Professional and college teams' sportswear has become extremely popular with some gangs. Members wear sweatshirts or ballcaps to signify their gang. There are several reasons why gangs do this, and they're not all obvious.
Of course, clothing style cannot solely be used as evidence of gang membership. And some gang members might simply be sports fans showing their team spirit. But if you notice someone on gang turf in Los Angeles wearing a University of North Carolina sweatshirt, it might be worth taking a second look.
A gang may choose to associate itself with a professional or college sports team simply based on the team's colors. The Gangster Disciples have affiliated themselves with the universities of Georgetown and Duke because their school colors are black and blue. The red and black color combination of the Chicago Bulls is popular with the Latin Counts, Black P Stone Nation, and the Vice Lords. All are Midwestern-based street gangs that identify with those colors.
The Kansas City Star newspaper recently reported that the street gang called "Simon City Royals" has adopted the Kansas City Royals' new team colors to represent their gang. The Royals updated their uniforms by adding the color black to the traditional blue and white. The Simon City Royals' colors had been blue and black, but the street gang has now adopted the baseball team's new color scheme. The Simon City Royals are located mostly in Chicago, with sets in Milwaukee and Mississippi. This gang has been described as a "drug-dealing, gun peddling, white supremacist gang." The gang has nothing to do with the Kansas City Royals except for the similarity of their names and colors.
A gang may also adopt a team's insignia, logo, or name to represent the gang. For example, the L.A. Kings hockey team baseball caps are popular with the Latin Kings because the word "Kings" appears on the cap. The People Nation gangs identify with the Dallas Cowboys' team symbol, the five-point star, since it is also a common symbol of People Nation gangs.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is abbreviated as "UNLV." Apparel from this team has been used to represent the Vice Lord Nation, another Midwest-based street gang, because when read backwards, UNLV looks like the initials for the Vice Lord Nation.
Keeping Up Appearances
Beyond similar symbols or colors already shared by a team and a gang, gang members have other reasons for actively adopting the use of sports teams' clothing. I have spoken to gang investigators across the country and several reasons become readily apparent.
The most common reason, according to gang investigators, is to use a college or pro team's color scheme or emblems as a way to disguise gang affiliation or membership. Nationally, some gangs have gone "low pro," or low profile. One way they do this is by wearing non-traditional gang attire to blend in with the crowd.
Gang members across the country are well aware of the importance of wearing the appropriate colors and clothing. They are the easily recognizable street uniforms of gang members. Sports apparel is a way to disguise gang attire because it is also a popular form of dress for team fans. But if gang members in this disguise are easily recognizable to savvy gang members, they should certainly be recognizable to savvy police officers.[PAGEBREAK]
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."
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."