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Gang Awareness

Street gangs are described as a group of individuals who may or may not claim control over a certain territory in the community and engage, either individually or collectively, in violent or other forms of illegal behavior. However, one of the simplest and most functional definitions is that a gang is a group of people who form an allegiance for a common purpose and engage in violent, unlawful, or criminal activity. Although few gangs have a form of leadership, most do not have a formal organization and have as a leader, the strongest or most active member. The gang has a name, claims a particular territory or neighborhood and directs its criminal activity towards rival gangs and the general population in the form of robberies, assaults and narcotics sales.

    Gang members in Los Angeles do not fit the movie image in which they are portrayed fulfilling specific roles in the gang such as president or enforcer and wearing gang jackets similar to those worn by many car clubs having rigid structures. Rather, leadership roles in street gangs are normally not formally recognized positions. They are usually assumed by a member who demonstrates or asserts dominant control at a particular incident or for a limited time thereafter. With smaller gangs, however, it is more likely that a single individual will become a recognized leader.

    Gang Names
- Many gangs adopt names that have significance when related to their neighborhoods (street names, hills, valleys, housing projects, and occasionally regional names). Some gangs are generally further divided into cliques. A clique will usually have its own name. Once in a particular clique, the member will remain in that clique throughout his gang career. The clique may change or alter its name as it matures but the same individuals tend to remain in close association with one another.

- Most gang members adopt nicknames when recruited into the group if they do not already have one. The gang tends to select a name that fits the individual’s physical or psychological characteristics. A gang member called "Slice," for example, may get his name from his skill in handling a knife.

Why Do Young People Join Gangs

    Gang members join a gang by either committing a crime or undergoing an initiation procedure wherein they are beaten by fellow gang members to test their courage and fighting ability. Their motivations for joining the gang are varied, but usually fall within one of the following:

    Identity or Recognition - Being part of a gang allows the gang member to achieve a level of status he/she feels impossible outside the gang culture.

    Protection - many members join because they live in the gang area and are, therefore, subject to violence by rival gangs. Joining guarantees support in case of attack and retaliation for transgressions.

    Fellowship and Brotherhood - To the majority of gang members, the gang functions as an extension of the family and may provide companionship lacking in the gang member’s home environment. Many older brothers and relatives belong, or have belonged to the gang.

    Intimidation - Some members are forced to join if their membership will contribute to the gang’s criminal activity. Some join to intimidate others in the community not involved in gang activity.

    Criminal Activity - Some join a gang to engage in narcotics activity and benefit from the group’s profits and protection.

    Unfortunately, few youths realize the hazards associated with gang involvement. In many cases, parents are unaware of their children’s gang activity and are unable to intervene until it’s too late.

 Pre-Teens And Gangs - Telltale Signs For Parents

    Gang involvement can begin as early as elementary school.

    Children as young as seven or eight years of age have been recruited to work in criminal street gangs.

    Many parents and educators are unaware that children are involved in gang activity.

    Parents and educators should watch for signs that their children and pupils might be involved with gang activity. There should be noticeable changes in the young person’s behavior or activities. Early warning signs include:

bulletExperimental drug use
bulletDecline in school grades
bulletUnwillingness to attend family gatherings or share regular meals
bulletChange of friends
bulletRebellious behavior at school and home
bulletPoor family bonding
bulletKeeping late hours
bulletHaving large sums of money or new expensive items which cannot be explained.

    Telltale signs of gang involvement are:

bulletGang graffiti in their bedroom on items such as books, posters and bedroom walls
bulletWearing gang clothing or gang colors
bulletExcessive swearing or cursing
bulletUsing hand signals to communicate with "friends", other gang members
bulletHaving photos showing gang names, gang slogans, gang insignia or gang activities
bulletDisclosure of gang membership
bulletWitnesses connecting the young person to gang activity
bulletInitiation activities – "rites of passage"
bulletContact with law enforcement and/or probation officers
bulletMay carry hidden weapons

    Once in the gang, the child’s behavior may change either suddenly or gradually by:

bulletAdopting a defiant attitude toward authority figures, (may be expressed by violent behavior at school or home)
bulletWearing gang clothing
bulletLacking motivation and having no future aspirations
bulletFighting others to gain a reputation of being "bad"

    Not all gang members are obvious in their dress or manner. Asian gangs, for example, are not immediately recognizable by their attire. Also, they may not display gang characteristics while in school. They are respectful to staff, do not disrupt activities, do not drop out of school and maintain their grades. In such cases, gang affiliation is often not known until a criminal incident occurs.

 How Gangs Are Identified

    Most gang members are proud of their gang and freely admit their membership. Many display tattoos openly and dress in a style identifying their particular gang. Their personal belongings are frequently covered with graffiti and bear the gang’s logo and the member’s gang name.

    Many individuals on the fringe of gang involvement are reluctant to identify themselves as gang members. They often state that their friends are gang members but they are not. However, rival gang members, shooting from a speeding car, do not make a distinction between a gang member and his associates.

    Gangs share common characteristics such as the wearing of distinct clothing or using particular hand signs or signals. Although details will vary, the following overview provides general information about the identification of gang members (if outside the city of Los Angeles, check with your local law enforcement agency for current information):

Graffiti. Gangs use graffiti to identify themselves and mark their gang’s "turf" or territory. They also use it to advertise the gang’s status or power and to declare their own allegiance to the gang. The graffiti may include the gang’s name, a member’s nickname, a declaration of loyalty, threats against rival gangs or a description of criminal acts in which the gang has been involved.

    Gangs frequently gather in dark areas to avoid being seen. In these locations they will often drink, use narcotics, and deface property with graffiti.

