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Street Gang Dynamics         
By Steve Nawojczyk
Copyright 1997  The Nawojczyk Group

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We will try to address issues of importance to parents, teachers, counselors, and other interested persons in attempting to understand the growing menace of street gangs. Information from many locales across the nation was utilized in the investigation of America's own "Guerilla Warfare in the Urban Streets".

Street gangs are very fluid in nature, and while it is fairly easy to develop intelligence information about them, many times the information is outdated almost before it is disseminated to the proper individuals. The key to gaining knowledge about individual groups is to talk directly with persons involved. In order to help reduce this problem, school authorities, police officials, government administrators, churches, and the community as a whole must band together, put aside our individual differences and prejudices, and work to make this a better place for us. If not for the adults, we must create a safe environment for children of this generation to grow up in. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has been monitoring the black male homicide rate for children ages 15 -24 as an epidemic. The rate has reached unbelievable proportions in the United States as well as in Pulaski County. In 1993, a New York Times article stated that Little Rock was one of a growing number of cities of comparable size experiencing an incredible escalation in juvenile crime and homicides. The Times featured the city on a front page article which stated that Little Rock's homicide rate per capita equals that of New York City and Los Angeles. Most of the carnage is being wreaked by and upon young African American males.

Gangs in one form or another have been around for hundreds of years. Pirates were probably some of the original bad gangs. The groups that traditionally come to mind when one thinks of modern day gangs are the Crips and the Bloods from California. The origins of the Crips and Bloods can be traced to the late 60's, and the gang culture is so ingrained on the west coast that many families have three and even four generations of gangsters residing in the same residence. Depending on whose figures you listen to (government officials have a tendency to downsize the numbers), L.A. gangs number between 800 and 1000, with anywhere from 120,000 to 220,000 members. As of January, 1993, we have identified about 40 named street gangs in Pulaski County with 800 - 1000 identified members. These numbers are often debated, and depending on whose criteria is used to decide who is and is not a gangbanger. The figures could be considerably higher.

It is believed that one of the Little Rock Blood gangs, the Highland Court Crew, has been in existence in one form or another since 1984. Graffiti and other intelligence were noted around 1987. Most other area gangs formed in the late 80's and early 90's with the biggest growth year being 1990. Even though we have identified around forty gangs, almost all of them identify with the four major gangs from other states. Those are: 1) Crips; 2) Bloods; 3) Folk Nation; and 4) People Nation. The Crips and Bloods are Los Angeles oriented while the Folk Nation and People Nation are Chicago oriented. A more detailed discussion of these groups will follow. The Black Gangster Disciples (a sub-group of the Hoovers) appears to be the largest denomination with the Bloods being the second largest. Some believe the Disciples and Crips are aligning on the streets as well as in the prisons, as are the Bloods and Vice-Lords.

Oftentimes, young peripheral or associate gang members get their first exposure to the gang culture through various aspects of the media--news shows, movies, videos, and even through the music of various artists. Some music and movies tend to glamorize the gang lifestyle. Many kids who gravitate to gangs do so out of a need to belong to something and for the power that is gained from being in a gang. The society that we live in makes alternative lifestyles very appealing. I believe, however, that the need for attention and the desire to obtain material goods are fast becoming the motivations driving youngsters to these groups. While conducting a prison interview with a young man who was about to spend his eighteenth birthday in the prison where the most violent inmates are housed for his part in the robbery and killing of two liquor store clerks, I was told that in order for this kid to have stayed away from the violence, a role model should have intervened with him when he was around four years old. He went on to say that his life was heavily influenced by the street dealers and gangsters in his birthplace of Oakland, California. He eventually ended up selling crack cocaine on the streets of Little Rock and made thousands of dollars per week. When asked what he did with all of the money, he said that he paid off his family's debt, purchased relatives homes and clothes, and just generally did what everyone does with money.

While in prison, these youngsters become exposed to and indoctrinated into the world of real life gangbangers who are truly the hardest of the hard-core. Then, back to the streets these bangers go with more "knowledge" than ever could have been gained on the streets. When they are in prison, many gain rank or "juice" within their gang because they went to the "joint". While most kids on the streets are good kids, as long as society continues in the direction in which we are currently drifting, all kids must be considered at risk.


