This important article is by no means a comprehensive list of street gangs, and it’s also not in order, either. I did it on purpose because I don’t want any of these dangerous outfits trying to jockey for position or impress me with their backdoor shenanigans to jump rank. No, all I’m doing here is giving some mentions to fifteen of some of the most notorious organized (and semi-organized) crime outfits known to man.
A man, young man, or impressionable gal joins a street gang for their own set of reasons. Now, that might be because of an undesirable situation at home, a less-than-inclusive educational system where kids slip through the cracks every day, or a combination of countless additional factors that might drive someone to join a street gang.
One common thread I managed to pick up about these organizations is that very few of them are open to snitches. So if you are, in fact, a snitch, and you find yourself in the streets getting “G” checked, it’s best to keep your wits about you. If you’re a man (or woman) of the world and fortune is favoring the bold, you might claim the right set, rattle off the right street, and be able to execute the same intricate dance and handshake combination to get out alive. Without further preamble, here are fifteen of the greatest street gangs of all time.
15. Barrio Azteca
This gang is pretty much like the little kid who has the big brother who will beat you down handily if you mess with lil bro. Also referred to as “Los Azteca,” this violent street gang has several thousand members, mostly operating out of New Mexico and Texas, but also out of East coast states, like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Big brother is in Juarez, Mexico, where Barrio Azteca affiliates itself with the Juarez Drug Cartel. So be careful whose lunch money you jack when it comes to these guys because it’s not going to be their momma coming knocking on your door afterward.
14. Vice Lords
The conception of this powerful crew goes back to the 1950s when the Vice Lords’ first gang formed in Chicago. That gang was called the Egyptian Cobras, which also happens to be the name I would choose for my team if I were on Family Double Dare. They were put together by junior high and grammar school kids from Bryant School at 14th and Kedvale Ave. The Vice Lords would eventually build themselves into the 2nd largest and one of the oldest street gangs in Chicago, Illinois, boasting a total membership of 35,000 strong, but not before they finishedadvisory class.
13. Latin Kings
They have their own website, but that could easily just be a sting operation set up to nab the nerdiest of street gang inquirers. This predominantly Latino gang totes around 25,000 members nationally and started out in early 1920s New York City and, as you can imagine, it got a little bit like Westside Story from time to time. “Papa King,” the founder of the Latin Kings, was said to have had roots in the city that never sleeps, likely a member of the Noble Knights, the Young Lords, or the American Legion before he became the gang’s founder in Chicago. In the 90s the Latin Kings became embroiled in a turf war with the Latin Counts. All excellent information tobring up at a cocktail party.
This gang is hard to swallow because they are the most racist. F-13 is like your uncle who you have to see every year at Thanksgiving. Not only do they open carry their handgun at family affairs, but they also hold deep resentments toward other races, engage in drug smuggling, murder, maiming, robbery, and a whole lot of additional undesirable stuff. “F” stands for Florencia, when it comes to F-13, ladies and gentlemen, due to their establishment in the Florence area of LA county. 13 stands for their allegiance to the Mexican Mafia.
F-13 is a bit confusing to research because they have a clique (a specific subset of a gang), called “The Jokers,” but they also have many individual members of varying notoriety named Joker. And there was even a set of indictments against 102 members of F-13 in 2007 called “Operation Joker’s Wild” which allows police to arrest bangers for gathering in the streets. Harsh.
11. Peaky Blinders
Thought I’d go a little more international with the Peaky Blinders gang. This 19th-century street gang based in Birmingham, Englandwas nothing to sneeze at. They’re another urban youth gang that used to house members with names like “Baby Face” who you just wanted to pinch on the cheeks after they pickpocket you. These guys got their name by their members hiding razor blades in their hats and using them in fights. They also used to congregate on the rooftops and perform impeccable dance numbers. They’ve also been made world-famous by having a show made about them with the ironic title Peaky Blinders.
10. Hells Angels
I know this is a biker gang. I’d just like to be inclusive here, even though I hate motorcycles. If you want to have a colorful conversation at your local Hells Angels bar, then call one of their members “Road Snowflake” and take a sip of his Budweiser. Tell him his old lady is old news, for good measure. Just to see what happens.
