How to Recognize Gang Signs

Parents should learn how to recognize gang signs so they can make sure their children are not getting involved in a street gang. Gang involvement almost inevitably leaves kids in jail or in the hospital. Kids can be good at hiding their involvement, but parental vigilance usually wins in the end.

Here are some signs to look for:

  • Speech: Listen for certain phrases that do not make sense in context, such as "blatt blatt," "What dat red be like," "Blood love," and "What's poppin'?" Different gangs have different buzzwords and passwords. The above are some of the things the Bloods say.
  • Gang Hand Signs: Look for hand signs, such as overuse of the peace sign or a certain way of waving "hello" with certain fingers extended or bent. As with buzzwords, hand signals are unique to each gang. Members use these street gang signs to identify one another and to communicate.
  • Graffiti: Gang members will leave their mark using certain graffiti drawings or symbols. The drawings and symbols are often in the gang colors, though they can be in any color. Gang logos or names are common tags.
  • Colors: People who want to be affiliated with a certain gang will start wearing that gang's colors. Watch for a fascination with certain colors or a certain combination of colors or sportswear.
  • Tattoos: Watch for children wanting to get a specific tattoo or who get a tattoo without your knowledge. In most states, minors under the age of 16 cannot get a tattoo without the permission of their parents. There are tattoo shops that do not card; determined kids may turn to unlicensed tattoo artists on the street, which can spread dangerous illnesses including hepatitis and HIV. 

Watch your teen's school notebooks and other places he or she may doodle to make sure nothing gang-related is written, such as certain symbols or phrases. There are many different gangs, signs, colors and phrases; if you are not sure of something, search the phrase on the Internet or ask a law enforcement officer to explain it.

Some kids will adopt gang symbols, language or gestures because they think they're cool. Discourage this behavior, as it can lead to conflicts with real street gangs or mistaken arrests by police. If your child is getting involved with a gang, take action immediately. Find an outreach program in your area that helps kids steer clear of gangs. In some cases, removing your child from the area by moving or sending the child to live with relatives may be the only solution.

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