GANGS OVERVIEW OF GANGS Originally the word gang had no negative connotation. In Old English, gang simply referred to a “number of people who went around together-a group.” Today a gang can be defined in four basic ways: an organized group with a leader a unified group that usually remains together during peaceful times as well as times of conflict a group whose members show unity through clothing, language a group whose activities are criminal or threatening to the larger society. Gangs are one of the results of poverty, discrimination and urban deterioration. Some experts believe that young people, undereducated and without access to good jobs, become frustrated with their lives and join gangs as an alternative to boredom, hopelessness and devastating poverty. Studies have attempted to determine why gangs plague some communities but there has been no definitive answer. As a result, people working to solve gang problems have great difficulty.

They find the situation overwhelming, and the violence continues. EARLY GANGS IN UNITED STATES HISTORY No groups completely fitting the above description of gangs existed in America until the early 1800s, but from the beginning of the European settlement in America there was gang-like activity, especially when class distinctions came into being. Gang members tended to be from the poorer classes and tended to be from the same race or ethnic background. They banded together for protection, recreation or financial gain. THE 20TH CENTURY GANGS In the early 1900s the U.S.

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economy worsened, the population grew at a rapid pace, and the gap between the rich and poor widened. All across the nation gangs appeared where poor, hopeless people lived. The dawning of the 20th century also brought with it a widespread use of firearms. 1920s By mid 1920s there were 1313 gangs in Chicago and more than 25,000 members. Gang warfare in Chicago was widespread and fighting took place along ethnic, cultural and racial lines. Some gangs had no noticeable cultural, ethnic or national ties and consisted mostly of whites. Chicano Gangs The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of Chicano (Mexican-American) gangs in Los Angeles. By the 1940s Chicano gangs established their place in Los Angeles-their zoot suits (a style of dress incorporating tapered pants, long wide- shoulder coats and broad-brimmed hats) had become a familiar sight.

Fighting back against harassment of white residents and visiting soldiers during the so-called zoot suit riots in 1943 strengthened their cause. Post World War II After World War II gang membership: 1.became younger, 2.the nationality of the membership became largely non-white (though Italians, Irish and other white ethnic groups still made up a percentage), 3.drugs became a more publicized concern, 4.gang activity centered around large-scale, well-organized street fighting, were used more often, 6.the structure of organization became more rigid, 7.and society at large became concerned with gangs as a social problem and worked toward rehabilitation. Changes in Ethnic Populations The 1950s During the 1950s gang fighting rose to an all time high in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Cleveland. Gang members were usually in their teens. Codes of dress (black leather jackets were popular) and mannerisms were an important means of identification. Body language said a lot about the nature of the gang.

When a gang decided to become a fighting, or “bopping” gang, its members immediately took on a different way of walking. A rhythmic gait, characterized by the forward movement of the head with each step. Terms for fighting were: bopping, rumbling, jitterbugging. Gang members used guns, knives, and homemade weapons. Most common drugs-alcohol, marijuana, heroin. New York gangs fought along racial lines-African-American, white, Puerto Rican. Usually they fought over girls or turf.

Turf could be anything from a few blocks to an entire neighborhood. Gang members believed it was essential to protect the honor of their girlfr! iends. And in the late 1950, girl gangs, with strong ties to boy gangs, began to form. Revenge was required by an inflexible code of gang loyalty. It was from such incidents that gangs drew their sense of pride, of “being somebody.” In order to combat the rise of violence, organizations like the New York City Youth Board sent social workers into the slums to form relationships with the gangs.

In some cases it worked; in many it did not. The 1960s The 1960s saw a decline in gang violence, in part because drug use escalated. Where there was more drug use there was less gang violence. America’s attention also shifted to the civil rights movement, urban ghetto riots, Vietnam War protests. A new racial consciousness had its effect on local street gang, creating organizations that were more involved in communities.

The Black Panthers arose in Oakland in 1968, the Black Muslims gained national prominence in the ’60s and a Puerto Rican gang, the Young Lords, formed in the early ’70s. The 1970s By early 1972 gangs were making headlines again. Drug use seemed to be decreasing and violence increasing. Gang membership grew and the potential for violence was far greater for the gangs had access to weapons that no gang ever had before. They did not make their headquarters in public places, but in private places.

