History: Also known as Black Gangster Disciples, GDs, or BGDs, the gang's origins go back to the 1960s and the south side of Chicago. The Gangster Disciples are part of the "Folk Nation." Some members will claim to be members of "Growth and Development" and out of criminal activity. The Gangster Disciples were the first modern street gang to show up in significant numbers in Memphis, back in the 1980s. For several years, they had the streets virtually to themselves.
Symbols, colors, and clothing: Utilize the six-point star as a primary symbol. "Six Poppin," a phrase used in graffiti, is another way to reference the six-point star. Other major symbols include a three-point devil's pitchfork pointed upward and a heart with wings. They will use several colors, including black, gray, silver and white. Among the pro and college sports clothing favored: New York Yankees, Oakland Raiders and Georgetown Hoyas.
Hierarchy: For many years, leader Larry Hoover ran the gang from inside prison. Members still speak of Hoover, now in the so-called federal Super Max in Colorado, with reverence. He is still considered Chairman. The gang has a Chicago Board of Directors, and there is a separate Memphis Board of Directors. There is an Overseer for Tennessee, and three for Memphis. Among the ranks below Overseer in Memphis: governors, assistant overseers, chief enforcers and chiefs of security, regents and soldiers.
Graffiti: The GDs are rivals of the Vice Lords and will use an upside down "A" to disrespect the Vice Lords, whose full name is Almighty Vice Lords.
History: Began in the late 1950s in the Illinois State Training School for boys and became a full-on gang on the west side of Chicago. Members of the "People Nation," their literature instructs that they follow Islam. In Memphis, VL "sets" include Universal, Unknown, Traveling, Insane, Conservative and Four Corner Hustlers.
Symbols, colors and signs: Common symbols include the five-pointed star, the dollar sign, a pyramid with a crescent moon and the Playboy bunny. Their main colors are black and gold, and black and red. The latter might be worn as a war color. They will wear Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers clothing; the "P" on the Pirates cap refers to the "People Nation." Michael Jordan jerseys are popular for the color and the number: the 2 and the 3 add up to 5, for the five-point star. They use the thumb, index and middle fingers on a single upraised hand to form a "VL."
Hierarchy: Vice Lords have a Chief of Chiefs over the South. Other ranks include: supreme chief, five-star universal elite, three-star universal elite, city-wide enforcer and city-wide chief of security, five-star branch elite, three-star branch elite, and solider. Ronald Terry, who in 2006 went to prison for attempted murder, was a five-star universal elite in Memphis.
Graffiti: VLs will turn the GDs' pitchfork upside down to show disrespect.
History: Founded in 1969 in L.A., many Crip sets in Memphis are named after California sets, including Grape Street, Rollin 20s, Kitchen and West Side.
Color, signs, symbols, lingo: Blue is the main color, and blue bandanas hanging from a pocket are a way to fly their colors. But the gang will use purple, black and orange, too. A Lakers cap might be used to symbolize the Grape Street Crips, a Kansas City Royals cap to represent the Kitchen Crips. Los Angeles Dodgers caps are popular, too. The three-point crown is a favored tattoo. They refer to Bloods as "Slobs" as a way of disrespecting them. Crips call each other "Cuzz."
Hierarchy: Considered to be less structured on both the national and local levels, the Crips nonetheless are known to be selective about allowing membership to the gang. Little Loc, a 16-year-old Memphis Crip, says: "You don't come to Crip; Crip comes to you."
Graffiti: Crips use grapes as a symbol when tagging. Rivals with the Bloods, they will use "BK" for Bloods Killer.
History: Created in the early 1970s in South-Central L.A., the Bloods were the alliance that grew out of war between the Crips and the Piru Street Boys. The Bloods are in Memphis in smaller numbers than the GDs, Vice Lords and Crips. Like the Vice Lords, they identify themselves as part of the "People Nation."
Symbols, colors, lingo: Their chief color is red and they avoid blue and the letter "C" because of their longstanding rivalry with the Crips. Bloods, and sometimes VLs, will wear the red No. 8 Budweiser jacket of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. The "B" represents Bloods to them, and the beer maker's five-point crown fits with the five-point star of the "People Nation." They refer to each other as "Dawg" and a dog is a favored tattoo. They will derisively refer to a Crip as a "Crab."
Hierarchy: Ranks range from First Superior or General to soldier. Bloods are more likely to form alliances with Vice Lords to sell drugs or engage in other criminal activity than they are with Crips and GDs.
Graffiti: They will tag with "CK" for Crip Killer and consider anything red, such as a stop sign, as representative of the gang.
As major street gangs grow in Memphis neighborhoods, many find the lure of the violent life. Watch »
Reporter Don Wade and photographer Mike Brown spent several months exploring Memphis' growing gang culture, talking to members past and present, to people trying to help young men leave gangs, and to law enforcement. Click here for the full package.