SHOW LOW — Juggalos consider themselves a family and fans of a rap group’s music. But due to reported criminal acts by some of them, Show Low school administrators and police are keeping a close eye on young people who identify themselves as Juggalos.
Juggalo, or Juggalette, is the name given to fans of Detroit rap group Insane Clown Posse, a group that officially formed in the early ‘90s. The name reportedly originated from a live performance, when during a song called “The Juggla,” band cofounder Joseph Bruce referred to the audience as Juggalos. Fans reacted favorably and the name stuck.
Juggalos call themselves a family, but for law enforcement in Arizona, some groups of Juggalos are classified as a criminal street gang. According to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) State Gang Task Force, also known as the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM), a criminal street gang is “an ongoing association of persons, either formal or informal, who individually or as a group commit or attempt to commit a felony act and has at least one person who is a criminal street gang member.”
DPS identifies criminal street gang members by two of the following seven criteria: “self-proclamation, witness testimony or official statements, written or electronic correspondence, paraphernalia or photographs, tattoos, clothing or colors and ‘any other indicia of street gang membership.’”
Sgt. Jon Wisner with GIITEM said the unique thing about the Juggalos is the origins with Insane Clown Posse’s music. He said there are a large number of people who listen to Insane Clown Posse and are obviously not going around committing criminal acts. But, he said it is the offshoot groups of Juggalos meeting their gang criteria they are watching out for.
“It’s when you have a group of them that act in concert and commit a felony crime in furtherance of the gang itself,” he said.
Wisner said some other people may be classified as associates if they hang out with other known gang members. Again, he said, classification can be hard to determine since many people who like Insane Clown Posse’s music do not commit crimes or hang out with others that do.
“It really depends on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
According to a July 2008 East Valley Tribune article, a statewide group of investigators met and decided that while most Juggalos aren’t considered gang members, there were a few emerging sects which met gang classification. That feeling was reiterated by a Mesa gang detective in the article. The detective said Mesa had 34 documented Juggalos who had been arrested in connection with various crimes. A November 2008 Phoenix New Times article noted Phoenix police were investigating a string of robberies reportedly committed by self-proclaimed Juggalos.
Arizona is not the only place that has classified Juggalos as a gang. Law enforcement in Utah;` Monroe County, Pennsylvania; and Modesto, Calif., have also done it, according to internet sources.
Juggalos around the country have been blamed for homicides, kidnapping, assaults and arson fires.
Far from being flattered by the attention, Insane Clown Posse and their recording label, Psychopathic Records, have repeatedly denounced violence by their fans.
Show Low Police provided The Independent with a list of incidents dating back to June of this year involving arrests of those identified as Juggalos or crimes in which Juggalos are suspected. There are 10 incidents, eight leading to arrests, involving 10 Juggalos, all juveniles between the ages of 14 and 17. A few of the juveniles are involved in multiple incidents and some incidents had more than one suspect.
Perhaps the highest profile incident was when nine juveniles were arrested for criminal trespassing at a foreclosed home. The case also included an assault from one of those involved. Show Low Police said all those involved openly identified themselves as Juggalos.
Show Low Police and Show Low High School Resource Officer Brandon Clark said those identifying themselves as Juggalos have been involved in a variety of other incidents.
“One of them has committed aggravated assault against a police officer, one of them has committed commercial burglary,” he said. “We’ve had drug possession, we’ve had underage consumption.”
Other incidents include theft, possession of drug paraphernalia and disorderly conduct.
Clark said Show Low police officers’ concern is the potential for the group’s behavior to escalate into more serious crimes. Because of that, he said, the department has been taking a proactive stance.
Recently, there was an incident at Show Low High School in which three students dressed in Insane Clown Posse garb were suspended from school. The incident took place Oct. 29, the Friday before Halloween.
Show Low High School Principal Farrell Adams said the kids involved were fully decked out in Insane Clown Posse gear, such as shirts, hats and shoes, and wore the face paint the group is known for. He said they were suspended “for a period of time” under school policy forbidding the wearing of gang-related apparel on campus during school hours or school activities.
Adams said due to recent criminal incidents, the school has had to adopt DPS’ policy of classifying the Juggalos as a gang. He added the school’s actions started fairly recently.
“A year ago, we didn’t have any reason to think ICP is a problem,” he said.
Adams notes that even before the Halloween incident, including Oct. 29, kids were told not to wear Insane Clown Posse gear to school. He said the school has steps of discipline for such incidents: a warning for the first offense, detention for the second offense and escalating from there.
Adams said they have dealt similarly with kids proclaiming themselves members of other gangs, telling them they cannot wear their apparel to school. He said he understands First Amendment concerns and encourages students to express themselves, but school officials have to step in if something is a distraction to the natural learning environment.
“Show Low High School wants to be a safe place for kids to learn,” he said. “(Gang members) can infringe on other students’ right to learn, and not only learn but to feel safe.
“We want kids to be able to express themselves, we just don’t want them to wear gang-related apparel.”
Given the pattern of behavior he has seen, Adams said he believes the school also has to step in early.
“I think that what we have going on is that we have a group of individuals who want to establish a gang here in Show Low,” he said. “Show Low High School’s stance is to not allow a gang to become entrenched in our school so that it becomes a major problem.”