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Gangs - What You Need to Know

ž   Four men arrested in a Sioux Falls drug raid have connections to a Chicago street gang called the “Gangster Disciples”. (November 2005)
A Chicago member of the Gangster Disciple gang and his Sioux Falls girlfriend were arrested at a motel on drug charges.  The 28-year old man was charged with felony crack cocaine possession, crack possession with intent to distribute and maintaining a place where drugs are stored. He was on parole for crack distribution in Illinois at the time of his Sioux Falls arrest. (July 2005)
ž An argument over a gang led to the violent death of a homeless man in Sioux Falls.  The victim was beaten and stabbed to death after an argument with the suspect over the War Lords. (June 2005)
ž A South Dakota member of the Bandidos, who served as the gang’s national secretary, was picked up by federal agents on a warrant for conspiracy to tamper with a witness.  His arrest was part of a three-state bust of the club’s alleged crime ring.  The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported it had seized evidence that tied the Bandidos to a host of crimes including theft, weapons possession, narcotics and intimidation. (June 2005)
ž Three people with ties to the Black Gangster Disciple Nation and Gangster Disciples were arrested in a drug raid.  Officers found several rocks of crack cocaine and $2,6000 in cash. (April 2005)

Many people in South Dakota have a hard time believing there could be ‘real gangs’ in the area.  After all, this isn’t Omaha, or Chicago, or any one of a number of urban centers known for gang activity.  But the reality is gang recruiting and activity is happening, and it’s not limited to adults.  High schools and middle schools, as well as the corrections system, are prime recruiting territory for new members.  Whether a youngster becomes a ‘wanna-be’ or a full-fledged member, there are real risks in the gang life.

This is a basic look at gangs and what adults need to know about them.  If you have specific concerns or questions, please email us or contact the Prairie View Prevention Services counselor at your child’s school.

What is a “gang”?
Are there different types of gangs?
What are some of the more common gangs?
How does someone become a member of the gang?
How does someone get out of a gang?
Why do young people join gangs?
Who seems to be at highest risk for joining a gang?
What do members get out of belonging to a gang?
Are gang members all the same?
What are some signs that someone may be involved in a gang?
Do girls get involved in gangs?
What is gang graffiti and what should you do about it?
What do the numbers sometimes found in gang graffiti mean?
Are there any tips for parents to help their children avoid getting into gangs?

What is a “gang”?
Gang is defined as three or more people who associate for the same common purpose.  The behavior of the members, either individually or collectively, may be disruptive, anti-social or criminal.  

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Are there different types of gangs?
  While gang members may claim that theirs is unique, gangs fall into one of three categories:
          1.Traditional.  These are the gangs that have multi-generational members.  They are steeped in traditions and are often referred to as “turf gangs”.
          2. Non-traditional.  These are the gangs that have mainly first time members in them.  Gang members may have different reasons for belonging to the gang (power, structure, protection, etc).  They are more loosely organized than the traditional gangs.
          3. Entrepreneur. These are the gangs and/or gang members who are largely in it for the money.  They engage in illegal activities such as selling drugs, stealing cars or car parts for fencing operations, etc.

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What are some of the more common gangs?

Probably the most common gangs are the CRIPS and the BLOODS.  Both are Los Angeles street gangs that grew to prominence in the 1960s.  Initially, both gangs were predominantly made up of black males, but now include both male and female members of all races and social classes in every state of the nation.  The Crips and Bloods are rival gangs.
Also in the ‘60s, three street gangs emerged from Chicago.  These gangs can now be found in various parts of the country.  They are the BLACK GANGSTER DISCIPLE NATION (Black Gangsters or Black Gangster Disciples), the VICE LORDS and the LATIN KINGS. 
Hispanic gangs from California have also migrated to the Midwest.  They are generally divided into two groups: the SURENOS and the NORTENOS.

An entirely different category of gangs is the White Supremacists.  These white gangs are not motivated by greed.  Their motivation comes from a strong belief system based on hate and an ultra-right wing political ideology.  They adhere to violence, intimidation, vandalism and anything that will insure the survival of the white race.  They routinely terrorize people of color, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, people who have married interracially and homosexuals.  Such gangs include neo-Nazi groups and skinheads.  They believe that minorities are taking over the country and therefore believe they are justified in ‘preserving’ their culture by preaching and demonstrating violence against minorities.
The gangs most prominent in the Sioux Falls, Sioux City and southwestern Minnesota region are Bloods and Crips (several sets of each), Vice Lords, Latin Kings, Black Gangster Disciple Nation, Surenos and Nortenos.  In South
Dakota prisons, according to the research done by USA Gangs the most common gangs are Aryan Brotherhood, Black Gangster Disciples, Black P Stones, Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Ku Klux Klan, Latin Kings, Nortenos 14, Skinheads, Surenos 13, and Vice Lords.

