One part of the dark underbelly of the United States would have to be the rampant gang activity. While there are a lot of local and regional gangs operating in all parts of the country, the two most famous gangs in America would have to be the Bloods and Crips. There's a lot to talk about here, from the fact that their very existence is because of systemic racism, to the fact that both gangs are everywhere. The gangs show up in all sorts of places, from your local high school to your average military platoon, to even the most elite red carpets. However, there's a lot about these gangs that genuinely goes misunderstood.
You'd be surprised to find out that the Bloods and Crips weren't always the criminal organizations we know them as today. Believe it or not, some gangs actually help communities even today. Gangs like the Bloods and Crips often work to police their communities and further political causes through activism. Unfortunately, their work for their neighborhoods doesn't overshadow the long history the Bloods and the Crips have for being territorial over their cities, taking part in the drug trade, wielding terrifying weapons that no one should have so easily, and recruiting people out of high schools and making them commit a crime to be able to officially join. Here are fifteen things you need to know about the Bloods and the Crips, their terrifying reputations, and how it didn't actually have to be that way.
15 They're Everywhere
The Bloods and Crips are basically everywhere. The Crips are 30,000-35,000 strong, so chances are you know someone who's been affected by the gang, especially if you live in the US. As for the Bloods, counting them is a bit more complicated because they have a different structure. The Bloods are made up of smaller street gangs with a common culture known as "sets." In 1978, there were 15 Blood sets, but the Crips still outnumbered them 3-1.
The sets are typically led by an older member (more than likely with a longer rap sheet) that asserts themselves as the leader as opposed to being elected. The rest of the set members are called "soldiers" and they're made up mostly of younger people between the ages of 16 and 22. There are also ranks within the sets that correlate to how long a member has bee involved with a specific set. However, these ranks aren't about dominance, they're about respect for those who've survived longer.
14 They Make Up Big Numbers In The Military
A report in 2007 revealed that gang members are a huge part of the military. Members of every street gang, including MS-13, Bloods, Crips, 18th Street, Hells Angels and various white supremacist groups, have been reported to be present on both domestic and international military bases. We don't have exact numbers saying how many gang members are in the military, but we do know that there have been gang related incidents. For example, Juwan Johnson took a beating to join a Chicago gang called the Gangster Disciples, and the beating was so savage that he eventually died from it. There are a lot of reasons why they're getting into the military in increasing numbers, but people have witnessed soldiers throwing up gang signs, so despite the military's silence on the issue, the issue does exist.
13 The First Gangs Were Made Up Of White Guys
As much as people want to blame the gang problem on disadvantaged, oppressed minority groups, the actual problem of gangs and gang violence can be traced back to English, Irish, and German immigrants living in the Northeast. Not every early gang member was doing anything criminal, though: the average gang member of the nineteenth century was just as likely to be a common laborer than a criminal. However, gangs became more of a criminal activity in the 1820s, with organizations like the Forty Thieves and the Five Points gang coming into prominence. By 1855, the city of New York could count 30,000 of its men as gang members. These are the gangs that helped inspire Martin Scorsese when he was making the movie Gangs of New York. These gangs would disappear by the 1870s, but they'd re-emerge just a few years later.
12 Members Have Access To Terrifying Firearms
Gangs have access to better guns than most, and that should scare you. This issue has gotten so problematic, the debate about firearms has people on all sides wondering if the problem isn't the guns, it's the gangs carrying the guns. The Bloods and Crips have the same issue. The Internet is filled with videos showing gunfights between the Bloods and Crips, not to mention gunfights between these gangs and others. This should be very scary for everyone. The Bloods, Crips, and gangs like them recruit young people into their ranks by beating them, forcing them to steal something or kill someone, or even sexually assaulting them, and they're all stuck for life unless they find some other way out. These gangs also have enough guns to properly arm a militia. That's a really big deal.