Generally, for purposes of this discussion, a gang can be considered to be a loosely organized group of individuals who collaborate together for social reasons. Modern day gangs now collaborate together for anti-social reasons. Gangs generally have a leader or group of leaders who issue orders and reap the fruits of the gang's activities. A gang may also wear their "colors", wear certain types of clothing, tattoos, brands, or likewise imprint their gang's name, logo, or other identifying marks on their bodies. Many gangs also adopt certain types of hairstyles and communicate through the use of hand signals and graffiti on walls, streets, school work, and school property. It must be understood that it is not illegal to be in a gang and indeed many adults are currently involved in activities that meet Webster's definition for a gang. However, many gangs of today, especially youthful gangs, break the law to provide funding for gang activities or to further the gang's reputation on the streets.

Gangs may identify with a large city gang or remain locally turf oriented. Development of local intelligence as well as pro-active events are a mandatory part of dealing with this problem. Schools must develop lines of communication with law enforcement officials in order to track and prevent gang growth and violence effectively.

Over the last several years in Arkansas, gangs have made an evolution from being turf and brotherhood oriented to now being involved in one way or another with criminal enterprises. Some sell drugs, some steal cars, some brutalize and rob, and some do all of the above. Local gang members have stated that out of town connections many times bring in guns and drugs from other communities for distribution.

Groups that may have started out as a delinquent band of neighborhood toughs have now turned into a violent drug gang, some of whom retain a gang identity for enforcement, collection, or other reasons. Most gang members crave power, or "juice" as it is known in gang slang. Several years ago, a pecking order within a gang may have been established by flying fists. Now it is settled by flying lead. Joining a group known to have a reputation, good or bad, gives a kid looking for a purpose something to belong to. Participants have said the mere interaction of members, listening to one another's problems and sharing the other trials and tribulations today's teens are faced with are the drawing card for them to become a banger. Gang members also claim to enjoy the respect or fear others exhibit around them. Then they say, the money begins flowing, and with that comes all of the things associated with material wealth that is usually beyond the reach of these adolescents without the criminal activity of being involved in a gang. All of this is quite a heady trip for a young kid. Once a kid gets into a gang, over and over they are told there is no way out. They fear serious reprisals from fellow gang members if a defection is suspected. Some are told they will be killed if they try to get out. Others are told that they can kill their mother to earn their way out. You must remember when dealing with a kid involved in this that our beliefs must be set aside because the young person's beliefs are what we are dealing with, and you can bet that they believe everything the gang tells them.

Sociologists as well as gang members have isolated the following reasons for joining a street gang:

  • Identity
  • Discipline
  • Recognition
  • Love
  • Belonging
  • Money
  • Additionally, many kids are intimidated into gangs to avoid continued harassment. Gangs provide their members and family members with protection from other gangs as well as any other perceived threats.

    Little Rock gangs have been highly noticeable since about 1988. Prior to that time, there were neighborhood gangs of various groups, both black and white, reported in and around Little Rock. These groups were mainly social in nature and did not crave the same things our current batch of gangsters appear to be wanting. The current gang structure became increasingly visible at a time that paralleled the introduction of crack cocaine to the streets. Gang culture is also highly glamorized by the media including television, big screen releases, and powerful, idolized hard-core rap artists who rap about revolutions and killing. This music is in great demand by both white and black kids and provides the role models for many of the dress habits and slang of today's street culture.

    Gangs are nothing new. Many large police departments on the east coast had gang units at the turn of the century to monitor the mainly immigrant gangs who protected their neighborhoods and came together for social reasons. Gangs as most people think of them probably began to be recognized by the general public around the nation with the birth of the Los Angeles gangs in the early seventies. Gang-like activity has actually plagued large cities around the nation for years. In Los Angeles, the average age of a gang member is around 25 years old while Arkansas gang members still appear in their teens. Older individuals sometimes claim gang membership for similar reasons as teens. Recently, street graffiti was found that indicated second generation membership in a local street gang.

    Feelings of fear, hatred, bigotry, poverty, disenfranchisement, and the general breakdown of social values are also considered motivations for joining a street group.

    Even though we have currently identified about forty different named gangs in the local area, they all appear to align with four large major city gangs:

    Gangs will sometimes change affiliations. It must always be remembered that gangs are very fluid in nature and changes occur almost daily. That again points to the importance of developing local skill in monitoring the growth and movement of the groups.

