Gang Culture in New York
Stephanie Keever
Poverty & Prejudice: Gangs of All Colors

Gangs in New York began to develop in the 1920's and 1930's. In these times, gangs were not as violent and the reasons for joining were different. The Black community in the Harlem area began to join gangs in order to find something to do. The white youth were used to distribute newspapers and run errands. With activities like these, the young men were kept busy. The young African-American population was looking for after school and summer activities, but because of race, they were not able to find nice and ordinary errand like the white boys. The African-Americans were also segregated by neighborhood, and this separation made them develop their own social organization and family. The gangs which are comprised of minorities, hold this family ideal as an important factor in joining a gang, even to this day. These gangs multiplied and changed over the years, and today we have a very different group of gangsters from the 1920 New York originals. The New York gangs are primarily focused in the jails and penitentiaries, but these gangs also carry over into the streets.

Some of these gangs in New York seem to be mimicking the California original. There seems to be a group of young people calling themselves Bloods, like the notorious California group. These young people are wearing the Blood's colors, using their hand signals, and even practicing their initiation rite. These men are placing the Blood symbol on their bodies, by burning three dots onto their arm in a triangular pattern. Also becoming increasingly popular in New York is one of the initiation rituals of the original Bloods, which is slashing strangers across the face with a box cutter.

No gang members in New York appear to have been taught or recruited by an original gangster. There are about 600 people who organized into sixteen subsets of the Bloods in the New York City area. In an area where money is scarce, gangs become the only option for many kids. "These guys are imitating gang culture because it provides instant status and reputation in communities where reputation and status have very exaggerated--and often life or death--meaning."1


The majority of gang members in the New York area develop in the prisons. Young men and boys are sent to New York prisons for various criminal offences. It all began in 1993 on Rikers Island, with two inmates, Leonard "Deadeye" MacKenzie and OG Mack. This was the year that they founded the New York Chapter of the United Blood Nation. The Bloods have now become the strongest of the 52 prison gangs operating in New York City. The National Gang Crime Research Center feels that 20 percent of the nation's inmates belong to gangs, and that this percentage is much higher for the state of New York. The New York City prisons contain 17,741 inmates, 550 of these are Bloods, and 345 are Latin Kings.2 The state is attempting to separate these gang members into different jails, but they are now spread out over the state's 69 facilities and increasing their population. In the last decade, these gangs have become far more organized and dangerous to other inmates and guards.

There are three main gangs that appear in every jail in New York, the Bloods, the Latin Kings, and the Netas. The gangs often fight over the rights to use the phones, and deciding which channel will air on television for that day. Gangs could provide access to hard-to-get goods such as cigarettes, drugs, sneakers, and bars of soap. Gangs also provide a family, and a way of fighting the loneliness of incarceration. In the past, the Latin Kings and Netas were in control of the jails, but recently, the Bloods have taken over. At the beginning the Blood members would wear red bandannas, red sneakers, and red sweatshirts. The jails have banned these displays in hopes of discouraging membership, but instead, the members now wear red watches, or a red shoelace wrapped around their pinkie fingers. It is necessary at all times to show your affiliation to your "brothers," and your gang. Most of the violence in jails occurs outside in the recreation areas, or in the mess halls while many prisoners are present. One of the bloods most violent acts is called "blooding in," it entails spilling another's blood, and it's part of their initiation to the gang. Slashing is the most famous "blooding in" activity, and under one estimation, officials reported and average of 140 slashings per month through l995.~ Slashing is when a gang member walk up to an unknown person, and slashes their face with a box cutter. To conceal their plans for attack, the Bloods have developed a numerical code that is like their own language. "Across the recreation yard, they would order hits on other inmates by shouting '013,' which means 'tear him up.'" I will discuss this code language more in-depth later in the paper. Safety has become an important factor while working in the jails, and one prison guard even launched a web page which gives information about the gangs. This web page includes a dictionary of prison gang slang, actions to be on the lookout for, and basic information about all of the gangs. Though is seems we have noticed more gang violence in the media recently, the gang violence in jails has actually declined. Bven though this violence has declined, a multitude of violence remains, and this must be our concern. In order to help curb this violence, we must understand the organizations who start the trouble.


