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Friday, June 4, 2010

Blood Gangs In Maryland

Bloods engage in local drug sales, robbery, burglary, and assaults within and between gang members. Violence can also erupt as they either defend drug territory or if they perceive that someone is not showing them “respect.” Often those trying to be accepted as members are most violent. New members are often required to commit a crime to demonstrate their commitment to the gang and/or to prove they are not cops.


Bloods refers to a loosely structured association of smaller street gangs, known as “sets,” which has adopted a common gang culture. Each set has its own leader and generally operates independently from the others.

Most Bloods members are African American males, although some sets have recruited female members as well as members from other races and ethnic backgrounds. Members range in age from early teens to mid-twenties, however some hold leadership positions into their late twenties and occasionally thirties.

There is no known national leader of the Bloods but individual Bloods sets have a hierarchical leadership structure with identifiable levels of membership. These levels of membership indicate status within a gang. A leader, typically an older member with a more extensive criminal background, runs each set. A set leader is not elected but rather asserts himself by developing and managing the gang’s criminal enterprises through his reputation for violence and ruthlessness and through his personal charisma. The majority of set members are called “Soldiers,” who are typically between the ages of 16 and 22. Soldiers have a strong sense of commitment to their set and are extremely dangerous because of their willingness to use violence both to obtain the respect of gang members and to respond to any person who “disrespects” the set. “Associates” are not full members, but they identify with the gang and take part in various criminal activities. To the extent that women belong to the gang, they are usually associate members and tend to be used by their male counterparts to carry weapons, hold drugs, or by prostituting themselves to make money for their set.

Recruitment is often influenced by a recruitee’s environment. Bloods recruit heavily among school-age youth in predominantly poor African American communities. Gang membership offers youth a sense of belonging and protection. It also offers immediate gratification to economically disadvantaged youth who view the trappings of gang life—gold jewelry, cash, expensive sports clothing—as particularly alluring.

Bloods members may go through different types of initiations. Some may join the gang because they are friends or relatives of the gang leaders. Others go through an initiation process that might include committing an armed robbery to bring something of value back to the gang, performing an act of violence, or being beaten by members in a ceremony called a “beat-in,” “kangaroo walk,” or “bull-pen.” This initiation is meant to test the courage and loyalty of the member. In some sets, the commission of a criminal act is also meant to prove that the initiate is not a police officer. Female associates undergo a similar initiation process; some sets require women to be “sexed in” by having sex with some or all of the set members.


Bloods members identify themselves through various gang indicators such as colors, clothing, symbols, tattoos, jewelry, graffiti, language, and hand signs.

The Bloods gang color is red. They like to wear sports clothing, including team “Starter” jackets that show their gang color. Some of their favorite teams include the San Francisco Forty-Niners, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Chicago Bulls. They are also known to wear Dallas Cowboys clothing, whose logo contains a five-pointed star. It is important to note that many young people wear these colors and sports clothing and these indicators alone should not be viewed as evidence of gang membership.

The most commonly used Bloods symbols include the number “5,” the five-pointed star, and the five-pointed crown. These symbols are meant to show the Bloods’ affiliation with the People Nation, a large coalition of affiliates created to protect alliance members within the federal and state prison systems. These symbols may be seen in the tattoos, jewelry, and clothing that gang members wear as well as in gang graffiti, which is used by the Bloods to mark their territory. Many graffiti include gang name, nicknames, declaration of loyalty, threats against rival gangs, or a description of criminal acts in which the gang has been involved. Bloods graffiti might also include the word “Piru” which refers to the fact that the first known Bloods gang was formed by individuals from Piru Street in Compton, California. Finally, Bloods graffiti might include rival gang symbols (particularly those of the Crips) that are drawn upside down. This is meant as an insult to the rival group and its symbols.

Bloods members also have a unique language. Bloods greet each other using the word “Blood” and often avoid using words with the letter “C.” Finally, Bloods use hand signs to communicate with one another. Hand signs may be a singular movement, like the American Sign Language letter “B,” or a series of movements using one or both hands for more complex phrases.

