Indentifying American Street Gang Alliances

Street Gangs in the United States fall into categories based most importantly on thier “prison alliance”. This is so that weaker gangs increase the influence and power of the gangs closer to the top of the ladder, while in return their members receive a measure of protection while incarcerated.

The main categories being:

  • Folks
  • Crips
  • Bloods
  • Peoples
  • White Power/Aryan
  • 1Percenter (outlaw bikers)

Traditional Gangs
– have existed over a long period of time to have established a system of traditional motivations that are adhered to.
It has an exact organizational chart, identifiable colors and specific hand signals.
They have aligned themselves with either the ‘Folk’ or the ‘Peoples Nations’. Examples are Crips, Bloods and Black Gangster Disciples.
Non-Traditional Gangs
– This type of gang is slowly evolving into a traditional gang, but it has not been around long enough to have adopted long standing traditions. They have no structure or organization. They tend to form and dissolve frequently.
• These gangs are still struggling with their identities.
• It is unique to a local area and has not aligned with either the Folk or People’s Nation.
Criminal Enterprise
– This type of gang is bonded together by a common criminal interest. It is made up of adults and they are mainly involved in the wholesale of narcotics, i.e. Mafia, Jamaican Posse, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1%ers are known to be involved in drugs, murders, thefts, prostitution, etc.).
Tag Artist
– This group is bonded together by the common interest in Graffiti Art. They are, for the most part, a non-violent group and consist mainly of Anglo and/or Hispanic males.

In some cases, smaller gangs call themselves war crews and claim either “Renegade” or “Outlaw“. Upon entering the prison system, they usually meld into one of the above groups for protection.The most popular gang alliances of today being the “top four”, we will look at thier relationships “in a nutshell”. Let’s try and simplify things some.

1. Originating from the West Coast, Bloods and Crips are notorious worldwide. The public often thinks they are merely two gangs. They are split up into many smaller gangs, that claim Bloods or Crips. (“Claiming” an alliance means “representing” it.)
2. While the Bloods and Crips (unlike Peoples‘ and Folks) started as single neighborhood gangs, then grew into large alliances, the Folks and Peoples did not. They are both alliances formed behind bars, by the leaders of the most powerful gangs in the midwest, in 1978.
3. White Power gangs are often seen as less of a threat, being that they are low-profile right now. This is not always the case. Gangs such as the NLR (Nazi Low-Riders) from California, The Hammerhead Skins, and Christian Identity, have grown to occupy prisons and towns nationwide and in some cases, beyond U.S. borders. The most dangerous of these at the moment would be the Nazi Low Riders.

Gang members are usually males who join the gang by either committing a crime(s) or undergoing an initiation procedure wherein they are beaten severely by fellow gang members to test their courage and fighting ability. Their motivation for joining gangs is varied, but usually falls within one if the following categories:
1. Identity or recognition…being part of a gang allows the youth gang member to achieve a level of status he feels is impossible outside the gang culture.
2. Protection…many members join because they live in the gang area and are therefore, subject to violence by rival gangs. Joining guarantees support in case of attack and retaliation for transgressions.
3. Fellowship and brotherhood…to the majority of the youth gang members, the gang functions as an extension of the family and may provide companionship lacking in the gang members home environment.
4. Intimidation…some members are forced into joining by their peer group. Intimidation techniques range from extorting lunch money to physical beatings. If a particular violent gang is recruitment in progress, the recruitment tactics used by the gang can be extremely violent, even to the point of murdering a non-member to coerce others into joining the gang.
Levels of Involvement

1. Knows about gangs primarily from newspaper, newscasts and the movies.
2. May or may not know about “real” gangs.
3. May or may not know one or more gang members, but does not associate.
4. May or may not like, respect or admire a gang, a gang member or the gang lifestyle.
5. See gang members “living out a fantasy”.
1. Knows about gangs and gang members first hand.
2. Occasionally casually associates with gang members.
3. Lives in or near gang areas (turf).
4. May like or admire gangs or gang members as individuals.
5. May like and/or admire the gang lifestyle, but not participate fully.
1. Knows and likes gang members first hand.
2. Regularly associates with gang members.
3. Considers gangs & related activity as normal, acceptable or admirable.
4. Finds many things in common with gang members.
5. Is seriously thinking about joining a gang.
1. Is officially a gang member.
2. Associates almost exclusively with gang members to the exclusion of family and former friends.
3. Participates in gang crimes and most other related activities.
4. Is not considered hard core by fellow gang members or others.
5. Has substantially rejected the authority or value system of family and society.
1. Totally committed to the gang and gang lifestyle.
2. Totally rejects anyone or any value system other than the gang.
3. Is considered hardcore by self, other gang members and authorities.
4. Will commit any act with the approval of a demand from the gang.
5. Does not accept any authority other than the gang.
1. Graffiti – one of the first indicators of gang activity is the appearance of graffiti in area. To most members of society graffiti is just vandalism and childish pranks and means nothing more than that. However, to gang members and trained observers, it is a clear marking of territorial boundaries and serves as a warning or even a challenge to a rival gang. You can find graffiti on almost any available space, be it a building, bus bench, park wall, street sign, or even a private residence. The purpose of graffiti is to glorify the gang and make its existence well known.
2. Hand Signals – the use of hand signals is multipurpose. It is a means of communicating gang affiliations to both rival and allied gang members. Hand signals are also used as means of challenging rival gangs i.e. “throwing signs”.
3. Tattoosthe tattoos can be used to identify the member’s gang, set and moniker. The tattoo may appear on any place of the member’s body such as the neck, arms, wrists, hands, chest and legs.
4. Colors – matching clothing such as shoes, shirts, caps and bandannas are common group identifiers. Colors are of paramount importance to the gang. They serve not only to identify gang members but also promote group solidarity. Degrading of one gang’s colors and/or symbol is the ultimate humiliation.
1. Usually male.
2. School dropout or truant; poor student that does not like school and who does not adapt well at school.
3. Does not receive adequate family attention. The gang provides identity and status. In some cases, a single parent or family member may approve or condone participation especially if the gang member helps to support the family through narcotic sales or profits derived from criminal activity.
4. Victim of abuse/neglect and/or parental brutality.
5. Middle to lower economic background.
6. Negative role models.
7. Very street wise.
8. Activities confined to close proximity to his residence or gang’s turf.
9. Anti-social, aggressive and hostile.
10.Gang members commit crimes against people who are unable to defend themselves. They work where they have the advantage i.e. in the dark, from speeding cars and in packs.