History of Gangs

street gangs

What They Are, And What
You Can Do To Stop Them!

Street gangs have rapidly migrated to numerous rural and suburban communities throughout the United States. While it is 2nd Chance’s intent to provide Monterey County residents with factual and up to date information, the nature of youth gangs is such that trends change on an almost daily basis. The following information is intended to provide the basic information regarding history, culture, identification and activities of street gangs.

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what is a gang?

Street gangs in Monterey County can be described as a group of individuals who may or may not claim control over a certain territory in the community. A gang can be more simply defined as a group of people who form an allegiance for a common purpose and engage in violent, unlawful, or criminal activity. Locally, Hispanic and African American street gang members account for most of the violent gang crimes; however, Asian, Pacific Islander and Caucasian gangs are becoming more active and menacing. Gangs involve all races and socio-economic levels, and their activity often affects innocent people.

In Monterey County street gangs are predominantly territory oriented. Each gang claims its own turf and graffiti marks its boundaries. Anyone not belonging in the area and who resembles a rival gang member may and can become the subject of attack.

gang names

Many gangs adopt names that have significance when related to their neighborhoods, streets, parks, hills, valleys or housing projects. Here are some of the names of these gangs who have adopted names after streets (in bold) are: East Las Casitas, La Posada Trece, Salinas East Market, Salinas Acosta Plaza.

nick names

Many gang members adopt nicknames when recruited into the group, if they do not already have one. The gang tends to select a name that fits the individual’s physical or psychological characteristics. As an example, lefty, sniper, bullet, trigger, sharky, gato, etc.


Gang members in Monterey County do not fit the movie image where they are portrayed fulfilling specific roles in the gang, such as “president” or “enforcer,” while wearing jackets similar to those worn by many motorcycle or car clubs. Rather, leadership roles in street gangs are usually not formally recognized positions. A member who demonstrates or asserts dominant control at a particular time assumes leadership roles. His/her leadership may continue for the particular incident or a limited time thereafter. With smaller gangs, however, it is more likely that a single individual will become a recognized leader. Additionally, those youth who are recently released from a correctional institution also are granted an informal leadership role once released.

cliques and sets

Many gangs are subdivided into sets or cliques. A clique or set will usually have its own name. Sets usually apply to Black gangs, and cliques to Hispanic gangs. In Monterey County, we are limited in the number of sets and cliques. In fact most of our sets and cliques are identified as specific gangs when in actuality they are younger versions of the older street gangs. Traditionally, these cliques will be more commonly referred to as the “Tiny’s” or “Peewees”.

why do young people join gangs?

There are a variety of reasons including the excitement of gang activity, peer pressure, attention, financial benefit (e.g., from selling drugs or stolen property), family tradition, and a lack of realization of the hazards involved. In many cases, young people are not actively discouraged from gang activity by their parents. In fact, more than not, parents don’t realize that their children are engaged in gang activity and assume it’s always someone else’s child.

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The weapon of choice for street gangs now is more and more frequently hand guns. Traditional weapons were shaved-down baseball bats, sections of pipe taped at the ends, spiked wristbands, Chemical Mace, knives, and semi-automatic firearms, such as an Uzi, AK-47, or MAC 10. Also included are penknives, boards from fences, bottles and sports equipment and Molotov cocktails.


Gang members represent all social and economic levels of today’s society. Membership is sometimes done by intimidation but more often is motivated by a desire to belong and/or gain a sense of personal recognition. Gangs include both juveniles and adults; however, the 2nd Chance web site primarily focuses on juveniles. In the beginning, the majority of street gangs were usually defined by ethnic or racial standards. Today, the typical gang is multi-ethnic and involves membership across the socio-economical ladder. A large number of gang members typically perform poorly in school and have frequent contact with police, but that is not always the case. 2nd Chance has come into contact with gang-involved youth who are high achievers and involved in sports and or other activities. Hard-core members are fiercely loyal to their gang and become embedded into the gang’s lifestyle, values, attitudes and behavior. To them, the gang is the only life they know and it comes before family. Most Gangs have rules to follow and a member who breaks one of the rules will usually be physically reprimanded.

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effects of gang involvement

Gang membership extracts a terrible toll from the lives of all that come in contact with members. Parents and relatives of gang members live in a double fear; one for their own safety and that of other non-gang family members, and a second fear for the survival of their gang member son or daughter. Non-gang member friends are cast aside and soon the youth’s only friends are gang members. Gang membership, though a temporary phase for some youth, will shape the individual’s future. All levels of formal education are discarded because they differ from the gang’s objectives. Gang members not killed or seriously injured often develop patterns of alcohol and narcotics abuse, and extensive police records that will limit their employment opportunities.

gang activity: what do gangs do?

It is not practical to examine everything a gang does. In fact, many gang activities are frequently shared by a large portion of society. But when a gang is involved in a weekend party, or family event such as a Quinceañera (traditional Mexican celebration for young ladies coming of age) or attends a public event such as visiting an amusement park, the potential for violence and criminal activity is far greater than for any other group of people. Gang members seek confrontation with rivals. The resulting violence often claims innocent victims. While gang violence often makes headlines, it creates even more damage on a regular basis to local property and business. Vandalism, in the form of graffiti and the wanton destruction of public and private property, is often done in furtherance of the gang’s reputation. Abandoned houses are favorite targets for vandalism but even occupied homes do not escape. Local businesses suffer not only from the property damage and graffiti, but also from loss of customers and employees. Businesses facing decreasing revenue and rising insurance costs. This leads to closing their doors leaving yet another abandoned building for the gang or to create blight. The majority of residents in a gang area who are unable to move away live in fear.



Another common non-verbal signs in “mad-dogging” which uses staring or glaring at another person with the intent to intimidate. Some can recognize this as in giving someone the evil eye or a hard stare. Mad-dogging is used to instill fear and frequently results in violent confrontation.

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hand signs

Rapid movement of hands and fingers to form letters or numbers, (similar, but not the same as American Sign Language), it identifies gang affiliation. The signals are usually initials of a gang, posing a challenge to other gang members and intimidating other youth.

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Other signs are crude or elaborate tattoos, fingernails painted a certain color, certain undergarments, specific hairstyles (such as the skinheads shaving their head bald), Norteños wearing a hairstyle known as the Mongolian look, a little patch of hair on the back of the head. If a school has a dress code, youths will become very creative and do things such as wear one ring on one hand and three or four rings on the other to signify their affiliation.