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Photo Galleries - Gangs

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In the 1970s, Black gangsters wore three-piece suits, three-quarter length trench coats, brimmed hats and wide collars. They dressed "a cut above" the rest.

Interpreting Gangster Clothing

Have you ever wondered why gang members wear the ridiculous costumes that they do? Why do they wear their pants sagging below their butts exposing their underwear? There's actually a company that stitches boxer-type underwear into the baggy pants to achieve the baggy pants clown look. POLICE gang expert Richard Valdemar explains the information to be learned from gangster clothing. Valdemar provided the images.

The Aryan Brotherhood is a prison gang consisting of primarily white members. "AB" members ordinarily wear numerous and varied body tattoos, but the true AB tattoo is a shamrock, the letters AB and three sixes. Tattoos of the swastika, a picture of a bluebird and of double lighting bolts are also used to identify Aryan Brotherhood members. In many ways AB is a white supremacist gang with Nazi leanings, however, it is not to be confused with groups like Aryan Nations or the Klan. For AB, money and power are more important than racist ideology. One of the leaders of the gang is Jewish; there are also Hispanic and biracial members.

White Gang Tattoos

The Aryan Brotherhood, which is also known as "AB" or "The Brand," is a primarily white prison gang with about 15,000 members in and out of prison. According to the FBI, the gang makes up only one percent of the prison population, but is responsible for 18 percent of all murders in the federal corrections system. Members use symbols in their tattoos such as swastikas, SS lightning bolts, the number 666, and Celtic imagery.

This tattoo of a prison tower, hour glass, and prisoner breaking out of the prison wall signifies this person has done prison time.

Prison and Gang Ink Symbols

In addition to advertising gang membership, tattoos provide other details about the bearer.  For the incarcerated, images of chains and locks represent the loss of freedom; an hourglass or clock face without hands indicate doing time; a string of numbers may be an inmate's prison ID; one laughing face, one crying face means play now, pay later or my happy life, my sad life; a tombstone with numbers may indicate years of incarceration; the face of a female crying usually means someone on the outside is waiting for them. Caption information provided by POLICE gang expert Richard Valdemar.

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Gang Graffiti

Graffiti continues to be used as a written form of communication between street gangs. An observant patrol officer can read graffiti and collect valuable information about past, current and future gang activities. Graffiti can be used to mark off turf boundaries, give insults to rival gangs, act as a warning of impending death, list fallen comrades, announce the presence of a gang in a certain area of the city or show gang alliances. Editor's Note: Images contain profanity.

The Mexican Mafia prison gang, also known as La Eme, was formed in the late 1950s by members of a Chicano street gang incarcerated at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif. The initial founding member was Luis "Huero Buff" Flores, who was previously a member of the Hawaiian Gardens gang. Mexican Mafia symbols include a black hand, the letters "MM" or the term La Eme.

Latino Gang Tattoos

Tattoos are an excellent tool for law enforcement and corrections officers to use to identify known or suspected gang members. This gallery includes examples of tattoos worn by predominanly Latino gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, MS-13, and the Latin Kings. The number "13" is used because M (or La Eme) is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet and is used to signify the Mexican Mafia, which uses Sureños—gangs that swear allegiance to the Mexican Mafia—to carry out its orders from prison.

The Black Guerrilla Family is a prison gang founded in 1966 by Black Panther George Jackson, while he was in San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco. The gang is ideologically based with the stated goal of ending racism and overthrowing the U.S. government. The most obvious BGF tattoo is "BGF." You will also see the numbers "276," with 2 representing "B," 7 representing "G," and 6 representing "F."

Black Gang Tattoos

Gang members are usually decorated with the marking of their sets, super-gangs, and affiliated prison gangs. Their bodies are also often marked with tattoos that are generic prison symbols that you will find on just about any inmate. The following slide show is a quick look at some tattoos used by some predominately African-American gangs with origins in California.

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