Innocent Hand Symbols Could be Gang Signs

The gestures that people often make with their hands and fingers, whether as a joke, an imitation, or simply out of habit, can be confused – in many cases – with gang signs.

As innocent as the one who does it is the one who allows it to be done. That’s how Zulema Acierro, the mother of an 8-year-old boy, describes her lack of awareness around some of the gestures her son makes. He’s merely imitating other youth that he sees in the park.

“When I take pictures of him, he likes to make different symbols with his fingers,” said Acierro, who is Mexican. She was surprised to find out that many of those signs are related to street gangs.

Acierro’s situation isn’t unique. Other mothers admitted total ignorance, not only about the meaning of the gestures, but also that gangs have a particular sign language using hands and fingers.

Alberto Reyes, an expert on gangs, believes that parents’ awareness of the signs gang members use and the colors in which they dress is critical to preventing youth from joining.

Reyes emphasized that “the more parents know about these symbols, the easier it will be for them to tell when their children aren’t on the right path.” 

Reyes recommended that parents get in touch with local authorities to find out what type of gang activity is happening in the neighborhoods where they live.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), part of the U.S. Department of Justice, advises parents that in order to prevent their children from becoming involved with gangs, to observe certain attitudes their children adopt, such as the kind of clothing and colors they wear, and the gestures they make with their hands.

The Gangs Codes
(Photos by Loboguerrero via El Diario-La Prensa)


ÑETAS: The gang started in Puerto Rican prisons in 1979. Their symbol is two crossed fingers, normally the index and middle one, but some members use instead the little finger and the ring finger.



LATIN KINGS: The gang was formed in the early 1940s in Chicago. Their symbol is the letter “L,” made with the thumb, which is normally stretched out, and the index finger and/or pinky.


MaraSalvatrucha3MARA SALVATRUCHA 13: Founded in the 1980s in California by a  group of Salvadorans, their sign is the letter “M.” Gang members also use a greeting in the form of horns.


Crips4CRIPS: The gang began being active towards the end of the 1960s in Los Angeles. The hand forms the letter “C” as one would do in sign language.



BLOODS: Created in 1972 in Los Angeles, is primarily comprised of African-Americans. Their greeting is always a reference to the letter “B,” made with the index finger and the thumb touching and the other three fingers stretched out.



TRINITARIOS:  Formed in New York in 1989, their symbol is made by crossing the hands to represent the coat of arms of the Dominican Republic, which is the best-known sign of the gang.

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