Overview of Street Gangs–Compiled

Compiled by Manny

Texas Penal Code 71.01 (d): “Criminal street gang” means three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities.

Working definitions are based on informal and unique personal perspectives that differ from person to person. The district began the Gang Prevention/ Intervention Program during the 2004- 2005 school year to reduce the influence of street gangs on its campuses. The program model includes prevention, intervention, and enforcement strategies.

The purpose of these initiatives is to increase awareness and to provide every educator and parent in Dallas ISD with a working knowledge of how gangs affect schools and communities.

Students involved in gangs tend to have issues with truancy, drug use, social structure, and a host of other problems. Focusing on the behavior without labeling the student is an important step in the intervention process. Students who are involved in positive activities are less likely to be influenced by gangs. Understanding the facts and reaching out for assistance helps to develop productive students, as well as safe and civil schools and communities.

“We don’t believe we have bad students. We believe we have good students who make bad decisions.”

Warning Signs

  • Changes to or obsesses over a particular dress style or color, wearing colored shoelaces, bandanas, sagging pants, and/ or designer haircuts.
  • Sudden change in friends of negative influence.
  • Has unexplained cash, goods, clothing, or jewelry.
  • Uses hand-signs with friends while at school or home.
  • Writes graffiti/markings on body, clothing or school supplies such as folders and backpacks.
  • Has increasing discipline problems and/or a drop in grades.

Why Students Join


Students join gangs for a variety of reasons. The issues and needs that can contribute to gang involvement include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Finding their “identity”
  • Attention
  • Recognition
  • Friendship
  • A sense of belonging
  • Peer pressure
  • Love
  • Money
  • Protection
  • Environment
  • Acceptance
  • Power
  • Intimidation
  • Excitement
  • Media influence
  • Cool/Trendy
  • Poor family structure
  • Family tradition

Where do your students go to have their needs met?

Tips for Developing Youth

  • Give respect to earn respect, lead by example.
  • Engage in meaningful
  • Establish rules, limits and discipline, and implement consistently and
  • Listen and communicate about concerns and fears. Establish an open
  • Watch closely for negative
  • Encourage student to be involved in sports, music, or other creative activities.
  • Compliment good behavior or achievements, no matter how
  • Teach self control and how to deal appropriately with
  • Promote good grades, attendance, and behavior and monitor for any changes.
  • Show affirmation through appropriate, positive physical
  • Seek professional help when the needs are beyond your


Service we provide:

  • Address gangs, drugs, and other at-risk factors.
  • Respond to and assess potential gang related incidents.
  • Provide presentations for students, staff, parents, and the community.
  • Provide intervention to individual students or small groups.
  • Document graffiti for intelligence purposes.
  • Provide emergency / crisis response.


For additional help:

To address concerns, obtain information, and/ or request services, contact us at ganginfo@dallasisd.org or directly:

Charlotte L. McWilliams (214) 869-0639 cmcwilliams@dallasisd.org

Melissa Juarez     (214) 869-6288 mjuarez@dallasisd.org

Michael Dovick    (214) 869-7060 mdovick@dallasisd.org


Identifying Gang Behavior

Persons who are interest in gang-influenced music, videos, and movies is a good indication of gang interest and/or involvement. Use and practice of hand signals to communicate with friends. Peculiar drawings or gang symbols on schoolbooks, clothing, notebooks, or even walls. Drastic changes in hair or dress style and/or having a group of friends who have the same hair or dress style.

Withdrawal from longtime friends and forming bonds with an entirely new group of friends. Suspected drug use, such as alcohol, inhalants, and narcotics. The presence of firearms, ammunition, or other weapons. Nonaccidental physical injuries, such as being beaten or injuries to hands and knuckles from fighting. Unexplained cash or goods, such as clothing

or jewelry.


Gang-style clothing and dress:


Gang members may use a particular style of dress to identify with a particular gang, set, clique, or crew.  This might include clothing or

bandanas worn only in certain colors that are representative of a gang.

Other clothing that might be worn by gang members could include pants worn well below the waist (sagging); gang-themed T-shirts with pictures of gang members, prison scenes, graffiti, or slogans; two- or three-toned bead

necklaces; sports clothing of specific teams; or colored fabric belts, occasionally with a metal buckle that includes the initial(s) of the

gang.  However, gang clothing trends change and may be different from one place to another, so clothing alone may not be enough to indicate a child’s affiliation with a particular gang, though it can be a clue.



Many gangs use one or more colors as a symbol to represent their gang.  These colors may be worn on shirts, bandanas, multicolored or single-colored beads, belts, hats, shoes, shoelaces, headbands, jewelry,

and other items.


Symbols and numbers: 

Some symbols and numbers may have special significance within the gang culture in a particular area.  A few common symbols from some of the large gangs in the United States are stars (five- and six-pointed), crowns, pitchforks (pointing up or down), three dots in a triangle, and numbers.

