Not Pop Culture

The four basic categories of gang tattoos are numerical, alpha, symbolic or a combination of the previous categories (Piley). The different types of tattoos may be used more predominantly in one gang than another. The type of tattoo that a gang uses is therefore specific and may hold some additional important to that specific group. If a gang uses a specific tattoo for gang initiation, all the tattoos will likely be the same or at least similar. This would then play an important role in tracking the gang because it would become possible to tell when a new member is initiated.


Abd, Rodrigo. 2007. Guatemala. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.

With numerical and alpha tattoos, the design is often times not an important aspect because they are basic and only have so many possible variations (Piley 51). These tattoos are therefore used more as a part of the gang culture than the art form that can sometimes be prevalent. Symbolic tattoos are different however because they turn into an art and are not purely an aspect of the culture and rituals. There are different interpretations of a gang’s symbol so the representation of that emblem can take on a very personal, artistic meaning. When a tattoo can have multiple interpretations, the tattoo artist has more freedom to create a wonderful work of art. Tattoo artists have the ability to create so many different tattoos, but are often times faced with the same or similar subject materials that are popular today. Gang tattoos can break away from this mold. In addition, because tattoo artists want to give the tattooed person a piece or art they often times ask about the tattoo and the meaning behind it. Whereas letters and numbers are often times done in the same font or style, pictures can be drawn in many different ways. Other tattoos, further representing the gang member’s life, family, or gang activity, may surround these symbolic tattoos. This representation of one’s life will make each tattoo slightly different and more personal and representative based on the person. Because these gang tattoos have so much historical or personal meaning behind them, they become more than just a piece of pop culture.

Tattoos as Clues
Transforming Uses
Permanent Pictures
Police Work Uncovered
Gang Retort
No Profiling

Works Cited:
-Piley, William. “Interpreting Gang Tattoos.” Corrections Today” 1 Apr. 2006. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

Anika McEwan