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Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13)
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Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) was formed in Los Angeles, California in the 1980s by immigrant Salvadorian youth and young adults who were being victimized by other gangs. MS-13 quickly became known as one of the most violent gangs in the area because many of their founding members had experience or training in guerilla warfare, thus gaining a level of sophistication that superseded their rivals.
MS-13 members are known to be involved in all aspects of criminal activity. Because of their ties to their former homeland, MS-13 members have access to sophisticated weapons, thus making firearms trafficking one of their many criminal enterprises. Despite their access to weaponry, there have been many high-profile murders and assaults in which MS-13 have used machetes to attack their victims.
The gang is heavily involved in burglaries, auto thefts, narcotic sales, home-invasion robberies, weapons smuggling, illegal firearm sales, car-jackings, extortion, murder, rape, prostitution, assault, and witness intimidation. While MS-13 victims are usually rival gang members, incidents have included innocent civilians. The gang constantly creates and runs into turf wars with other gangs because of its aggressive recruitment of new members and expansion into new areas. Currently, the gang’s biggest rivalry is with other Hispanic gangs: 18th Street, South Side Locos (SSL) and Street Thug Criminals.
MS-13 members identify themselves through various gang indicators such as tattoos, clothing, graffiti, and hand signs. MS-13 members are known to use various tattoos, some of which are large enough to cover the entire back; others are small enough to fit in the web of a hang. The size of the tattoo is sometimes an indication of the degree of gang involvement with older or more active members wearing the larger more prominent tattoos. Gang members directly from El Salvador generally have more prominent tattoos than those who become members in the United States.
MS-13 members may represent the number “13” using Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, or a combination of the two. “MSXIII” is also often used. Members may attempt to disguise the MS-13 tattoo within another one.
Gang members may carry or wear a blue or black bandana around the wrist, neck, or forehead. They often wear sports clothing that displays strategic numbers like 13, 23, or 3. They also wear jerseys that show the gang colors of blue or black. Some of their favorite jerseys are those of Allen Iverson (Blue 3) and Kurt Warner (Blue 13). Members also wear Nike Air Jordan hats with the Air Jordan logo resembling their hand sign. New York Yankees apparel is also a favorite of members. (It is important to understand that many young people wear these colors and sport clothing and these indicators alone should not be viewed as evidence of gang membership.)
Graffiti is used by MS-13 to mark territory or to promote its image, particularly in a new area. This graffiti can be elaborate or just a scrawl to publicize their presence. Members may scrawl “MS,” “Mara Salvatrucha,” “MS-13,” or “MSXIII,” or they may tag their clique’s initials.
MS-13 members use several different hand signs, including devil’s horns or gang’s initials. Other hand signs are used to communicate silently with one another. MS gang members often use the Spanish word sureno, meaning “southerner” to identify themselves. Sometimes sureno is abbreviated to SUR
The gang is estimated to have over 10,000 gang members in the United States, with several thousand more in Central America. Members are primarily El Salvadorian, although other members are from other areas of Central America.
MS-13 is organized into closely and loosely associated cliques that take orders from central leadership in the United States and El Salvador. Cliques vary in size of members from 10 to 500, with 20-25 being the average size in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. Cliques are organized with a leader, treasurer and soldier. Meetings are generally held weekly and are staggered so the leadership from one clique can attend another cliques’ meeting.
The gang is known to heavily recruit school aged members between 10 years of age and up. Gang members are known to hang around middle and high schools to lure prospective members with “skip parties” that offer sex, alcohol and drugs.
Membership into the gang is earned and is typically culminated with a beat or jump in that last 13 seconds. Membership must continually be earned. In severe cases, failure to carry out an order or mission has resulted in death.
Once a member, it is very difficult to leave the gang without severe consequences. One of the only exceptions to participation is if a member has a child and wants to start a family.
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