Gangs also acquired greater legal and political sophistication. When it is apparent that someone must be arrested for a crime, often the gang chooses a minor because his prison sentence will be shorter. Serving a term in jail helps boost his reputation. GANGS TODAY Since the 1980s, as the ghettos become more and more overcrowded, a gang’s territory has become no more than a single corner or a block. Guns decide arguments quickly and gang wars today are usually fought like guerrilla warfare with sniping from rooftops and quick shots from speeding cars replacing face to face confrontations.

Gangs have been reported in all 50 states and come from many backgrounds. Some gangs still form in immigrant communities populated, for example, by recent arrivals from Vietnam, El Salvador and Haiti. Others cultivate members in neighborhoods consisting of families who have lived in the United States for generations. Members are still usually male, between the ages 13 and 24. Geography of Today’s Gangs Although gangs are more common in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, gang activity also occurs in midsize cities such as Fort Wayne, Indiana; Albuquerque, New Mexico and Louisville, Kentucky. In 1984 there were an estimated 450 gangs and 40,000 members in Los Angeles, today there are twice as many gangs and more than 100,000 members.

In 1987 Louisville reported 1000 gang members, Albuquerque 1757 members and Fort Wayne 50 members. Reasons for Gang Membership Gangs are still largely populated by young people from disenfranchised neighborhoods characterized by overcrowding, high unemployment, high drop out rates, lack of social and recreational services, and a general feeling of hopelessness. Some experts estimate than more than 80% of gang members are illiterate and find it nearly impossible to get a job. Earning a Living Young people turn to gangs as a means to earn a living through drug trafficking, illegal weapons sales, robbery and theft. The need for protection draws some young people who live in communities where non-gang members are continually harassed by gang members.

Some young people join gangs as a way to gain the respect they lack at home and in the community. Or they may join gangs because all their friends are doing it; it just sseems like a natural thing to do. Some experts say that young people from troubled homes attempt to find substitute families in gangs. Abuse, neglect, and loss seem to be common themes among many gang members. Gang Structure Gang structure varies.

The largest gangs, some with as many as 2,000 members, break up into smaller groups called clubs and cliques. Clubs typically bring more territory to a gang-they are branches of the gang that move into a new neighborhood to develop new business (usually drug trafficking). Cliques assemble new gang members and unite them along similar interests (street fighting, burglary). In the 1970s many small gangs changed their names to create an association with the reputation of two Los Angeles gangs, the Crips and the Bloods. Today Bloods and Crips can be found all across the United States.

Gang Leadership Some gangs operate informally, with leadership falling to whoever takes control. Other gangs have distinct leaders and highly structured gangs have officers, much like a corporation. The president might direct the gang’s business dealings and the vice president might keep members in line, overseeing the gang’s communication network, including car phones, walkie-talkies, pagers and beepers. Gang members use these devices to coordinate drug deals and to protect themselves from arrest. The warlord keeps order at gang meetings, plans fights against rival gangs and controls the gang’s arsenal.

Highly structured gangs can be found all around the country, but are most common in New York where competition for drug money and status is high. SOLUTIONS Although there are no easy solutions to the gang problem in this country the following are some ideas that have been put forward by sociologists, social workers, law enforcement personnel and citizens from battered communities. 1.Create jobs for young people. 2.Develop community programs in the arts, sports, etc. 3.Make sure young people receive a good education. 4.Prevent children from joining gangs in the first place by providing other challenging opportunities. 5.Create alternate living situations for children who cannot stay at home. 6.Provide counseling services for families and young people. 7.Society as a whole must look at problems of poverty and discrimination. 8.Individuals can fight prejudice by beginning to appreciate cultural differences. 9.Young people can do their part by being open to alternative activities.


Gangs annon I’m doing a report on gangs. I need to start off by saying that a lot of the stuff I’m about to say, I think is bull shit. I think this because I am in a gang and do, or did drugs. I also have to disagree with some of, no actually a lot of the stuff I am about to say. Before I babble on about gangs I have to say one thing.

Not all gangs are based around Latino’s and or African-American’s. Nor are all the gangs from Los Angeles area, but the Barrio is in East Los Angeles. There are many different gangs around. Some consist of African-Americans, Latinos, Skinheads, Caucasians, and Asians. Some are mixed. A lot of the gangs I’ve heard about and are friends with, mainly consist of colored-folk. In my gang for instance, we have five Caucasians, the rest of us are either black, latino, or dark like me.

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However, we do not have any asians in our gang. And no, we are not racist towards hispanics. There’s a gang that is called The Satanic Cult, which is into some pretty weird rituals. They consisted of animal and human sacrifices and people with brown hair were forbidden and non-caucasians. There are many different gangs. Now there’s one I am familiar with, the Necronomicon, who jumped me and my homeboy (who’s Latino) just because we weren’t white. Another one would belong to the punks.

