My dictionary defines “intelligence” as follows:
“1. Capacity for understanding and for other forms of adaptive behavior; aptitude for grasping truths, facts, meanings; 2. Good mental capacity; 3. The faculty of understanding; 6. The gathering or distribution of information, especially secret information; 7. A staff of persons engaged in obtaining such information;”.
The selected definitions listed above accurately reflect what we mean when we refer to gathering personal intelligence. Make no mistake—the law abiding populace of this country is at war with the criminal sub-culture, and the gathering of accurate intelligence on the enemy’s identity, location, and strength is a vital part of planning your overall defensive strategy. Unless you are aware of the threat, how can you plan to counter it?
In this article we will examine some of the facets of personal intelligence gathering and processing, to assist you in a realistic threat assessment of your environment, and to provide forewarning in street encounters with likely threat sources. While this will not be an exhaustive examination of every threat, it will at least expose you to the main elements of some of the more common criminal types with which you will likely deal.
The purpose of this endeavor is to allow you to recognize subtle danger signs that will be present prior to an assault. By recognizing these cues, you can place yourself on alert, and be thinking about a planned response. As we discussed previously, being aware of a threat and having a plan in mind to deal with it greatly decreases reaction time, and helps overcome the mental inertia that slows down our response. When interacting with strangers, these subtle cues, once learned, can assist you in evaluating the proper degree of vigilance and readiness to act.
Be alert for these signs as you go through your daily routine. Forewarned is fore-armed.
One of the most common threats right now is that of the violent youth street gang, whether that gang has its origins in the black, Latino, Southeast Asian, or white communities. Street gangs, once confined largely to places like Chicago and Los Angeles, have now spread throughout the United States, driven largely by the lucrative market in illicit drugs, particularly cocaine and crack.
Street gangs become surrogate families of sorts for many members, providing the companionship, support, affirmation, and respect missing from their home life. This mutual bond among gang members is the source of one cause of violence against non-members. “Dissing” a gang member (showing disrespect to him or his associates) causes him to lose face in the eyes of his peers, unless redeemed by violence against the person showing the real or imagined disrespect. Since there are usually multiple members present, you are faced with an attack by all of them (fight one, fight them all).
Other attacks are motivated by desire for your money, and carjacking is a common crime among youthful offenders, who take a new vehicle each night to use in the “cruising”, robberies, and drive-by shootings they have planned for the evening’s entertainment. In some organizations, gang members must commit a serious crime, such as shooting a stranger (you) in the presence of a senior gang member in order to move up in the social order. Regardless of the intent, these are dangerous individuals, and they must be taken seriously as a threat.
Gang grafitti is not just vandalism, it is a form of advertising and communication. Gangsters use graffitti to mark territory and to establish dominance, just as a predator might urinate on the tree trunks around the perimeter of his home range. Gang graffitti must be taken seriously as a red flag; its appearance around your place of business means that you must be on the lookout for gang members and activity.
Black street gangs in this country are typically affiliated with one of several major national groups. The best known of these are the Crips and the Bloods, which originated in Los Angeles, and The Folk Nation and The People Nation, which originated in Chicago. All of these groups have sent recruiters throughout the U.S., and there is now no area of the country completely free from their influence. The illustrations show some of the major forms and symbols commonly used in their graffitti.
Bear in mind that graffitti is not the only form of expression in which these symbols are used. The same images often appear as tattoos, and these provide a ready means of identification. In the past, gang members usually sported “colors”, readily identifiable pieces of clothing, which made identification easier for both friend and foe.
Examples included red or blue bandannas, and “dressing right, or left” which means cap brim turned a certain direction, or one pants leg rolled up and the other not. In most areas these practices have been abandoned, as they lead to attention from law enforcement officers on patrol. Now, tattoos are probably your best means of identifying gang members.
Among the major Latino gangs are the “Mexican Mafia” and Nuestra Familia, with their origins in Southwest U.S. prisons, and the Latin Kings, a common street gang. Tattoos are a prevalent form of communication among these gangsters, with often ornate, colorful, and extensive coverage. The Mexican national emblem, the eagle and snake, are common, as well as stylized initials like eMe (the pronunciation of “M” in Spanish, for the Mexican Mafia), and a crown in Latin Kings tattoos.
Among the most dangerous of the white gang types is the “Skinhead”, a white, neo-Nazi type that specializes in personal brutality, particularly violence directed towards Jews, blacks, homosexuals, and other “inferior” people. Skinheads got their name from the practice of shaving their heads, but again, this has been largely abandoned to prevent harassment (oops, I meant monitoring) by police. Heavy boots, suspenders (braces), muscle shirts, and black leather jackets or military style jackets are the principal mode of dress. Again, tattoos are your best indicator. The Celtic cross, Nordic or Viking artwork, and Christian religious symbols are the most common form of tattoos.
The other predominately white threat group is the “biker gang” or “outlaw bikers”. Bikers live in a culture all their own, in a world dominated by their motorcycle, degradation of women, drugs, and violence. Bikers seldom work in the traditional sense, but make their living from prostituting their “old ladies”, selling drugs, and working as enforcers for other criminal enterprises.
Bikers tend to be extremely violence prone, especially if they perceive weakness in a victim or opponent, and they tend to be both well armed and often, better skilled than most other gang types. This makes them formidable adversaries.
Obviously, the most common indicator is the biker’s motorcycle, but this is not always present. Bikers often travel in other vehicles, and a group of bikers traveling on “business” will often be accompanied by a van containing back-up members, heavy weapons, including automatic weapons, and extra ammunition.
The primary indicator is the biker’s colors, a vest adorned with the symbols of his gang, and of his personal achievements. A biker wears his life story on his vest, with his status within the gang, his rank, his past deeds, and other information proudly displayed, although somewhat encoded. A biker will usually die before he will surrender, or risk loss of his colors. The same markings found on his colors will often be found in tattoos, which are quite common among bikers.