The Bloods are also known by the name Pirus, and their pledge states: We are hated my many loved by few respected by all! The Bloods were originally developed in Los Angeles to protect themselves from another gang, the Crips. The members are predominately black, but they have also accepted Hispanics, Whites, Greeks, and Chinese. A great number of the Bloods in New York city jails are Hispanic. Since a large portion of the prison population in New York is Hispanic, it is important of these men to join the Bloods, and not their Latin Kings enemies. In order for the Bloods to increase their population, they must allow a variety of races into their group, for the sole purpose of protection. The Bloods perform various acts of car thefts, robberies, drug sales, extortion, rapes, and murders. They have a reputation for performing violent acts against unknowing victims. In the New York City jails, the Bloods were responsible for over 50% of the stabbings and slashings throughout the Department of Correction during the period covering April 1, 1997 - August 31, 1 997~4 Their weapon of choice seems to be the razor blade. The jail members have even mastered the technique of carrying razors in their anus. They can be identified by their tattoos, they are two burned dots over a single burned dot. It represents dog paws, and Bloods often refer to themselves as "dogs." They wear the color red, and clothes identify with the Chicago Bulls.

The New York Blood's have developed creative and original hand signals. These hand signals are ways of displaying their group loyalty, and letting others know who they are dealing with. They have hand signals that represent words such as "victory," "power," and even separate signals for each different organization of Bloods.

There are actually many different sets that claim the Blood name, and they are all connected by this big family. Some of the smaller set are the Miller Gangsta Bloods, the Young Bloods, the Mad Stone Bloods, the Five Nine Brims, and many others that all are considered Bloods. Usually when the Bloods get into an argument with a rival gang, all of these groups will fight together, but sometime these Blood sets fight among themselves. They have been known to fight another set of Blood brothers as if they were an enemy.

The New York Bloods also have a secret code language that consists of numbers and confusing sayings. The numbers range from 000 which means "Blood/b-dog," to 9900 which means "in bed." These numbers confuse the Bloods’ enemy, and doesn't allow the police to detect what is about to happen. They also have a messy language code. This language consists partially of English words, in combination with numbers and initials. Some examples of this strange language are: "Blue flu," which means "I don't trust him"' and "Sleep walker," which means "watch him snitchin." If a person was listening to people talk like this on the street, one would think they were crazy, it make no sense to the average person, yet is a very sophisticated communication system within the gang. The Bloods change their codes on a regular basis, and often change back and forth from new codes to old codes. They also invent totally new codes as well. This once again protects the gang from people trying to crack the code. A problem with changing the code may be that it confuses members who haven't been around. They may use the wrong word in an exchange with someone, and hopefully this other person would be understanding. In 1994, the Gang Intelligence Unit at the Department of Corrections tried to crack down and decipher the gang's codes, puzzles, and hierarchy system. They have made a little progress, but there remains a lot to be learned.

The Bloods are a very structured and organized group of young men. They have a hierarchical structure that is set in stone, and if anyone does not abide by these roles they will be seriously reprimanded. There are ten main office heads, with each contributing a special role to make the gang run smoothly. It seems very hypocritical for an organization that is against most of modern society to hold the same values as are in the workplace. The main leader of a Blood set is called the First Superior. His job is to oversee the set, and act as the disciplinary officer. There is the Head Of Security, who is in-charge of providing weapons and discipline to all members of the set. There is also the Principal Soldier, who is to comply with the Lieutenants order, and to keep banging at all times. They define banging as fighting the enemy. Those were just a few of the offices, there is also a Second Superior, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Information, the Commanding Officer, the Captain, the Head Lieutenant, and the Lieutenant. Though this hierarchy exists, they believe that no Blood is considered better than the next, and each man is a soldier putting in work to maintain the superiority of the Bloods. They also have rules that the gang must obey during war times. There are fourteen of these, and they prepare the mindset of the members for their fighting endeavors. The Bloods are a very organized and smart association of men, and it is these skills that allow them to survive the tough world they live in.


