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Cover Story

Murder Ink

If you know how to read them, gang tattoos can tell you the history of a suspect.

February 01, 2006  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

The Kumi Nation, 415

Not all African-American gangs trace their origin to the streets of Los Angeles. This is true even in California, and it's especially true in Northern California where the Kumi Nation, also known as 415, is very active.

Organized in the Oakland area, Kumi Nation originally called itself "415" for what was then the local telephone area code. The group mutated and hardened in the California Youth Authority and the adult prison systems to become the Kumi Nation. Kumi Nation is also sometimes known as the African National Organization, and it actively recruits members into the Black Guerilla Family.

Kumi Nation, like the BGF, embraces African and revolutionary symbolism. Members often bear tattoos that show African warriors springing out of the African continent. The warrior usually holds an assault rifle in one hand and a flag that reads "415" in the other. Kumi Nation is a highly sophisticated criminal organization. It is aligned with the Bloods and very disciplined.

The Black Gangster Disciples

Perhaps the most active black gang to organize outside of California is the Black Gangster Disciples out of Chicago. Organized by King Larry Hoover in the 1970s, BGD-or as it's sometimes known "GD"-is part of the Folk nation and can be classified as a super-gang.

Many Los Angeles-based Crip gangs claim an alliance with the BGD. However, since this gang's influence has begun to grow in the Crip territories of South Central Los Angeles, many Crip sets have come to think of them as rivals.

BGD symbolism includes the six-pointed "Star of David" with "GD" or "BGD." Some sets are also marked with upended pitch forks.

Note: Behind bars, almost all black inmates fall under the control of the Black Guerilla Family. And in prison, the BGF is much more powerful than any African-American street gang. The BGF makes sure that these gangs obey BGF directives while they are in prison.

Click here to visit the Gangs Photo Gallery for examples of black gangs' tattoos.

Hispanic Gangs

Criminal gangs are nothing new in Southern California. The city of Los Angeles was founded in 1849, and some of its first residents were famous bandit Joaquin Murrieta and members of the Five Joaquin gang that terrorized ranchos and travelers throughout the area.


The Florence ("Florencia" in Spanish) Gang is one of the largest street gangs affiliated with the Mexican Mafia. The gang takes its name from Florence Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The migration of Hispanics from Texas and Mexico to California in the early 1900s brought the "Pachuco" culture from the border cities of El Paso and Juarez to the West Coast. The result was that Hispanic criminals in Los Angeles began to bear the "ept" tattoo of the El Paso Tip gang and the "Pachuco cross," which was originally a "t" for Texas. The "t" soon evolved into a religious symbol of a cross on the web of the hand.

Later, the Texas Prison Gang, "Syndicato Tejano" (Texas Syndicate), migrated into the California system. The now familiar address of "Ese" is the Spanish pronunciation for the letter "S," which was at the time a covert method for gang members of the "Texas Tip" to verbally acknowledge each other.

Eventually, the Texas syndicatos and the Los Angeles gangs began to grow apart. Los Angeles-area Pachucos distinguished themselves from the Texas and other "foreign-born" Pachucos by tattooing a crude "LA" or an "M" symbolizing the East Los Angeles Maravilla gang on the webs of their hands. These gangs also used the number "13" to covertly represent the "M," or 13th letter of the alphabet. This symbol is sometimes seen in Roman numerals "XIII" and as "213" as a play on the local area code. It should also be noted that the Los Angeles Dodgers' logo with the "L" forming the cross on the "A" was a tattoo that many old Los Angeles gang members wore long before the "Bums" arrived in Chavez Ravine.

CONTINUED: Murder Ink «   Page 2 of 4   »

Tags: Tattoos, Nazi Low Riders, Mexican Mafia, MS-13, Bloods, Crips, Aryan Brotherhood, Nuestra Familia, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Black Guerrilla Family, Folk Nation Gangs, Gangster Disciples


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Gregóir @ 6/14/2012 2:50 PM

I understand that the AB were started by the Irish hence the Celtic symbology. There must be a disclaimer in Celtic Ink wearers. I met some AB guys in the states and they asked straight out what right had I to have Celtic ink. After explaining that my family and I have been in Ireland for over a thousand years. They backed off a bit. More to do with the fact I'm a 6'3, 350 lbs so other people of origin should be warned that these guys feel entitled to rob our culture even though they only originated in the early 60's. I drank with these guys and enjoyed their company but am still annoyed by this blatant hijack

bk.Indio @ 8/16/2013 8:50 AM

first of all u claim texas syndicate was in cali? lmfao! nope.. la eme was formed before that fake texas prison gang.. second u claim they used the m for the maravilla gang in east los and align it with the number 13? lmfao again! all maravilla gangs in l.a. county arent surenos therefore dont claim the number 13.. third maravilla and mara salvatrucha have nothn to do with each other.. they beef on las calles.. if you really did do your research then you wouldnt be spreading lies on the net.. soy bk.Indio ws18st~hvls1 pico union district los angeles..

Rune @ 9/25/2013 1:23 PM

I have HUGE respect for Richard Valdemar. I do not think heritage tattoos reflect hate thought, well unless its on a white guy right? So am I to beleive that every guy with brown pride, or the Aztec calendar is no good? Of course I wont. But if a white guy has Runes and Celtic Knot work he is bad news? I understand that gangster will also use symbolism, but just because one has some heritage tattoos on them it really doesnt automatically say hater or skinhead whatever.

moe @ 4/22/2014 8:52 PM

BGF and BLA is not and never was the same thing. Both spun off BPP. BGF is the prison group mentioned above. BLA was a paramilitary organization made up of BPP members, forced to go underground due to domestic state and police terrorism, and is no longer active.

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