Gangs are a violent reality that many people have to deal with in today's cities. What has made these groups come about? Why do kids feel that being part of 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 first find the way that these morals are given to individuals. 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, the theatre, drugs, and our own economic system.
On the surface, peer pressure and greed cause gangs. Many teens in gangs will pressure peers into becoming part of a gang by making it all sound glamorous. Money is also a crucial factor. A kid (6 - 10 years of age, who is not already a member) is commonly shown how he/she could make between two-hundred to four-hundred dollars a month for a small part time gang job (Carroll 48). Although, one wouldn't think that factors such as this are strong enough to make kids do things that are strongly against their morals.
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 television set than he/she spends all day in a classroom actually learning something productive (Clinard 73). Since nobody can completely turn off a child's mind, the youth must be learning something, even if it is morally wrong. Very few hours of television watched by the common child are educational, so other ideas are being constantly absorbed during this period of time. Many shows on television today are extremely violent and are often shown from a gang's perspective mainly because that is what interests people, not because it is morally right. A normal adult can see that this would not be an acceptable way to live. However, to a child this portrays a violent existence as acceptable. "'The Ends Justifies The Means' mentality is also taught through violence and is then being commended. A young child sees this as perfectly acceptable because he knows that the 'bad guy' was wrong but has no idea of what acceptable apprehension techniques actually are (Nisbet 21).''
Gore in television also takes a big part in influencing young minds. Children see gory scenes and are fascinated by things they have not seen before. Older viewers see gore and are not concerned with the blood but rather with the pain which the victim must feel. A younger mind doesn't make this connection. Thus, a "gore fascination" is formed. Unfortunately, kids raised with this sort of mentality end up growing with a stronger inclination to become a "violent-accepting" member of society (Clinard 179).
"Gangs bring the delinquent norms of society into intimate contact with individuals (Clinard 180)." So, as you can see, if television programs lead a child to believing 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 time to explain to their children what the actual meaning of the programs that they are
watching on television are. Quite often newer books and some types of music will also enforce this type of thought.
Once this mentality is installed in youngsters they become increasingly prone to being easily pushed into a gang situation bye 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 wanting to obtain a feeling of belonging 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 deal with issues outside of the local community, while children's lives are lived almost totally within their local community. Second, in a fully developed community, the network of relations gives every informed parent, in a sense, a community of 'sentries' who can keep him informed of his child's activities. In modern living-places (either city or suburban) where such a network is attenuated, he no longer has such 'sentries (Nisbet).'" In male gangs, problems occur as each of the members tries to be most manly. This often leads to all members participating in "one-up-manship (Carrie 91)." 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. In gangs with more intelligent 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 any particular group (Webb 55). This sort of gang is usually common of middle or upper class people. Although, it can happen in gangs located in the "projects" and other low rent districts too.
This "one-up-manship" is often the reason that causes rival gangs to feud. 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 or territory. After a few gang fights, hatred forms, and gang murders followed by drive-bys begin to take place. When two gangs are at "war" it makes life very dangerous for citizens in the area. Less than 40% of drive-bys kill the intended victim, yet over 60% do kill someone (Whyte 17).
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 one from. It is too bad that children do not often see it this way. In slums such as the Bronx, or in the very worst case, Compton, children will no doubt be ostracized and even beaten and robbed if they do not join a gang. Of course they can probably get the same exact treatment from rivals when in a gang. The gang also provides some money for children who quite often need to feed their families. In this case, the members of the
family may have absolutely no idea how the child get the money, yet praise him/her for providing. In this case a youth is sent a wrong message supporting his gang membership. This is normally brought about through "dead-beat" parents who are unemployed, are living off of tax dollars paid to them by the government for unemployment and various other reasons, and who want to obtain as much money as possible through any way possible.
So as one can see, gangs are a product of the environment people have created for themselves. 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 reconstructing the modern economy value system. Since reconstructing the system is absolutely impossible and since the moral value system will become increasingly worse in the future, 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 be "cracking down" on gang life, although, they themselves quite often deal with racial issues within their own organization and regularly display their increasing inability to deal fairly with gang issues. I feel that society's only hope to cut back on the number of gangs in existence is to educate as many people as possible on many of the same issues which I earlier discussed such as what a true gang-life is like.
Carrie, Daniel Ames (1993). Street Gangs. Portland: Pocket Press Inc.
Carroll, Peter (1987). South Central. Las Angeles: Hoyte and Williams.
Clinard, Marshall B. (1963). Sociology of Deviant Behavior. Wisconsin:
University of Wisconsin.
Nisbet, Merton (1971). Contemporary Social Problems. New York:
Harcourt, Brace, and World.
Webb, Margot (1990). Coping with Street Gangs. New York: Rosen
Whyte, William Foote (1955). Street Corner Society. Chicago: University of
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Street Gangs: A Guide To Community Awareness
This information is to help parents determine if their child is either at risk
in becoming associated with or is involved in gang activity. Indicators of gang
association outlined in this brochure may generally fit a variety of youths. If
parents observe more than one indicator, they should talk to their child about
WHAT IS A GANG?
A gang is a group of three or more people who associate together, have a common
identity and engage in criminal or delinquent activity. The gang may use a name,
color, clothing style, tattoos, or other items to identify themselves. A gang
may or may not claim control over a certain territory in the community.
WHY PEOPLE JOIN GANGS
There are many reasons people join gangs. Attention, excitement, peer pressure,
protection, and financial gain are a few. In some families, gang membership is a
tradition. Other people become gang members because they think gangs are trendy.
Many youths do not realize the risks and hazards of gang involvement.
Parents may not be aware of their child's involvement. Parents should discuss
gangs with their child and actively discourage gang association.
