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Identifying Gang Members 

Gang Symbols and Communication

Gang members use hand signs, graffiti, jewelry and tattoos to represent their membership in a gang and to communicate or "show" their gang affiliation to others. Each street gang has its own signs, symbols, signals, dress, and colors, some of which are shared by other gangs, but all which serve to advertise the gang's presence. These serve to promote group solidarity and to identify gang members.

There is no greater humiliation for a street gang than to have its symbols insulted by rival gangs. If you see graffiti in which a gang symbol is upside down, backwards, or crossed out, it is a degradation to that gang and was most likely done by a rival gang member. This type of disrespect often results in gang violence.

Graffiti: One of the first indications that gangs are in a neighborhood is the appearance of graffiti. To the gang member, graffiti is a marking of territorial boundaries and serves as a warning and a challenge to rival gangs. Gangs will place graffiti on any available space (wall, street signs, restroom walls, etc.). The purpose of graffiti is to glorify the gang. Any graffiti which is found should be reported to law enforcement for documentation and then removed as soon as possible.


Hand Signs: Hand signs are used by gangs to communicate gang affiliations and to challenge rival gang members. This is commonly referred to as "throwing signs." Occasionally members of one gang (GANG A) will flash the hand sign of a rival gang (GANG B) in hopes that a person will respond as a member of Gang B to reveal their true gang affiliation. This is known as "false flagging" and normally results in gang violence directed at the rival gang member.

Tattoos: Tattoos may be viewed as an extension of graffiti, used to identify the wearer as a member of a particular gang. Like graffiti, tattoos will usually include the initials, name or symbols of a particular gang. There is really no rule as to the size, number, or complexity of a gang member's tattoos. While some may be done professionally, most are homemade and a large majority are received in detention centers. Tattoos may be found anywhere on the body; People Nation sets will normally tattoo the left side of the body, while Folk Nation sets tattoo the right side. Younger gang members often attempt to conceal their tattoos from family and authorities.

National Symbols of Folk and People Gangs

Symptoms of Gang Involvement

  • Graffiti on the youth's belongings, such as notebooks, jackets, clothing or room
  • Tattoos or ink drawings of gang symbols on skin
  • Sudden increase in youth's material possessions (If parent didn't buy it and the youth doesn't work, how did they get it?)
  • Consistent wearing of same color combinations, which also matches friends clothing colors. Also the consistent wearing of sports team apparel. Look for writings on the bill of caps or the changing of colors of the original apparel
  • Secrecy about activities or time away from home
  • New and strange friends or associates
  • Clothing representing specifically to one side, either right or left, such as hats tilted or pants legs rolled up
  • Major changes in social habits (e.g., low school grades, lack of interest in school activities, change of peer groups)
  • Involvement in drugs: sales, possession, or use
  • Negative contact with law enforcement
  • Adopting a street name or moniker
  • Possession or use of weapons
  • Wearing bandanas or other similar colored items