In the winter of 2010, Jeremee Jon Kraskey called his mother to say, “Mom, you are no longer my family. I have a new family. I am part of the Native Mob now.”
Crystal Goose, of the Leech Lake Ojibwe tribe, was shocked. “He made me cry,” she recalls.
Less than a year later, on February 26, 2011, Kraskey’s body was found in an alley in South Minneapolis, with two bullet-holes in his hip and one in his forehead; it was an execution-style murder, and police have unofficially told her that his murder was related to his gang activity. He was 32. “He was such a bright, shining star,” Goose says. “People still tell me they miss him so much.” She adds that the thought of her only child dying alone in the snow has been the hardest part of losing him.
The recent news of a federal indictment charging 24 alleged members of the Native Mob with conspiracy to participate in racketeering and other crimes comes as bittersweet news for Goose. The indictment means that these dangerous people may no longer plague her community, and she hopes that she and her family will see her son’s killer tried for his murder, although Jeanne Cooney, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis, says Kraskey’s murder is not officially part of the current indictment.
Goose also grieves for the many mothers who have seen their sons killed or corrupted by the Native Mob, even those who were indicted. “Most of the men in the indictment are only in their 20s. Their lives have already been thrown away,” she notes, adding that she prays for them and the younger gang recruits who remain. “Some of the younger members are only 13,” Goose reports.
The Native Mob is a regional gang of Native Americans that sprang up in Minneapolis during the early 1990s but has since grown to an estimated 200 members who engage in drug trafficking, assault, robbery and murder. Most members are recruited from communities with large Native American populations.
According to the 47-count indictment, the Native Mob allegedly distributes illegal drugs, including crack, ecstasy and heroin, and protects its enterprise by committing acts of violence against competitors, victims and witnesses. It is also charged with hindering or obstructing officials from identifying or apprehending wanted individuals and allegedly providing monetary support to members including those who are in prison.
The long and ugly list of crimes alleged in the court documents, however, fails to convey the everyday terror and pain that comes with living in close proximity to gangs and their actions. Goose can testify to that, and she is sharing her family’s experience in order to shine a light on the reality of the impact of gangs on her people. She also hopes that her story may help others who are struggling with this issue.
“Learn from my story. Put yourself in Jeremee’s place, his children’s place or my place,” she says. “I want people to really think about this.”
Goose has not come to this decision easily. Before Kraskey’s death, she says, she was like a frightened child, afraid of violence—gang-related or otherwise—and afraid of death. “I’m not afraid anymore. I am an elder now, and I need to do what is right,” she says.
Goose observes that fear of gang retribution and family safety has kept many community members silent. “I understand that people are afraid, but we need to be more involved with our youth,” she says, pointing out that children are not born to be gang members. “Although these teenagers act tough, they are often like little boys on the inside who need help.”
Goose says she sees that many young Native men have few role models and are searching for guidance and help. This makes them especially vulnerable to the influence of gangs. She understands that people prefer to deny unpleasant aspects of their lives, but denial is no longer an option for her. “Age and experience have brought me willingness,” she says.
She says her son’s life was a roller-coaster ride. Periodically he would try to walk a good path, but the lure of quick and easy money would lead him astray. “He told me, ‘Mom, in your world I’m nothing, but in my world—the drug-dealing world—I’m a king, and I don’t have to start at the bottom. I can have money instantly in one day.’?”
Good-natured and well-liked, Kraskey was an avid fisherman and cook, a devoted father who loved his children. Although he began dealing drugs at an early age and was a convicted felon by the time he was 24, he got training as a machinist after he was released from prison and got a job in a machine shop on the nearby Red Lake reservation. “Things were going well for him. He had a house with bedrooms for his children.”
But in the end, Goose says, her son couldn’t stay away from that other life he knew so well. He was laid off and found that his felony conviction made if difficult for him to get another job. Eventually he veered, once again, into the familiar work of selling drugs and joined the Native Mob. “I was mad at him for joining the Mob. I knew how dangerous they were. I knew he was subjecting his children to danger. We weren’t on very good terms when he died. He would only call occasionally.”
The indictment depicts the Native Mob as a highly organized and extremely violent group with a powerful influence among its members in prison and on the streets. According to the document, one defendant in prison wrote a letter to another Native Mob member about the “need to hold people accountable, foes or our own. Discipline and [promoting] fear is the quickest way to progress in our case.”
