A look at the history of gang culture
By Andrew Lindsay
On the West Coast, in South Central LA, where, according to a RAND study, children are more likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than kids in Baghdad, a young man with his “family” drives a car past a block marked with blue stars and pitchforks. Inside, they hold their automatic weapons, some snarling, “Six poppin’, five droppin’,” and others shouting, “Six in the sky, five must die.”
Only a couple of their fellow gang members were shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. The six they mention in their dark warnings refer to the six-pointed star, often drawn on walls as the Star of David, turned into a marking for the Crips’ territory. This is more common in Midwest gangs than Californian gangs, according to Alex Alonso, co-author of Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities. Often, these symbols appear beside numerical figures, which refer to which set or unit of a gang has made that mark.
While it all sounds like one big puzzle, in reality, there’s nothing cryptic or secretive about it. Everyone in Los Angeles knows what’s meant by the three-digit number that denotes which set of a gang it belongs to. And everyone knows why “kick back” is written and spelled “kicc bkacc” on the wall. If you are a Crip, a C, then you are a Blood Killer, or a BK. Conversely, if you are a Blood, a B, then you are also a Crip Killer, a CK. Words with the opposing gang’s letter (B or C) must be immediately followed by a K. The Crip rationale is that words with a “ck” must be changed. Otherwise you are inferring that you kill both gangs alike—hence, “kicc bkack.” This same kind of symbolism is also related to the numbers five (Bloods) and six (Crips).
Alonso goes on to explain, via e-mail, that in California, the gangs are tied to the communities in which they grew up. The gang lines differ by ethnicity, not by geography. Concrete structures, like freeways, form geographical borders, and everyone knows whose territory is whose. The borders are strict for black and Hispanic gangs, but not so much for Asian, White or motorcycle gangs, he said.
“Everyone knows, even the cops,” Alonso wrote.
The rise of gangs stemmed from a combination of the race riots, the Black Power movement and the Black Panther movement. As portrayed in the film Crips and Bloods: Made in America, after the assassinations and jailing of the dominant civil rights leaders, the anger and violence of the youths turned from the states onto themselves. Violence escalated, and they stopped fist-fighting, instead turning to shooting. The violence now takes a toll that spans five generations of urban soldiers of about 15,000 lives a year, which is five times as many lives as the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The toll has reached such a gross number due, in large part, to the rivalry between the Crips and rival gangs, specifically their enemy, the Bloods. Originally, when the first Bloods were founded in California, they were named after what black soldiers in the Vietnam War called each other. They were founded as a reactionary group to the Crips, who had gained a large following. At the time, the Bloods were outnumbered three to one. In order to compensate, they became extremely violent, which only served to exponentially escalate things.
Infamous for their barbaric violence, the name became so notorious that Omar Portee, or OG (Original Gangster) Mack, borrowed it when he allegedly formed the Universal Blood Nation in Rikers Island prison, which became the east coast chapter of the Bloods. It spread through New York and New Jersey, eventually becoming the United Blood Nation. They are now the largest gang in New York City, with a membership of more than 5,000, as opposed to the 1,000-plus Crips there.
On the walls of Harlem, Brooklyn and many other neighborhoods, five-pointed stars are spray-painted alongside numbers and other messages that seem like a code; but, to the police investigating the recent acts of brutality there, they offer an explanation.
The previous night, a youth had slashed a man across the face with a scalpel. The victim was rushed to the hospital to receive stitches; the police already knew he would need more than 150. This is Blood territory, and one of the initiation processes is to give someone—a complete stranger, a neutral, a fifty-fifty, as it’s called—“a buck fifty,” a slang term meaning a wound that needs more than 150 stitches. The scar is meant to act as a testament to the viciousness of the gang. This could have happened to anyone—to the officer’s spouses, to their children—simply for daring to be in the wrong neighborhood, for not knowing how to read the signs.
After all, Alonso reiterated, “Everyone knows this, even the cops.”
Andrew Lindsay is a sophomore writing major who keeps a blue flag hanging out the back side. But only on the left side, yeah, that’s the Crip side. E-mail him at email@example.com.