Kinds and Names of Gangs
Kinds of Gangs
The world of gangs is very complex. I didn't expect to find
that. When someone mentioned the word gang to me before I did my
research, it conjured up images of a group of young men standing on a street corner at night
In reality, there are many kinds of gangs in the United
States and elsewhere. They may be categorized in several ways: by their
degree of organization (from loosely organized street gangs to highly
organized crime units such as the Mexican Mafia and Sicilian Mafia);
location (i.e., street gangs, prison gangs); nation (i.e., Bloods and Crips,
Gangster Disciples, People, Folk, and Mexican Mafia); mode of transportation
(i.e., car clubs, biker gangs); or longevity (i.e., generational); to name a
Another way in which to categorize gangs is by the ethnicity
of their members and may include Latino gangs, Asian gangs, and gangs
composed of people from countries such as Somalia, Russia, Kosovo, Jamaica,
China, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Korea, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Ghana,
Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Viet Nam, and nearly as
many more as there are nationalities on the planet. There are even gangs or
near-gangs in other countries which would be best classified by their
religion or faith.
According to Jerome Skolnick, a distinction could also be
made between neighborhood-based gangs and entrepreneurial gangs.
Neighborhood-based gangs are a more traditional type of street gang and are
turf oriented. Protecting the 'hood (neighborhood) is a primary goal,
as is socializing. Entrepreneurial gangs are oriented toward the commission
of criminal acts for profit. Skolnick believes some neighborhood gangs are
developing into entrepreneurial gangs.
Gangs may also be categorized by the kinds of crimes their
members commit. The most commonly used distinction is between street gangs
and drug gangs. Table 1 (below) illustrates the differences between these
two kinds of gangs according to research conducted by Malcolm Klein.
Table 1: Common Differences between Street
Gangs and Drug Gangs
Code of loyalty
Members may sell drugs
Younger on average, but wider age range
|Crime focused on
More centralized leadership
Requirement of loyalty
Sales market territories
Members do sell drugs
Older on average, but narrower age range
1995, p. 132)
Howell (2003) uses the following "Continuum of Troublesome
and Criminal Groups" as a way of identifying different types of gangs.
Troublesome Youth Groups: Children and
adolescents who hang out together in shopping malls and other
places and may be involved in minor forms of delinquency.
Delinquent groups: Small clusters of
friends who band together to commit delinquent acts such as
Youth subculture groups: Groups with
special interests, such as “goths,” “straight edgers,” and
“anarchists,” that are not gangs.
Taggers: Graffiti vandals. Taggers are
often called gang members, but they typically do nothing more
than engage in graffiti contests.
School-based gangs: Groups of adolescents
that may function as gangs only at school.
Street-based gangs: Semi structured
groups of adolescents and young adults who engage in delinquent
and criminal behavior.
Drug gangs: Loosely organized groups of
drug-trafficking operations that generally are led by both young
and older adults but sometimes include adolescents.
Adult criminal organizations: Small
groups of adults that engage in lucrative criminal activity
primarily for economic reasons.
Names of Gangs
Although many communities have gangs that
bear the names of earlier gangs that originated in Los Angeles and Chicago,
the actual membership of these newer gangs is often locally based and has
little or no real national affiliation. These hybrids - new gangs that may
have the names but not the other characteristics of older gangs - are one of
the new types of gangs most frequently found in communities that had no gang
culture prior to the 1980s or 1990s. (Starbuck,
et al., 2001,
With an estimated 840,000 gang members in the United States
one should not be surprised there are thousands of gang names being used.
Some gang's names are a mixture of neighborhood identifier and nation. For
example, the 14th Street Bandilleros (fictitious) are, as evidenced by their
name, claiming to be in the nation of Bandilleros but are the 14th Street
So, what is a set? I am from the state of Missouri. Everyone in
Missouri may be called a Missourian but when asked where they come from,
they often say the name of the city in Missouri from which they come. I am a
native St. Louisan. In gang slang, St. Louis would the set I belong to in
the larger gang known as the Missourians. By analogy, a person may be a
Bandillero but, as in our example, he will claim to be a 14th Street
Bandillero. The 14th Street designation is his
set within the larger group of Bandilleros.
