School Principals Taught the Trappings of Gang Activity

Times Staff Writer

Ty bud, strawberry, skonk weed and Zig Zag.

What may sound like the makings for a bad weekend picnic are actually test words that Los Angeles high school administrators were asked Wednesday to define as part of a seminar to teach them how to identify gang activity at their schools.

The words are part of the underground vocabulary used by gang members and drug dealers. “Ty (Thai) bud” means marijuana, a “strawberry” is a woman, “skonk weed” is bad-smelling marijuana and Zig Zag is a brand of cigarette papers.

“If you hear the words strawberry and nickel , they’re not talking about what’s going on in history class,” Los Angeles Police Lt. Robert P. Ruchhoft told 120 principals from the city’s 49 high schools.


Fifteen percent of the city’s estimated 42,000 gang members are juveniles, according to Ruchhoft, one of the top experts on the Los Angeles Police Department’s gang task force. Principals should attempt to identify the young gang members enrolled in their schools to ward off gang activity on their campuses, he said.

Identifying gang members in the schools can be fairly easy, Ruchhoft said. An inordinate amount of blue or red clothing, tattoos and graffiti on notebooks, sneakers and baseball caps are key indicators that a student is involved in gang activity, he said.

“Kids have been killed for wearing nothing more than red laces,” he said. Members of Crips gangs generally wear mostly blue clothing, while their rival Bloods favor red.

Ruchhoft used a slide show of pictures of graffiti painted throughout the city--from the San Fernando Valley to the harbor--to warn the principals about what symbols to watch for.


“Graffiti have a tremendous effect on your campus, more than any of us realize,” he said. “I can’t impress on you enough how important it is not to leave that graffiti up on the walls.”

Slides of 10-foot high letters on the sides of buildings showed the insignia of the Playboys gang, whose shorthand is “PBS.” The graffiti of a growing gang, Satanas, were also shown. Satanas, a mostly Filipino group, is one of 81 Asian gangs now identified by the L.A. gang squad. Less than two weeks ago, police arrested 15 members of the Viet Crips, an Asian gang of Vietnamese immigrants, charging 10 of them with about 14 Los Angeles-area robberies.

Police gang experts have also identified about 230 black and Latino gangs, as well as 15 white gangs.

“BBO,” which police say stands for “Bad Boys Organized” or “Bad Boys Organization,” is one of several white gangs that in recent months have increasingly marred walls in the San Fernando Valley with graffiti.

Members of the white gangs generally shave their heads, wear boots and roll up their pants to just below the knee, Ruchhoft told the principals, adding that some of these groups, known as “Nazi punks,” engage in anti-Semitic activities and attacks on homosexuals.

An administrator in the deputy superintendent’s office, Francis Nakano, promised the principals all the paint they need to keep their schools graffiti-free.

“Don’t let your plant managers say that you can’t get paint, because you can get paint,” he said, urging them to call him if there is a paint shortage.

“Invest in a camera and begin to take photos of the graffiti,” said Carmen Terrazas, the district’s senior high school administrator of operations. Principals should keep lists of known and suspected gang members and their symbols to aid their efforts in keeping gang activity down in the schools, said Terrazas, who with Nakano organized the gang activities workshop as one of eight administrator workshops held Wednesday at the Doheny Campus of Mt. St. Mary’s College.


Principals were also urged to check student notebooks, hats and sneakers for gang insignias. The parents of such students should be contacted and school programs should be developed to steer young people away from gangs, Ruchhoft said.

Body markings should also be noted, he said. “Any indication of a tattoo means you have a problem.”

Some of the principals at the seminar said they have adopted an active campaign against gang activities on their campus that organizers urged.

Dr. Joseph Santana, an assistant principal at Jordan High School, said that he and many of his fellow administrators will bar students in gang garb from classes.

“I pull them aside, call home to the parents and send them home to change their clothes,” Santana said of students dressed in gang colors.