Skulls of the Law

For many, a skull on a t-shirt says “I’m a rebel.” But what if you’re in a group that other people rebel against?

Then your skull tee says, “I’m a bad-ass; I’m in charge; fear me.” And in this case, with this t-shirt, you’re in law enforcement.

Logo that appears over the heart.

The above is a law enforcement gang task force t-shirt from California. Gang task forces are common here, where trouble from one gang (or between several gangs) can spill across several jurisdictions; the gang task force, backed by the involved cities or counties, fights the gangs regionally.

Gang task force tees show up at the thrift shops from time to time; the design always includes the number 186.22. Section 186.22 of the California Penal Code defines participating in gang activity as a crime in itself, where it supports the commission of crimes by the gang as a whole. This statue justifies the work of the task force.

And there is always a skull. Sometimes with wings; sometimes grimacing viciously like an old-west marshal behind twin six-guns. These symbols represent law enforcement.

On other tees, like the one below for a gang conference, you may see skulls wearing red or blue bandanas or colors: the colors of the Norteno-associated gangs (red) and Sureno-associated gangs (blue).

Drug-dealing gangsters, lawmen: everybody’s a skull. There’s a train of thought that you’ve got to be like them to fight them — bad-ass tough guys. “The transactions in hell are not witnessed by angels,” the first t-shirt said under the skull bedecked with angel’s wings and a halo. Translation: “We do what we have to do to get the bad guys, no matter what.”

Message to law enforcement: this is absolutely the wrong message to send, even among yourselves. But I think they know that. Because although I picked up these tees over a period of several years, I’ve seen none dated later than 2013 or so. I’d like to think that the word went around to cool it on the skulls, at least in California task forces.

It’s very possible that no governmental agency distributed these: that they were simply commercial merch that individual officers could purchase. The tees specify no particular region, just a year. I have just one task force skull tee (not shown) that indicates it might belong to a particular task force.

Well, I’m an optimist. But here’s the other side of the gang conference t-shirt: guns, skulls, bandanas — all one. All encompassed by a lawman’s badge. The message is muddled; you can certainly read what you want to into it. Note that 186.22 is engraved on both pistols.

It’s good, I think, that such tees seem to have gone away. I’ve looked for gang task force skull merch online and found very, very little. Hope I’m right.

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