I revised last week's story about two Florida recruits and the pictures on their MySpace pages on Tuesday because I got a key piece of information that allowed me to ask one more question. In my original story, defensive end Lynden Trail, a native of Miami's Overtown neighborhood, said the hand gesture he made in one picture represented his neighborhood and not a gang.
The picture's caption, however, made reference to something called the Swamp City Bird Gang, and photos on the MySpace pages of other young men who referenced the Swamp City Bird Gang also included the same hand gesture and a similar bandana, known in gang parlance as a "flag." Not being an expert on the gangs of Florida's Dade County, I consulted the Miami-Dade police department to determine if the group is actually a gang or some kids playing dress-up. Tuesday, public information officer Kenia Reyes called back and said that a member of the department's gang unit confirmed that a known gang in Overtown does use that name.
That led to another phone call to Trail, who was spending a winter vacation day at Booker T. Washington High making a highlight tape for a teammate. (Trail is the president of Booker T. Washington's TV Production club.) There's no easy way to ask a high schooler if he's ever been in a gang. So I just asked, "Were you a member of a gang?" It sounds like a yes or no question, but when you grow up in a neighborhood like Overtown, it's not.
Here's the section I added to the story:
Trail said that when the photo was taken several years ago, he was "what you'd call a wannabe." He said he never carried a gun or committed crimes. According to a search on the Web site of the Miami-Dade clerk’s office, Trail has no criminal record in Dade County. He also said that if a young man in his neighborhood doesn't align himself with one group or another, he opens himself up to danger. He spoke of times when he had guns pointed in his face, and his knowledge of particular gang members kept him from getting shot.
"They say you have two choices," he said. "It's either get down or lay down." "Get down" means align yourself with a group. "Lay down" means get killed. Trail said he wants to succeed in college so he can escape his neighborhood, so he never has to worry about making that choice again.
If you'd like to read more about Trail's neighborhood, check out Wright Thompson's fantastic piece on ESPN.com. Thompson spent time in Overtown trying to track down a boxer who had once fought Muhammad Ali, and he paints a haunting picture of the neighborhood.
As for Trail, you have the picture, and you have his side of the story. Feel free to form your own opinion.