All jokes aside, the Hells Angels are legendary for being outlaws, legendary for disrupting a Rolling Stones concert after having been hired as security, and legendary for performing a hit on one of their own members… at a funeral…for one of their own members. These guys will always keep you guessing. God bless ‘em.
This transnationally-organized crime syndicate originated in Japan, and I have to be extra nice to them here because they are likely the most internet savvy. They are also notorious for their strict codes of conduct and for having gravity-defying hairstyles. The Yakuza carry an estimated 102,000 international member base. Just like with gangs in America, Japan dealt with theirs by passing anti-gang laws. But it wasn’t enough to stop the Yakuza, who still have over 58,000 members in their home country to this day.
They are regarded as a semi-legitimate organization, even aiding disaster relief services after earthquakes and tsunamis, but also dealing extensively in human trafficking. Can’t say they’re not deliciously duplicitous.
8. Cosa Nostra
Also known as the Sicilian Mafia, Cosa Nostra started in Sicily, Italy, but also used to have a once well-powered Italian-American counterpart known as the American Mafia. This loose association of crime families generally share the same structural hierarchy, adopt the same code of conduct, and wear the same vibrant Adidas tracksuits. Though they call themselves “men of honour,” they’ve done plenty of dishonorable acts – like rigging horse races, expecting exorbitant amounts of cold cuts on the house for providing protection deli owners didn’t even ask for, and other atrocities.
After several power struggles, arrests and investigations, by the late 1990s and into the 2000s, a weakened Cosa Nostra had to hand over the drug trade to the “Ndrangheta crime organization of Calabria. Allegedly, it is believed that the Mafia has joined forces with Mexican drug cartels, which is either a sign of globalization or just sort of like one of those things that happens in the movies when two unlikely accomplices join forces and hilarity ensues.
7. The Crips
Whether you’re a jack boy, someone trying to get their poke on (which means “stab” for our intents and purposes), or somebody looking into the possibilities of peeling another person’s wig, the Crips might be the gang for you. Also known as the Original Crip Homies (OCH), this crew is LA-based, one of its biggest street gangs as a matter of fact. They’re known for cripping, walking, and Crip walking. The C-walk is a common dance move performed with dexterity by Crip members, made world famous by rapper WC. They’ve expanded their margins over the years to New York – all five boroughs, as a matter of fact. East and West Crips argue over who is best, which is an unlikely twist since usually gangs are so cosmopolitan and accepting of other creeds.
6. The Bloods
Like the Crips, The Bloods are a predominantly African American street gang, originating in Los Angeles, particularly in South Central back in circa 1972. The Bloods forged themselves out of intense street violence that came with everyday life in the late 60s and early 70s. A lot of gangster historians believe that The Bloods started off as a collection of smaller faction gangs who banded together to fight a more sizeable Crips gang. Back in 2003, they had an estimated 20,000-member base, which extends to New York, where for every one Crip there are now three bloods and counting. Bear in mind that these numbers are sort of hard to validate because at this point all the different gang differentiations are not currently on the census. But, as the world continues to divide itself into various self-interest groups, this may change at any moment.
5. Los Zetas
The Los Zetas are said to be the most ruthless and most technologically advanced cartel operating in Mexico, and many believe that this is because they have roots in the Mexican army’s special forces, some founding members are said to have received training in the US. Drugs, guns, sex trafficking, there’s not much these guys don’t dabble in. They’ve carried out an assortment of massacres, including this one at a casino back in 2011, where they killed over 50 people. They are more known for their brutal tactics than their economic prowess. As of late 2016 they formed an alliance with the Gulf cartel against Cartel Del Noreste. Somebody’s been watching Game of Thrones.
4. Wah Ching
The Wah Ching is a Chinese American Triad Society (also referred commonly as “Dub C,” not to be confused with our C-walking friend from the Crips above). They originated in the city by the bay right before the summer of love in the early 1960s. They controlled most vice distribution throughout northern and southern Californian Asian communities at the time. The Wah Ching is said to be primarily made up of teenagers, and they fight a lot with the Asian Boyz gang. Both continue to solidify their position, ready to make a move on the Jabbawockeez Dance Crew. Both gangs also took part in the Golden Dragon Massacre in 1977 when the Joe Boys tried to assassinate some Wah Ching members at a restaurant. Five people died, including two innocent tourists who were Wah Ching helplessly as the attack took place. Luckily, the San Francisco Police Department created an Asian Gang Task Force as a response, each with their own distinct fatality move.