The language of the indictment is terse, but still manages to convey the vicious nature of the Native Mob and the reign of terror it has visited upon Native communities. Retribution for informing on the Native Mob or disobeying Native Mob law was swift and brutal. Information in the indictment describes how one of the accused in Cass Lake, on the Leech Lake Reservation, about 200 miles from Minneapolis, allegedly tried to kill someone for cooperating with law enforcement. The victim was shot three times as he held his 5-year-old daughter in his arms. There are also allegations of numerous beatings with baseball bats and guns, as well as shootings against members of rival gangs and potential witnesses, and drive-by shootings in several cities. In one example of retaliation, one of the accused threw a cup of boiling water into a woman’s face. There are also several allegations of murder and assault of other Native Mob members who failed to obey gang rules. One Native Mob member threatened to kill the Minneapolis police officers who arrested him.
The indictment also describes the Native Mob’s ability to communicate about witnesses and police actions both inside and outside of prison. Indeed, officials were so concerned about tipping off the Native Mob as the indictment was handed down that they locked down the state’s prisons for 25 hours during the sweep of arrests.
According to the federal indictment, the Native Mob makes concerted efforts to recruit young people and juveniles. And all too often, gang violence involves those same young people. In a notorious case on the Mille Lacs reservation in 2010, 19-year-old William Nickaboine was beaten to death by members of the Native Mob. Members of a community search party, according to City Pages, a Minneapolis-based weekly newspaper, found his decaying body.
Goose was outraged to see members of the Native Mob at Kraskey’s funeral. They told his two teenage children that since their father had been a member of the Native Mob, they too were members of the “family.” The Native Mob, they said, would take care of them now. “They even had the nerve to shower my granddaughter with gifts at her 14th birthday party.”
Since details of the indictment have emerged, however, Goose says her grandchildren are seeing the Native Mob for what it is. “The Mob is manipulative and smooth, but they are dangerous,” she tells them.
According to Mille Lacs tribal elder Irene Benjamin, gang activity has become rampant among many youth on the reservation. “Gangs are everywhere,” she says. She agrees that youth have too few good role models. “They need to feel like they belong to someone.”
Justin Churchill, deputy chief of Mille Lacs tribal police department, says the Native Mob has taken a strong hold on the Mille Lacs reservation. “We have been battling them for some years,” he says, adding that the close proximity to the Twin Cities and a major highway, as well as large numbers of tribal members with relatives in the Twin Cities has made the Mille Lacs reservation especially attractive to the Native Mob. “Gang members have been taking advantage of the Native community, frequently jumping from reservation to reservation to escape prosecution,” he says.
Community leaders and law enforcement officials doubt the indictment will put an end to gang activity but are hopeful it will help by taking down the leaders of the Native Mob. They know that gang culture is too woven into the fabric of many communities for a few arrests to disband gangs altogether.
“We are making headway, I hope it is only the beginning of bigger things to come,” Churchill says. The reported leader of the Native Mob, Wakinyan Wakan McArthur, 33, of Bemidji was arrested recently in northeast Minneapolis. So far, 23 of the defendants named in the indictment have been arrested. Only Eric Bower is still at-large.
Meanwhile, Goose prepares for her son’s memorial feast. She prays each day, burning sage and offering tobacco. Most of all, she remembers to honor the life that the Creator has given her. Extensive therapy and reading books on dealing with grief and her Native spirituality have sustained her this past year. “I have grown so much from all of this. My heart is starting to open back up.”
As she talks about her son’s life and death, Goose stops frequently to reflect quietly. After one of these pauses, she tells a story about what it’s like to live in a community overrun by gangs.
“I was looking out the window at work and I recognized a young man who I know is a member of the Native Mob. He was with a real young, pretty girl. He put a red and black [Native Mob colors] hat on her head and twisted it to the side the way that they do. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I could tell he was mad. He was gesturing, and the girl was kind of cowering. I thought, That poor girl is young and beautiful; she has her whole life ahead of her, but she is allowing this lost little boy to control her.”
She pauses for a long time, then says, “I strive to remain in the present. It’s called the present because it’s a gift given to us each day. Jeremee left seven beautiful children. I am taking care of myself so that I can be there for them.”