The older generation, too, resented what Tausinga was doing. Part of the resistance was denial. The parents from the old country held on to the concept of family respect they had taken from the islands. They were deceived: Their kids lived double lives.
The other source of resistance was cultural: In many Polynesian cultures, crimes are settled between families, rather than through the law. In Samoa, the chiefdom system called the Faá Matai allows for traditional apologies called iffogas, where the family of the victim confronts the family of the perpetrator, and the two work together toward reconciliation. The goals are mutual respect and forgiveness, things often lost in the American justice system. According to Tausinga, the old system wasn’t working; in this new place, in the midst of this new culture, forgiveness had given way to vengeance. But people didn’t want to hear it.
“The more I brought (the gang problem) out, the more embarrassing it was for the community,” says Tausinga. After busting the kids in his church one too many times, he began attending another church that was mostly white. “I shed many tears on my pillow every night. We’re losing these kids, and you don’t have the parents and leaders backing you up.”
On July 24, 1992, Miles Kinikini and Salt Lake’s Polynesian gangs exploded into the public consciousness. It was the night before the annual Days of ’47 Parade, commemorating the Mormons’ arrival in the valley in 1847. Thousands of people had come to downtown Salt Lake to camp out and save good spots along the parade route.
Hundreds of Tongan Crips staked out turf on State Street, just below the slope of the hill leading to the State Capitol. They came for the parade, says Kinikini, but they also came ready for action. The Tongan Crip Gang had recently killed three members of a Samoan gang called the Park Village Compton Crips. Word had it that the Compton Crips had called in California gang members to help avenge the deaths.
Early on the morning of the holiday, Kinikini watched about a dozen cars pull up across the street from where the Tongan Crips were standing. The Compton Crips stepped out and began flashing signs and calling out threats. By then, Kinkini was, he says, “pretty loaded”; he’d drunk a bottle of Black Velvet and taken a few hits of acid. He remembers thinking, “We better start shooting or they’re going to shoot.”
Kinikini grabbed a .357 pistol and ran out to the middle of State Street. Dropping to his knees, he fired all six shots in the gun’s chamber into the vehicles.
Parade-goers fled. The Compton Crips took off. Kinikini and his fellow gangsters ran to their cars and sped back to Glendale. But Kinikini was caught, and he knew it. There were literally hundreds of witnesses. He hadn’t killed anyone, but his shots had hit two of the passengers. Days later, Kinikini turned himself in to the police. Tausinga, with the Metro Gang Unit, picked him up. He was convicted of intent to kill with a deadly weapon and sentenced to two years in jail.
Over the next few years, the Metro Gang Unit, flush with federal funding, made an art of catching gang leaders, says Bill Robertson, the gang unit’s investigations sergeant. Between 1993 and 2000, they slashed the number of serious gang crimes in half; drive-by shootings dropped from 125 to 68, and aggravated assaults from 235 to 102.
Kinikini seemed to be a part of this turnaround. During his time in jail, he read the Book of Mormon cover to cover and renewed his commitment to his family — the only people who visited him. Once released, he went on a mission in Northern California, and like most missionaries, came home, got married and started a family of his own.
But the gangs hadn’t gone away; they’d just gone underground. Kinikini’s younger cousins had joined the Tongan Crip Gang, and their new rivals, the Baby Regulators, were attacking Glendale.
One day, about a year after he’d returned from his mission, Kinikini ran into an aunt whose house had been hit by a drive-by shooting. She was sobbing. The Baby Regulators had shot up a car in front of her house, Kinikini says, and barely missed a 1-year-old who was inside the car.
“I had been revered as a role model,” Kinikini says. “I took it as a personal mission to stop this bullshit.”
Kinikini suspected that two brothers, Finau and Viliami Tukuafu, were behind the shooting. So one night, when his wife and infant son were out of town, he took his younger cousins to the Tukuafu home in West Valley City, threw two gallons of gas on it and lit it. Kinikini was caught, convicted of second-degree arson, and sent back to jail for another year.
Today, Kinikini says he’s done with gangbanging. But looking back at the arson, he says, simply, “You’ve got to roll with the ’hood.”
THE SECOND GENERATION
the Metro Gang Unit chased down the first generation of Salt
Lake’s Polynesian gangsters in the 1990s, Umu Manatau and his
wife, Tupou, were raising five sons and four daughters in a white
brick house in West Valley City. Umu Manatau grew up in Tonga,
where his grandfather built the first Mormon church. He’d
come to Utah in 1974 as a nursing student at the church-run Brigham
Young University, with dreams of becoming a doctor. That dream was
dashed two years later, when his first children were born —
twin boys — and he had to work full-time to support the
family. He eventually found work with West Valley City’s
Manatau tried to be a good father. He mandated “family home evening,” the Mormon Monday night ritual of togetherness. For extra income on weekends, the whole family landscaped yards on the wealthy East Side. His nine children happily took the Latter-day Saints sacrament of bread and water at their ward in West Valley City.
The Manataus also kept ties to the islands, occasionally visiting relatives in Tonga.
Manatau says he spanked and hit his kids when they broke the rules, but for the most part, he trusted them. He let them sleep over at friends’ houses, and hang out with teammates after Little League football practice. He knew that gangs were beginning to envelop West Valley City’s Polynesian community, but he assumed that the problem was outside the cozy realm of his family.
Then, one day in 1997, Umu’s friend Cliff Chase, one of the only other Polynesian officers in West Valley and a new member of the Metro Gang Unit, had some news. Chase had been investigating a string of two dozen gang-related convenience-store and mall-shop robberies. Detectives had discovered that two of the high-school-aged thieves were Manatau’s sons Finau and Rocky.