11 The Crimes Were Petty...At First
Gangs weren't taking part in major crime sprees until much later, so in the beginning, the crimes they were taking part in were still very small. The gangs that eventually gave way to organizations like the Bloods and Crips weren't very well organized and weren't very big, so they couldn't do all that much. They didn't have handshakes, signs, tags, or anything like that, either. If anything, historians note the early gangs as not being all that violent at all.
Basically, the whole point of gangs before they really got organized was to promote a cool, tough guy image for the members. Think of it less like Gangs of New York and more Grease, if you're looking for an example. The only violent thing that would happen with old gangs was a fight if members of one gang found themselves in the territory of another one. Each gang would gather their forces, meet in a neutral location like a park or parking lot, and fight.
10 The Crips And Bloods Recruited Out Of High Schools
Bloods and Crips like their new members young. Many reports have surfaced of both gangs going out of their way to recruit out of high schools and even middle schools. They even make it a point to go to "good" neighborhoods where you wouldn't think gang activity would be an issue because gangs have enough money to plant recruiters there. Gang member Wesley Jenkins, who was himself recruited this way, shed some light on this."You don't know that if your son is wearing a Chicago Bulls hat, a Michael Jordan jersey, and some red and black J's that he possibly could be a member of the Bloods," adds Jenkins. "You don't even consider that because you're thinking about what you have to do to maintain your six figures, how can you get that bonus at the end of the year."
9 Future Members Have To Commit A Crime To Get In
Every new member of the Crips and Bloods has to commit a crime in order to get in, no exceptions. While initiation is different for every branch of any gang, there are common initiation rituals done by gangs all over the country. The most common would be allowing the gang to physically beat you, most likely with members restraining you so you can't fight back.
There's also the phrase "blood in, blood out," referring to the initiation ritual where new members have to kill someone to get in, and if they want to get out, the gang gets to kill you. Instead of fighting or killing, new members can also get "jacked in" where they have to steal something instead. For women, initiation involves sexual acts since no one actually wants to hit a girl. Most disturbingly, some gangs will have women sleep with someone with an STD like HIV to see how far they're willing to go.
8 The Name "Bloods" Comes From Prison
CRIP stands for "Community Resources for Independent People," but the name Bloods comes from somewhere different. The name of the gang used to be the Compton Pirus. The Compton Pirus would regularly get into scraps with the Compton Crips and get crushed every time. This inspired different Pirus groups who were also threatened by the Crips to come together, creating the Bloods as we know it. The Pirus were the "red gang," so to speak, so the name Bloods was easy, and other gangs who were getting absorbed into the Bloods picked up the color red too. The red also signifies the general take no prisoners attitude of its members. The reason why the Pirus used the color red in the first place is that red is the color of the high school where the gang originated, Centennial High School.
7 The Struggle Of Being A Woman In The Bloods And Crips
Being a woman in a big gang is one of the more harrowing experiences I've ever read about. Female gang members are repeatedly raped and assaulted and are even driven to prostitution. However, the really horrifying part is that the girls doing all of this see this as perfectly normal behavior, to the point that new female recruits know exactly what they're getting into. Young, vulnerable women with low self-esteem are just as likely to get taken in by gang life as young, vulnerable men, primarily because they feel like they can't do any better.
Isha Nembhard, a former gang member from South London, detailed her experience in the gang, talking about how the girls getting treated this way are willing to do anything to gain acceptance. "A lot of girls are sort of prostituting themselves to have sexual relationships within a gang and get treated in a bad way. For example, she might know what happens to girls in the gang but still sleeps with all of them just for the status."
6 Their War Was A Territory War
Crime aside, the major sticking point with all these gangs comes down to maintaining and protecting their territory. Aside from protecting their territory from each other, both gangs often work to keep other, unrelated gangs away from their territory. The Crips were three times bigger than the Bloods, formerly the Pirus, so territory meant a lot to both of them. They see themselves as owning their territory, and when other gangs and organizations encroach on your territory, that's less uncontested space for your gang to conduct your business, most likely illegal business. If you're curious, there are actually maps that can track the current state of the territory between the Crips and the Bloods. You can also find out how close you are to different gangs in whatever city you live in.