There may be thousands of sets within a nation of gangs (i.e., Crips,
Bloods, Gangster Disciples, or whatever nation) and anywhere from one to
hundreds of sets in one city or another. Set members tend to name themselves
according to the names of the streets on which their founder or several of
their members live, or the name of their local neighborhood, parks, schools,
or other landmarks in their vicinity. Some gangs have no such territorial
ties and name their gangs using other rationales. The derivation of some
gangs' names are unknown, even to some of their members.
Before I began my research I thought each nation (Bloods, Crips, etc.)
got along with their own members, knew one another, and were of the same
cloth, so to speak - shared the same rules, goals, and beliefs. Instead,
sets in the same nation may or may not get along with one another, seldom
know one another, and seldom share the same rules, goals, or beliefs.
The name of a "nation" in association with the name of a
local gang may have nothing to do with that nation. For example, the use of
"Crip" after a local gang name (the name of the set) does not mean that the
members of that gang know any of the other Crips in another city, although
they may know some of the Crips in other local Crip sets. And they may or
may not get along with other sets of Crips.
It is important to note that when a gang
has taken the name of a nationally known gang, this does not necessarily
indicate that the gang is part of a group with a national infrastructure.
According to the NDIC [National Drug Intelligence Center] Report the
majority of gangs do not have interstate connections or a hierarchical
structure. These loosely structured gangs are often more violent and
criminally active than the gangs they seek to imitate.
A police gang unit supervisor in a large west coast city told me "We
have Crip and Blood sets that get along better with one another than
some Crips get along with Crips and Bloods get along with Bloods. And
which one gets along with the other is constantly changing!"
The most recent research on gangs highlights the growing
hybridization of gangs. "Hybrid gang culture is characterized by mixed
racial and ethnic participation within a single gang, participation in
multiple gangs by a single individual, vague rules and codes of conduct for
gang members, use of symbols and colors from multiple - even rival - gangs,
collaboration by rival gangs in criminal activities, and the merger of
smaller gangs into larger ones." (Starbuck,
et al., 2001,
While the general public may hold a stereotype of gangs as
being like those in California (i.e., Bloods and Crips), the fact is that
the nature of the gang phenomenon varies from one community or neighborhood
to another. To effectively address a neighborhood's gang problem it must be
studied so that its exact nature is well understood.
Regardless of the kind of gang or its name, researchers have
found many of them have a culture of their own - a subculture within
society's larger culture, if you will. Gang culture is our next topic of
Visit the site of the
Connecticut Gang Activities Group, look in the frame on the left side of
their web page, click on "Gang Information" then scroll down and click on "EME
- Mexican Mafia."
the 2006 national Youth Gang Survey
You can view the names
of gangs organized by the states in which they operate as posted and
continually updated on Robert Walker's
Gangs OR Us web site.
On the right side of his home page, Walker provides access to
various police gang
Visit this site for a listing of just a few of the names
of gangs in Florida cities.
The links provided below are to both learned and
popular articles about all kinds of gangs (street gangs as well as
ideological gangs) and to some of the respective gangs' Internet sites. While not
condoning the content of the gang sites, a cursory look at what they offer
may provide a better understanding of their purpose, goals, and activities.
Type / Name of Gang
Bloods and Crips
Article, Link 1,
Link 2, Crips,
People and Folk Nations
Article (click on "Gang
Information" on the left of the page then click on EME in the center
of the page)
, Article 3
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)
1, Article 2,
Article 1, Article 2,
Hmong (Laos) Gangs
Article 1, Resource
In general ...
A Brief History of Street Gangs
Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in
writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.