Which I do not have a problem with. The only two punk gangs I know of, do not call themselves ‘Gangs’ but they call themselves a crew. They call themselves CFH, (Cowboys From Hell) and the other one is the Martians. A lot of the gang members come from broken homes, or something is wrong. So the kids end up in gangs doing drugs, drinking, smoking, committing crimes, and getting into violence.

Some of us consider our gang ‘family.’ Some of the gangs actually do have real families in them. There’s the problem of joining gangs. I got jumped into my gang. But that’s one of the most common ways. The other ways are to have sex with someone who’s already in it. Or you can get walked in. Some other ways which are sick and twisted that I’ve heard of are; the leader holds a knife to the newcomers throat.

If the leader thinks the newcomer is lying he can slit his or her throat. There’s others that involve rituals and sacrifices. Teenage gang members are linked to conventional barrio life is obvious. In fact, much of the members’ time is spent with the ‘family’, at school, under the eyes of neighbors who are decidedly ‘square,’ and, sometimes, with conventional friends or dates. This linkage is usually overlooked in researchers’ preoccupation with the life of the gang during the hours that it bands together. We can understand only a little bit of this interaction from what the gang members have to say about their square contacts. Retrospective data like this may reflect romanticism about the old days, ruefulness at missed opportunities to reintegrate with the conventional world, or self righteousness at having ‘gotten out in time.’ But what evidence we have indicates that the cliques of the 1950s were more closely integrated with the conventional barrio structures and norms.

The cliques of the 1970s appear more remote, and faced more disapproval and more efforts at control. It is one of the strongest police and newspaper myths about these gangs that membership is ‘inherited,’ that is, passed on from father to son. But such cases are rare among either men or woman. It is true that about half of the gang members had some relative in some gang (44 percent of the men and 59 percent of the women). It is true that young members were significantly more likely than older ones to have a relative.

It is true that a fraction (less than 20 percent) of the gang members came from what seem to be ‘gang families’-with three or more relatives in a gang in either neighborhood. Rather than ‘inheritance’ being the norm, most relatives were brothers and cousins and uncles rather than parents. No matter what particular social network led the member to the gang, one thing is clear: the gangs’ initiation procedures became far more ritualized. By the time the younger cliques were active, most of the boys and girls were ‘jumped’ into the gang, in an initiation rite in which the recruit is tested for his/her ability to stand up in a fight. Almost none of the members of older cliques went through this ordeal. There was no initiation ritual. The gang asked prospects to join and that was it.

In sum, gangs of the 1970s were less clearly adolescent groups than the gangs of the 1950s. While there were still many social routes to enter the gang, the younger cliques contained more men and women with relatives who had been gang members. And, finally, the gangs had acquired the accountrements of ritualized initiations. Girls were generally much more restricted than boys-especially girls in earlier cliques. They were asked whether parents had been ‘strict or easy’ and whether they really enforced the rules or ‘just let things ride.’ About 60 percent said that they really did enforce the rules. Men from earlier cliques were no more likely than ones from more recent cliques to say that their parents had been strict.

But 94 percent of the older women, and 72 percent of the younger ones said that their parents were strict, almost all of the older women (though only half of the younger ones) said that their parents really enforced the rules. The limitations placed on girls sound like a litany of traditionalism, of parents trying to keep their daughters from being ‘bad’ girls. Four degrees of gang commitment have been observed in affluent gangs. While these degrees of commitment are also observed in inner-city gangs, the majority of affluent gang members currently embrace the second two degrees of commitment. Although the terms for these degrees have developed from the pop-lingo, they are useful when identifying a gang member’s degree of commitment.

The terms for the four degrees of commitment to a gang are: * Full-fledged * Associate * ‘Wanna-be’ * ‘Hanging out’ Full-fledged – This is a youth who has the highest degree of commitment to the gang activity, regardless of what type of gang activity the gang pursues. This youth is also likely to be the instigator of crimes and intimidation against those inside and outside the gang. In most affluent gangs, full-fledged members typically comprise 10% to 20% of the group. It is uncommon to find a majority to be full-fledged members. Associate – These youths have the second highest degree of commitment to the gang. Typically, these youths don’t initiate the ideas to commit crimes and acts of violence, but easily become embroiled when trouble starts.