    Clothing. The uniform of Hispanic gangs is standard and easily recognizable. Most gang members adopt a basic style that includes white T-shirts, thin belts, baggy pants with split cuffs, a black or blue knit cap (beanie) or a bandana tied around the forehead similar to a sweat band.

    Black gang members are individualistic in their dress. Black gangs tend to identify themselves by adopting certain colors. The "Crips" identify themselves with the colors of blue or black or a combination of the two. "Blood" gangs generally use red accessories, such as caps or bandanas, to identify themselves.

    While clothing alone cannot positively determine membership in a street gang, color and style serve to identify each gang. Green can either mean the gang member is declaring neutrality for the moment or is a drug dealer. Black is worn by some Hispanic gangs and Heavy Metal Anglo gangs. Other common gang colors include brown or purple.

    Note: Some gangs are starting to change their clothing style by no longer wearing their colors in an effort to deceive law enforcement and conceal their gang affiliation.

    Gang clothing styles can be easily detected because of the specific way gang members wear their clothing. Examples are preferences for wearing baggy or "sagging" pants or having baseball caps turned at an angle. Gang members often prefer particular brands of shoes, pants or shirts. For example, some gangs like to wear plaid shirts in either blue, brown, black or red. These shirts are worn loosely and untucked. Gang graffiti, symbols, messages or gang names can be written or embroidered on jackets, pants and baseball caps. Other identifying items include belt buckles with the gangs initials, key chains, starter jackets (team jackets), and red or blue bandannas commonly called "rags".

    Excessive amounts of dark clothing or a predominance of one-color outfits, white T-shirts and levis with upturned cuffs are also indicators of possible gang involvement.

    Jewelry. May be expensive or cheap, but the gaudy type is preferred. Examples are heavy gold rope chains, earrings and other large rings.

    Weapons. These can include shaven-down baseball bats, sections of pipe taped at the ends, spiked wrist bands, mace, knives, or semi-automatic firearms such as an "Uzi", "AK-47", or "MAC 10."

    Other signs that youngsters may have joined gangs include crude and elaborate tattoos, females wearing heavy eye make-up and dark lipstick, fingernails painted a certain color, certain undergarments, gang-colored shoelaces in their athletic shoes and specific hairstyles (such as shaving their heads bald, hair nets, rollers or braids).

 What Do Gangs Do

    It is not practical to catalog all actions committed by criminal street gangs. In fact, many gang activities are frequently shared by a large portion of society. But, when a gang is involved in a weekend party, a fund-raising car wash, or even a family or neighborhood picnic, the potential for violence and criminal activity is far greater than for any other group of people. Gang members seek confrontations with rivals and the resulting violence often claims innocent victims.

    While gang violence often makes headlines, it creates even more damage on a regular basis to local property and businesses. Vandalism, in the form of graffiti and the wanton destruction of public and private property, is often done in furtherance of a gang’s reputation. This form of vandalism is a problem that impacts our City in a variety of ways. Without question, it decreases property values in residential neighborhoods and negatively affects industrial and commercial areas.

    Abandoned houses are a favorite target for vandalism, but even occupied homes may not escape gang tyranny. Local businesses suffer not only from property damage and graffiti, but also from loss of customers and employees. Businesses facing decreasing revenue and rising insurance costs close their doors, leaving behind yet another abandoned building for the gang. However, the majority of residents in the gang area who are unable to move away, live in fear.

    Gangs thrive on intimidation and notoriety. They find violence not only glamorous but also necessary in establishing their reputation as a gang to be feared. Gang activities are designed to entice many youths to view drinking, drug use, creating disorder, and vandalizing property as a form of fun. Partying, getting high, bullying people, and robbing designated targets are just part of the merriment and amusement. In essence, pro-gang attitudes are related to breaking the law.

    The "drive-by" shooting is the most frequent violent crime committed by gangs. Members from one gang will seek out the homes, vehicles or hang-outs of a rival gang and, using an assortment of weapons, will drive by and shoot at members of that gang. Usually, the gang member will yell out the gang name or a slogan so the attacked gang will know who was responsible.

    Although most gangs are formed along racial or ethnic lines, violence between gangs is normally intra-racial.

 Effects Of Gang Involvement

    Gang membership exacts a terrible toll from the lives of all who contact the member. Parents and relatives of gang members live in a double fear; for their own safety and that of the other non-gang family members and, a fear for the survival of their gang member relative.

    Non-gang member friends are cast aside and soon the youth’s only friends are gang members.

    Gang membership, although a temporary phase for some youths, will shape the individual’s future. All levels of formal education are discarded because they counter the gangs’ objectives. Gang members not killed or seriously injured often develop patterns of alcohol and narcotics abuse, and extensive police records that will limit their employment opportunities.

 Why Gang Graffiti Is Dangerous

    The purpose of gang graffiti is to glorify the gang. Gang graffiti is meant to create a sense of intimidation and may increase the sense of fear within a neighborhood. Gang members use graffiti to mark their territory or turf, declare their allegiance to the gang, advertise a gang’s status or power, and to challenge rivals. Graffiti is used to communicate messages between gangs using codes with common meaning.

    Of greater concern is the inherent violence associated with gang graffiti. When a neighborhood is marked with graffiti indicating territorial dominance, the entire area and its inhabitants become targets for violence. Anyone in the street or in their home is fair game for drive-by attacks by rival gang members. A rival gang identifies everyone in a neighborhood as a potential threat. Consequently, innocent residents are often subjected to gang violence by the mere presence of graffiti in their neighborhood.