Gang signs: a dictionary of violence (2023)

Gang signs are the physical, visual, and audible symbols that street gangs use as a means of communication, both internally and externally. Although street gangs exist internationally, this article focuses on criminal organizations commonly found in the United States. A selection of case studies then shows the similarities and differences between Blood Gang signs, Crip Gang signs and the Aryan Brotherhood signs.

Regardless of this approach, the following basic concepts are applicable to virtually all gang cultures, regardless of geography or gang type.

1. Introduction to gangs

According to theFederal Criminal Police Office (FBI), there are about 33,000 gangs in the US alone (fuente)

Another important point to consider is the variety of gaits. Because of this diversity, law enforcement and government agencies use different subsets of criteria to classify gangs. Common subsets of gangs are:

  • violent street gangs
  • youth gangs
  • Motorradbanden
  • prison gangs
  • hate groups
  • Adult organized crime groups

There are certain similarities between each type of gang, including the use of gang signs. However, there are enough differences to justify separating the types. For the sake of brevity, the use of the word gang in this article is all-inclusive, although specific organizations are mentioned where relevant.

1.1 Definition of Bands

When it comes to definitions, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) follow their own criteria (fuente):

  1. An association of three or more people.
  2. Members use the existence of a collective group identity to create an atmosphere of fear or intimidation.
  3. Frequent use of one or more: a common name, a catchphrase, an identifying mark, a symbol, a tattoo or other physical mark, a style or color of clothing, a hairstyle, a hand sign, or graffiti.
  4. The purpose of the association is to engage in criminal activity and to use violence or intimidation to further its criminal goals.
  5. Engaging in a group of criminal activities or juvenile delinquency that, if committed by an adult, would constitute offenses designed to enhance or maintain the association's power, reputation, or financial resources.

In addition, DOJ/DHS has a number of additional characteristics that may be present in groups that meet the above requirements:

  • Rules for joining and operating within the association.
  • Regular meetings between members.
  • The association granted physical protection to its members.
  • The association's desire to exercise control over a specific geographic region or location.
  • an identifiable structure.

2. Aisle signs as a communication concept

In essence, gang signs are a method of human communication. Furthermore, as with any form of human communication, there is a conceptual theoretical background that can help to understand the form beyond what is transparent on the surface.

In this case in particular, a conceptual look at the elements of communication can help us understand how effective gang signals are and how they have survived into modern times.

2.1 Band signs and the semiotic tradition

The semiotic tradition of communication theory is a lens to use when considering gait signs as a theoretical concept. According to scholars Littlejohn, Foss, and Oetzel, the basic concept of semiotics is theSign(anything that looks like something other than what it is) andSymbol(a complex sign with a multitude of different meanings). Furthermore, we can divide the semiotic tradition into three distinct parts (fuente):

  1. Semiotics: the study of signs and symbols as basic elements (like the study of gang signs in isolation)
  2. Pragmatic: the study of relationships between characters (studying how gang characters relate to the forms found in each gang, or even to characters used by other groups or larger criminal organizations)
  3. syntactically: the way signs are combined into complex sign systems (examination of how gang signs fit into the larger myths of gang structure, including the fact that they are a variety of primitive languages)

As a communication-theoretic tradition, semiotics' conceptual neighborhood harbors theories that focus on signs and symbols. This includes examining how their use represents “objects, ideas, states, situations, feelings, and conditions external to oneself.” (fuente)

2.1.1 Semiotics by Barthes

The French literary critic Roland Barthes is a pioneer of semiotic theory in communication. In his view, semiotics is about studying meaning within sign systems, or "anything that can represent something else". [fuente]

Additionally, Barthe viewed his theory as a way to explain the connotations of the ideology underlying the characters, akamito. In this context, a myth is a connotation among the characters wherever they go and what gives a natural flavor to the culture.

Seeing the signs of gangs through such a theory can illustrate their role within the broader gang culture.

2.1.2 Signs, Signifiers and Meaning

Within this framework there is the sign, the signifier and the signified. [fuente]

  • Sign -The inseparable connection between signifier and signified.
  • Significant -The physical form of the sign as perceived by a person through use of the senses (or an image).
  • Meaning -The meaning that the individual associates with a sign.