5 They Formed Alliances With Gangs On The East Coast
The Bloods and Crips wouldn't be able to accomplish what they have alone. They've teamed up with other gangs for different reasons over the years (if the Pirus hadn't we wouldn't have the Bloods in the first place). However, there are incidents where the Bloods and Crips ally with each other for a common purpose. Back in 2015, the Bloods and Crips teamed up in Baltimore to protect local residents. A video surfaced of two gang members, one from the Bloods and one from the Crips, calling for the end of the riots that broke out over the death of Freddie Gray.
“We not here for nobody to get hurt,” the Crip member, Charles told the Baltimore Sun. “We don’t want nobody to get hurt. All that about the police getting hurt by certain gangs, that’s false. We not here for that. We here to protect our community, and that’s it. We don’t want no trouble. We’re doing this because we don’t want trouble.” The Blood member, Jamal, agreed with this. "The police department hate to see us right now.” According to the Daily Beast, former members of both gangs were seen in Ferguson, Missouri with signs saying: “NO MORE CRIPS. NO MORE BLOODS. ONE PEOPLE. NO GANG ZONE.”
4 Both Sides Are Extremely Petty
Because the Bloods and Crips are both huge gangs who can tie their history back to Los Angeles and New York, it's hard to see what the differences between the gangs are, at least in culture. This eventually led to the differences in culture between them, like the colors, signs, and tags. However, both gangs are capable of engaging in major pettiness. For example, the Crips will replace the letter "b" with the letter "c" if it calls for it ("coffee" becomes "boffee," "Compton" becomes "bompton," and "cat" becomes "bat").
As for the Bloods, they will cross out the letter "c" if they need to use it as a sign of disrespect for the Crips, and they'll tag different places with anti-Crip graffiti. Both gangs are also very possessive over their colors: blue for the Crips and red (sometimes green) for the Bloods.
3 Water = PCP
PCP is a profitable drug and the Bloods and Crips are both in the business of selling it. It can be taken in various ways, but by far the weirdest way is by dipping a cigarette or marijuana joint in liquid PCP or embalming fluid with PCP in it. The street name for this is "water." Water used to be called angel dust, and at its most popular it was going for $20 a stick. However, this drug faded from the scene with the rise of cocaine and heroin. It's super popular nowadays, selling for something like $10 a stick under a bunch of different names of varying levels of silliness. Some examples of different names for water are: "wet," "the wave," "black dust," "happy sticks," "horse tranquilizer," "embalming fluid" and "formaldehyde." According to users, the drug names you feel like Superman, but it causes erratic behavior and it makes users smell really bad.
2 Before They Evolved, They Were Brotherhoods
Gangs didn't always exist as forces of crime and chaos. If anything, when they were first organized, one of the goals was to teach kids about brotherhood and loyalty. Unfortunately, that goal kind of got lost in the shuffle as the organizations became more criminal. However, the fact remains that gangs like the Bloods and Crips were trying to do something more. The small neighborhood gangs that would eventually become the Bloods and Crips were inspired less by the gangs of history and more by the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers were trying to create programs to strengthen their communities, like school, health and breakfast initiatives for neighborhood kids. The trouble really began when the political leaders of the day that were involved were jailed thanks to the COINTELPRO program created by the FBI. If that hadn't happened, who knows what might have happened.
1 They Exist Because Of Segregation And Racism
Gangs exist today primarily because they were trying to protect their communities. For some gangs, that protection was against rival gangs looking to take over their neighborhoods. For other organizations like the Crips and Bloods, they wanted to protect their communities against police brutality by creating something that could help their neighborhoods mobilize against that threat. The word CRIP is actually an acronym: it stands for Community Resources for Independent People, a nod toward that original goal. Unfortunately, that didn't really happen: by the 1980s, the gangs had turned against each other and become violent to keep the other gangs out of their territory. However, there are some branches of the Crips and Bloods who remember this history and go out of their way to protect their neighborhoods.