The Dark Side of Friendship: Gangs

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What is a gang? The California Law defines a gang as any organization, association or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, which as continuity of purpose, seeks a group identity, and has members who individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal activity. Chicano gang involvement begins as early as elementary school. Children just seven and eight years old are being enlisted because of the difference in the punishment for youths in the Criminal Justice System. Why are children being pulled into gangs?

There are several reasons, some are to make friends, others want protection and they think that gangs will provide them with a lot of money. Or they come from broken homes and are looking for family security. Regardless the reason, all of those are myths! Gangs only offer false promises. Here are the facts… Joining a gang is entering a zone where beatings and shooting happen non stop. To join a gang boys usually have to fight other gang members , a couple at the same time, which is usually referred to as “rolled in” or “walking the line. Once a person becomes a member of a gang, only the followers can last. There is a leader of the gang, who all the members fear the most who’s rules need to be obeyed at all times. You get promoted in a gang by staying in and committing horrible acts like violence or murder. The day you join, you have to swear a “blood oath’” that you will obey all the rules, and if you don’t, the punishment for breaking the oath is death. Being in a gang does not make you money. In fact, gang members don’t have much education or any at all, which means they can’t get well paying jobs.

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They often have to rob or steal to get money and that ends them up in prison and if they do get out, employees don’t want to hire anyone with a criminal record. It also doesn’t make you popular. The only friends you will have are your gang because most kids and teens will think you are too dangerous to hang out with and you will have a lot {text:soft-page-break} of enemies, which include all the members of the rival gangs. 70 percent of teens who were shot last year in Los Angeles were in gangs which concludes that gangs offer no protection.

It only increases your chances of injury or death. Gangs always try to get new members. They must expand into larger areas to be known and as gangs expand, they force innocent people to join. They sell drugs, destroy properties, rob local business owners by forcing them to pay money for protection, beat or kill people in their neighborhoods and ruin buildings with graffiti yet they promise that they will take you in and take care of you like a family. Would your family ask you to do any of those things? Gang members are typically male.

There are some female members but they play a more submissive role by holding the weapons or money for the gang as well as providing a companion and supplying information. However, within the last fifteen years times have changed with some gangs being strictly female or having female leaders. There are three other types of gangs besides street gangs. Ethnic gangs define themselves by the nationality or race of the other gang members and Turf gangs define themselves by the area’s that they control. Prison gangs are another type of gang.

When gang members go to prison, they don’t necessarily stop their gang membership. Street gangs continue to exist and fight other gangs inside prison walls. But some gangs start inside prisons, and only later do they extend their reach to the outside world. These gangs require members to have been in prison at one time, and are particularly violent and brutal. When people talk about gangs in Southern California now days, they usually talk about young black men. But the the typical gang member is not confined to South-Central Los Angeles.

He lives in places like Wilmington, Pomona, Santa Ana, East Los Angeles and Nor walk. He’s a Chicano, one of the estimated 45,000 Chicano gang members throughout Los Angeles County that literary outweighs the estimated 25,000 black gang members. He is a heir to a history of violence that dates back to the {text:soft-page-break} 1940’s. The word thug dates back to the year 1200 AD and refers to a gang of criminals in India named the Thugz. They wandered through the country robbing towns on their way while using hand signs, rituals, slang and their own symbols.

In the late 1800s, the new generation of gangs were created out of the new immigrants. Some of those gangs were the Whyos, Dead Rabbits and Pug Uglies. The Jewish gang the Monk Eastman, terrorized New York City as well as other gangs but the most evident of gangs in the late 1890’s to 1900’s was the gang called The Five Points Gang lead by Italian immigrant, Paolo Antonini Vaccarelli, also known as Paul Kelly and Johnny Torrio. The gang was named after where they were located in the five points section of Lower Manhattan.

The Five Points Gang became the largest gang for street gangsters and a minor league for the Mafia, with the most known member named Alphonse Capone, better known as Scarface. He was in the James Street Gang, a minor league to The Five Pointers Gang that his childhood friend Lucky Luciawhich was a member of. New York in 1919, Alphonse moved to Chicago and was backed up by Johnny Torrio who helped assist him with Chicago mob territories. He became the most violent street thug in Chicago and the U.