These youths often like to intimidate those outside the gang, but without life-threating violence. One tactic is simply to surround others and taunt. It is common for 30%-50% of a gang to be made up of these youths. (The Grapevine, Texas case, where the majority of the youths were ‘associates.’) Wanna-be – This slang term, first used by law enforcement, characterize youths who simply want to run along the periphery of a gang. These youths don’t initiate crimes or confrontations, but are usually around when trouble breaks out, urging on their comrades or taunting the opposition. Aggression is often expressed through subtlety, rather than through a head-on confrontation.

They are attracted to the visual raciness of the gang persona, but are afraid of committing violent crimes, and jumping into the foray of a fight. When they carry weapons, it is usually just for show. Hanging out – This slang term, originally coined by gangs, specifies a youth who isn’t in a gang, but who likes to ‘hang around’ gang members wherever they meet and go. Shopping malls, homes, parties, locations near a school, music shops, etc. are typical locales for ‘hanging.’ ‘Hanging out’ can act as a magnet for gang (sometimes called ‘peewees’) or at-risk youths who are new to a neighborhood. ‘Tagging’ is one form of graffiti that has caught on in the last few years.

It can be, but doesn’t necessarily have to be, associated with a gang. Some youths ‘tag’ on stationary objects, such as buildings and fences, while adventuresome youths do it on moving buses, trains, trucks, and cars. This can be dangerous and has resulted in a number of accidental deaths in America and Europee where youths have been run over. Interviews with taggers reveal that is a fad that underscores a crsis of identity for youths. They are desperate to be known, but in secretive way that is rebellious, while avoiding punishments. It’s addictive.

Most taggers are at-risk youths who are crying out for congratulatory slaps on the back from friends for the inventiveness of ‘tag’ and the number of tags a youth is able to leave. To close and end off my report, I’d just like to say that my gang had been more of a family to me then my own family. I will admite that the drugs and drinking I did was the bad part. But I do not regret joining my gang. Infact I have to say I love One Eighty Seven. This is my ‘family’ and they have always been there for me and we watch eachothers backs.


Gangs are a violent reality that people have to deal with in today’s
cities. What has made these groups come about? Why do kids feel that being in a
gang is both an acceptable and prestigious way to live? The long range answer
to these questions can only be speculated upon, but in the short term the
answers are much easier to find. On the surface, gangs are a direct result of
human beings’ personal wants and peer pressure. To determine how to effectively
end gang violence we must find the way that these morals are given to the
individual. Unfortunately, these can only be hypothesized. However, by looking
at the way humans are influenced in society, I believe there is good evidence to
point the blame at several institutions. These include the forces of the media,
the government, theatre, drugs and our economic system.

On the surface, gangs are caused by peer pressure and greed. Many teens
in gangs will pressure peers into becoming part of a gang by making it all sound
glamorous. Money is also an crucial factor. A kid (a 6-10 year old, who is not
yet a member) is shown that s/he could make $200 to $400 for small part time
gang jobs. Although these are important factors they are not strong enough to
make kids do things that are strongly against their morals.

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One of the ways that kids morals are bent so that gang violence becomes
more acceptable is the influence of television and movies. The average child
spends more time at a TV than she/he spends in a classroom. Since nobody can
completely turn off their minds, kids must be learning something while watching
the TV. Very few hours of television watched by children are educational, so
other ideas are being absorbed during this period of time. Many shows on
television today are extremely violent and are often shown this from a gang’s
perspective. A normal adult can see that this is showing how foully that gangs
are living. However, to a child this portrays a violent gang existance as
acceptable. ‘The Ends Justifies the Means’ mentality is also taught through
many shows where the “goody guy” captures the “bad guy” through violence and is
then being commended. A young child sees this a perfectly acceptable because he
knows that the “bad guy” was wrong but has no idea of what acceptable
apprehension techniques are.

Gore in television also takes a big part in influencing young minds.

Children see gory scenes and are fascinated by these things that they have not
seen before. Older viewers see gore and are not concerned with the blood but
rather with the pain the victim must feel. A younger mind doesn’t make this
connection. Thus a gore fascination is formed, and has been seen in several of
my peers. Unfortunately kids raised with this sort of television end up growing
up with a stronger propensity to becoming a violent gang member or ‘violent-
acceptant’ person.

