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Gang graffiti marks a border between 'Bloods' and 'Florence 13' territory in L.A., but gang members also mark their territory verbally with the question: "Where you from?" PoliceOne looks at what you should know about this telling phrase. (AP Photo)​

By Sergeant Tom Burris
Los Angeles Police Department (29 ½ years), Hollenbeck Patrol Division
Special contributor to PoliceOne

As a child growing up, the question, "Where you from?" was the usual conversation starter for me when traveling across the United States my with mom, dad, and younger brother. In the South it sounded more like, "Where y'all from?" Nowadays, that simple question can initiate a lethal assault against the person being asked.
In the city of Los Angeles, there are 400 known street gangs, with 41,000 documented members. In my patrol division alone we have 37 known street gangs, as well as several other gang cliques and "tagger" crews. Across Los Angeles County, you can easily double that number. Across Southern California, triple it.
There are chances to cross paths with a gang member(s) in any neighborhood. Gang 'turf' violations have gotten rival gang members (and numerous non-gang members) murdered for simply being in the perceived wrong place at the wrong time.
Victims have been confronted while walking down a public street, and even stopped in traffic while driving. The vast majority of the surviving shooting victims say the same thing, "the suspect(s) walked up (or drove up next to me) and asked "where you from?"" The victim usually answered "nowhere," and shots were fired. Well, it didn't matter what the answer was, they still got shot.
The victims are always male, usually a minority (here in Los Angeles), 15-30 years of age, "buzz" haircut or shaved head, usually wearing a sports team shirt, jersey or hat, and/or generally baggy or lose fitting clothing. That description fits the vast majority of the new officers under my supervision, and literally across the nation. The fashion craze of our current young adult generation coming on the job is a reflection of our country. Just like the "styled" hair, long sideburns, and "porn star" mustaches were when I came on the job…way back when.
Unfortunately, this fashion craze has also been adopted as uniforms by our criminal gang subculture in Los Angeles and across the nation as well. Unknown uniforms "violating" their "turf," will always attract unwanted attention of their ranks. Usually, attracting the wrong kind of attention.
As a tenured patrol sergeant, I see that my new officers look younger and younger with each Academy graduating class. Most seem to have been born when I had 5-10 years on the job. Nonetheless, they are my new officers now. I have the duty to do my utmost to ensure they are ready to handle a variety of threats.
A few months ago I addressed my observations and concerns in front of my officers during our morning roll call. After discussing many of the shootings the officers themselves had recently investigated, the same scenario was repeated each time. We all agreed: Being asked "where you from?" is a definite warning sign.
It's safe to say any gang member or group of gang members who confront you with that question are enforcing their gang's authority over their "hood," and are more than likely armed to carry out their enforcement.

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