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Gangs

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Relationships with peers and friends are an important part of adolescence. By the time they reach the age of 14, teenagers begin to turn to peers and friends instead of family when they need social and emotional support. However, some risk their freedom and their lives to associate with peers who play in death's playground, where the rules are simple, honor and loyalty are the stakes, and the priceвЂ"often deathвЂ"is high. Who joins gangs? Why? And what, if anything, can prevent their proliferation? Social psychologists, as well as sociologists, criminologists, and law enforcement officers want to know. In this paper, I will try to uncover the answer to these questions.

A gang is a group of people whose members recognize themselves as a distinct entity and are recognized as such by their community. Their involvement in antisocial, rebellious, and illegal activities draws a negative response from the community and from law enforcement officials. Other characteristics of gangs include a recognized leader; formal membership with initiation requirements and rules for its members; its own territory, or turf; standard clothing or tattoos; private slang; and a group name. In a document published by Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the U.S. Department of Justice has divided gangs into several types. Territorial ("turf" or "hood") gangs are concerned with controlling a specific geographical area. Organized, or corporate, gangs are mainly involved in illegal activities such as drug dealing. Scavenger gangs are more loosely organized than the other two types and are identified primarily by common group behavior.

Since the 1980s, gang activities have become an increasing cause for concern in many areas of the United States. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people-perhaps upwards of a million-belong to thousands of gangs in major urban centers, suburbs, small cities, and even in rural areas. A study conducted at the University of Southern California found gang activity in 94% of the country's major cities and over 1,000 cities altogether. The number of gang members in Los Angeles County alone was estimated at 130,000 in 1991. In the same year there were an estimated 50 gangs in New York City, 125 in Chicago, and 225 in Dallas. Today's gangs are more involved in serious criminal activities than their predecessors. Gang-related violence has risen sharply, involving ever-younger perpetrators who are increasingly ready to use deadly force to perpetuate rivalries or carry out drug

activities. In addition, the scope of gang activities has increased, often involving links to drug suppliers or customers in distant locations. The gangs of today wear colors or particular types of clothing. They use nick names or "monikers" to identify themselves. They use drugs and alcohol. They conduct criminal activity to include assaults and murder. The gangs of today did not originate any of these identifiers or criminal activities. They have simply increased and expanded that which was required to be a "gang banger" of yesteryear.

Gangs in the United States are not a new or recent phenomenon. They have been traced back to the post Revolutionary War days and originally formed as a means of self-protection and as social clubs. In the early nineteenth century, Irish immigrants formed the first street gangs in New York City. Later with the arrival of immigrants of many ethnicities, other gangs began to form, mostly by race or culture. By the 1920's, the city of Chicago is reported to have had over 1300 gangs in the city. Also, about this time, gangs began to form and have a presence in Los Angeles, California.

The average age of youth gang members is about 17-18 years old, but tends to be older in cities in which gangs have been in existence longer. For example, Chicago and Los Angeles, where the typical age range is 12-24. Although younger members are becoming more common, it is the older membership that has increased the most. Male gang members outnumber females by a wide margin and this span is greater in late adolescence than early adolescence. Gangs vary in size by type of gang. Traditional (large, enduring, and territorial) gangs average about 180 members, whereas specialty gangs average only about 25 members. In large cities, some gangs number in the thousands and even tens of thousands.

Eighty percent of gang members are either African American or Hispanic, however, the number 4of Asian gangs are increasing. When gang members go to prison, they continue their gang activity. If a gang leader is in prison, he mat control gang operations from prison through people on the outside. In addition, gangs still operate in prison, fighting rival gang members and vying for control of sale and distribution of illegal drugs in prison.

The basic unit in gangs, whatever their origin or larger structure, is a clique of members who are about the same age (these groups are also called posses or sets). A gang may consist entirely of such a clique, or it may be allied with similar groups as part of a larger gang. These neighborhood groups have leaders, who may command as many as 200 followers. In groups affiliated with larger gangs, these local leaders are accountable to chiefs higher up

in the gang hierarchy. At the top is the kingpin, who has the ultimate say in how the gang conducts its financial operations and oversees its members.

The lowest level on which a young person may be associated with a gang is as a lookout-the person who watches for the police during drug deals or other criminal activities. Lookouts, which are commonly between seven and twelve years old, can be paid as much as three hundred dollars a week. At the next level are "wannabes," older children or preteens who identify themselves with a gang although they are still too young for membership. They may wear clothing resembling that of the gang they aspire to and try to ingratiate themselves with its members. Sometimes they cause trouble in or out of school as a way of drawing the gang's attention. Once wannabes are being considered for entrance into a gang they undergo some form of initiation. Often it includes the commission of a specified crime as a way of "proving themselves." In addition, gangs generally practice certain initiation rituals, such as "walking the line," in which initiates have to pass between two lines of members who beat them. In other cases, initiation brutalities follow a less orderly course, with a succession of gang members randomly perpetrating surprise beatings that initiates have to withstand without attempting to defend themselves. Other rituals, such as cutting initiates and mixing their blood with that of older members, are also practiced.

Gangs adopt certain dress codes by which members

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