Tagging and Gangs
“Tagging” was an historical beginning for contemporary street gangs. “Tagging”
began in the summer of 1970 in Manhattan, New York. A youth that went by the name of “Taki 183” began to paint graffiti on a variety of public and private properties. Ice cream trucks and buildings were signature targets for Taki’s tag. He had a variety of artistic designs which he would use to mark his targets with first using water resistant markers, and then later replacing the markers with spray paint. On one occasion Taki was interviewed by a New York Times reporter and the Times decided to publish the
interview which, in essence, gave rise to Taki’s fame. “Other youths became impressed
with the notoriety “Taki 183” had received and soon it became a competition for fame”
As the problem with tagging increased, taggers became more creative and distinct with their art and their work began to stand out more. They each developed their own signature way of tagging in order be recognized. Tagging became a more common topic through media, films, videos and books. As youths began to hear and read more about tagging it eventually spread throughout the United States and deeply entrenched itself into inner cities of Los Angeles County.
Taggers are made up predominately of males and a few females known as queens. Reasons for these destructive manners are theoretical but are said to be one of the following: The males are drawn to tagging crews because they seek an extension of family and a desire to “fuel their negative self esteem”. Their young ages allow them to be easily impressionable and pulled into tagging crews. Their ages will vary but are usually between thirteen to seventeen years old. Some may look upon tagging as harmless or victimless. In reality, graffiti costs taxpayers millions of dollars annually and independent property owners have had to pay out of their own pockets. “In the 1990’s the Southern Rapid Transit district spent in excess of nine and a half million dollars annually to battle the tagging epidemic” (source pg). As the judicial system and law enforcement teamed up to battle and bring tagging under control a more severe epidemic emerged at an alarming rate. “It wasn’t long before Youth Street Gangs were the most talked about problem within our society” (FCSO, 1995).
A misconception is that Youth Street Gangs originated in the late fifties and sixties to
become the out-of-control disease that it is today. Youth Street Gangs actually had its
beginnings during the vast immigration from Europe into the eastern coast of the United
States in 1910. The west coast was most affected from 1910 through 1925 when many
immigrated from Mexico to Southern California. Due to economic influence, the Mexican Revolution, and the Great Depression, San Diego and Los Angeles became heavily populated with Hispanics. The new immigrants began to settle into areas which were already populated by other Hispanics with well rooted ties. Rivalries developed between them and the youth began to divide into small groups for protection from one another. Competition for neighborhoods and women fueled insults and adversarial roles. “Violence between the groups escalated and vendettas became a more common occurrence” (LASO, 1995).
During the 1930s and 1940s immigration of Hispanics continued at alarming rates. At this time Los Angeles was considered to be a military town. Many of the Hispanic males were forced to compete with the military for the attention of the young ladies. Rivalries between the “Pachucos” (young Hispanic males) and members of the military began to escalate (LASO, 1996). The most infamous incident was the murders of “Sleepy Lagoon” of 1940. Formerly known as “Sleepy Lagoon”, it was William’s Ranch of Montebello, California where violence erupted between members of the military and the 38th Street Gang AKA, the “Zoot Suiters”. Competition for the ladies between the military and the “Zoot Suiters” became more intense and heated. Violence erupted at an all time high resulting in a riot. Young Hispanic males were in a two step disadvantage. First, the military wore uniforms that were attractive to the young ladies. This influenced the young Hispanic males to create their very own stylized dress called the “Zoot Suit”. Secondly, the members of the military had regular income to spend with the young ladies. The young Hispanics were forced to become creative in earning or hustling money in order to compete. After the event of “Sleepy Lagoon”, the gangs began to better organize. They developed a signature dress and created their own coded language known as calo, a combination of English and Spanish. The gangs became more sophisticated and enterprising. They became involved with illegal activities and deeply entrenched themselves with illicit drug trade. The drug trade created the large volume of cash flow which they needed to finance their appetite for luxury items, clothes, women and power. This situation created a desperate need for society to find more innovative ways of dealing with the effects of the illegal drug trade; this lead to the United States Department of Justice forming the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973. Their mission was to exclusively investigate drug related offenses.