    In order to better understand the gang mentality, the following are considered the "Three R's" of gang culture:

    (1) REPUTATION/REP. This is of critical concern to "gangbangers" (gang members). A rep extends not only to each individual, but to the gang as a whole. In some groups, status (or rank) is gained within the gang by having the most "juice" based largely on one's reputation. While being "juiced" is very important, the manner by which the gang member gains the "juice" is just as important. Upon interview, many gang members embellish their past gang activities in an attempt to impress their conversation partner. Gang members freely admit crimes and it has been my experience that most in fact do embellish their stories to enhance their feeling of power. In many gangs, to become a member, you must be "jumped in" by members of the gang. This entails being "beaten down" until the leader calls for it to end. Afterwards, all gang members hug one another to further the "G thing". This action is meant to bond the members together as a family. Frequently, young gang members, whether hardcore or associate, will talk of fellowship and the feeling of sharing and belonging as their reason for joining a gang.

    (2) RESPECT. This is something everyone wants and some gang members carry their desire for it to the extreme. Respect is sought for not only the individual, but also for one's set or gang, family, territory, and various other things, real or perceived in the mind of the "gangbanger".

    Some gangs require, by written or spoken regulation, that the gang member must always show disrespect to rival gang members. (Referred to in gang slang as dis). If a gang member witnesses a fellow member failing to dis a rival gang through hand signs, graffiti, or a simple "mad dog" or stare-down, they can issue a "violation" to their fellow posse member and he/she can actually be "beaten down" by their own gang as punishment. After dis has been issued, if it is witnessed, the third "R" will become evident.

    (3) RETALIATION/REVENGE. It must be understood that in gang culture, no challenge goes unanswered. Many times, drive-by shootings and other acts of violence follow an event perceived as dis. A common occurrence is a confrontation between a gang set and single rival "gangbanger." Outnumbered, he departs the area and returns with his "homeboys" to complete the confrontation to keep his reputation intact. This may occur immediately or follow a delay for planning and obtaining the necessary equipment to complete the retaliatory strike. It must also be understood that many acts of violence are the result of bad drug deals or infringement on drug territory. Some question the authenticity of gang rivalry in shootings and other acts of violence. However, if a group of individuals are together committing either random or pre- planned violence, aren't they a gang? If the gang aspect is learned about, many crimes can be solved through the use of accurate intelligence gathering techniques by law enforcement agencies dealing with this problem. In gangbanging, today's witness is tomorrow's suspect, is the next day's victim.


    Urban street gang graffiti is the most common way for gangs to communicate their message. Organized graffiti is one of the first signs that street gangs are taking hold in your neighborhood and is also an excellent way to track gang growth, affiliation, and sometimes even provides membership information.

    Graffiti serves several purposes, all of which is understood by other "gangbangers," even members of rival sets. Graffiti has been called the newspaper or bulletin boards for gangs and communicates many messages, including challenges, warnings, and pronouncements of deeds accomplished or about to occur. Local authorities should establish procedures to deal with this public eyesore. This is an area where the community can band together to show gangs they will not be tolerated. Graffiti should be removed or painted over after it is documented and investigated by the police. Some graffiti is nothing more than "tagging." An example of this is "Johnny loves Mary". Police departments and school officials should be sure someone within their respective departments develops an expertise in reading and understanding graffiti.

    Officials should understand that graffiti also develops local flavor which must be identified. Some examples of street gang graffiti found in central Arkansas are as follows:

    Sign06 This indicates the name of the gang claiming this territory, usually a neighborhood name.

    Folks is a reference to the Folk or Hoover Nation gang which is based in Chicago but is popping up all over the South. Sometimes these gang members also are known as Shorty Folks, Shorties, and Black Gangster Disciples/BGD's.

    These are the individual gang members' street names. Names are usually given based on a particular trait of the member.
    This is the six-pointed star which is the symbol of the Folks. In this example, they have both proudly proclaimed their affiliation and dissed (issued disrespect) to the rival Vice Lords by turning the cane handle upside down (Vice Lords use the upright cane in their graffiti). The Folk Nation pitchfork is upright showing respect. The letters at the six points of the star are symbols of the concepts of the Folk Nation: Life, Loyalty, Love, Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding.