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How does someone become a member of the gang?

  Generally, a person must be “jumped into” a gang.  Jumping in consists of having to fight multiple gang members at the same time.  Potential members demonstrate courage and commitment by the manner in which they fight back.  Prior to the actual jumping in, the potential gang member may be put through other tests, such as being asked to commit a specific crime – theft, beating someone up, etc.

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How does someone get out of a gang?

  It is often very difficult to get out of a gang.  Gang membership is looked upon as a “for life” commitment, particularly in traditional gangs.  It is sometimes possible to be “jumped out” of a gang in the same manner that members are taken in to the gang in the first place.

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Why do young people join gangs?

There are nearly as many reasons as there are gang members.  These are some of the most common:

Pride & respect   Power  Protection
Sense of belonging    Drugs    Loyalty
Money      Recognition Structure, rules, codes
Sense of direction Sense of purpose  Glamour of the gangster image


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Who seems to be at highest risk for joining a gang?

The following are marks of high risk for gang involvement:

Ineffective parental skills
History of family gang involvement
Evidence of parental abuse or neglect
Poor progress or achievement in school
Low self esteem
Truancy from school
Lack of hobbies or something to do with leisure time
Resentful of authority
Frequent negative contact with police
Perception of little caring/acceptance
Drawing of gang insignias or graffiti
Problems at home
Excessive or gang-style tattoos, burns or scars
Residence in a neighborhood where gangs exist
Alienation from school, teachers, peers, family, society
Gang members as friends – seldom alone, often in groups
Liberal or favorable attitude toward gangs and drugs
Friends with gangs or people who use drugs
Early aggressive behavior
Chronic anger

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What do members get out of belonging to a gang?

   A sense of belonging, being valued
   A sense of competency, having a unique skill
   A sense of usefulness, making a difference
   A sense of personal power, being able to influence others

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Are gang members all the same?

  There are basically four types of gang members:
          Hardcore.  These are considered the O.G.s or Original Gangsters.  They are in it for life and have often been in and out of the correction system for various crimes.  They have done and will do anything for the gang (“hope-to-die-for” gang member).  Hardcore members make up about 5-15% of the total gang membership.
          Member.  These are people who have gone through the initiation process and have become part of the gang.  They have passed all of the gang requirements and tests and have become true gangbangers/homeboys/homegirls.
          Associate. These are the people who are closely associated with a certain gang.  They may wear gang colors and may imitate members of a particular gang, but they are not yet official members.  They are the prospects or “wanna be’s” who are trying to get into a gang and will do anything to be accepted.
          Peripheral.  These are the people who hang out with or are friends of gang members but do not claim any gang affiliation.  They find the idea of gang life romantic and exciting.

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What are some signs that someone may be involved in a gang?

Gang involvement does not happen overnight. It is a gradual process and if you are alert you will see the signs.

1. Colors – May show subtle or obvious choice of color in clothing or accessories.
2. Graffiti – Unusual signs, symbols, alphabets or nicknames on notebooks, papers, clothing, hands/arms, books, etc.
3. Tattoos – Symbols or names tattooed on arms, chest or elsewhere on body.
4. Language – Use of uncommon terms, words, names or phrases.
5. Hand signs – Unusual ways of signaling or greeting each other. 

6. Initiations – Suspicious or otherwise unexplained bruises, wounds, burns, or injuries may be a result of gang initiation ceremonies.
7. Behavior Change – Sudden mood or behavior changes, drop in grades, secretiveness, change in friends, truancy.
8. Right/Left Rule – Apparel worn in a specific manner, either right or left, to show gang affiliation. Examples: glove worn on one hand, pocket hanging out on one side, pant leg cuffed or pulled up on one leg, bill of hat to one side, etc.
9. Jewelry – Friendship beads in gang colors; pendants, rings and pins that display gang symbols (like the Star of David); a lot of gold chains.
10. Clothing – Jogging suits in gang colors; pro-team clothing items and hats; hood of sweatshirt out over jacket to show colors; hats tilted to one direction; a particular brand of clothing or shoes.
11. Hairstyles/fingernails – Designs cut into hair; colored beads/barrettes; colored streaks on side of head; pony tail/braids with colored rubber bands; picks or combs in bead or hair (front or back/left or right.  Nails – 2 nails with gang colors on left or right hand, nail on pinky finger left long. 

