Gangs bring own brand of ‘culture’

Last in a series

Perhaps you’ve eavesdropped on a conversation between two surgeons discussing the details of their respective surgical procedures.

Maybe you’ve listened to two lawyers arguing the fine points of tort law.

You cannot relate as a layperson in either case to what these individuals are saying to each other.

Try deciphering the language that gang members speak to each other. They, too, speak in a sort of street jargon known only to each other. But it goes farther than that with gangs. They have developed an underground culture that relies on all forms of spoken and unspoken communication.

Steve Powers is an Amarillo Police Department corporal and an expert on gang activity in Amarillo. He brought his knowledge into an Amarillo College West Campus classroom recently in a daylong seminar titled “Gangs in the Texas Panhandle.” He spoke to a collection of law enforcement officers, corrections officers and educators of the gang culture and the way the various gangs communicate with each other.

The underground culture of Amarillo comprises gangs of all colors and ethnicities. Black gangs, Latino gangs, Asian gangs, Anglo gangs — all of them — talk among themselves to each other in a “language” only they know.

They have initiation rites, some of which are brutal and cruel. Yet, as Powers noted, kids are drawn to these activities while looking for somewhere to belong and for someone to “love” them.

Bloods wear red, Crips wear blue, said Powers. That’s the first identifier for both of those African-American gangs.

The culture of gang life in Amarillo and the Panhandle is as distinctive, in its way, as the culture of the community’s more affluent population. “Gang kids talk better with each other than we do,” Powers said of outsiders’ ignorance of this particular lifestyle.

Gang members wear tattoos that in themselves constitute their own form of communication. They include a five-point star, or the number five, a Spanish cross that looks vaguely like a crucifix, a staff, crescent or a pyramid. Powers noted that People Nation, a rough and violent gang, IDs its members with tattoos of pitchforks pointed down and to the left; Folk Nation gang members have tats of pitchforks pointed up and to the right.

Some of the Hispanic gangs communicate with each other or with rivals through the way they stand. They lean to left or they lean to the right, depending on their gang affiliation. People Nation gangsters slant to the left while standing, while Folk Nation gang members slant to the right.

The graffiti they paint on walls contains hidden messages, usually carrying some of the symbols associated with their particular gang. It’s a gangs’ ways of marking their territory. Rival gang members see these markings and know — or at least they should know — to stay out of that neighborhood, Powers said.

“Gangs become like family to these kids,” he said, noting that as family members say things to each other that only they understand, so it is with gangs.

It’s all part of the complicated fabric that is woven into our broad Amarillo community.

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