The Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords. All names of gangs that operate nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Now, those who fight the violence on the street level are speaking out about the deadly actions of those gangs in Birmingham, and what needs to change.

"We 100% have gangs in Birmingham,” said Birmingham Police Sgt. Kareem Easley, who is also running for Jefferson County Sheriff. “Some of our murders are gang-related.”

But why isn’t it talked about? Why isn’t it acknowledged by law enforcement?

“This is a taboo topic - a sensitive topic that administrative leaders don't want to acknowledge because if we admit to a gang problem, some people believe that implies that law enforcement does not have control in a city," Easley said.

Easley focuses on crime suppression, so he has firsthand knowledge of what is happening in the city.

"Jefferson County communities are declaring a state of emergency concerning the violence in Birmingham,” said Easley. “We are sick of the dying around us. Just look back to 2021. We had 213 homicides in Jefferson County - 132 of those alone in Birmingham. This is not acceptable."

As of February 22, 2022, Jefferson County had 39 homicides. Nineteen of those in Birmingham.

"I am not saying all of the homicides we see are gang-related, but I am saying the killing is getting younger and younger,” Easley said. “You don't have to be a genius to realize when you turn on the news and see teens killing other teens; gangs exist here."

1819 News reached out to Police Instructor Robert Browning, a retired police Major from the Atlanta Police Department. Browning has his master's degree in forensic psychology and studies gang behavior. Major Browning is also a Veteran Hostage Negotiator. He not only teaches the art of negotiating but also studies the psychological effects of hostages and the hostage-takers. He has discovered that gang members often enter the life early on.

“I have looked at this topic for 40 plus years, and the number one motivation for kids to join gangs is to feel a sense of belonging,” Browning said. “They want a 'family unit' they are not getting at home. They want to feel accepted, appreciated and loved, and that is precisely what a gang provides them - a built-in system of friends or a family-type network."

On Feb. 20, 2022, two 16-year-old boys were killed in an Ensley neighborhood. They are among eight teens who lost their lives to gun violence in the Birmingham area in the first seven weeks of 2022. 

Acting Birmingham Police Chief Scott Thurmond and Mayor Randall Woodfin both addressed the surge of teen deaths but did not acknowledge gang activity. 

"We are 100% fed up,” said Thurmond. “We're tired of seeing it. We're tired of going to those scenes. We're tired of seeing families ripped apart by the violence. It's got to stop." 

Woodfin echoed that statement with a post on social media.

"It's time to stop being numb to the violence and prioritize the lives of our youth. Until we are the ones who wipe those tears, provide protection, and demand justice, the cycle will never break," Woodfin posted. 

1819 News reached out to the Birmingham Police Department, explicitly asking if gang activity motivated the Feb. 20 shooting. According to Sgt. Rodarius Mauldin, "At this phase in the investigation, detectives are working to establish a motive. Gang activity has not been confirmed in this investigation.”

Browning said the second factor in examining gangs is personality type.

"You have to have a dependent personality type,” Browning said. “Gang members are followers, not leaders. They love people in power but don't know how to get that power besides putting themselves into a gang. Remember, a gang offers them protection and security. And if you have a dependent personality, that protection and security give you comfort."

Easley said if you want to dive into the topic, you must look back to when the world shut down in 2020, as he said that is when gang activity increased in the city.

"Households were turned upside down,” said Easley. “There was chaos everywhere. Parents were dealing with financial and emotional issues. People lost their homes. Children were out of school with too much time on their hands. Men, women, and children felt lost and overwhelmed. We all went into survival mode. It was the perfect storm, so to speak, for gang creation.”

Easley said there are two distinct gangs in the city, and the players range from 16 to 21-year-old Black males. He said there are no designated gang colors, but it's common knowledge within the members' neighborhoods who belongs to a gang.

"They carry weapons, and they are turf oriented, meaning if one gang crosses into the neighborhood of their rival gang, most likely gunfire will erupt,” Easley said. “There is no initiation fee or task, but if you have family in that neighborhood, you are accepted into the gang. Being a gang member is their full-time job. Most of these kids dropped out or skip school and roam the streets freely."

There are other motivations to join a gang, according to Browning: Motivation and personality type.

“Joining may be motivated by money, making themselves feel better, gratification, praise from their buddies, etc.,” Browning said. “All organized groups and even teams are like gangs - chess club, cheerleading club, football team, even the band. It's all a group of kids joining together for one common purpose with a leader or captain. So, wanting to belong to a group is not some foreign concept - the big difference is kids who join gangs do so because psychologically, they can't imagine there is anything better in life than the circumstances currently in front of them. They lack hope."

Easley believes the biggest problem is a lack of parental control.

"Parents think because their sons are teenagers, they are close to being adults and don't need monitoring as much,” said Easley. “But that is tragic because that is the time in a young boy's life that they need positive guidance the most. They need role models. They need a mom or dad constantly watching and correcting their behavior to mold them into good citizens of this community. They need responsibility and a set routine. And we are simply not seeing that happen."

Furthermore, Browning believes while gang members want to be portrayed as tough, they are really the most insecure humans. 

"They are easily brainwashed, which makes them mentally weak,” said Browning. “They want to take orders from the gang leader and think guns and violence are their superpowers. And at 16-years old, like most kids, they think they are invincible. Psychologically speaking - they truly believe they are more likely to be killed, NOT being in a gang. It's the pack mentality. They don't want to be the lone wolf."

Easley said it's not just the homicides they see with the gangs; it's the drugs, carjackings, vandalizations, and robberies too. 

"These are not amateur gangs - these are hardcore,” said Easley. “These young boys want guns, as many as they can get. There are 15-20 people in one gang, times two gangs - so you can do the math and figure out how many guns are on the streets in the hands of our youth. We even see teens posting pictures of money and weapons on social media. Sadly, the parents are hands-off."

And another issue Easley said is that the schools are not equipped to identify gangs because they are already taxed with COVID-related problems, and therefore gangs rank low on their priority list.

"We used to have PAT - a police athletic team - but that no longer exists, so the kids who are not involved in an organized sport or activity find themselves on the streets,” Easley said. “And like a fire that spreads, gangs can grow fast. So, we need to stop them now."

Easley said the first step to shutting down gangs is to educate the members' parents. 

"We have to teach them and their kids about conflict resolution,” said Easley. “These teens don't know how to channel their anger, and if their parents can't teach them at home, we need to teach the parents a better way."

Easley also says the way to combat gangs in Birmingham is to beef up police presence in neighborhoods, which is currently challenging with a nationwide police shortage.

"We also need to work with the District Attorney and implement stiffer laws and stiffer penalties for juveniles. There need to be harsher punishments, period. And we need neighborhood watch programs back in place more than ever now."

Browning said it’s important to get ahead of the issues as parents and community members. He said once kids join a gang, it's hard mentally for them to break away.

"You know the old saying - blood in, blood out,” Browning said. “Plus, why don't you ask a normal working citizen if they would take just one day to get up and leave their family? Then, of course, they would say no. It's a fear of the unknown."

Browning said if he had to put all of this into one word, it would be love or lack thereof.

"Do teenage boys think the money, and guns, and cars, and girls are fantastic? Absolutely,” said Browning. “But more than anything, they are searching for the love they have gotten nowhere else in their life. They are trying to fill that void in their heart. That's why gangs form and stay together."

The DOJ offers programs to help equip and train communities to prevent gang violence and involvement. For more information, go to The National Gang Center website, at