I’ve heard that tennis shoes tied together and thrown over a utility line mark a gang territory, or has something to do with drug sales. Is that rumor true?
— ‘Bald Grandpa,’ Medford
There are different reasons why people throw sneakers like bolas onto hard-to-reach power lines. The sole (see what we did there?) gang-related reason it’s ever done is as a memorial to a fallen gang member killed by a rival, according to Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau, who heads the multi-agency Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force, better known as MADGE.
That’s a scenario that doesn’t happen in Southern Oregon, according to Budreau.
What passes for gangs in Southern Oregon are typically “loose and disorganized” groups, almost exclusively juveniles with virtually no connection to the larger, more violent gangs from other areas, Budreau said. Also, its common for youth who engage in such gang-like behavior to sometimes “jump around from gang to gang.”
Budreau said that in the Medford area “we obviously don’t have gang members memorializing others around here.” Instead, the shoes-over-lines activity is more likely just goofing around.
“It is typically done by juveniles, and their reasoning varies, but most likely just for fun,” Budreau said.
The gang connection story came from somewhere, and at least one search online points to the mayor of Los Angeles some 15 years ago.
In his April/May 2003 public works newsletter, then Mayor James Hahn relayed east LA residents’ very similar concerns related to shoe-tossing, while boasting of some 800 shoes removed.
“Many Los Angeles residents fear that these shoes indicate sites at which drugs are sold or worse yet, gang turf,” the 15-year-old newsletter stated. “Whatever the case may be, people are often frightened and intimidated by the site of shoes strewn about on overhead wires.”
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