The Latin Kings have roots dating back to 1940 in Chicago, Illinois. They are the oldest and largest Hispanic street gang in existence. The Latin Kings were originally started to protect and preserve the Hispanic identity and culture, and to improve the personal, social, and economic life of it's people. The original confrontations started while trying to protect their neighborhoods, and these initial battles gave the Latin Kings the reputation as a very violent street gang. When becoming a member of this gang, they are crowned with five important values: respect, honesty, unity, knowledge, and love. Bach member is expected to abide by these values, though is seems rather interesting for a gang that murders people and destroys families to have a value system they are expected to uphold. The Puerto Rican flag serves as a reminder to the gang nation, with it's colors of red, white, and blue. The red stands for blood, the white for peace, and the blue for liberty and ocean. When they see the Puerto Rican flag, it brings out the loyalty and patriotism these people have for their cause. Unfortunately, it seems that somewhere along the way, the goals of this group were changed to a more violent agenda.

The Latin Kings, like the Bloods, have a very organized and impressive hierarchy of authority. They have four major positions. Inca-First Crown is the highest in the Latin King nation. He makes sure that the Nation is secure and free from danger, and his word must be obeyed at all times, right or wrong. There is the Second Crown, and he is the Inca's right hand man who must be trusted at all times. Next, there is the Warlord, and his job is to make sure that everything is in operation. He is basically the brains of the operation. Finally there is the Officer, who is the inspector of the nation.5 They have also established local leadership in the major communities and in most jails. Each of these local crowns report directly to a regional commander. This system seems to be very efficient and continues to work.

The Latin Kings identity with the colors black and gold, and they will wear beads and clothes of these colors. Lately the gang has been hesitant to call each other by their names, so under charter revisions, they are now issuing ID cards and numbers to identity each member of the gang. It seem that these gangs are using technology to their advantage and using every access to make this family community as realistic as possible. The Latin Kings are also known for their beautiful graffiti around the city. Often, they will make a memorial for a fallen comrade with graffiti, and all the information about the death of this person is in the painting. They have his ID number, the gang signs, colors, and if he were killed by a rival gang, they paint the enemy gang symbol upside down. Anniversaries of friends' deaths often become a payback time for the rival gang. The Latin Kings also have a list of eleven commandments that all members are to obey. One of my favorites is number four. 4) Develop clear lines of communication between parents and children. There must be clear understanding so that true love can exist.6 It baffles me that a group who commits crimes against others can have a code of morals and values that looks like any normal institution or organization of people. What is it that makes these groups develop a violent mindset against others?

There may be no answer the this question. The only way that we as a community can protect ourselves, and discourage young people from joining these organizations, is through education. The New York and the Los Angeles gang organizations will continue to exist in our communities. We as a community must try to give our children other options and positive role models to emulate. Though problems like gangs don't go away easily, we can only hope that the younger generation will learn from others mistakes. Gangs such as the Bloods, the Crips, and the Latin Kings may remain, but educating our families and friends about them will win half the battle.




1 Roane, Kit R., "New York Gangs Mimic California Original" "" 9/14/97

2 onnerman, Jennifer. "Behind Bars." VillageVoice ""

3 Roane, Kit R. 'New York Gangs Mimic California Original."

"http://mbhs.bergtraum.k1" 9/14/97

4 "Eastern New York Correctional Facility-Correction Officers' Report of Bloods"

"http://www.drw.nte/loc 1041 /bloods.htmi#description" 1998

5 "Eastern New York Correctional Facility-Correction Officer's Report of Latin Kings"

" 1041 /latin_kings.htmi" 1998

6 "Eastern New York Correctional Facility- Correction Officer's Report of Latin Kings"

" 1041 /latin_kings.html" 1998




Schatzberg, Ruflis. Black Organized Crime in Harlem: 1920-1930. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993.

Schneider, Eric C. Vampires-Dragons-and Egyptian Kings: Youth Gangs in Postwar New YQrk~Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999

Roane, Kit R. "New York Gangs Mimic California Original"

"http://mbhs.bergtraum.k 1" 9/14/97

Gonnerman, Jennifer. "Behind Bars." Village Voice." 1041 /gangs~behind_bars.htmi"

"Eastern New York Correctional Facility-Correction Officers' Report of Bloods" "http://www.drw.nte/loc 1041 /bloods.htmi#description" 1998

"Eastern New York Correctional Facility-Correction Officers' Report of Latin Kings" " 1041 /1atin~kings.htmi" 1998

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