As a sort of fun follow-on to yesterday’s post on decoding gang graffiti, let’s look at some more examples of graffiti from gangs – and from wannabes, as well. I have a couple of guidelines that I use when evaluating graffiti; the most basic are simple analyses of the graffiti itself. Is is a name – or at least a single, pronounceable word? If so, it’s probably from a tagger, not a gangster. Can it be easily read – are all the letters clear, basic, and unadorned, with no ornamentation or crossing-out? Again, if so, it’s probably not gang-related, though there are rare exceptions. Are there five-pointed stars, six-pointed stars, canes, stylized squiggles that could be pitchforks, or other wierd, quasi-occult symbols present? These are almost certainly signs that you’re looking at gang graffiti.
There are exceptions, however…
Consider this tag, which was placed on Saint Paul’s Wabasha Street Bridge several years ago:
It’s sort of legible, but contains a five-pointed star in a circle. Gang, or tagger? How about this one:
Again, it’s legible, but what about the wierd way “Posses” is written? Was this an attempt at the faux-Germanic script so beloved of gangstas, or was someone making the S’s into dollar signs and got carried away?
In both cases, the answer to “gang or tagger?” is “neither”. These are left by what I refer to as “wannabe gangstas” – probably bored high-school kids with too much time on their hands to watch MTV and play Grand Theft Auto. No “real” gang is going to call themselves a “posse” – and certainly not “posses”, plural. (At least, in most parts of the country; as Robert Walker points out, there are Jamaican “posses”, but they’re far from widespread.) As for the “Mohawk Mafia”, I’m betting it was misfit high-school kids who wanted to be “cool”, and were probably inspired by the Columbine shooters’ “Trench Coat Mafia”. (Note that just because they’re not really a gang, in any meaningful sense, doesn’t mean they’re not a potential security threat.)
Now, in the last post, I mentioned three-digit numbers as a good identifying characteristic of gang graffiti. Here’s an example I pulled from my files:
This is a pretty straightforward tag, and is pretty easy to read. If you just saw the word “dreamer”, you might think it was an artistically-challenged tagger at work. But that number up top casts the whole thing in a somewhat more sinister light. As this incredibly useful page will tell you, “187” is a reference to a section of the California penal code – specifically, the bit about homicide. In this case, what you’re seeing is a very public, very serious death threat towards a gang member called Dreamer.
That was taken about six years ago, on Saint Paul’s East side, during a long, large-scale turf war between two hispanic street gangs. I don’t know who Dreamer is, or was, but odds are good he was one of several people killed during that year-long feud.
That war, for what it’s worth, was between Surenos Trece – “Sur 13″ – and 18th Street, usually known as “XV3″. (Roman numeral X, roman numeral V, then 3. I have no idea why they’re never XVIII.) A good idea of how serious things were can be seen here:
Here, Sur 13 had tagged up an abandoned building in their ‘hood with their name, prominently, and then some nice, blatant threats towards the 18th Street kids – that “18K” on the right, where “K” stands for “kill”. Well, as you can see, the XV3s didn’t much care for this, so made a few additions of their own – crossing out the Surenos Trece tags and adding their own (it’s not real easy to read, but it reads WSXV3ST – West Side 18th Street, the specific “set” involved.)
Now, for a little challenge, take everything you’ve (hopefully) learned from these two posts, and see how much information you can glean from this bit of graffiti, found in a park some time back:
(A hint: RFPGB is the “Rollin’ 50s Project Gangster Bloods”, one “set” of the Rollin’ 50s Bloods.)
If you’re interested in this sort of stuff, you should check out this page, or this one. This site is a great reference to most of North America’s gangs, and this one is a good introduction that’s especially strong on the white gangs, including the various skinhead groups.
Peace out, yo. And keeps it real, ya hears?