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Use of the Teardrop Tattoo by Young Street Gang Members in Canada

NCJ Number
Journal of Gang Research Volume: 19 Issue: 1 Dated: Fall 2011 Pages: 37-52
Mark Totten, M.S.W., R.S.W., Ph.D.
Date Published
16 pages
This paper reports on the use of a specific gang-related communication ritual - the teardrop tattoo - using a sample of 290 youth gang members.
The sample was derived from a series of six Canadian qualitative investigations over a 10-year period (1995-2005) in various geographic regions of the country. This is the first Canadian project on the use of the teardrop tattoo by young gang members. Ninety-seven of the 290 participants had been convicted of murder or manslaughter. Seventy-one of this group, all male, had at least 1 teardrop tattoo. An additional 10 male participants who had served time in a correctional facility but had not been charged with murder or manslaughter had the tattoo. The findings confirm anecdotal observations that the teardrop is reported by gang members to signify to fellow gang members and rival gangs that they have killed a rival, had a member of their gang or family killed, or have served prison time. A primary function which young gang members attribute to the tattoo is to communicate the message that they are dangerous and must be respected. (Published Abstract)