United Blood Nation (UBN) or East Coast Bloods initiates often receive a dog-paw mark, represented by three dots often burned with a cigarette, on their right shoulder. Other UBN symbols include a bulldog and a bull.


Individual Bloods sets exist in virtually every state and generally fall into three categories—those associated with the original Los Angeles-based Bloods gangs, those affiliated with the United Blood Nation (UBN), and independent gangs that adopt some of the symbols and culture of Bloods.

The oldest and most familiar Bloods sets formed in the early 1970s in Los Angeles to provide protection from the much larger Crips street gang association. At the time, Crips sets outnumbered Bloods sets by three to one. To assert their power despite this difference in numbers, Bloods sets became increasingly violent, especially against rival Crips members.

During the 1980s, Bloods gang members began distributing crack cocaine in Los Angeles. The huge profits generated by the crack cocaine market swelled the ranks of Bloods sets and induced many “entrepreneurial” members to migrate to other cities to set up new markets. The glorification of “gangster life” through movies like “Colors” also encouraged youth throughout the country to emulate the Bloods culture, symbols, and colors.

Bloods on the East coast are often referred to as the United Blood Nation. African-American inmates founded the UBN, also known as the East Coast Bloods, in the New York City Department of Corrections in 1993 to protect themselves from attacks by Latino prison gangs. The UBN was emulating the Bloods street gangs in Los Angeles. But while there is some cultural affinity between LA-based Bloods and UBN, their structure and philosophy are different, and they act independently of each other. The UBN, for example, tends to be more organized and the sets share a comprehensive philosophy, expressed in an oath, a prayer, a song, a motto, a concept of war, and 31 common rules. UBN sets also tend to be more racially diverse. UBN sets are most active in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

Most Maryland Bloods groups have either a line of communication or a lineage that goes back to the New York/New Jersey faction of the UBN. In the housing complexes where these gangs are active, there is considerable evidence of links with Bloods members from New Jersey and New York. Some families move from NJ/NY to get away from gang activity but end up bringing youth who identify themselves with these gangs to the area. However, Bloods in Maryland are typically independent gangs although members may know or be related to Bloods in other areas. They follow the “culture” of the Bloods gang in terms of colors, clothing, tattoos, however their membership and criminal activity are primarily local.

Maryland Activity

Law enforcement officers from Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford, and Prince George’s counties and Hagerstown have documented Bloods in their jurisdictions. Carroll and Frederick counties have a small Bloods presence. These gangs are dominantly African American, but there are some Caucasian members, as well. Many of the Bloods do not wear gang colors and are closemouthed about their membership and activities. Bloods sets have a high level of transience with membership being fluid and interaction with New York and New Jersey Bloods. Most of these gangs are involved in street level distribution of drugs, robberies, and assaults.

Some New York Bloods come to the area to sell drugs and are then arrested and incarcerated in Maryland. Given the length of their drug sentences (often 4 to6 years), members’ families often move from New York to Maryland to make visitations easier. Those families then build ties in the community and when the family member who was incarcerated is released they stay in Maryland, especially in Baltimore and Hagerstown.

Allies and Rivals

Bloods consider themselves allies with members of the People Nation and rivals of all gangs associated with the Folk Nation gang alliance. These alliances were established in the 1980s to protect alliance members within the federal and state prison systems. The People Nation alliance includes Black Peace Stones, Cobra Stones, Insane Popes, Gaylords, Future Stones, Insane Unknown, King Cobras, Latin Counts, Latin Dragons, Latin Kings, Latin Pachucos, Latin Saints, Spanish Lords, and Vice Lord Nation. The Folk Nation alliance members (and thus, Bloods rivals) include the Bloods’ biggest rival, the Crips, as well as many other gangs, including the Gangster Disciples, the Black Disciples, and the Black Gangsters among others.

In some instances, Bloods and UBN sets will associate with traditional rival gangs, such as the Crips or the Latin Kings, when such associations benefit the criminal enterprises of both gangs.

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Klein, M.W. (1995). The American Street Gang: Its Nature, Prevalence, and Control. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Sachs, Steven L. (1997). Street Gang Awareness: A Resource Guide for Parents and Professionals. Minneapolis, MN: Fairview Press.

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