Why do street gangs use hand signs?  What is flashing?  Stacking?  Throwing?

Times have changed.  Many gangs have learned that dressing in clothing that may identify them as a gang member may easily bring them to the attention of law enforcement.  Thus,  gang clothing, while still worn by many gang members, is not as prevalent as it once was.  

Gang hand signs are used by street gangs and some prison gangs, as a silent language to communicate with others and unless the hand signs are used in front of the law enforcement officer, there may not be any other indication that the person is a gang member. 

Gang hand signs are frequently used as a means of identifying gang members with other gang members and each gang has their own gang hand signs that they use to show allegiance to their gang or to disrespect (dis) rival gang members.  

Many gangs have created hand signs, using their fingers and hands, to represent letters of the alphabet and other signs to represent a word or a phrase. Most members become highly proficient at this "art" and can communicate with others without speaking.  Displaying these gang hand signs is known as "flashing" or "throwing" the signs.

Often we are asked for a list of gang hand signs and it is impossible to fulfill these requests.  Why?  Because there is no master list of the signs used by each gang.  There are approximately 25,000 gangs in the United States and if each gang has its own hand sign that alone would be a list of 25,000 hand signs.  If you add several other signs used for greetings or disrespecting, plus 26 letters of the alphabet, you can see that the list could contain at least 750.000, or more, hand signs.

For parents, teachers, counselors, or others who work with youths, it is not necessary to learn gang hand signs.   If a child is observed flashing or practicing gang hand signs, just knowing that gangs use hand signs should be a warning that their child or their student may be about to join a gang or is already in a gang.   This practice should not be allowed and a rule of “zero tolerance” should be established.

A good practice for police officers and other law enforcement personnel, whether they encounter gang members occasionally, frequently or daily, they should only concern themselves with the hand signs used by gangs in their immediate vicinity.  If a community has only several gangs, officers should find a gang member who is willing to discuss and demonstrate the hand signs used by his gang.  Attempting to learn hand signs of gangs that do not exist in your area is meaningless.

If there are large numbers of gangs in a city or area, an officer should attempt to make contact with as many gang members as he can for the areas or zones in which he works in order  to try to learn some of the basic hand signs for each gang that he may encounter.  At a minimum he should learn the signs that identify the gang, the signs that disrespect rival gangs, and any other signs that could be used to alert a group of members to attack or assault someone. 


A SPECIAL WARNING TO YOUNG PEOPLE:  While it may seem to be a "cool" thing to do, It can be extremely dangerous for anyone to use any form of a hand sign in public.  Regardless of how innocent the sign may be, a gang member may take the sign to be that of a rival gang with a meaning of disrespect.  The use of hand signs could result in an immediate physical altercation, causing serious injury or even death.

The links below provide limited examples of some basic hand signs.

To open the above link, click "OPEN" when prompted and then click "CANCEL" to by-pass the password request




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Robert Walker

This page was last updated on 03/13/2014

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