Take for example the clothing worn by gang members (discussed later in this article). On the surface, there is nothing out of the ordinary when people wear clothes. Outside of unique environments or in the privacy of their own homes, the vast majority do so at all times.

Both the body of the gang member and the clothing worn are important here. The meaning behind the clothing, such as gang affiliation, is noted. Together, both identifiers create a sign that communicates the unmistakable myth behind the gang.

Aside from custom-made clothing, gang clothing is not manufactured or labeled as such. The brands commonly used by gangs market their products to other demographics, such as athletes or blue-collar workers (Nike, Dickies, etc.).

However, because of the importance ascribed to gang attire, the physical image takes precedence over the connotation of myth.

3. The intelligence value of gang signs

From theory to practice, gang signs have immense intelligence value for law enforcement and other professionals. In a more abstract sense, gang signs can also provide information to rival gangs and enemies.

In general, the most effective way to analyze intelligence is through rudimentary prior knowledge of a gang dictionary. However, the lack of such prior knowledge does not negate all efforts. The meaning principles of signs are transferable between sets, groups and regions. Moreover, with such conceptual knowledge, an intelligent analyst can proceed to understanding a gait sign puzzle.

The multitude of unique sets, groups, and regions can make gathering information difficult. As is usual in the world of organized crime, culture and characters are constantly changing. Because of this fluidity, law enforcement personnel need to brush up on gang awareness in their local area.

The basic information aboutTyrescomes from various sources. Detectives, whistleblowers, confiscated material, and literature from incarcerated members are examples of viable collection methods. Due to the variety of characters and sets, some of the best information comes directly from law enforcement special forces and gangs who spend time on the ground in their assigned areas of operations.

In the end, for those on the right side of the law, the world of gang cartels is one giant jigsaw puzzle with ever-changing pieces. When the pieces fall into the right places, interpreting the signals becomes a valuable asset that the analyst can use to support the information cycle.

4. Types of gang signs

As previously mentioned, gang signs are a mystery. Not only that, there are many types of tracks that fit into the lexicon of gangs and their sub-groups. Far from being all-inclusive, the following overview of gang sign types attempts to provide a basic understanding of how street gangs can express themselves creatively. The focus is on the four most common gang signs: clothing, tattoos, graffiti and hand signals.

4.1 Equipment

Gang attire is arguably one of the most well-known forms of gang character outside of the criminal underworld. This is partly due to the widespread popularity of hip hop music in the West, which often extols gang membership through lyrics and clothing.

But what exactly is gang clothing? It's not like they wear military-style uniforms that are easily recognizable.

Gang attire, at its core, is the wide range of visible clothing and accessories worn by street gang members to represent their gang and culture. This outfit usually includes the color of the gangs and other symbols, such as: B. sports teams or brand logos, which have their own symbolic meaning for the community at large.

There are many reasons for wearing gang clothing. It is primarily a bold expression of gang membership or support. This expression shows the tendency of gangs not to shy away from public awareness of their presence. Not only that, but using it increases the morale of the other members of the group as well as the individual who finds meaning and life as part of the group.

In a more confrontational sense, gang attire is a way for gangs to defensively or offensively identify rivals in their territory when traveling or performing in another group's territory. Small flourishes in the way members dress can be a key trait for other gang members and enemies. Something as small as the direction in which someone wears their hat can be enough to judge belonging.

4.1.1 Types of Gang Clothing

There are many types of gang outfits, and we'll cover a few in the Blood Gang Shields and Crip Gang Shields sections. In general, common types include:

  • sneakers and shoelaces
  • baseball caps
  • Khaki pants or shorts (Dickies is a popular brand)
  • scarves
  • belts and belt buckles
  • sweatshirts and sports pants
  • knee socks
  • Jewelry store
  • T-shirts with gang colors or representative symbols

There are some specific waysgang membersIncorporate emblems and symbols into your clothing to further express gang affiliation, status, and other aspects of your culture:

  • Numbers or number patterns
  • Embroideries or beads with gang-related symbols
  • Visible brand logos with meaning for the whole
  • Sports jerseys or clothing relevant to the team (a specific player number, team name, team logo)
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4.2 Tattoos

Tattoos are like outfits in that they are both visual gait marks that are "worn" on the body. However, unlike clothing, tattoos are permanent. Because of this, gang members can be easily identified by law enforcement, especially during the admissions process into the prison system. Similarly, gang tattoos are also identifiable symbols during incarceration that rival gangs must watch out for.