S that law officials have ever experienced and has molded what the “gangster” is today. Street gangs flourished during the 1920’s and 30’s as a symbol of poor neighborhoods and ethnic ghettos. African Americans, Asians and Hispanics made up the majority of the street gangs and in the 1940’s, Mexican gangs formed along the west Coast of the United States. The Latin Kings and Vice Lords were formed in Chicago, Illinois around the late 1940’s and 50’s and the majority of all locations experienced street gangs in some way.

In the 1960’s African American street gangs formed in large cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Some of the New York gangs were the Savage Skulls, La Familia, Savage Nomads and the Rampers. By the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Chicago experienced street gangs such as {text:soft-page-break} the Black Gangsters, Devils Disciples and Black P Stone Rangers. The 1970’s and 1980’s created more gangs by influences such as movies like Colors and Scarface. Drug networks were at it’s peak in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s from importation from Southeast Asia and Colombia.

The United States quickly became known as the number one drug consumer in the world as violence got worse, gangs rapidly continued to spread and Super Gangs like the Latin Kings, Bloods, Crips and Gangster Disciples spread their influence across America. In the mid 1990’s, there was a decrease in crime but street gangs continued to form at a high rate. Each year the number of gangs and gang members increased, especially in major cities across the United States although suburban gangs had the greatest increase..

Wikipedia states that there were at least 30,000 gangs and 800,000 gang members across the USA in 2007, up from 731,500 in 2002 and 750,000 in 2004 which continues to increase by year. By 1999, Hispanics accounted for 47% of all gang members, Blacks 34%, whites 13% and Asians 7%. Besides movies like Scarface, music is also an influence on Chicano Gangs. For years, record companies made the violent gangster image popular. Gangster rap has historically included lyrics associated with gang- related violence.

Although rap music has been focused on black artists, Oldies and rap are a popular tribute for Chicano Gangs since the_ Bandito _in the 1800’s. Corrido songs were written about Mexican rebel leaders and what many people felt were “ gringo oppression” during the Mexican-American war and these songs became even more known during the Mexican Revolution. Many songs were based upon the 1940’s Zoot Suit Riots in major cities in the Pachuco days and Pachuko Hop was released by Chuck Higgins as well as Wetback Hop, which would cause a commotion nowadays. Chico” Sesma promoted L. A area concerts and had a radio show that was popular with Chicano youths in the 1950’s, mainly gang members. The Chicano’s in this era also loved the “Doo Wop” groups, which were ballads sung by black artists. The song Louie, Louie by the Kings men, which is still a popular favorite, was the subject of an {text:soft-page-break} FBI investigation and was almost banned by right-wing politicians because it had a defiant message and was a mix of white, black and Chicano music.

Another song was the Whittier Boulevard which was about a famous low rider cruising strip by the Thee Midnighters who also wrote a song entitled Chicano Power, about the ease L. A. Riot. This song was very popular with the “Batos Locos”, who were Chicano gang members.. A band called the El Chicano wrote a song called the_ Viva Tirado_ which means “long live throwing down” that now is a reference to throwing gang hand signs in the street gang culture. This song was later used by Kid Frost in his song, This is for the La Raza, which was about the Cholo-style gangsters.

Other popular songs that are gang-influenced or adopted by gangs as their theme songs are East side_ Story, Volume 12,_ which is the 18th street Gang’s theme song, Slippin’ into Darkness by War, and Natural High by Bloodstone is the Pirus on the tiers at Folsom Prison’s theme song. While these songs are popular for non-gang members, they are a influence to promote gangs. A music group who was involved in just promoting gang warfare and violence towards officers were The Generation of United Nortenos Coalition. Black-n-Brown Productions also put out Norteno music.

Darkroom Familia was one but it got shut down by the arrest of David Rocha who also released a CD called Gang Stories. The Cd liner states “The authorities pulled the CD off store shelves… we’re not just rappers, we live la vida loca. Violence solves everything! The cops are trying to pick us all off, this is Darkroom Familia, Homeboy, till the wheels fall off! -Sir Dyno. ” These artists may in turn, influence the behavior of the younger gang member and with the increasing number of Latino youth in the U. S and the “Latino Hit Explosion” of 1999.

Music has played a big role in gang culture for the recruitment and support for their gangs. A form of showing a gang’s identity is graffiti. It is often the first indication that street gangs are active in the community. It can be in the newspaper, walls, billboards, the internet of the worlds street {text:soft-page-break} gangs and serves to mark the gang’s power and status. It marks territorial boundaries and serves as a warning to other gangs that it is their “turf”. It warns intruders or trespassers from rival gangs and policemen that they are not welcome.