“Gangs bring the delinquent norms of society into intimate contact
with the individual.”1, (Marshall B Clinard, 1963). So, as you can see if TV
leads a child to believe that violence is the norm this will manifest itself in
the actions of the child quite, often in a gang situation. This is especially
the case when parents don’t spend a lot of time with their kids at the TV
explaining what is right and what is wrong. Quite often newer books and some
types of music will enforce this type of thought and ideas.

Once this mentality is installed in youngsters they become increasingly
prone to being easily pushed into a gang situation by any problem at home or
elsewhere. For instance, in poor families with many children or upper-middle
class families where parents are always working, the children will often feel
deprived of love. Parents can often feel that putting food on the table is
enough love. Children of these families may often go to the gang firstly out of
boredom and to belong somewhere. As time goes on, a form of love or kinship
develops between the gang members and the child. It is then that the bond
between the kid and the gang is completed because the gang has effectively taken
the place of the family.

The new anti social structure of cities also effects the ease in which a
boy/girl can join a gang. ” The formation of gangs in cities, and most recently
in suburbs, is facilitated by the same lack of community among parents. The
parents do not know what their children are doing for two reasons: First, much
of the parents’ lives is outside the local community, while the children’s lives
are lived almost totally within it. Second, in a fully developed community, the
network of relations gives every parent, in a sense, a community of sentries who
can keep him informed of his child’s activities. In modern living-places (city
or suburban), where such a network is attenuated, he no longer has such
sentries.”2, (Merton Nisbet, 1971).

In male gangs problems occur as each is the members tries to be the most
manly. This often leads to all members participating in “one-up-manship”.

Quite often this will then lead to each member trying to commit a bigger and
more violent crime or simply more crimes than the others. With all members
participating in this sort of activity it makes for a never ending unorganized
violence spree (A sort of Clockwork Orange mentality). In gangs with more
intellegent members these feelings end up making each member want to be the star
when the groups commit a crime. This makes the gang much more organized and
improves the morale of members which in turn makes them more dangerous and very
hard for the police to deal with and catch (There is nothing harder to find and
deal with than organized teens that are dedicated to the group). This sort of
gang is usually common of middle or upper class people although it can happen in
gangs in the projects and other low rent districts too.

This “one-up-manship” is often the reason between rival gangs fighting.

All gangs feel powerful and they want to be feared. To do this they try to
establish themselves as the only gang in a certain neighborhood. After a few
gang fights hatred forms and gang murders and drive-by’s begin to take place.

When two gangs are at war it makes life very dangerous for citizens in the area.

Less that 40% of drive-by’s kill their intended victim yet over 60% do kill
someone. This gang application is one of the many reasons that sexual
sterotypes and pressure to conform to the same must be stopped.

Lastly one of the great factors in joining a gang is for protection.

Although from an objective point of view, we can see joining a gang brings more
danger than it saves you from, this is not always the way it is seen by kids.

In slums such as the Bronx or the very worst case, Compton, children will no
doubt be beaten and robbed if they do not join a gang. Of course they can
probably get the same treatment from rivals when in a gang. The gang also
provides some money for these children who quite often need to feed their
families. The reason kids think that the gang will keep them safe is from
propoganda from the gangs. Gang members will say that no one will get hurt and
make a public show of revenge if a member is hurt or killed.

People in low rent areas are most often being repressed due to poverty
and most importantly, race. This often results in an attitude that motivates
the person to base his/her life on doing what the system that oppresses them
doesn’t want. Although this accomplishes little it is a big factor in gang

So, as you have seen gangs are a product of the environment we have
created for ourselves. Some of these factors include: oppression, the media,
greed, violence and other gangs. There seems to be no way to end the problem of
gangs without totally restructuring the modern economy and value system. Since
the chance of this happening is minimal, we must learn to cope with gangs and
try to keep their following to a minimum. Unfortunately there is no real
organized force to help fight gangs. Of course the police are supposed to do
this but this situation quite often deals with racial issues also and the police
forces regularly display their increasing inability to deal fairly with these
issues. What we need are more people to form organizations like the “Guardian
Angels” a gang-like group that makes life very tough for street gangs that are
breaking laws.

Margot Webb, Coping with Street Gangs. Rosen Publishing Group, New York, 1990.

William Foote Whyte, Street Corner Society. University of Chicago, Chicago,

Peter Carroll, South-Central. Hoyte and Williams, L. A., 1987.

1 Marshall B. Clinard, Sociology of Deviant Behavior. University of Wisconsin,
Wisconsin, 1963, Page 179.

2 Merton Nisbet, Contempory Social Problems. Harcourt, Brace & World, New York,
1971, Page 588.


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