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The first shop I worked in and where I did most of my apprenticeship was frequented by a cop who would come in and hang out during his shift. He would also do his paperwork on our couch because he said he liked the fact no one bothered him there. The third shop I worked in was completely interconnected with the local police and sheriff’s department. The owner was a nephew to one of the former sheriffs of the area. We had a piercer who was also a dispatcher. Not to mention the guy I enjoyed talking to the most, who was head of the meth lab team, constantly doing paperwork after leading any number of busts. I learned very early on the benefits of having a good relationship with law enforcement.
The other thing that both shops had in common besides an extremely sweet discount for law enforcement and military, was that they both would cover up any preexisting gang tattoos for free. While most of the shops I’ve interacted with over the years do the discount thing, not all of them address the issue of gang tattoos and other such opportunities to forge a positive presence in their communities.
With all the chaos and craziness happening across the country, many people are up in arms, overwhelmed and even feeling a bit helpless about how they can make a difference to the overall problems that are present in almost every community across the nation right now. Since the importance of treating law enforcement with respect should be fairly obvious, it leaves the questions of what are some other ways we as artists and businesses can forge positive relationships with our communities? While there are many avenues from local fundraisers and general community involvement, you should never overlook the importance of helping out those trying to make positive changes in their lives.
I believe I once read that over 90% of all US gangs had a presence in Memphis. Most of these are relegated to lower income areas, of which we have a lot. While it is unusual for gang members to leave that lifestyle in anything other than a coffin, it does happen that one may wander into your shop looking for cover-up work on what are usually poorly done tattoos that are specific to their organizations. Because many of these are done in prison or by untrained members who have been given machines, they are usually not as difficult to cover up. But why should we?
I know cover-ups are not only the bane of our tattoo existences, but in this case they are an opportunity to help someone in one of the most unique ways possible. If they are tattooed in prison, they are documented before they leave. If they are wandering around their neighborhoods, then they are constantly scrutinized by local law enforcement who are usually either given specific training in recognizing gang iconography or at the very least taught to be mindful of acquiring this knowledge on their own. Either way, they can and most likely will target people who are not only a specific racial profile, but who sport specific images on their skin. For those who no longer want to be associated with this stereotype, this can pose as one of the biggest obstacles to them becoming more productive members of their communities. As responsible businesses in our communities, we should deal with the impact that our chosen profession can hold in two ways.
First, we should be mindful of gang activity. Just because it isn’t obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t there. This is where having a good relationship with law enforcement comes in handy. Talk to your neighborhood cops. Get them to give you a heads-up of the gangs that they know operate in your area. Once you know this information, then you can familiarize yourself with the imagery associated with those gangs allowing you to make the informed decision to decline providing your services, should someone come in asking for you to do something blatantly within that category. In fact, the relationship between your shop and law enforcement can create a line of communication that allows both of you to stay up on the current visual trends being used by these groups.
The second thing you should be willing to do is cover-up work on those seeking help with severing ties with their criminal backgrounds. When you enter a gang, a tattoo is usually one of the most common signs of commitment. To be permanently marked in a painful way is both a rite of passage and a test of loyalty. So it should also be recognized that committing to covering up those visible incarnations of former allegiances is also a sign of commitment to walking a more positive path. I highly recommend doing this for free. You don’t have to give them free reign over how and what you choose to cover them. If they really want it covered, they will let you have fun or at least have a much larger amount of control than a normal paying cover-up. You could even designate it as a job for senior apprentices and those artists that are still a bit green. We all have to spend our time doing at least a small amount of this. Some folks even find they enjoy it to the point that they specialize in it.
So what do you get out of this? You form a bond between your shop and the community. You establish a reputation as a place with principles. You earn respect. Chances are, you earn a loyal clientele as well. Most importantly, you make your own little contribution to an environment of communication. That is ultimately what will make the biggest impact on all of our social dilemmas, communication. So be the positive difference that you know you can be. Make a difference and make a mark on your community that everyone will appreciate.
Next time: I will continue to discuss the role of law enforcement in communities and look at specific information regarding gangs and their tattoos. Till then, give us your thoughts on positive ways you can impact and serve the communities you live and work in.
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