Under the right circumstances, graffiti has the potential to be an avenue through which useful social commentary can be expressed. Under the wrong circumstances, it can be a tool used to spread fear, intimidation and baseless animosity. Like many other large American cities, parts of Newark, NJ are infested with gang graffiti. The messages sprayed across the brick, the concrete, and the boarded up doorways of abandoned homes throughout the city are one of the most visible ways through which street gangs manipulate young minds. The message? Affiliating yourself with a group of organized (or not so organized) criminals is both glamorous and perhaps even expected. “Welcome to the Jungle…Bang or Die.”
47. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Public mailboxes are the billboards of many Newark gangs. The message: We own this block and monopolize the sale of illegal narcotics on this specific street.
48. West Ward – Newark, NJ. A “Goon” is a low-level gang member…a pawn. But never fear, citizens! The Newark Police Department is on “strenuous look out!” When kids walk by and see these two images, who do you think they deduce is actually in control?
49. North Ward – Newark, NJ. “D.D.P.” or “Dominicans Don’t Play” is a gang that is prevalent in many Latino areas of the greater NYC region. The name itself implies: If you mess with us, we will physically assault or kill you. One of the clearest ways that gangs negatively impact communities is by creating a culture of fear and intimidation.
50. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Latin Kings in the house.
51. Central Ward – Newark, NJ. In the early 1970s in Los Angeles, a black power organization named “Community Revolutionary Inter-Party Service…CRIPS” rose out of the ashes of the collapse of political groups such as the Black Panthers. Some forty years later, the aspirations of the group have taken on some changes.
52. South Ward – Newark, NJ. Crip, Cuz.
53. Central Ward – Newark, NJ. One particular set of the orignal Crips was located on Grape Street in Los Angeles. Fast forward to 2013 in Newark and you’ll see some pretty fierce gang-bangers walking around wearing purple and calling themselves “Grape.” This might seem hard to wrap your head around…perhaps about as hard as trying to figure out how a really geographically specific Southern California street gang’s symbology is now being flaunted with such audacity while the snow flies in the Northeast.
54. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Despite the existence of many other gangs, the Bloods overwhelming dominate the gang scene in Newark.
55. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Saying you are “Blood” is like saying you are “Christian.” Although many people identify with the blanket title, at the end of the day, it all comes down to specific sub-categories. “793” is a powerful “set” of Bloods in Newark.
56. West Ward – Newark, NJ. This is fascinating. Part of the culture of serious Bloods is attempting to avoid using the “c” or “s” letters at all, in speech or writing, because these letters are associated with their principal rivals: the Crips. By not using these letters, Bloods painstakingly do their best to disrespect the Crips. Sunset Avenue is a street in Newark. To the 793 Bloods who run the neighborhood, it the street is not “Sunset,” it’s “Bunbet.” Cute, right?
57. Central Ward – Newark, NJ. “Thug Life.” Glamorization of criminality at its finest.
58. West Ward – Newark, NJ. West Side MOB Piru set. “Piru” is the name of one of the streets in Los Angeles where the Bloods originally formed in response to the Crips in the 1970’s.
59. West Ward – Newark, NJ. West “Sied” MOB Piru set. Apparently this time, we can’t manage to spell the word “side” correctly. Enough said.
60. West Ward – Newark, NJ. “G Shine” set of the Bloods.
61. West Ward – Newark, NJ. So you’re in the market to start a new Blood set? Hey guys, let’s get together over some Pringles and brainstorm a name that accurately encapsulates our mission, values, and life philosophy… The result? “SMM” one of the most notorious Blood sets in the state of New Jersey until most of its leadership was indited a few years ago. SMM: “Sex, Money, Murder.”
62. West Ward – Newark, NJ. The most powerful Blood set in Newark today: the Brims.
63. West Ward – Newark, NJ. Brick City Brim.
64. West Ward – Newark, NJ. There’s a lot going on here. I don’t know whether to start with the wall, or the sidewalk…
65. West Ward – Newark, NJ. This wall belongs to a corner store one block away from the school I teach at. While our kids are being dismissed at the end of the day, many of them walk past this wall and the men selling heroin and crack-cocaine in broad daylight a few yards to the left.
66. West Ward – Newark, NJ. This very well may be one of the most discouraging photos I’ve ever taken. There are just so many perverted psychological layers to attempt to filter through. For starters, this Blood set has labeled the community they live in as “The Jungle.” And ask yourself, who, or what rather, lives in a jungle? Animals, right? In my opinion, this is one of the most twisted ways that gangs corrupt young minds. What is the message to kids here? That the environment they live in is full of wild animals. And if you don’t embrace that, if you don’t embody that mentality, you will become a victim. The irony here is just too good to pass up…the gang asserts, “Bang or Die!” To be read: Join us, or you will become a victim of serious violence. Yet on the very same wall, they memorialize two of their own members who were murdered BECAUSE they were members of the gang. These were two men who had in fact, adopted the “Bang or Die” mentality, and now they’re in the grave. “Welcome to the Jungle?” No thanks. This is actually a neighborhood in which the majority of residents are honest working-class people who are just trying to get by, despite the challenges of their circumstances. Someone paint over this trash, please, so that our youth may see street gangs for what they truly are: confused, violent and ignorant groups of grown men who possess the mental faculties of children and add nothing more to our communities than addiction, death and moral bankruptcy.