Sign o’ the Times – Glorifying the Gang Life

Guest Blogger Oscar Garza (Senior Editor at Los Angeles Public Media) on the L.A. Sign, Street Gangs and the Dodgers

Fergie Flashing the L.A. Sign (Copyright Krystal Ball Productions, Inc.)

Major League Baseball has dealt with one problem at Dodger Stadium—the McCourts’ wayward ownership—and now someone else will have to deal with another huge issue at Chavez Ravine: a decline in the atmosphere there bought on by thugs who have made it a less friendly place.

According to the LA Weekly: Over the last five or six years under [Frank] McCourt’s ownership, the LAPD sources say, cheap ticket prices promoted in some sections, including outfield pavilions, helped add to the number of thugs and gang members. It wasn’t long before the 18th Street Gang and others became a more prominent presence, operating with the knowledge that a typical penalty for bad behavior was merely “getting kicked out,” one of the LAPD sources says.

It came to a flashpoint on Opening Day of this season with the parking lot beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, who remains in a coma. His attackers, described as Latinos with gang-like tattoos, have eluded capture.

Amid outrage in the community and the media, the Dodgers and the LAPD have stepped up security and they’ve vowed to once again make the stadium a family-friendly destination.

Of course, we’re all troubled by the gang presence at one of the most beloved ballparks of our national pastime, and we fret about the gang tags in virtually every L.A. neighborhood, but we don’t stop long enough to think about how complicit we are in the pervasiveness of gang culture in popular culture.

The über-example is the love-hate relationship we have with the Mafia, which reached a new prominence through Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy and many of Martin Scorsese’s films. Their progeny include Snoop Dogg’s “Doggfather” persona and “Mafia Wars”—one of the most popular video games ever created.

We watch NBA players seemingly throw gang signs during games. (The Celtics’ Paul Pierce, who grew up in Inglewood, was fined $25,000 for such an instance.) We embraced gangsta rap and the “artists” who brazenly boasted about thug life, and the music industry still promotes rappers who are compelled to come hard (whether they really are or not).

Latinos have our own love-hate relationship with gang culture. Cholos are the modern-day pachucos—social outcasts who rebel against their bi-cultural disconnect. But there’s a distinct line between being a victim and a victimizer, which is sometimes overlooked in popular appropriation of gang behavior.

Take, for example, the LA hand sign. It’s not associated with any particular gang, but it’s certainly inspired by the habit of bangers flashing the sign of their set.

If you’ve never flashed the LA sign, I bet you know someone who has. Inner city kids do it, as do suburban kids. Hipsters do it. George Lopez recently did it on national television from his courtside seat at a Lakers game. Nike released a t-shirt with Kobe Bryant’s puppet character flashing a cartoonish “LA.”

It’s cool. It’s funny. Harmless, right? Until a couple of real LA gangsters beat an innocent fan within an inch of his life.

So, yes, let’s hope that Dodger Stadium gets cleaned up and managed better. Let’s pray for Bryan Stow’s recovery and hope that his attackers are caught and brought to justice. And let’s hope that communities can make progress against our deeply ingrained and seemingly intractable gang problem.

But let’s look in the mirror too–and ask ourselves if flashing a pseudo-gang sign is the best way for Angelenos to represent.

[This commentary was originally published at]

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