Every civilization and culture have signs and so do gangs, they have gang signs. Within gangs, gang signs are like codes used to keep a gang exclusive. Gang signs crystallize complex meanings into simple expressions. Like a picture says a thousand words, so gang signs communicate many things. Gang signs are used to distill the philosophy of gangs. They are used to entrench values within gang members. Gang signs are used to give a sense of special belonging to something much bigger than oneself and participating in gang related activities through the use of these signs act as their own empowerment.
Gang signs take many expressions and forms. Gang signs can be a print or logo. They cab be colors or types of clothes. Gang signs can even be how a particular piece of apparel is worn. Gang signs can take the shape of a greeting or specific words said a particular way. They can be handshakes, eye contact, feet movements or positioning or a combination of a number of body parts and movements.
The more gang members practice these signs, the more affinity and belong they feel to the group. Gang signs are about giving the gang identity. The perception outsiders tend to have of gang signs are often wrong because the gang signs are exclusive to the group. If by coincidence, two different gangs have the same outward expression of gang signs, the possibility that these signs mean completely different things is one hundred percent. As a matter of fact, if outsiders have a right perception of the gang signs, it is the perception that gang members intend for them to have. For example: gang members may leave particular gang signs behind to commemorate certain gang activities. The more heinous the acts, the more aggressive the gang signs appear to be. Done successfully over time, these signs evoke fear and dread in their viewers.
It is these deliberate actions that give gang signs their mysterious and seeming defying and rebellious powers. It is in part due to this same mystery that these gang signs are heavily guarded. If the meanings of gang signs become common, they lose their meaning to owners of the signs. However, practicing signs without knowing their history and meaning could soon land the users in trouble. Since gangs normally control turf whether physically or in cyberspace, using gang signs out of context can land users in trouble. Depending on which side of the fence you are on, practicing these signs could get you in trouble, not only with gang members but with the law. Gang signs are at times like street signs. These gang signs are used to mark the entrance into or exit of a gang turf. Persons may encounter these gang signs inside a subway station or on walls in a Project or on buses, park benches, and school bathrooms just to name a few places.
There are also gang signs in ranking within a gang. In this case, the gang signs act as passports to elevated circles within a gang. This way, gang signs act as security especially for those higher up on the food chain. To try and advance without these passports is like trying to enter an exclusive club without knowing the password.
I am sure that we have all experienced gang signs knowingly or unknowingly. I am also sure that we have probably practiced gang signs, unknowingly if we are not members of gangs. If gangs were to be stripped of their negative stigma, we probably all have gang signs depending on the groups or affiliations to which we belong.