Whether you’re visiting a new art installation, exploring the new neighborhood bistro or sitting in church, you’ll notice tattooed people everywhere nowadays. In fact, over 15% of Americans have tattoos. Tattoos date back 12,000 years and are part of mankind’s early history.  They’ve been a mark of status, of healing, and have risen from the lowest rank that sailors imparted, to an art form of self-expression found in the hippie movement.  In fact, the toy manufacturer Mattel started selling Barbie dolls with tattoos!

Recently however, the tattoos of a select group of deputies within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department hav given new tattoo photorise to concern. A recent FBI probe is identifying whether the inking of deputies creates a gang-like mentality within the group.  So much so, the Sheriff’s Department has paid out millions of dollars in lawsuits over alleged crimes committed by these tattooed officers.  The charges range from planting evidence, wrongful deaths and cover-ups.

Secret Societies or cliques, have always created suspicion, and during an interview by an LA Times writer Maya Lau with the owner of American Beauty Tattoo who said, “he was stunned by the number of deputies coming in for ink…more than a 100 in all.”  All of the officers requested the same tattoo and identified with the Compton station.  Other Sheriff’s stations have ‘fraternal’ names; such as, the Vikings from Lynwood station; the Banditos, East LA station; or the Regulators from Century station, and there are also the Jump Out Boys.  Each deputy has a tattoo that applies directly to the city and sheriff’s station where they work.

Deputies in these areas are assigned to gang control and oversight, so it might be likely these deputies would:  1) assume gang-like behavior and “earn their ink” with gang-like actions prescribed by their peers, or 2) “use gang-like tactics to recruit young Latinos into their fold…” and 3) to include similar tattoos that brand themselves to a other photocertain clique. This “paints a very strong picture of a group of law enforcement agents that are basically unifying themselves in a way that resembles a gang.”  Here’s the situation: arguments mentioned above have put the LA Sheriffs on the radar since 1992, and now the FBI has stepped in to investigate.  However, there are two points of views to consider additionally.  First point: “getting a matching tattoo is more a sign of camaraderie in a potentially dangerous profession.” Second thought comes from a First Amendment law professor at UCLA who states, “It seems to me the government would have an uphill battle banning tattoos. California labor law also prohibits employers from interfering with an employee’s political activities…that include being a part of a group.” Still lawsuits continue based on the questionable activities of these deputies.

In closing, comments one anonymous deputy, “They (the deputies) belong to a clique, yet they’re out there trying to put gangs away off the streets.  I just find it a little hypocritical, if you ask me.”

What are your thoughts on the matter, are common symbols building camaraderie or creating dangerous ‘gang-like’ divide?



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