The Gang Understood Through Graffiti

Common public misconception about graffiti does not look very far past the thought that graffiti serves any purpose other than a thoughtless act of vandalism. However, gangs use graffiti to serve as an important medium of communication. Essentially graffiti acts as the newspaper and internet for the world of street gangs. (Walker) This communication plays a vital role in the gang world by contributing to the ease of the execution of gang functions. Without the instrumentality graffiti allows, gangs will run into more trouble trying to operate at capacity because of the absence of the intangible value that information and sentiments from graffiti force on those in a gang environment. Gang graffiti can be distinguished from other graffiti methods in that, “gang graffiti is utilized as a means, rather than as an end. In other words, the apparent incoherent and arbitrary acts of graffiti found in the streets are riddled with value‐laden undertones and connotations.” (Moreto 1) Specifically, gangs use graffiti as the means to achieve ends such as marking turf, enforcing gang identity/unity, insulting/threatening a rival gang, corresponding with rival gang insults/threats, making claims of deeds that have occurred or will in the future and also to pay homage to fallen gang members.

Here lies a valuable indicator that conceptualizes the difference between gang graffiti and graffiti methods as art. While gangs use graffiti as an instrument to achieve an intended desired outcome, graffiti artists use spray cans as an instrument to create art. The end in gang graffiti are the results that are beyond the writing on the wall while in graffiti art the end is achieved upon one writing on the wall.

The functions that graffiti enforce about the gangs identity are just as important as the function of conveying a message to those outside the gang. The existence of Gangs within society can be best identified with when looked at as a separate society By looking at gangs as a society that share an exclusive territory and common culture, graffiti’s role can then be used to highlight the characteristics that compose the entity of a gang. The gang culture is unique in that it has its own separate, "totality of learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects, and behavior."(Carlie) There exists a type of culture within any group of people, however I will look at the similar cultures of the Crips and Bloods as an example since their levels of organization have allowed them to achieve an “ideal” gang organization.

The two gangs share similar characteristics in the overall style of their graffiti. The purpose of the graffiti is to relay a message that serves to benefit the gang. For this reason both the Crips and Bloods avoid any sense of artistry as it is unnecessary in the conveying of their messages. The graffiti uses sharp angular “stick letters”, one unique color, and will often include religious imagery or other meaningful symbols specific to the gangs values. (Anonymous) These identifiable characteristics are meant to help distinguish and set apart the gang form its rival competing gangs. This sense of identity holds a lot of importance to the individual gang members because most gang members sought gang affiliation to fill this void that they didn't receive anywhere else in everyday life.

However, it is important to identify the violence associated with gangs as it is a key element of their identity. Here a gang member that has now vowed away from the gang life explains in a courtroom his sentiments about murder. "If someone needed to go, I was willing to do the job if I was available. I'd raise my hand to do robberies or shoot people.I enjoyed stabbing people. It didn't matter who it was." (Rogers) This element of gang involvement is also highlighted in graffiti technique. There has been an ongoing rivalry between the Crip and Blood gangs. Coded messages are used to convey information intended to be hidden from the general public. A well known example can be seen in the fact that a majority of tags by Bloods will include the initials “CK”. This stands for “Crip Killer” and aids in the intimidation factor and a reminder that gang affiliation is a life or death decision. (Anonymous) A clever technique used by Crip gang members is to tag over a blood tag of “CK” and turn the “C” into a “B” now standing for “BK” or “Blood Killer”. (Anonymous) The main function of graffiti under these circumstances is to show disrespect and engage in a power struggle over territory. In conclusion, characteristics that embody the average gang member can be looked at as using graffiti as a tool for the expression of these sentiments.

Works Cited

-Moreto, William D. “Gang related graffiti locations and relationships to certain types of crimes” Rutgers Center for Public Security
-Walker, Robert “Gang Identification Training and Expert Witness” Gangs OR Us
-Carlie, Mike “A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs” Into The Abyss
-Anonymous “Deciphering Gang Graffiti” Entropic Memes: Random Musings on HIstory, Politics, and More
-Rogers, Melinda  "Hard-core criminals give insight on gangs." The Salt Lake Tribune

Devin C.