    This is considered gang "knowledge" and is only a small part of what gang members must learn. In fact, many gang sets have extensive books, usually handwritten, of rules and regulations and gang history. These rules must be memorized. Often, gangs have set meeting dates and read from their "Book", and discuss gang business. In a strange sort of way, these meetings resemble fraternity or civic meetings. Many gang members have told of being "violated" for not knowing certain portions of their knowledge when called upon by a gang leader to recite it.

    This is a warning to Blood gang members, rivals of the Folks as well as the Crips. SLOBS is the "put down" word used by Crips and Folks (who appear to be loosely aligning) to describe Blood gang members. Notice that the B is crossed out. This is another "put down" and warning for Bloods to stay away. Serious gang members will always write in a fashion to dis rival gangs. Teachers should be trained to note these peculiar writings and the student responsible should be counseled by a person knowledgeable in gang affairs. 187 is part of the California Penal Code number for Homicide and 211 is same for armed robbery. In many gangs, if members use the word Blood or Crip instead of the dis words, Slob and Crab, a violation can be given.
    East Coast represents LA gang orientation. "Cuzz" is a term of endearment used by Crips to address each other. Substituting dollar signs for the S's indicates that this gang is selling narcotics.

    BK stands for Blood Killer. Sometimes you will see CK which of course is Crip Killer.

    Street names, signature of artists.

    Typical Vice Lord Graffiti--The pyramid and eye of "Allah". The IVL stands for Insane Vice Lords, a Chicago group. CVL or Conservative Vice Lord graffiti is also sometimes seen. The drawing is said to represent the ancient pyramids and their black builders. Note the number of bricks in the pyramid--21. This has significant meaning to a true People Nation member. Note the similarities to some Muslim symbols. Very few if any local gang members have any connection at all to the Muslim faith.
    Vice Lord marker and hand sign, sometimes drawn, sometimes used as a hand signal. The five-pointed star is used by the Vice Lords and Bloods in the Little Rock area.
    Put down to rival BGD six-pointed star saying the five points of the Vice Lord star is 5 popping (shooting at) the BGD six-pointed star. It should be noted that in some instances, numbers will appear rather than letters in the drawings or graffiti of "bangers". Usually, this is a fairly easy code to break because gangs simply use the number which corresponds to the place the letter falls in the alphabet as in:

    2.7.4 = B.G.D. = Black Gangster Disciple 12.12.12 = L.L.L. = Love, Life, Loyalty

    Other gangs use other codes and alphabets which must be broken locally.

    It should be understood that gangs may adopt other types of graffiti or make up their own. That once again illustrates the importance of developing local intelligence about groups by exercising cooperation among law enforcement officials, school authorities, and the general public. Gangs are certainly a community problem, and the community must galvanize to properly respond by dealing with those already involved and offering alternatives to those who accept.

    While these illustrate gang activity in the Little Rock area, many of the same or similar markings will be found throughout the state and region. Roll call, "RIP", graffiti for a Little Rock Blood gang member killed in a shooting was recently found in a small community three hours away.

    While many gang members wear certain types of clothing, one must be very careful in assuming that a young person is a "banger" simply because they are wearing a Colorado Rockies or Los Angeles Raiders cap or jacket. Much other criteria is required. Some gang members have said that they joined up because it was trendy and cool while others are intimidated into joining for protection. Other kids who exhibit gang style are, in fact, only "being cool" by dressing the part.

    Gang members are not all black. Indeed, one of the largest street gangs in the Little Rock area has only a few black members. Several members of this gang were recently arrested for attempted murder after fire-bombing a home in an attempt at retaliation. We have also identified several all female gangs who have their own reputations that are as ferocious as any of the male gangs. Male gang members privately have even expressed fear of several of the ladies of the female gangs.

    There are also many white teens who are joining hate groups and various other groups who promote racial disharmony. These groups appear to be growing in number and may have organized recruitment efforts planned for your area. Recently while speaking to a parent/teacher group, I was told by a mother of her son's activity burning crosses and wearing white robes and hoods. When asked why she allowed this activity, she said she was afraid of her son and would not intervene. Any activity by or information about these groups should be passed along to your local police authorities.

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