A dangerous identity

By Melissa Rincon, Atlanta Latino, February 16, 2005

They have their own secret language of gestures and words, and day or night, they always go out in the same uniform. Smoking, drinking, stealing and killing is the golden rule for the street gang. The adrenaline of high-risk situations is what drew Jorge Zapata, to join his gang.

“A lot of people do it because they want to confront somebody, but I just like the rush you get from doing crazy things,” says Zapata, who is now the leader of his group. “You have to do what they say, because if not, you get beaten up by your own gang for not doing what you should be doing.”

Although Zapata admits that he is afraid of being arrested by the police or that one of his friends will be hurt or killed, he says that living with this fear is normal.

“Sometimes things just happen, but if somebody gets killed you seek vengeance, you go against whoever committed the crime,” says Zapata. “I don’t have many enemies, but I don’t hide from the ones I’ve got. On the contrary, I go hunt them out.”

Zapata has gang tattoos and communicates with his peers through hand signals....

“Every gang has its own colors, and when a rival comes on the scene they have to show their handkerchief,” says Lozano. “There are fights that go down and there are situations where you call a truce depending on what you’re fighting about, territory, money, drugs, but those don’t last long. When they ask you what gang you’re in, you have to identify yourself. If you have to die, you die for the gang.”

One way to mark your territory is to spray paint graffiti. According to Lozano, no approval is necessary from a leader. All that is needed are cans of spray paint and 15 to 20 minutes to paint the symbol. Although Lozano says that life is much safer now than it was before, danger is still always there....

Marco Silva got dissatisfied with gang life and wanted to get a job, but couldn’t because everyone in his neighborhood already knew who he was.

He continues to interact with these groups, but this time to counteract them as a Gwinnett County police officer, gang investigator and president of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association.

“The Latino community is growing quite a bit, and the problem is that the gangs have grown too,” says Silva. “Nearly 50 percent of all gangs are Hispanic. A lot of kids see gangs being glorified in movies and want to be a part of that, they don’t think. We really need to educate these kids.”

“If you want to be a gang member, you can be one, but the problem is when you commit crimes like robbery, stealing car parts, breaking into cars and homes, rape and homicide,” says Silva, who trains police officers and provides classes for the community, parents and schools. “The most common crimes are robbery and vandalism. More than 200 gangs in Georgia are involved in these crimes.”...

“Drugs and alcohol have a huge influence,” says Silva. “In the United States nearly 70 percent of the drug problem is gang-related, because they either use them, sell them or both.”...

For more information on Marco Silva’s classes, call 770-513-5433. For more information on the New Order Human Rights Organization, visit www.neworder.8m.net.


- Sixty-five percent of the gang members in Cobb county are Hispanic or Latino. (The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

- Over 90 percent of large cities (population over 100,000) in the United States reported gang activity between 1996 and 2001. (The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

- A street gang occurs when three or more people share a unique name or display identifiable marks or symbols (e.g. tattoos, clothing styles, colors, hairstyles, graffiti) and associate together on a regular basis, often claiming a specific location or territory.

- A gang will have an identifiable organization or hierarchy. The typical gang will engage in antisocial, unlawful or criminal activity in an effort to further the gang’s social or economic status.

- All cities with a population of 250,000 or more reported youth gang problems in 2002.

- Marijuana will continue to be the most widely available and commonly abused illicit drug in Georgia. Various gangs and local independent dealers will continue to be the primary marijuana retail distributors in the state.

- African American and Hispanic gangs also sell wholesale quantities of marijuana produced in Georgia and surrounding states.

- Gangs use graffiti for many purposes: To affirm gang identity, to mark territorial ownership rights, to memorialize a deceased member, to disrespect a rival gang’s deceased member, to celebrate violent acts, to list intended victims and to intimidate rival gangs.

- Gang related legislation in Georgia: It shall be unlawful for any person to cause, encourage, solicit, or coerce another to participate in a criminal street gang.

Sources: Institute for Intergovernmental Research, 2002 National Youth Gang Survey, National Drug Intelligence Center, American Psychotherapy Association.

Read the complete article.