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.
Nicknames - 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
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
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):
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
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
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
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