3. The Gangsters Disciples
Another Chicago-based gang from the land of deep dish pizza and deep-rolling street gangs. They came about from The Disciple Nation and Gangster Nation back in the 1960s, two distinct organizations who were each under the leadership of David Barksdale and Larry Hoover, respectively — two guys on the GD Mount Rushmore.
The Disciples are down with street-level drug distribution, assault, auto theft, prostitution rings, and computer fraud (just kidding about the last one – their website is disgustingly out of date). They’re also among gangs who have an active presence in the US military, one incident occurring back on 3 July 2005, when members of the GD killed a U.S. Army Sergeant in Hohenecken (near Ramstein, Germany – not to be confused with Ramstein, the band).
The Disciples gang took a huge blow recently with around 50 of its leaders swept up with federal indictments across the Southeast US (in both Atlanta and Memphis), charged with racketeering, murder, extortion, drug trafficking, credit card fraud, and other colorful charges.
2. 18th Street Gang
The 18th Street Gang (also called Barrio 18, M18, and La 18) is a multi-ethnic (mostly Mexican and Central American) transnational criminal organization that started out in Los Angeles. They currently boast membership in the tens of thousands in Los Angeles County alone. Their criminal activity has even gotten the attention of the FBI, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They pretty much rob, cheat, steal, kill, and never snitch. Turf and numbers are the name of the game for the 18th Street Gang. Central leadership, however, is not. The 18th Street Gang is made up of dozens of loosely-associated cliques. Even though they took a hit in the early 2000s with hundreds of members busted in an FBI raid, they continue to run drug trafficking, arson, pandering, arms trafficking, extortion, human trafficking, and racketeering operations domestically.
MS-13 (or Mara Salvatrucha) is an international outfit that also originated in Los Angeles, CA back in the 1980s with most members Central American in origin. The gang has its hooks in the US, Canada, and Mexico as well. They carry a particularly strong presence in metropolitan areas like LA, New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Toronto, Canada. They boast a 70,000 man membership. Like the 18th Street Gang, MS-13 also garnered the attention of the FBI, who performed wide-scale raids against them.
These guys recruit kids – 8 year olds, dude. MS-13 members choose between being beat in or sex’d in (for the ladies), depending on what you’re into. They also make their members pay taxes, which is the most gangster move of all, in my opinion. If you see a guy who has been stabbed 13 times, it’s likely been the work of MS-13 — that’s their calling card. “You rat, you die,” you’ll often hear an MS-13 mumble into the night to no one in particular. They like to do stuff like traffic in drugs, smuggle folks, child sex trafficking, battery, kidnapping, arms trafficking, and engage in additional classic American past times. Probably don’t want these guys showing up to your rosé tasting, though, is all I’m saying.
Are you thinking about joining a street gang? If so, there will be a lot of days you’ll likely take your work home with you. It’s no 9-5, from what it sounds like. Not a huge retirement plan for most of these guys, and the average life expectancy can’t be great. Another thing you’ll have to deal with before joining a street gang is beingjumped in (or sex’d in, as mentioned earlier). They are also extremely difficult to disbar from, many adopting a harsh “blood-in, blood-out” policy. There’s also that whole “live by the gun, die by the gun,” thing. Just like with Alcoholics Anonymous, gangs have a lot of cool rhymes and sayings, butthere are very strict member policies. Both AA and street gangs arefully self-sustaining, for the record.
One common theme you can find when you look into gang lore and history is that, no matter what the clique, it sounds like gangs are a lot like any other business — some just have far better search engine optimization than others. There are a few guys at the very top gleaning most of the booty (in both senses of the word), a middle management that is seriously overworked, over-stressed, and under-appreciated, and underlings who serve as grist for the mill. One risk you run if you join a street gang (I mean, besides the whole being violently murdered thing) is that there’s no 401k, no medical, no dental. Most (if not all) gang members (no matter the rank) come to one ignoble end or another, whether it be death or life in prison. So, please, just make damn well sure that the gang you join has a competitive new hire package.
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