Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Gangs for Parents, parts 1 to 4--Links & Notes

"Gangs for Parents" is not offering membership in  "Papas-16" or "The Very Angry Moms" Gang. Instead, it gives links and notes for parents and educators, specifically those that do not have much experience with the gang phenomenon.

This post is designed to give sources but also talk about their limitations. One limitation here is that slang, brand names, and fashion all change very quickly. (This post updated December 5, 2009).

Good parents live in all kinds of neighborhoods. Steps 1 through 3 are universal. Step 4 has to do with visual information and therefore judgement. The visuals will vary from location to location. Maybe your children go to private school and has their own laptops, smartPhones, and MP3s. Maybe they go to public school and can't afford a computer. Use the part that's relevant for home, school, and locations inbetween. That's three different locations, and parents can (and should) assess the risk about them all.

Step I: Local Emphasis: Most of the information out there is general or confined to big cities. But you want local information the most, regional information second.

Neighbors, teachers, small business in your area all pay attention to gang activity. You want to bond with others who share that concern. Check local news, but particularly your local Police Department's Web site, for local information. If your jurisdiction does not have local information, try the next largest city in your vicinity.

That said, the threat can show up before information does. An aggressive gang takeover of a small city can occur over a matter of months, particularly if there is pressure behind them to move by other gangs or law enforcement.

Step II: Don't Categorize Too Quickly. Gangs frequently affiliate along racial lines, but that's not good enough for a risk assessment.  Gang members come in all races, creeds, colors, national origins, and ages. Even gangs expressly considered of one race can have individuals of other races mixed in. Some of these gangs also have alliances with gangs of another color, any color. You have to size up individual signals, and then their associations.

Step III: Focus. The gang you need to worry about for your children, school, and neighborhood is the gang in your area, not the one with the most press coverage this week. Don't get distracted. "The Most Dangerous Gang" is the one or three near you.

Step IV: Visual (and other) Indicators. If you can't find any local info to help you get specific, try and identify the graffiti, the tattoo, the colors worn. That goes a long way to helping you figure out which gang applies, and then you can look it up. You are learning a language, most of it visual, so that you have the exact information you need. The rest of this post is abut these indicators.

Name graffiti or tagging, is not a sign of gang activity. Below: a picture from Brooklyn by Jake Dobkyns. This graffiti is all "tagging". While this street may have gangs on it, most to none of the graffiti is gang-related. It is about gaining individual fame for -CC, SteveR, 123, and Siron. Possible exception would be at the lower right, but it's old and low. The big problem here is vandalism, not gangs. See that guy in the red t-shirt? He's not dressed like a Blood, and he's minding his own business. He probably just likes red.

--Here is a video (Salomun, 1 min) that explains why baggy clothes are functional as well as stylish. On school dress codes. The freckle-faced youth in this video shows you that the rules are for everybody. If your school cracks down, don't give them any grief. You don't have to agree with the anti-gun slogan (tacked-on) at the end to see that this has a good point about schools.

--Clothing for an adolescent is huge challenge for parents. Most gang clothes are pretty basic, it's a matter of style and accessories that tell the tale. For instance, the Texas Youth Commission basically lists everything you should watch out for in clothing, in English and Spanish. Unfortunately, these are very general, and, the same clothing a child would wear if they were self-conscious of their body--or--just playing around--or--in a gang.

--Sports clothing: British Knight clothing, or BK, stands for Blood Killer. Likewise Adidas has been given an acronym: "All Day I Disrespect All Slobs" (Slobs meaning Bloods).  So even shoes are fraught with meaning, temporarily or permanently. Teams: professional or college, any sport, have distinctive colored jerseys, warm-up jackets, and so forth. This can be perfectly innocent to wear, but not always. So for clothes, the extent of the 'gangbanging look' is more a guide than any one clothing article, both for strangers and for your own children's dress. Here's a video with teams, brand names, and corresponding gangs and gang slogans.

--Knowgangs has a site where gang members upload signature clothing. You can check them out.
--Fashions change. Wikipedia has an entry on "Hip-Hop Fashion." It needs more references, but it's still pretty good. And it says hip-hop is starting to leave those baggy clothes behind.

--Video partly on sports gear specifically made to target gang purchasers by Gang TV (2008, about 2 minutes). A lot of people are making money on the gang phenomenon.