It can also be an advertisement for the sale of drugs and power or be used as a memorial to a deceased fellow gang member. Graffiti is very popular with gangs but some gangs don’t use it to claim their turf. They also can use hang signals, hair styles, clothing, etc as a way of distinguishing themselves from the rest of the society. Graffiti upside down or crossed out is generally a threat to a rival gang or person. Death warrants and beat downs are usually known to be posted in graffiti. Graffiti is vandalism not art and it impacts neighborhoods by making its inhabitants a target for violence.

A rival gang suspects anyone on the streets as a threat, even though most of the residents are innocent. When graffiti first became popular they used spray paint and wide tipped markers. In New York, in the 1970’s, graffiti became bigger and bolder. Soon after, the new style started popping up everywhere. It is said that Supercool 223 (forever an innovator) was the first writer to ever do a piece in 1972 and some give the honor to Riff and Phase2 for being the first writers to do wild style pieces. Phase2 reports that CC10 and Barbara and Eva were the first to do pieces and Supercool 223 was the first to do “top to bottoms. A top to bottom is when a train car is covered from the top to the bottom by the piece. In the 1970s and early to mid `80s, the subway was always the ideal and most popular place on which graffiti was painted. In the late 80s in New York, graffiti was forced to go through a transformation. Officially, subway graffiti died on May 12, 1989 although graffiti can still be found on subways, the car is usually taken off the line before anyone can see it and scrubbed clean. New York and other cities began to build fenced, barbed wire topped train yards and they developed stricter laws and more severe penalties relating to graffiti.

Gangs are also starting to become more advanced by using websites like twitter to organize and conduct business. They are engaging in verbal battles and planning attacks on each other. Police {text:soft-page-break} are now monitoring websites like this to be on the scene before a fight or violent act starts. Drugs {text:bookmark} and gangs go hand in hand. There is no separating the two. Marijuana and alcohol are both common addictions for the Chicano gang that is part of the deadly cycle of addiction and gang banging. The main choice of drug on the street though is Methamphetamine Within the past 5 years Meth has increased in potency.

Meth is a central nervous stimulant that produces a high that many compare in cocaine. The main difference is that Methamphetamine has a longer “euphoria” effect on the user. They don’t see that their lives are out of control because everyone around them is just as out of control as they are. Having addictions to these drugs makes their life not real. Just a facade of a mirage of what their circumstances, family system, gang, drugs and personal choices have created. I had a neighbor when I was about ten and living in Escondido that was in a gang. He was a nice kid but thanks to the “homies” and drugs a monster was created.

Within a few years he had changed completely, he was very delusional and involved in risky criminal behavior. I remember seeing him through my window playing a Chicano rap song. He was just staring at the sky and looked like a sad, little boy. I never saw him since then because we moved about a week later to Colorado but rumors went around years later with my family that they heard he was shot by a rival gang. Hand signs are also used as a means of identifying gang members with other gang members and each gang has their own hand signs that they use to show allegiance to their gang or to disrespect rival gang members.

Many Chicano gangs have created hand signs representing each letter of the alphabet and other signs to represent a word or a phrase. Most can become skilled at this and can communicate to others without speaking. Displaying these hand signs is known as “flashing” or “throwing” the signs. It is impossible to know all the gang hand signs for they are individual to each gang and if you try and use the signs with how many gangs we have just in the US alone plus the 26 letters of the Tattoos are very meaningful to the Chicano Gangster and highly symbolic in nature.

Praying hands is common which signifies praying to God for forgiveness, The Our Lady of Guadalupe icon is {text:soft-page-break} another common tattoo worn by Chicano gang members. The Cholo symbol is also popular for it signifies the struggle for acceptance in American during the 1940’s. Phrases like Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life) and Perdoname Mi Madre ( Forgive me Mother) are symbolic of their awareness of their gangster life and how their friends and family don’t accept it.

These phrases are usually tattooed in Old English style of printing. Colors are also important in gangs. Most Chicano gangs prefer the colors of the Mexican flag, green, white and red as their gang’s representative colors. There are several gangs, however, that have adopted other colors. Many use beads which were influenced by Hispanic gangs like the Latin Kings, La Familia and Netas which used beaded necklaces since the 1980’s as well as wear bandanas. The bandanas are usually tied in a loop or sticking out of a pocket.