Contact your local police or sheriff’s department to get specific information on the meaning of unidentifiable symbols or numbers that you may see in graffiti or clothing in your area.

Sports items:  

Letters, colors, or symbols may have a specific gang meaning in local street-gang culture, such as Kansas City Royals (KC = Kill Crips).  Sports items may be purchased in a nontraditional color to correspond with the gang’s colors or may be altered with graffiti or extra symbols or writing.


Gangs use graffiti to mark their territory, brag about their reputation, mourn fallen members, and threaten or challenge rival gangs.  For this reason, graffiti can be very dangerous and should be removed as soon as possible.  Youths who are participating in graffiti may have items such as spray paints, spray-paint plastic tips, wide-tipped markers, or sketchbooks with graffiti works in progress and may have paint on their clothing, backpacks, or other items.


Tattoos are used to show an individual’s loyalty to his/her gang.  These tattoos often include the name, initials, or symbols of the specific gang and may be found on the hands, neck, face, chest, or arms.

Hand signs:

Some gangs use specific hand gestures to communicate their affiliation with the gang and issue threats or challenges to rival gangs.

Gang-influenced music and movies:

Gangsta/gangster rap is a style of rap music characterized by violent, tough-talking lyrics that glorify street-gang culture.  Many popular movies also focus on street gangs and their activities.  Youths may show their interest in

gangs through fascination with music and movies that portray street-gang culture.


History of some known street gangs



This street gang originally started in South Central Los Angeles in the 1960’s. Stanley “Tookie” Williams met with Raymond Lee Washington to unite local gang members to battle neighboring street gangs. Today, the Crips are one of the largest and most violent gangs, involved in murders, robberies, drug dealing and many other criminal pursuits. Crips identify with the color blue.

Their biggest rivals are the Bloods and disrespect in many ways – calling them “slobs”. Crips call themselves “Blood Killas” and cross the letter “b” out or leave it off altogether. Crips do not use the letters “ck” as it denotes “Crip Killer” and substitute it for “cc” (as in “kicc” for “kick”). While traditionally African-American, today’s Crip membership are multi-ethnic.

The Bloods

The bloods were formed to compete against the Crips. Their origins stem from a Peru street gang (initially a Crip set) who broke away during an internal gang war and allied with other smaller street gangs to form the present-day Bloods. Since the Bloods were originally outnumbered 3 to 1 by the Crips, they had to be more violent. With the rise of crack cocaine, the Bloods focused on drug dealing to make money which resulted in even more bloodshed. As their name suggests, Bloods identify with the color red and consider themselves “Crip Killas”. Bloods disrespect Crips by crossing out the letter “c” and calling Crip members “Crabs”.


(Spanish for “Southerners”) are a group of Mexican-American street gangs with origins in southern California (south of Bakersfield). The gang has allegiance to the CA prison gang, Mexican Mafia, aka “La Eme”.  Sureños identify with “13”, “XIII”, “X3”, the letter “M” – 13th letter in the alphabet – as homage to the Mexican Mafia. They typically use the color blue but may use other colors as well such as black or brown, dependant on the set.

The “cholo” type of dress was adopted but nowadays is far less observed as anonymity of gang affiliation has become more commonplace. Their biggest rivals are Norteños but it is not uncommon for Sureños sets to fight each other.


(Spanish for “Northerner”) are a group of Latino street gangs with origins in northern California (north of Bakersfield). Members were initially part of the CA prison gang, Mexican Mafi a, but later formed their own group when they were not protected or treated fairly in prison. Separation can be attributed to a “shoe incident” which created Nuestra Familia (Our Family). Outside of prison members are called Norteños who associate with the sombrero, the machete and the “Huelga” bird (symbol of the United Farm Workers). They use the color red and the number “14”, “XIV”, “X4” and the letter “N” – 14th letter of the alphabet. Their biggest rival are the Sureños but they also fight against Crip sets.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS13):

The Mara Salvatrucha (MS) are a transnational street gang that originated in Los Angeles and are widely spread throughout the US, Canada, Mexico and Central America. In the 1980s, Salvadorian immigrants banded together to protect themselves from already established gangs in the Pico-Union neighborhoods. They later aligned with the Mexican Mafia who protected MS members in prison and adopted the “13” as a tribute. MS associates with “MS”, “MS13” and “Mara”. MS typically represents themselves with blue and white (El Salvadorian flag colors) but also includes other colors depending on the sub-set or faction. While aligned with Sureños, MS13 sets do have conflcts with Sureños but more often fight with Norteños.

People Nation:

The People Nation is another Chicago based alliance of many street gangs which have spread throughout the US and Canada. Similar to the Folk Nation, the People Nation formed in 1978 when the gangs El Rukns, Vice Lords and Latin Kings banded together. Gangs within the People Nation wear identifiers to the left side (gang signs, hats, left pant leg rolled up, folded arms with the left on top). People Nation uses a five pointed star, a 3D pyramid, 5-pointed crown, a crescent moon and playboy bunny symbol. They use an upside-down pitch fork as disrespect for Folk Nation gangs with whom they are rivals.