12. Gang look – Posture, walk, stance; dress in colors/styles/symbols.
13. Milling – gathering/hanging out, especially where there is an audience.

Not all these signs show up in every gang member; and not everyone who adopts some of these signs is in a gang.  These are tip-offs, though, for a need to find out more. 

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Do girls get involved in gangs?

  At one time, girls assumed subservient roles in gangs.  Frequently, they were used to carry weapons, drugs and other contraband because they were less likely to be searched by the police.  Often, gang members used them for sex.  Females could not be full-fledged gang members. Times have changed, however.  Females not only have their own gangs, but also often enjoy full membership in what were once exclusively male gangs.  Female gangs and/or gang members are often very violent – frequently even more so than male gang members.

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 What is gang graffiti and what should you do about it?

  Gang graffiti serves one of the following purposes:
    1.      Establishes the presence of a gang or gangs.   
    2.      Establishes turf or territory
    3.      Warns of impending danger or threats (fights, etc.)
    4.      Puts down rival gangs and/or issues a challenge.

With any kind of graffiti, you should follow the four 'Rs':
    1.      Read it.
    2.      Record (photograph or videotape) it.
    3.      Report it to law enforcement.
    4.      Remove it as soon as possible.

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What do the numbers sometimes found in gang graffiti mean?

Part of the language of gangs includes the use of numbers as symbols or numbers that correspond to letters of the alphabet.  It provides a kind of shorthand or code for gangs.  For example, the numbers 1-26 correspond with the letters of the alphabet.  15-11-2 would mean OKB (Oriental Killer Boys).  2-11 would mean BK (Blood Killer), a sign of the Crips.
The number 5 always refers to the People Nation (i.e., the 5 pointed star symbol).  The number 6 always refers to the Folk Nation (i.e., the 6 pointed star symbol).

Frequently, area codes are used to identify gangs:
          209 – area code for Fresno
          415 – area code for San Francisco
          612 – area code for central Minnesota

Another number you may frequently see is 187 – the police code for murder.  You may also see the use of dots by Hispanic and Asian gangs.  Frequently, these identifiers are found in the web of the hand, on the back of the hand or between the fingers.  They are often in groups of three and may mean one of the following: Mi Vida Loco (My crazy life) or family/friends/gang.

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Are there any tips for parents to help their children avoid getting into gangs?

Know your children’s friends – and their parents.
Encourage your children and their friends to spend supervised time at your home.
Occupy your children’s free time in positive ways.

Develop positive lines of communication with your children.
Learn to listen.
Spend time with your children.
Set limits for your children.
Ask questions – and expect answers.
Become informed about issues that may affect your children.
Talk to other parents.
Ask questions.
Become an active participant in the education of your children.
Participate in the community; teach your children civic pride and positive community involvement.
Be a positive role model.
Be an active, not a passive, parent.
Hug your children.
Say “I love you”.
Organize or take part in neighborhood block parties.
Encourage your children to participate in family activities.
Encourage your children to become involved in sports, scouts, clubs, etc.
Establish and enforce home rules.
Spend quality time with your children.
Communicate openly with your children and their friends.
Communicate with parents of your children’s friends.
Know about who and what influences your kids.
Know what your children are doing at all times.
Set the example for your kids–they will do what you do.
Believe in your young person.

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For local information or specific help if you feel your child is at risk of gang activity, please contact the Prairie View Prevention Services prevention counselor at your child's school; email or call the Prairie View Prevention Services main office at (605)331-5724.

Information for this article was obtained from:

Street Gang Awareness – A Resource Guide for Parents and Professionals by Steven L. Sachs 
Napa Valley (California) District Attorney

Positive Strategies for Parents
, Carla Middlen; Principal Sioux Falls Washington High School
Reclaiming Our Communities/Community Violence Prevention Mobilization Training


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    2000 Prairie View Prevention Services, Inc.