At a basic level, gang tattoos serve as a sign of membership, status, and geographic location. In addition, members add to their collection of tattoos much like military personnel add ribbons and medals to their service uniforms.

Actions on the street or in prison are often symbolized and tattooed. Kill counts, years behind bars, and years in the gang are other examples of eulogy tattoos.

4.3.1 Gang tattoos as intelligence

Like clothing, tattoos have multiple purposes. They raise morale, but in a more physical and intense way, like a permanent skin mark. It is common for members behind bars to get tattooed with makeshift tattoo needles. Additionally, they are a warning sign to rivals, showcasing achievements and experiences that speak through body art. In the same way, some animals and insects evolve unique physical traits to ward off predators, allowing gang members and their tattoos to function in the same way.

From an intelligence point of view, tattoos are one of the best signs for practitioners. It is common for employees of the prison and correctional system, as well as the US Border Patrol and similar organizations, to receive training on gang tattoos. In addition, the US military searches recruits for tattoos showing previous street gang affiliation.

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4.3 Graffiti

Graffiti is a hallmark of urban street gang culture. Not only is it an art genre in its own right, but a powerful form of intelligence for both law enforcement and rival gangs. [fuente]

It is important to clarify that most graffiti occurs in urban environmentsNOin relation to a gang. Furthermore, due to the disproportionate share of gang and non-gang graffiti, both law enforcement and rival gangs must be very adept at identifying and translating the real from the irrelevant.

In addition, graffiti can be misleading. It's not uncommon for youths to mark property with gang graffiti without members present with identification. Here they do it as an act of support or homage. However, it is not directly sanctioned by the gang leadership, as is usual with other labels.

4.3.1 Purpose of Band Graffiti

Gang graffiti has a few viable purposes:

  • Identification of gang territory
  • Mark the scene of a fight or murder
  • Disrespect for rival gangs (e.g., a “tach-out,” which is graffiti sprayed over a rival label)
  • morale and promotion of group unity
  • Memorial to fallen members

It's most commonly done with spray paint, although there are variations. Incarcerated members identify their cells and prison facilities with markings or engravings.

Additionally, graffiti often incorporates gang culture symbols and emblems, as mentioned in the previous sections.

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4.4 Show of Hands

Hanging signs are a unique feature of urban street gangs. Unlike previous characters, they are less of an artistic expression and more a form of communication between gang members and their rivals, both on the street and in the prison system.

The roots of hand signals in gangs go vaguely back to Chinese triads, with a history stretching back to 18th-century China and the existence of secret fraternal societies. [fuente]

Contemporary hand signals are very subjective and have different meanings for different groups and ensembles. They can involve one or both hands and be very complex.

Similar to sign language, gang members with a large repertoire of hand signals can carry on entire non-verbal conversations, using the signals to form sentences, statements, and even stories (this process is called "stacking," short for word stacking). Sign). ). [fuente]

Additionally, hand signals can be a form of antagonistic language aimed at a rival gang or, if brave, law enforcement officers.

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5. Variations in gang signs

A practical application of the primary forms of gang signs can be made through some real world case studies. Specifically, a closer look at the practicalities of America's most respected street gangs and the way they use signs in their culture. This exploration focuses on the blood gang shields, the Crip Gang, and the Aryan Brotherhood shields.

5.1 Signs of blood ties

The Bloods are one of the two largest street gangs in the United States. They emerged in Los Angeles in the 1970s as a competitor to their central rivals, the Crips. Both the Bloods and the Crips are traditionally black gangs, however some Asians and Latinos have joined their ranks. [fuente]

Blood Gang Signs are in many ways like Crip Gang Signs, albeit with small nuances of contrast.

