Photograph: Mexican Mafia members and ladies displaying The Black Hand
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This Perplex News episode will describe the history of the Black Hand as it is utilized by the Mexican Mafia
The history of the Black Hand originated from La Mano Nera (Italian for The Black Hand), which was the method of extortion used by the Mafia and Camorra gangsters who began operating in the 1880’s. A group of Mexican-American inmates, led by 17-year old Louis “Huero Buff” Flores from the Hawaiian Gardens street gang in southeast Los Angeles, created a prison gang called the Mexican Mafia at the DVI California Youth Authority facility in Tracy. The term Mafia was used in obvious imitation of the Sicilian Mob. It was a gangster thing for these teenage offenders as the Mob held a certain fascination with young gangsters looking to carve out their own ethnic niche. The Death Oath, Code of Silence and the use of fear and intimidation as a tool for controlling their jailhouse black market activities were other characteristics of the underworld used for their benefit.
The influence of the traditional Mob would once again become evident to members of the Mexican Mafia, also known as La EME (the phonetic pronunciation of the letter “m”). While doing time inside the California prison system they began referring to La Mano Negra (The Black Hand) in conjunction with their fellow Carnales, or brothers. The EME member who introduced the Black Hand was Alex “Moe” Ferrel from El Hoyo Maravilla. Photographs began to surface with Mexican Mafia members “flashing” their manos (hands) in a flamboyant and menacing fashion which at first simply appeared to be an innocent greeting. As it began to appear in confiscated photos and prison “kites” and graffiti, it became obvious to the trained eye there was a deeper significance to this “gang sign.” Although the EME had already been in existence for 15 years, the earliest depictions of the Black Hand have been traced to the early 1970’s. To EME assassins – many had already committed homicides on the outside and were now performing them on the inside – the Black Hand was synonymous with death and simply meant Death to our Enemies. The message to the inmate population: the Black Hand could reach out and touch anyone who became their adversary. It was also the Mexican Mafia’s manner of communicating and reinforcing that committing 187’s, the California Penal Code for murder, was the ultimate demonstration of loyalty.
Although prison photographs, beginning in 1972, are the earliest depictions of the EME’s display of the Black Hand, other revelations of this logo being used was discovered in April 1973 in San Quentin’s B-Section segregation unit following the confiscation of documents from EME member Mike “Psycadelic Mike” Gaxiola. Found in his cell was a personal drawing he created showing the Black Hand with the nicknames and street gang affiliations of many of the early EME Carnales. It was dated “1967.” Psycadelic Mike also undertook some personal artistic latitude by quantifying a characteristic to each finger of the hand.
Venganza (Vengeance): This denoted vengeance against their enemies.
Muerte – (Death): The ultimate punishment to a Mexican Mafia adversary.
Terror – (Terror): Utilized as a tool to maintain control over EME’s criminal
endeavors behind bars.
Silencio – (Silence): The EME’s Code of Silence was strictly enforced.
Valor – (Valor): Courageous acts of valor were recognized by La EME.
Later, in 1999, Gaxiola surrendered a similar drawing to a CDC Lieutenant in prison. Dated and signed by Psycadelic Mike, it displayed the up-to-date EME members from 1964. Like the previous drawing, it was created in 1973 each depicting a date with the group of EME members and these documents have been copied many times over and erroneously misrepresented as documents from the 60’s. Once again, they were drawn in 1973. Contemporary prison artist Psycadelic Mike Gaxiola was first introduced to Mexican Mafia members in 1964 and became a made member in 1967 at San Quentin and has since gone on to meet his Maker.
No earlier original Black Hand photos, drawings, renditions, depictions, or tattoos in connection with the Mexican Mafia have been introduced since 1972. The Black Hand’s journey traveled from prison to prison, to the 1976 San Francisco funeral of EME member Jesse “Chuy” Fraijo from Norwalk, who died of a heroin overdose, to countless other outside and prison events. Even some of the little ones thought it was just a game they were playing with daddy. On the upper right of this photo, six Mexican Mafia members are pictured together at the home of Dangerous Dan whose two young boys are posing with their little hands outstretched at the encouragement of the fellas, prominently displaying The Black Hand, and one youngster firing his toy gun! Standing in this photo were EME members Ralph from Florencia 13, Johnny Green Eyes and Cuate from El Hoyo Mara, Chavo from Bakersfield, and Dangerous Dan from the Avenues. Squatting with the kids was Victor from Florencia 13.
Even some of the law enforcement agents got into the act as many posed for photos with their versions of the Black Hand. This photo was taken at the 1983 retirement ceremony for Sargeant William “Bill” Hankins, the first IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) who discovered the Mexican Mafia in 1961 at San Quentin when they were in the early stages of their formation. You can read about Sgt. Hankins and his early investigations of the Big Four prison gangs in the book entitled, Alpha Guard by William “Bill” Hankins.
Sometime in the 1980’s, Mexican Mafia members began to tattoo the Black Hand on their bodies. In the prison and street underworld, it rapidly became a recognizable identifier of the Mexican Mafia. In 2008, what was previously a west coast and prison logo of exclusive identification became public knowledge in the book The Black Hand (Harper Collins, Blatchford) authored by Los Angeles KTTV 11 award winning journalist Chris Blatchford. It is the autobiography of EME member Rene “Boxer” Enriquez that chronicles the history and evolution of the Mexican Mafia up until the time of Rene’s 2002 defection from the organization and beyond. Serving two life sentences in a California state prison for two separate EME-related executions, Rene, his infamous tattoo, and his book are synonymous with The Black Hand.
Today, in criminal circles, whether in a United States prison or on the streets of any Hispanic barrio, only a made Mexican Mafia Carnal can wear the Black Hand tattoo. The punishment for any other person who dares to wear it is death. The logical question in many minds would be, “Why do they advertise their group’s affiliation if they’re trying to fly under the radar?” There are many simple answers to this: First, they are already validated and known by specialists who share their gang status throughout the country. They will NEVER be under the radar. Consequently, they simply don’t care. Most of these men are serving long prison sentences or they are doing “all day” – they are lifers. Once again, they just don’t care.
Thank you for tuning in to this episode entitled The Black Hand.