Chicano gangs tend to hide their affiliation from the police so police usually check under a hat, rear of a belt or inside a pant’s pocket to look for gang markings as well as to hide them from the larger, more violent gangs like the Bloods and Latin Kings. Most people think that Chico is a safe area, which when compared to huge cities like Los Angeles it really is, but Kpay news reported that on March 26th 2008, a Chico gang member was sentenced to prison after he was linked to a shooting. His name was Sergio Martinez, a 23 year old Chicano who fired multiple shots at a 28 year old man last year after he dropped out of Martinez’s gang.

He was sentenced to prison for nine years. Another Chicano was Santos Zepeda who received 89 years to life after being convicted of shooting a 16 year old and his father in Chico. The boy was killed and the father was paralyzed from the waist down. Another Chicano was Jose Zuniga, who was sentenced for 14 years for a drive by shooting in Oro Dam Blvd, in Oroville. There are many more incidents in the area but gang violence can happen anywhere and it didn’t stop these Chicano’s for starting crimes. Vehicles are mobile and can get anywhere and it doesn’t take much for gang members {text:soft-page-break} to commit violence.

Too often people think that just because a gang didn’t come from Los Angeles they are just wannabes. Too often the phrase we don’t have gangs in our community is uttered by the police, the chamber of commerce or the tourist bureau. Nothing could be further from the truth. If a group of teens in any community have banned together and go by a certain name as well as use signs, symbols or colors and are committing crimes, they are a gang, regardless of what members of the community tells people. What can we do to stop gangs in our community?

Citizens need support, information and we need to think of activities to enhance the community. Some ways to stop gangs are to attend meetings with other citizens that are concerned about the same topic and organize programs within local schools such as sports, clubs, drama and activities that show the negative influence on gangs and show alternatives, We can also offer support and counseling to victims of gangs living in our surrounding areas as well as keeping each other aware of graffiti, crimes and other gang related activities.

Talking to the local police about establishing a neighborhood watch program or community patrols is another idea/ Most of us college students are fresh from high school and don’t have kids, but many college students do, for college students can be of any age. It is wise to inform them from early on about gangs and the violence they cause. It’s important to develop a strong bond with your children for many children and teens join gangs because they want to feel loved and accepted.

You need to let them know that it’s a myth and they can have all the acceptance they need in the home of their families. Bringing in community leaders, religious leaders, police, counselors and other groups to your children’s schools will help inform your kids on gangs. Religion is also a way to ban gangs. Chicano’s are primary Catholic and both the Catholic Church and Evangelical church are active in outreach to gang members and providing faith-based social action programs.

Most members of a gang think it’s a way of survival in the city and if your not {text:soft-page-break} in a gang, you get beat up. If you don’t want to be in a gang and you don’t want to get beat up then join a church. There is also a growth of Latino evangelical pop culture as an alternative Latino gang subculture. Another thing we can do is let gang members know that there is a way out. One thing to do is tells gang members to never tell a gang that they plan to leave, for it will be breaking the promise to the gang and they can be beaten or even killed.

Begin spending their time doing other things instead of hanging out with gang friends and get into activities like sports, school activities or spending time with their family or church. They can also let go of the gangster image. For many gang members, dressing down makes them feel safe because other people are afraid of the way that they look. As they begin to believe in themselves they will find that they don’t need to make other people feel afraid to feel good. They can also start making excuses by stopping the phone calls from their gang by gradually making themselves unavailable.

If the member does anything extreme like telling them he doesn’t want to be a part of them anymore then there will be problems. They may want to get an officer’s help for gangs can be brutal. If worse comes to worse, a gang member can always safety move. I know it’s a lot tougher then it sounds but there will only be positive outcomes to getting out of a Chicano gang. After all, Chicano’s immigrate to the United States for many reasons, but the main one is to have a future, to get a good job, to have an education, things that many of their family members could not get in Mexico.

Being in a Chicano gang doesn’t get you any of those, it does nothing but damage, and shortens your life by spending most of it behind bars or even death. There is real life out there and these Chicano gang members need to be strong enough to take a chance and walk away before it’s too late. So let’s do our part and teach today’s youth about Chicano gangs and gangs in general. It can be our children, our siblings or our neighbor next door, but the more the younger generation is aware, the more knowledge we can build for youths and safety for the world in the future generations to come.

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The Dark Side of Friendship: Gangs. (2018, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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