Another similarity is the sheer volume of the various regional ensembles. Bloods (and Crips) each contain hundreds of sets across the country in various neighborhoods and territories. Not only that, each of these sets has its own variations of characters.

5.1.1 Blood Tie Signs: Clothing

The blood outfit consists mainly of red clothing and accessories.

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A common accessory among Blood's outfits is wearing graphic t-shirts that contain hidden messages. For example, Blood can wear a shirt with the letters "C" and "K" standing for "Crip Killer", an indication of his disdain for his main competitors.

The level of compliance with Blood's outfit shown in the photos above is not indicative of all members. There are times like B. Funerals where Bloods are documented to dress in more "formal" attire, meaning lots of red items. However, it is common for the Bloods to show a gang-like affiliation while participating in daily life on the streets.

5.1.2 Blood Tie Signs: Hand Signs

Blood gang signs as hand signs are diverse and differ from set to set. However, open source information from law enforcement sources may help paint a picture of how the Bloods communicate through hand signals. [fuente]

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5.2 Crip Gang Painter

The Crips follow the Bloods as one of the most prolific and widespread street gangs in the United States. They formed in south-central Los Angeles in the 1960s and quickly spread throughout the states' urban environments.

As mentioned above, Crip Gang characters are just like their gory counterparts. The main difference is the meaning, along with a variety of alternative symbols and characters in each sentence.

5.2.1 Crip Gang Signs: Clothing

The Crip outfit is based on the gang's traditional color, which is blue.

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5.2.2 Crip Gang Signs: Hanging signs

Crip-Gang signs as hand signals are no different from Blood's usage, aside from different assigned meanings. [fuente]

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5.3 Aryan Brotherhood Gang Mark

The Aryan Brotherhood is a white supremacist/neo-Nazi gang that got its start in the US prison system (although they operate both behind bars and outside prison walls).

Unlike the Bloods and Crips, the Aryan Brotherhood doesn't adhere to a standard for gang-related clothing. Most of their gang posters are like thattattoos &Symbol, with their shirtless bodies essentially filling the role of a Crip in blue or Blood in red.

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Do gang signs mean anything? ›

It is used in many situations where other identifiers may not be possible or appropriate, and it can also show that a gang member is in the area to "do business" as opposed to just passing through. Usually these signs are made by formation of the fingers on one or both hands to make some sort of symbol or letter.

Can gang signs get you in trouble? ›

The law also states the police and prosecution can use gang tattoos, gang signs or any other symbols to link you with a gang as evidence of gang affiliation if they believe the crime you committed was gang-related.

What are signs of a gang? ›

Graffiti, hand signs, colors, and tattoos are indicators of gang affiliation. Gang members have their own language, which contains phrases, hand signs, tattoos, markings and graffiti. These often overlap. As a parent, you may not recognize them right away.

How does the FBI define a gang? ›

Federal Law

Currently, federal law defines the term “gang” as “an ongoing group, club, organization, or. association of five or more persons: (A) that has as one of its primary purposes the commission. of one or more of the criminal offenses described in subsection (c); (B) the members of which.

What does 47 mean gang? ›

The dictionary contains more than 450 entries, including: (1) general gang terms, such as "47," which alerts others that the police are coming; (2) geographically specific terms, such as "187," the California penal code number for "murder"; (3) gang-specific terms, e.g., "Blue Hats," a term describing Crips and their ...

Is 88 a real gang? ›

There isn't actually 88 members of the gang. It is believed Stephen Chow borrowed the look of the Crazy 88 for his "Axe Gang" in Kung-Fu aka Kung-Fu Hustle.

What is a gang leader called? ›

Boss – Also known as the capomandamento , capocrimine, rappresentante , don, or godfather, is the highest level in a crime family. Underboss – Also known as the "capo bastone " in some criminal organizations, this individual is the second-in-command.

What does C mean in gang signs? ›

"C": Crip "C-C": Compton Crip. "U": Underground Crip "H": Harlem Crip. "E": East "0": Number Zero. "M": Mafia Crip.

