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Gangs have discovered that wearing sports teams' clothing is a low-profile way to represent their own colors.

April 01, 2003  |  by Al Valdez

Gang members might also choose to embellish their gang's image by associating with professional and college teams that have a national reputation for being tough and ruthless.

Although they lost in the last Super Bowl, the Oakland Raiders have a well-known national reputation for being one of the most physically punishing football teams in the NFL. The team colors are black and silver. Many street gang members identify with the team's tough reputation as well as the color scheme that many gangs already use.

For example, Hispanic, Blood, and Crip gang members have worn and continue to wear Raiders football jerseys. It tells the rest of the gang sub-culture members, "I am tough." In this way, sports attire can help advertise a gang mentality.

Names of athletic teams can also be adopted to represent a gang's mentality. Let's use the Raiders football team example again. For some Folk Nation gangs, the letters in "Raiders" stand for "Ruthless Ass Insane Disciples Everywhere Running S**t." For Blood gang members it may stand for "Run After I Die Erickette." Dallas Cowboys sportswear is worn by Chicago-based and West Coast-based street gangs. For Crip gangs, the letters of the team name stand for, "Crips Out West Bangin' On You Slobs."

This type of association is not limited to sports team attire. It can also be used with nationally known brand names. The Adidas brand shoe has been popular with many gang members. At one time, for Crip gangs, the brand name stood for "All Day I Disrespect All Slobs." Nike brand shoes are very popular with many types of Black gangs. For them, the letters of the brand name represent, "Niggas Insane Killing Everybody." The Fila brand has been adopted by the Folk Nation gang the Disciples. The letters represent for them, "Folks In Love Always."

Symbols and numbers on clothing could be subtle hints of a person’s gang affiliation.

British Knight brand sports shoes are also popular with Crip gang members. The letters BK for them represent "Blood Killers." A person in theory could wear no distinguishing color of clothing or sports attire and be able to support his gang affiliation just by wearing a brand-name pair of shoes.

Sometimes the number on a sports jersey carries a specific meaning for a gang. For example, many Southern Californian gang members wear a blue-and-white colored sports jersey with the number 13 on it. If you remember, 13 represents the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, the letter "M." For Hispanic gang members, this letter signifies an alliance with the Mexican Mafia prison gang. It is also another way to advertise that the wearer is from Southern California.

West Coast street gangs don't seem to be as heavily involved as Midwest and East Coast street gangs in the use of professional or college sports attire. It is used, just not as much as with other street gangs.

Using Your Knowledge

For street cops, encountering suspected gang members wearing sports attire should provoke some unique questions during detentions or consensual encounters.

Ask what the letters of the team name or brand name represent. Ask about the team's color scheme and whether it is representative of the gang's identifying colors. Finally, ask about the team nickname or logo and how they are used as a gang identifier.

Specific questions can also be asked about why that particular team was chosen. Does the team's reputation apply to the gang's reputation? How does the team or brand represent the gang's mentality? Document the responses in intelligence reports or field interview cards. This is valuable information that can be used in criminal investigations and the establishment of dress codes at schools, businesses, and in the military.

Al Valdez is a gang investigator with the Orange County District Attorney's Office and author of the book "Gangs."

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