Fork Nation Gang:

The Folk Nation is a Chicago based alliance of many gangs which spread throughout the US and Canada. Each set has its own unique colors, hand signs and organizations but have signed a charter to join together. The Folk Nation began in 1978 within the Illinois Department of Corrections. Generally, gangs within the Folk Nation use the six-point star, wear identifiers on the right side (hats, bandanas, etc) and embody the pitch fork. Folk nation rivals the People Nation Gang.

Insane Clown Posse:

Newest to the world of street gangs, the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) originated as fans of the Detroit born horrorcore band the Insane Clown Posse (Psychopathic Records Label). Band members, Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler), attest they do not promote the gang persona. In a live performance, Bruce addressed the audience as  Juggalos” which stuck as a name for male members. Females are called “Juggaletts”. ICP is known for their outlandish clown make-up and associate with the “Hatchet man” symbol. ICP members do not believe they are a gang but rather a “family” which is ideal to attract migratory and homeless youth. They favor the colors red, orange and black. Crimes include robberies and assaults where members are armed with edged weapons.

Asian Gangs:

Contrary to popular belief, Asian street gangs are not usually synonymous with the organized crime syndicates such as the “Yakuza”. However, the smaller street gangs often work for and with the syndicates. During the 1980’s, Asians in Los Angeles and San Francisco banded together for protection from the larger Black and Hispanic street gangs. In modern times, Asian gangs often align with Blood or Crip sets depending on mutual enemies or criminal activities but many remain independent due to the member’s ethnic rigidity. Group colors and symbols vary and are not uniform or traditional. Many new Asian gangs begin as dance troupes or road racing groups that eventually morph into criminal street gangs.

Most gang members have identifying characteristics which are unique to their specific clique or gang.[70] The Bloods, for instance, wear red bandanas, the Crips blue, allowing these gangs to “represent” their affiliation. Any disrespect of a gang member’s color by an unaffiliated individual is regarded as grounds for violent retaliation, often by multiple members of the offended gang. Tattoos are also common identifiers,[71] such as an ’18’ above the eyebrow to identify a member of the 18th Street gang. Tattoos help a gang member gain respect within their group, and mark them as members for life. They can be burned on as well as inked. Some gangs make use of more than one identifier, like the Nortenos, who wear red bandanas and have “14”, “XIV”, “x4”, and “Norte” tattoos.[72] Also, many male gang members wear earrings or other types of body jewelry, or simply have pierced ears to depict gang membership, unlike females, who usually wear jewelry for fashion.

Crip showing a gang signal

Gangs often establish distinctive, characteristic identifiers including graffiti tags[73] colors, hand signals, clothing (for example, the gangsta rap-type hoodies), jewelry, hair styles, fingernails, slogans,[74] signs (such as the noose and the burning cross as the symbols of the Klan),[75] flags[76] secret greetings, slurs, or code words and other group-specific symbols associated with the gang’s common beliefs, rituals, and mythologies to define and differentiate themselves from other groups and gangs.[77]

As an alternative language, hand-signals, symbols, and slurs in speech, graffiti, print, music, or other mediums communicate specific informational cues used to threaten, disparage, taunt, harass, intimidate, alarm, influence,[78] or exact specific responses including obedience, submission, fear, or terror. One study focused on terrorism and symbols states that “[s]ymbolism is important because it plays a part in impelling the terrorist to act and then in defining the targets of their actions.”[79] Displaying a gang sign, such as the noose, as a symbolic act can be construed as “a threat to commit violence communicated with the intent to terrorize another, to cause evacuation of a building, or to cause serious public inconvenience, in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience … an offense against property or involving danger to another person that may include but is not limited to recklessly endangering another person, harassment, stalking, ethnic intimidation, and criminal mischief.”[80]

The Internet is one of the most significant media used by gangs to communicate in terms of the size of the audience they can reach with minimal effort and reduced risk.[81] The Internet provides a forum for recruitment activities, typically provoking rival gangs through derogatory postings, and to glorify their gang and themselves. Gangs use the Internet to communicate with each other, facilitate criminal activity, spread their message and culture around the nation. As Internet pages like MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, AIM, and Facebook become more popular, law enforcement works to understand how to conduct investigations related to gang activity in an online environment. In most cases the police can and will get the information they need, however this requires police officers and federal agents to make formal legal requests for information in a timely manner, which typically requires a search warrant or subpoena to compel the service providers to supply the needed information.


Gang activity continues to be a criminal element in our society and infiltrating our youth. Most street gangs are involved in drugs, robbery, burglary, BMV, UUMV, and intimidation.

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1 Response to Overview of Street Gangs–Compiled

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