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Departments : In the Hood

Incriminating Signs of the Rat Packs

From tattoos to hairstyles, gang "profilers" can be a dead giveaway to one's affiliation.

February 01, 1996  |  by Al Valdez

Off the Wall

Graffiti is another important profiler to look for. This communication sys­tem can tell stories, issue challenges, give death threats, indicate partner­ships or mergers between gangs and send messages.

Graffiti can also be used to mark off territorial boundaries or to announce the presence of a gang in a neighbor­hood. It may be used by one gang to show dominance over other groups, or it may provide valuable information such as who committed a crime or a gang roster.

For some gangs, the color of the paint used to write the graffiti itself may also be important, indicating gang affiliation.

In Style

The type of clothing a gang member wears may also pro­vide a great deal of informa­tion. Stylized clothing may include certain brand names, colors or styles. The clothing style can become the street uniform, showing what "team" someone is on.

Color, demonstrated by the significance of the colors blue and red for Crips and Bloods, respectively, may also be critical. These two colors have a similar signifi­cance for Hispanic street gangsters, especially outside of California. (Red indicates that a member is from Northern California, while blue indi­cates that someone is from Southern California.) White is the color of choice for skinhead gangs. Old-style railroad handkerchiefs are often used to display gang colors.

Stylized clothing may also include a certain brand of baseball cap, ini­tial-style belt buckle or sport shoes. A special style of pants or jackets may be worn by members of a cer­tain group as well. For example, one clothing style often associated with gangsters is the three-quarter length, cut-off pants and high-top socks.

Influence from the movie, music and entertainment industries may also have an impact on the stylized cloth­ing of street gangsters.

Young people often identify with their favorite rap singer or movie character and may dress the same way. While some youths may do it to merely imitate the entertainer or because they like the style, remember that certain styles may still be sym­bolic of gang membership.

Street Signs

Hand signs are used as a non-verbal way of communicating among members and between gangs. The fingers and hands are used to make letters of the alphabet, usually representing the gang name. Some gangsters practice this form of communication so much that it has become a kind of sign language.

Flashing or "throwing" signs is a common way to initiate challenges or conflict between gangs, show domi­nance or indicate gang affiliation (see photo above). The flashing of hand signs to a police officer is usually a gesture of disrespect or challenge.

Gang slang is another good indica­tor to watch out for. Every type of gang has its own vocabulary. Most of the time, it is a mixture of English and another language. The Hispanic street gang language was once known as "Calo," a mixture of English and street Spanish. Today, the Hispanic street gang language has evolved. Terms like homeboy, homegirl, carnal and homie can all refer to a fellow gang member.

You can expect a unique slang language from tagger crews, black, Asian, prison, motorcycle and hybrid gangs. Slang may indicate gang type and affiliation.

Knowing and understanding this verbal language is paramount to suc­cessful interviews and field contacts. Knowing the right buzz words and when to use them may be the key to establishing field relationships or work­ing with an informant. It may also tip you off to danger.

Remember that for many gangsters this has become sort of a verbal code-so be safe.

Al Valdez is an Orange County District Attorney Investigator and the author of the book, "Gangs." He is also a consultant to the Orange County Board of Education, the California Department of Justice and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

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Tags: Gang Intelligence, Hand Signs, Tattoos, Gang Clothing, Asian Gangs


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