--Expensive sports clothing often makes kids a target on the street. A leather jacket with sports logos, for instance: it's a nice-looking jacket. The mugger wants it for the same reason your child wanted it. Remember those three locations: school, home, and in-between, to make the risk assessment.

Rap Music:
Rap music is a popular art. It makes a collage of sounds, just as if you were walking down a city street and getting bits and pieces of more than one life. It is also very collaborative, where guest rappers each take a part in one person's album. It's hit the mainstream. I'm fairly sure it indicates nothing at all anymore about a child's propensity to gangs. They do still have Parental Advisories on specific albums. In some cases, that means they take out the F word, but leave in all the disrespect.

It's one reason your children are interested in those clothes, too, and why they're talking like that.
--National Geographic has a page on rap and hip-hop as part of its World Music offering.
--Rap.Music com is a site that describes what's upcoming, with videos and sidebar links to major artists.
--Several lyrics sites on the Web will help you with the words you don't get. (Use pop-up blocker.)

"Throwing it up" or "stacking" means making elaborate hand signals. Most of these signs are adapted from American Sign Language (Ameslan). The languages will also have commonality because they get passed along in that incubator known as prison. But each gang has specific variants, enough that they can talk without being "overheard". To check for specifics, go to other gang pages.

The use of signing has become a great joke in the suburbs and the frat houses. But it may attract danger in a potentially lawless street, or in the school cafeteria. Like all hand signs, appropriateness is the key.

Social Media:
--11/29/2009--According to the New York Daily News, gangs are using Twitter to foment arguments, set dates for fights, and otherwise accomplish business. H/T Gothamist.

--On Facebook and MySpace, there are red and blue bandana settings for your personal page, et cetera, so that gang members can show their pride in their gang and identify themselves through it. There's at least one page set-up suitable for every gang. The one illustrated is for the Surenos, with the rose and knife along with the blue color.

Note: Pretend-Gangsters can also use these pages on Facebook or Twitter or MySpace. It's not just the page layout, it's who they visit and what they talk about.

Bad stuff to talk about includes 1. overt signs of gang activity and 2. subject matter unrelated to your children's interests.  For example, Rene Enriquez of the Mexican Mafia explained that a visitor can talk about extortion with a prisoner, right in front of a guard, by saying something like "Sam came over to plant four bushes in the garden. He says he'll be back every week to check on them" and meaning, "Sam gave me $400, and he's promised to pay $400 every week." Does your child talk about gardening on FaceBook because he likes gardens, or is it something else? From this example, you should get a glimpse of what kind of conversations on social media would be worth a conversation off-line.


First, the bottom line: It is extremely dangerous for your child (or you) to get a gang tattoo if not affiliated a gang. That goes double for prison tattoos. These tattoos mean something. Getting one for fun devalues that meaning. You will not like how you are devalued back. If you are around to have an opinion.

--Check your state's Department of Corrections site for prison or gang tattoos specific to your area. If that site has nothing, then both Florida and Arizona have good example pages. Right: neo-Nazi tattoos.

Second, the grey area: A tattoo by itself is not a sign of gang tendencies. Roses or barbed wire tattoos are common, and not an indication by themselves. The associated tattoos plus the extent of tattooing matters. If the barbed wire is next to a swastika, or the rose is accompanied by a huge knife, that's more of a problem. A little research goes a long way.

Example: Face tattoo guy (at left) will have a lot of obstacles in life, but gang affiliation is not necessarily one of them.

Video Games:
I am not an expert on gaming. But Grand Theft Auto, Crime Life: Gang Wars, Modern Warfare, probably others, all have games that re-enact gang activity. I mention them because they are one leading way that gang culture begins to interest young people. This isn't necessarily going to lead them into a gang, any more than rap music will. It might just teach them how to "stack" or change their grammar.

Some people believe these games lead to racial profiling or to glamorizing (see GTA illustration, top left). Certainly the players spend time smacking people down and shooting folks onscreen, learning to count that as a win. Without off-game social time, the distinction between real people and game pieces might get blurred. One example of a scary game:

--2009, February 13--The Telegraph, UK--"Rapelay virtual rape game banned by Amazon." A game that simulates gang rape manufactured in Japan and becoming somewhat international.

So, focus on local and regional information, the extent of visual signs as well as their content . . . what your child is doing . . . and stay tuned for part two, law enforcement resources and handbooks for deeper reading. I'm still researching that part, (as of December 4, 2009).

No comments: