Blood In, Blood Out: Bronx Gang Members Explain Their Creed

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"The reason you think the Bloods are the biggest is because they are," a Blood told me. "And if we're not, you see us more with all the red we wear. You know a Blood is a Blood. And a Blood can never deny that he is a Blood. If anyone asks a Blood if they are a Blood they have to represent." Besides the wearing of the red, some Bloods will have a triangular three-dot tattoo (a dog's paw). Blood affiliates called the O31s sign with their thumb and forefinger making an O, the other three fingers held together, the hand on the stomach.

The New York City Dept. of Corrections has online gang information that claims that the name the Bloods came from the rite of passage called "Blood in, blood out." A Blood told me, "That's not where the name comes from. But we do say, 'Blood in, blood out.'" "Blood in" means a new member with no ranking or respect has to "walk the line" and take a beating from gang members. Or it can mean a new member has to go out and spill a non-Blood's blood. "Blood out" means you leave the gang when you die.

That rule is not as strictly adhered to; some Bloods have been able to walk away from it. "If you have respect you can walk away," a retired member told me. "If you leave to do good, like raise a family, they understand."

Bloods in New York City claim that the gang was an offshoot of the People Nation in Chicago. The gang started up in L.A. in 1961 and stayed on the West Coast until the early 90s. California transplants (Original Gangsters) brought the gang here, where it exploded. They say that Blood stands for "Brotherly Love Overcomes Oppression and Destruction."

When asked why a young person in the Bronx would join the Bloods, you always hear the same answer: "Protection." One Blood said, "It's just something you get pulled into. If everyone around is doing it, you join. It's rough out there. The Bloods are all around, and if you ain't down you goin' down. And in prison you better be a Blood. Bloods run the prison system upstate. They control every prison. If you're a Crip in jail you keep quiet about it. Except in Green, there they got Latin Kings and Crips."

Still, he says, being a Blood in jail comes with a price.

"Every time a Blood has a drama, you have to get involved. It's a pain in the ass, because you're involved in every beef?and in prison that's all there is, beefs."

I asked one Blood why their hated rival Crips don't have as high a profile in New York City as the Bloods.

"They're out there," he replied. "A lot of them. You've probably walked by hundreds of them and just didn't know it. They don't represent like the Bloods. A Crip can deny being a Crip.

"The Crips attract sick kids," he went on. "They're sneaky and attack in packs. We say that Crips stands for?'Cowards Run In Packs.'"

The Crips, like the Bloods, have a mystery associated with their name. They also have an affiliation with Chicago, associated with the Folk Nation?counterpart to, and archenemies of, People Nation. Street legend has it that the feud between the Crips and the Bloods began in L.A. when an off-duty cop who was a Blood shot down a leader of the Crips and got away with it. Hundreds since have died?that is no legend?and so the feud continues.

The name Crip was a puzzler to me. Some think one of the OGs of the Crips was in fact a cripple. Another version is that Crip is short for Kryptonite.

"Nah, man, that's all bullshit," one Blood told me, waving his hand. "Crips stands for 'Christ Rests In Peace.'"

When I think of gangs in the Bronx I think about the thugs who ruled in the borough in the 1970s. Gangs like the Black Spades, Savage Skulls, Golden Guineas and Savage Nomads took over their neighborhoods. They wore dungaree jackets with their gang's name on the back, usually surrounded by some pretty good artwork. Those gangs were also about protection, but they were more into drug dealing and larceny. They had no higher agenda.

Today's Bronx Bloods claim they're different from those gangs of yesterday. They'll tell you the Bloods' main purpose is to uplift themselves and "their own kind"?black. Most told me that Latinos and whites are not allowed to be Bloods.

"Yeah, they say all that, but for the most part it ain't true," one of them disagreed. (We were alone at the time.) "Everyone is just out for themselves. They talk about brotherhood, but they don't do it. A lot of fiendin' going on. And in jail they have white, Hispanic and Chinese Bloods. So whatever works at that time is what they do. They don't have hard and fast rules. Most Bloods don't live as they should."

Others, however, will tell you that Bloods have rules and ranks that are strictly adhered to. The rules I never got straight, but I know the ranks go 1 to 5?the higher your rank, the more pull and respect you have, obviously. Bloods do have meetings, but the members I talked with made it sound like the gang was a cross between the Mafia and the Elks.

"We meet, but there ain't nothing laid out or planned or dues or none of that," one explained. "You go out and do your thing. The meetings are for information and knowledge. If a Blood is in trouble and needs money for bail or whatever and you're out there making money, you're expected to kick in. But that's it."

Bloods can be deadly. In prison the big threat is that the Bloods will put a line through your name. Meaning you're written out of the Book of Life and about to meet your maker. They have a disturbing way of describing killing someone.

"You cross me, you're food," one told me. "Food means you're eaten. Dead."

Bad Wizard,
Bobby Bare Jr.,
Jurassic 5, Now It's Overhead... All at CMJ

"Music," p. 44

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