According to the FBI, there are 1 million gang members in the US, an increase of 200,000, or 2 That 1 million figure must be far too low. Who is and who is not a gang member is very hard to determine. For instance, in this area, there are three levels of the gang. There are the real hardcore Nortenos – level 1. Those are older guys and they are actually allowed to have Norteno tattoos on them. They have all been jumped in, probably in prison. Then there are younger guys who have “wannabe” gangs, around here wannabe Norteno gangs – level 2. The one around here is called something like 601 Kings. They claim territory, spray a little graffiti and sometimes fight with the other young wannabe gangs. But I told my neighbors about this gang and they started laughing and said, “That’s so stupid!” They said that’s not “the real Nortenos” and if these kids went to jail or prison and tried to claim Norteno, they would get beat up just like that. Plus no way are they allowed to be caught dead in jail or prison with an unauthorized tattoo. I’m dubious if you even have to be jumped in to be a member of a level 2 gang. These level 2 gangs are best thought of as just the local neighborhood kids from wherever forming a set, calling themselves the whatevers, and then trying to “make a name for themselves” so to speak. But the real hardcore Nortenos will just ignore them, laugh at them and have nothing to do with them. Level 2 is like the upstarts. No way are they the real deal. I know a lot these characters around here, and some of these young guys are actually sort of ok in a gangsterish way, but others are no good. Mainly, no way can you openly insult their gang or support the opposing gang. Some of them, if you respect them, they respect you, pretty much. Even below level 2 is level 3, which probably represents most of the characters around here. They wear Norteno colors and gangster attire, sometimes spray graffiti, and sometimes they fight with opposing gangs, but they aren’t really even level 2 gang members as far as I can tell. I guess they are what you call associates. Truth is that just about all the young Hispanics around here “claim” or “represent” Norteno. That doesn’t mean they are in any gang. This is a Norteno hood, so everyone here pretty much claims Norteno by default. That is, they sort of root for them at least or if not, at least don’t support the Sureno enemies. It’s sort of like rooting for the Dodgers if you lived in Brooklyn. They support the home team. Heck, I practically claim Norteno on that basis! The level 3 group represents a vast number of people, and if you include them, the figure must be dramatically higher than 1 million. Furthermore, I believe that most of the graffiti crews around here are at most these level 3 kids. As far as what crime they are involved in, level 2 gangs sell dope sometimes, possibly deal in stolen property, spray graffiti, and sometimes fight with rival gangs. That’s about it from what I can tell. You can actually live in a place like this, as long as you don’t get involved in the gang crap yourself and avoid making friends with these characters. Just choose your friends very carefully. For the most part, they don’t bother people who are outside the gang thing. These levels of distinction are not represented very well outside of gang insider clique circles, certainly not in the media.
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