Gang Versus Tagger Graffiti: A Visual Primer

It’s been a while since I wrote about graffiti to any great extent, in part because I don’t have a whole lot more to say on the subject. That said, people continue to leave comments, or email me, with questions about graffiti, and to a large extent they don’t really care what the graffiti says – they just want to know “is this gang graffiti?” (I take a much more… cryptanalytic?… approach to it, and want to know what it says, and means. To each their own.) It’s usually really easy to tell whether it’s gang-related or not if there’s a picture of the graffiti; if not, a lot of the time the best I can say is “if you know what gang graffiti looks like, or doesn’t look like, it’s pretty easy to tell.”

To that extent, because a picture is worth a thousand or more words, here are a pair of recent examples found here in Saint Paul, Minnesota, that are pretty “typical” of the kinds of graffiti you see in public places:

SKS tagger graffiti

This is not gang graffiti – it’s left by a “tagger”, and is – I think – what’s called a ‘throw-up’, if you want to get all formal and technical and so on. This is a pretty typical example – two colors, nearly illegible to the untrained eye, and no readily-identifiably symbols as such. Google something like “graffiti culture” if you want to learn what this is all about, but the important thing is that graffiti that look like this are not left by traditional criminal street gangs – Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Latin Kings, or whatever – but by individuals or small groups of, let’s be honest here, teens and college-age miscreants.

Here’s another part of the same wall that was tagged:

I think this says ‘DRAF’, or ‘DRIAF’, but I could very well be wrong. The overlapping letters, the sheer unintelligibility of it, and the little flourish thing at the end are all one hundred percent diagnostic of tagger graffiti.

By contrast, here’s a fairly typical piece of gang-related graffiti:

One color, quite legible, and contains symbols – those are supposed to be pitchforks down at the bottom, and that’s a crown up at the top. No flourishes or embellishments. No bubble letters. Simple, straightforward, and to the point. (Mentioning the Folk Nation doesn’t make thing difficult, either.) Gang-related.

Now you know… and knowing is half the battle, et cetera.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on August 25th, 2009| 5 Comments »

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  1. On 9/20/2009 at 8:27 pm Paige Said:

    The red one says “SKS” and the second one says “DRAE”

  2. On 10/11/2011 at 2:42 pm KEC Said:

    Our fence was painted with what appears to be a YZ with watgh could be a 2 under it. Do you have any idea what this could stand for?

  3. On 6/13/2012 at 4:04 am Melissa Said:

    One of our doors has $rk. So far I have not found any references, any ideas?

  4. On 11/14/2012 at 12:09 pm thomas Said:

    The top photo is what you would call a throw-up, though that example looks to be a pretty hastily executed one.

  5. On 12/14/2012 at 11:01 am Drake Said:


    Gang sign Or tag ?