SIGNS OF GANG ASSOCIATION
Parents should be aware of behavior changes in their children. Such changes
include; a decline in grades, truancy, graffiti in the youth's room, on school
folders or on clothes, wearing of certain style or color of clothes, breaking of
curfew, change in friends, drug and/or alcohol use, or possession of money or
items that a parent cannot explain. Involvement of your child with a group of
their friends in delinquent or criminal behavior may be another sign. Some gang
members devise hand signals to communicate with other gang members. Use of such
signals should alert parents to possible gang association.
Style shows the group that youths associate with. The particular color, type of
clothing, shoes, hats, or the way the clothing is worn can be a warning sign.
Look for the symbols, messages, graffiti or gang names written or embroidered on
jacket, pants, shoes or baseball caps.
Various colors may be signs of gang association. Red may be used to show
association with the Bloods or Northern California Hispanic Prison gangs. Blue
may be used to show association with the Crips or Southern California Hispanic
Prison gangs. Black clothing may be worn by a variety of gang associated youths.
Some Hispanic gangs, White Supremacist gangs and some "Heavy Metal" gangs wear
Graffiti appears on books, posters, bedroom walls, interior of vehicles, doors
and furniture. You should discuss any graffiti you find with your child first,
then remove it. The graffiti may be a gang member's name or the name of their
gang. It may include members' nicknames, or be a declaration of loyalty to a
particular gang. Hispanic gang graffiti often uses block lettering that is
exaggerated or has reversed letters.
Accessories may be worn to signify gang association. It may be expensive or
inexpensive. Belt buckles, bracelets, necklaces, key chains, earrings, and rings
are all commonly used. Some gang members wear dice earrings to show the "set"
they are associated with. Others may wear a certain color earring to show their
Pictures of your child with other gang members is a clear indicator. These
photos may show members displaying hand signs, weapons, colors, clothing styles,
or flashing money. Photographs may show your child singularly displaying these
Parents and the community should be aware that youths involved with gangs
commonly carry weapons. The weapons may be baseball bats, tire irons, spiked
wrist bands, a pipe, "martial arts" weapons, knives, "look alike" pellet guns,
and guns. These types of weapons have been seized from youths involved in gangs
in this county.
HOW GANGS FUNCTION
Gangs thrive on intimidation and publicity. Violence is common in gangs and is
used to maintain its status. Gangs depend on both individual and group
participation. An individual will be pressured by others in the gang to maintain
Legitimate groups elect a leader. A gang's leadership generally depends on who
is the toughest, natural leader or who has access to weapons or money. It also
may be based on who has the best skills for what the gang wants to do at that
time. A good fighter may lead on a night that they are going to fight, a good
thief when they want to commit a theft.
Gangs will have a name or common identity. The name usually comes from their
town, a street, an area, or their phone area code, housing project, rock bands,
cults, or personal beliefs of the members. The gang name is an important
identity for the gang. Members may have nicknames (monikers) as well. The
moniker may be given to the member by the other members or chosen by the member
himself. The name frequently fits the member's personality (real or perceived)
or relate to some physical or mental traits.
EFFECTS OF INVOLVEMENT
Gangs are a terrible burden on society. Family members must worry about their
safety as well as their child's. Friends who refuse to join the gang may be in
jeopardy because of their refusal. These friends are often discarded for their
fellow gang members.
Parents can be subjected to heavy financial bills for legal services, medical
treatment, jail housing, and restitution to victims. The gang involved youth can
expect to be arrested and prosecuted for their criminal activity. Most parents
are not aware that if a crime is gang related, the violator will not only be
prosecuted for this crime, they can also be charged with criminal gang
enhancements. Upon conviction, the youth can expect jail time, out of home
placement, fines, restitution to victims, community service work and/or very
restrictive conditions of probation.
WHAT GANGS DO
Gangs differ from other groups in that they engage in criminal activity. Gang
members commit a variety of crimes. These include robbery, burglary, thefts,
vandalism, assaults, arson, witness intimidation, weapons and narcotic offenses.
Graffiti is probably the most visible and common crime. Gangs use graffiti to
let the community know they exist, to mark their territory, to make statements
about their gang, or to issue challenges to other gangs. Graffiti is not just an
idle crime and is a great source of gang information.
Gang members actively seek violent conflicts. This includes murder, assaults
with deadly weapons drive by shootings, and batteries. Gang violence often
claims innocent victims. In 1993, almost nine out of every ten victims of gang
related violence were non-gang members. These crimes are committed for economic
gain or to enhance the gang's reputation.
Awareness is the key to stopping gang activity, many parents are not aware of
the child's gang involvement. Most youths are reluctant to discuss it with their
parents. This is why the community should learn to recognize the signs of gang
activity and to take appropriate action. The first step is to recognize there is
a gang problem. People who recognize the problem are better equipped to address
the issue with their child, as well as not becoming victims of gang crimes.
Communities must recognize the problem and work together to solve the problem.
Structured after school activities, employment, awards for good grades,
community outreach and organized youth activities help lessen gang activity.
Working with school and law enforcement officials aid in eliminating the
anonymity that allows gangs to grow. Whenever graffiti occurs in your community,
report it to law enforcement. Once it is documented, remove it quickly. If you
allow you community to look like a ghetto, it will become ghetto.
Enforcing the laws and dealing with gang members is best left to those trained
to deal with dangerous situations. Always report crimes as soon as they occur.
Get involved in such groups as Neighborhood Watch. Cooperate with law
enforcement, court officials and probation officers in holding gang members
responsible for their actions.
A community that is dedicated to stopping this kind of activity will hamper a
gang's ability to exist.
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