What bandana colors to avoid? ›

The Two Bandana Colors To Avoid

In most cases, you will want to avoid wearing red or blue bandanas in areas such as Los Angeles or New York. These are the two colors that are most commonly associated with gangs, so it is best to stay away from them. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Which gang wears orange? ›

Red's the pick of Bloods and sometimes Vice-Lords. "Red would be a war color for the Vice-Lords. Yellow or black would be a regular color for the Vice Lords," says James Pavatte, also with the Shelby County Gang Unit. In Memphis, orange stands for the Riverside Crips.

What gang runs Los Angeles? ›

The 38th Street gang is one of the oldest street gangs in Los Angeles and has been occupying its territory since the 1920s.

What is the oldest gang in LA? ›

White Fence
Founding locationBoyle Heights, Los Angeles California, United States
Years active1900 – present
TerritoryEast and West Los Angeles, Hollywood, Las Vegas, El Paso, Florida, Mexico and Central America
EthnicityMexican American
2 more rows

What are the 4 stages of a gang? ›

The four stages of recreation, crime, enterprise, and governance are not mutually exclusive, but rather each stage builds upon the previous. If one were to think of a gang as a house, the “recreational” stage is the foundation.

What is a gang members girlfriend called? ›

A woman who's the companion or conspirator to a gangster can be called a moll. One of the most famous molls was Bonnie Parker, of the criminal duo Bonnie and Clyde.

Who is the most feared gangster ever? ›

Here are ten of the most violent, prominent and feared mob bosses in history.
  • Al Capone (1899-1947) ...
  • Albert Anastasia (1902 – 1957) ...
  • 'Lucky' Luciano (1897 – 1962) ...
  • Frank Costello (1891 – 1973) ...
  • Carlo Gambino (1902 – 1976) ...
  • Paul Castellano (1915 – 1985) ...
  • Pablo Escobar (1949 – 1993) ...
  • John Gotti (1940 – 2002)
Oct 12, 2021

What do gang tags mean? ›

A tag (gang graffiti) done by a gang in their own turf serves to define a gang's turf, acting like a “no trespassing” sign to rival crews.

Why does rappers throwing up 4 fingers mean? ›

Known as the "silent signal," the trend saw users tucking in their thumbs into their palms, holding four fingers up faced forward, and then closing them into a fist. This is meant to signal that someone is in danger, according to Distractify.

Are gang signs universal? ›

There is no universal way to determine gang membership or affiliation. Some gang members have many classical gang membership signs, others may only have one or two gang characteristics and others may not display any.

What do gang colors mean? ›

Here's a breakdown from investigators: Blue stands for Gangster Disciples OR Crips. Purple represents the Grape Street Crips, a sub-set of the Crips gang. Red's the pick of Bloods and sometimes Vice-Lords. "Red would be a war color for the Vice-Lords.

What does x3 mean gang? ›

English: The x3 tag is used as a suffix for Sureño-affiliated gangs, mostly seen in Southern California, but is occasionally seen in NorCal. Sureños-affiliated gangs are also Mexican-Mafia associated, and are rivals to Norteños, which are affiliated with the Nuestra Familia, rivals to the La eMe gang. Date.

What gang wears yellow? ›

Just as horse bits, to fashionistas, are the universal emblem of Gucci, to law enforcement black and yellow (or gold) are the markers of the Latin Kings, a group the police consider a violent street gang.

What gang color is white? ›

Bloods: Red, white, black. 5-point star, 5-point crown, “5”.

What does 3 fingers sideways mean? ›

Most of all, it has been commonly used for generations to signal “O.K.,” or all is well. But in recent years, it has also been appropriated for a more malign purpose — to signify “white power.” The gesture has become an extremist meme, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

What does 3 fingers up mean? ›

Protesters have since added symbolism to the gesture, stating that the three fingers stand for the French Revolutionary ideal of liberty, equality, fraternity.

What does holding up 2 fingers mean? ›

to do something rude as a way of showing you do not care what someone thinks. This is his way of sticking two fingers up at society. Synonyms and related words. To be cruel or unkind to someone. abuse.


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