Transnational Menace In Black & White

The gang's initials "SN" (Sombra Negra) are seen in the streets of Corona, Queens. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

The gang’s initials “SN” (Sombra Negra) are seen on the streets of Corona, Queens. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

While they sow terror and insecurity in Ecuador, in New York their activity is more limited to social media. They are Sombra Negra (Black Shadow), a gang born in the Ecuadorean rural region of Biblián, in the province of Cañar, with high immigration rates. Their tentacles reach to Queens’s Ecuadorean enclave, where they intimidate neighbors. According to residents, they usually rob workers after studying their daily schedules, or when their leave the area bars.

“We have a gang unit investigating and we are aware of the existence of Sombra Negra, but the group is not significantly active,” said Kevin Ryan, Queens District Attorney’s Office spokesperson.

On the Internet you can find such defiant phrases as “Sombra Negra until death,” with the tag “Ecuador 593.” The number corresponds to the South American country’s code for international calls, and according to activists denotes the gang’s transnational growth.

On YouTube, the acronym BKS appears in the gang’s videos, accompanied by cumbia sonidera, an adaptation of the Colombian music genre mixed with electronic effects.

“From the Middle of the World, Sombra Negra has arrived to Corona and Connecticut,” says – in a video compiling pictures of gang members in Ecuador and Queens – a DJ who greets the group’s leaders by their nickname.

Jackson Heights and Corona residents know them by their black-and-white bandanas and hats. Around Junction Boulevard there is some graffiti with their initials SN, and on social media they use the tags “SN 103st” or “SN 105 Biblián,” a reference to Corona’s 103rd and 105th streets and their Ecuador connection.

“Those kids do not fear anything, not even dying,” said Roberto Cajamarca, a Junction Boulevard resident for almost a decade. “You only need to see their colors to know they are Sombra Negra.”

The most serious incident happened in 2012, when members of Sombra Negra stabbed to death Mexican José Vera Muñoz, 20, in front of 104-21 Roosevelt Ave. A Queens Criminal Court judge sentenced Jesús Astimbay, Juan Guanaquesa and John Espinoza for gang assault, among other charges.

Since the 1990s

The NYPD, which confirmed the colors of the feared group, has records of the gang since 2000, although immigrants said that they have been active since the 1990s.

Sgt. Carlos Nieves, an NYPD spokesperson, said the gang has 92 members and is active around precincts 110 and 115, especially on Junction Boulevard.

The most recent incident involving the gang happened on Sept. 20, in front of 108-12 39th Ave. At midnight, Sombra Negra members Andrew Yupa, 22, Michael Calle, 21 and Luís Minchala, 21, hit three Hispanic youths with chains and robbed them.

Reckless behavior defines the gang members. According to police reports, the individuals confronted the cops who responded to the call. The three assailants were charged with gang assault. Since then, there have been no more arrests in relation to the gang.

In the neighborhood’s streets, some graffiti tell of the territorial fight with the Sur 13 gang, which also operates in the area and is mostly made up of Mexican youth. The rivalry is equally visible on social media.

“Sombra Negra does not like Mexican gangs. The worst of all is that our families are at the mercy of the street law,” said Marisol Guamán, a Corona neighbor.

In spite of the worries in the community, area elected officials said they have very few reports of illicit activities involving the gang. Community organizers and residents said that the gang’s connection with Ecuador may explain the lack of complaints.

“We come from the same provinces, that’s why there is fear. Immigrants do not say anything because they want to protect their families back home,” said Anselmo Aguayo, of the group Alianza Ecuatoriana Internacional. “Here, the authorities apply the law in all its force, but in Ecuador we don’t have such guarantees.”

“Gangs are a public security problem and residents should report incidents immediately. If they fail to do so, the police will not be aware if a gang resurged in the area, or if there is a new gang in the county,” said the Queens District Attorney’s office spokesperson.

According to sources in Ecuador, the deportation of its most violent members and immigration may advance the transnational activity of this crime syndicate.

“It is a generational gang,” said Álvaro Saula, a music teacher in Biblián, in a phone interview. “The first Sombra Negra members were deported and formed a cell that soon expanded.”

In 2012, Saula taught music to the gang’s leaders as part of a rehabilitation project financed by the Ecuadorean government, but the initiative soon ended in bureaucratic limbo.

“The social reintegration process was frustrated. Talent was not allowed to take root,” said Saula, who warned that, since then, Sombra Negra is resurging in Ecuador with a wave of violence.

Transnational gang

The Biblián province is known as Sombra Negra’s birthplace. It is thought that an unidentified immigrant from Cañar held in a U.S. prison created the gang, believing that he needed protection from a black shadow that was following him.

The gang also has influence in Spain, another destination for Ecuadorean immigrants.

According to community organizers, 80 percent of its members are sons of immigrants.

Romero Gárate, provincial attorney of Cañar, said that his office has received reports of such illicit activities as homicides and robberies by Sombra Negra members.

“In spite of prison sentences, the gang is beginning to expand. We are at risk that it will cover a wider field of activity,” said the official, who indicated that the gang’s growth is greater in areas with higher immigration rates.

Gárate said the youth “absorbed” the style of American gangs. The Sombra Negra members in Ecuador are characterized by their hats sporting the NY letters in black and white, imitating the clothing of their Queens counterparts.

The gang is attracting indigenous youths and is growing in the Suscal, Tambo, San Pedro, Nazón and Jerusalén provinces, according to authorities and community organizers.

“Some of them are sons of immigrants who died trying to cross the border,” said Yura Cazho, an artist from the Igapirca province who works with the Alianza Ecuatoriana Internacional. “By stigmatizing them, our society is sharpening the knives. They are not the problem, it is the context of abandonment and poverty in which they were raised.”

Just like in Queens, in the Ecuadorean provinces they also have territorial disputes with other gangs.

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