October 6, 2009

Juggalos — fans or gangs?

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What’s a Juggalo? Yeah, I wondered, too. And it turns out so do the Utah police. They are trying to figure out whether Juggalos – fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse – are just that, or whether they have crossed a line to become gang members.

Juggalos, many of whom sport signature “wicked clown” face paint, and “hatchet man” emblems such as necklaces or tattoos, have been implicated in some high-profile and violent crimes in Salt Lake City. Melinda Rogers of the Salt Lake Tribune looks at the debate. As one Juggalo attending an ICP concert last week told her, “We’re not Bloods. We’re not Crips. We’re just us.”

But detectives who work the cases said many of the so-called Juggalos seem to fit the classic gang profile.

Gang detectives figure up to 15 percent of Juggalos are engaged in criminal activity and meet the technical definition of a gang member — they share a common name and symbol, and collectively engage in criminal activities.

Whatever they’re called, they also share some common roots with known gangs  – a desire to identify with others who have similar struggles and world views. Definitions can be dangerous, and self-fulfilling in themselves. Ask any student who has been labeled “slow,” or athlete who was told they weren’t good enough to make the cut whether a definition has power.

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