Know Your Neighborhood Gangbangers by Their Tattoos

Categories: Art, Crime

gangtitle.jpg
Photo by Alice Dubot
It's a fine line between striking fear into the hearts of your enemies and signing a confession of criminal activity on your face. But in a fast-paced city like Houston with little patience for extensive introductions, some large Gothic letters on your forehead could save everybody a bit of time and trouble in a shootout and/or arrest.

"It signifies to the world that you're in a gang, but for law enforcement it's great," said Special Agent Troy Shalloup of the FBI, who has no complaints.

George Rhyne, Texas Anti-Gang Center administrator, said another reason many criminals are willing to risk their freedom for a flashy piece of ink is because they genuinely want to express devotion to the gang as an alternative family in lieu of actual loving families. Damn. That's real.

In any case, both men agreed that Houston's younger gang members tend to be more subtle about tattoos, or are moving away from them altogether. It's probably because they're more attuned to the self-incrimination pitfalls of social media promotion. No one thinks that drug store stickup selfie is cute, except for the cops. Same goes for that neck tat illustrating your entire rap sheet.

The Houston Police Department, DEA, FBI and local anti-gang agencies combined forces to create StopHoustonGangs.org, which aggregates gang identification signs. Here's a look at some of the region's most prominent street gangs and their favorite tattoo archetypes before they go out of style.


Tango Blast "Houstone"

Houstones.jpg
Photo by Bob B. Brown
Homegrown Tango Blast consists of Hispanic men who originally came together for protection from long established prison gangs like Texas Syndicate and Texas Mexican Mafia. Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all have their own branches with city-specific tattoos.

The hyper-local set, known as "Houstones," are definitely super proud of H-Town. They've appropriated the Astros star as one of their classic symbols, usually paired with local area codes 713 or 281.

Shalloup said Tango Blast is a growing irritant for law enforcement because of the sheer size of its membership and its innovative business model, which is basically do all of the crime, whatever. Houstones don't seem to have a particular pet project, nor do they have stringent rules for signing up. No constitution, no real bureaucracy. It's the Wild West gang of choice for young people thinking about giving that career criminal track a shot, but are unsure of commitment.


Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13

ms13.jpg
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Despite being named for a plant - albeit a poisonous plant - MS-13 is one of the most violent gangs in Houston. Part of their notoriety stems from a public relations campaign that involves full facial tattoos. Common symbols are the "devil's pitch fork" hand sign and common activities include murder, mass murder and human smuggling.

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markie19
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rasclot123
rasclot123

What about those losers with mustache tattoos on their fingers?  I see them in midtown and montrose, they all dress alike and wear the same type of glasses.  Are they in a gang.  they all seem to conform to the same dress style and tattoos.

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