Permanent Pictures

Muñoz, Isabel. Centro Cultural de México Contemporáneo, Mexico City. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.

Gangs use tattoos to show membership to a gang, dominance in a gang, initiation into a gang or even as a way to memorialize a fallen gang member. Tattooing can be a part of the initiation into a gang or show an action of a gang member. This could include murder. They can also be used as a way to show that the gang will always be a part of his or her life by permanently attaching it to one’s body. A teardrop on someone’s face commonly represents that the person has killed another although there are also other symbolic meanings. Teardrops can also represent the number of people killed in the gang member’s family or gang killed while they were incarcerated (Lichtenstein 1).

Spider webs are supposed to represent that the wearer has killed another human. These tattoos are thought to be earned and if they are done before they have been earned, some people go out and kill just to earn their tattoo. This can lead to hate crimes. A member of the US solider at Fort Bragg killed two black people after receiving a spider web tattoo on his elbow (Sack). He told some of his friends while he was intoxicated that he needed to earn his tattoo so police believe that this was the reason for the killings. There was no mention as to whether this man had any previous convictions.

Other important symbolic tattoos include tattoos of the geographic location of the gang, using area codes or block numbers. Block numbers are often times listen on buildings in the projects where gang activity is prevalent. These blocks can be the basis for the foundation of gangs, which is why pride is shown through tattooing of these numbers. Each gang has a pictorial representation of their gang that members often times use in their tattoos. The Aryan Brotherhood uses a shamrock. The Mexican Mafia uses a Black Hand or eagle with a serpent. These symbols are recognized by the members of the gang as representative of their history or what they stand for. Much like a mascot for a sports team, this symbol is accepted and therefore widely used (Piley 51).

Tattoos as Clues
Transforming Uses
Not Pop Culture
Police Work Uncovered
Gang Retort
No Profiling

Works Cited:
-Lichtenstein, Andrew. “Flesh and Bloods: Body Art from the Texas Penitentiary.” 51.6 (1997): n. pag. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

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

-Sack, Kevin. “Inquiry Into Carolina Slayings Turns to Meaning of a Tattoo.” Abstract. The New York Times, 15 Dec. 1995. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

Anika McEwan