colon wrote a code of conduct for the Latin Kings, becoming a “Corona” or leader by 1973. He directed underlings on the outside to pay off guards in exchange for shuttling drugs to prisoners. One guard was found dead, leading many to believe he was uncooperative with the gang.
In 1997 Colon was about to be paroled after 25 years in prison but the ATF re-arrested him in prison. His communications with gang members had been followed, and he was charged with at least 18 counts including conspiracy to sell drugs and using an illegal cell phone in prison. It’s not uncommon for gang kingpins to buy favors from guards in exchange for keeping peace among gang members in the cellblock. Instead of being released he was sentenced to life in maximum security prison.
Women members are given equal status and called the Latin Queens who were once used as drug mules, keepers of safe houses, and holders of weapons but now they are gang bangers as likely as the men to partake in violent hits.
Because the Latin King Nation is so numerous, umbrella organizations were created to coordinate and control factions. They’re called Motherland in the Chicago area, and Bloodline in New York.
To become a member of the Latin Kings, an aspiring member must engage in violence. “Violation” is a violent initiation rite, probably a beat down or severe beating by other members.
“Gold crush” is a beating of an officer by other members, and “crown stripped” means getting kicked out of the gang. Aspiring members may also be sent to “hit” rivals, whether to assault, rob, or murder them. Only after passing all portions of initiation is a member allowed to learn the precepts of the gang contained in its constitution.
Corona is the highest rank a King member can attain. There are only two, Colon and Gonzalez. Regional officers run a number of chapters each. The highest ranking officer in each chapter is called an Inca. Under them is a cacique, or chief. An enforcer ensures that everyone follows the dictates of the officers, and soldiers are the rank and file members. Regular meetings are called both locally and regionally, to discuss issues and receive assignments from local officers.
Graffiti and tattoos that denote the Kings and Queens turf or members include lions, crowns, and cartoon-like profiles of a king like those on a deck of cards. Gang colors are black and gold. The five-point crown (mostly used by Mexican branch on Chicago’s South Side) signifies love, honor, obedience, sacrifice, and righteousness. A three-point crown means knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, and is used by the Puerto Rican branch of the gang. Hand signs make the shape of a crown.
The Latin King’s rivals include the Satan Disciples, Folk Nation allied gangs, Black Gangster Disciples, Crips, and Spanish Cobras.
The Latin Kings dominate the drug trafficking trade in Chicago. In 2003 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms infiltrated the gang to collect evidence of conspiracy, racketeering, and other crimes. The gang had been doing more than selling drugs, including selling fake green cards that allowed illegal immigrants to stay in the country. They also had been collecting taxes on drug sales made by non-gang members in their neighborhoods. Using undercover informants, they set up a sting and in 2006 charged one of the gang leaders, Fernando “Ace” King, and 34 others with cocaine possession and firearm charges.
In 2018 a member of the Latin Kings was sentenced for killing the wrong man: the father of a rival gang member rather than the son. He was one of 15 members charged in 2016 with a variety of felony offenses, including racketeering, conspiring to commit murder, murder, and trafficking drugs and prostitution.