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Youth Gangs

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Youth gangs in North American society are nothing new. When we turn on the news we often hear stories of misguided youth contributing to yet another gang related crime. Even though it is known that youth crimes are overrepresented in the media today, the subject of youth gang activity is quite a predicament to our society. Over the last few years, there has been a moral panic created by constant exposure to the media which portrays a great amount of youth crimes and violence. In Canada there are large urban cities with high proportions of young people, many of which live in poverty, that now have the issue of dealing with youth gangs and youth crimes. Toronto, British Columbia, and Ottawa are examples of Canadian cities that have youth gang problems. The implementation of the new Youth Criminal Justice Act (2002) has changed the way youth crimes are dealt with legally in Canada. It is one step in the right direction for dealing with the issue of youth offending. Although the new act is not perfect, it will provide a better sense of justice to society because it calls for greater punishment for youths who re-offend. Youth Gangs in Canada are a potentially serious problem that needs to be addressed and tactically prevented. If preventative measures are not taken, these large populated urban areas in Canada will have problems similar to those of some major American cities. This essay will analyze the youth gang problem in Canada. It will cover topics such as types of youth gangs, the seriousness of the problem, and the cause for the creation of youth gangs from a Social Disorganization theory perspective. It will also examine the effect of the Youth Criminal Justice Act on gang crime.

Youth gangs are defined as any group of people who engage in socially disruptive or criminal behaviour, usually within a defined territory, and operate by creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in a community. Federally in Canada "...Bill C-95... says a gang must include five or more people involved in criminal activity." Over the last ten or so years, youth gangs have become more violent and dangerous than ever before. They have more access to sophisticated knives and guns and use these weapons to gain power and fear. The problem of youth gangs is especially apparent in low-income neighbourhoods in Canadian cities. Low income neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area are a great example, boasting close to 200 known gangs. A few examples are the infamous Looney Toons, Boys in Blue, Punjab X-Ecution, Nubian Sisters, Trife Kids, Vice Lords, The Tuxedo Boys, Mother Nature's Mistakes, and the very dangerous 18 Buddhas. These gangs participate in all kinds of activities such as extortion and intimidation, robbery, vandalism, assault, drug trafficking, stabbings, shootings, and sometimes even murder. They are becoming a major problem in these communities, especially within high schools.

There are three different types of gangs. "Not all are dangerous. Some youths just band together, think up a name and try to act tough. But they are learning the art and power of intimidation." The first type of gang is the hedonistic gang, which consists of primarily social groups where the main focus is partying and getting high. Members may commit property crimes, but not usually as gang activity. If they fight at all, it's more often for the right to party than for turf. The second type of gang is the instrumental gang. These gangs are more likely to commit crimes against property (car theft, burglary, etc.) than crimes of violence against people. They may do drugs and deal it individually, but their main motivation is money, not power. The third type of gang, and the most serious, is the predatory gang. These social predators commit the violent crimes (drive by shooting, carjacking, murder and organized drug dealing). They are most often affiliated with smaller street gangs. This type of gang often engages in serious drug use, such as crack and crystal meth, which can fuel a tendency towards violence. They feed on the fear they inspire, using it as a means of domination and control. Although most of these gangs are a product of a specific neighbourhood, in recent years a number of predatory gangs have gone national, establishing "Franchises" far from their bases. Examples are the Bloods and the Crips, which both originated in Los Angeles, California, but can now claim members in many U.S. metropolises.

In Canada, the problem of youth gangs is now closer to home. Compared to ten years ago, the problem is severely worse because of the increasingly frequent use of guns and other sophisticated weapons. Youth in the past commonly settled disputes that escalated to violence the old fashioned way - with fists, but now things are done differently. "Anybody who thinks the kind of violent incidents that kids face today is the same as 20, 10, or even five years ago is so out of touch...You rarely see one-on-one fights...It's gangs, it's weapons, and it's definitely more sophisticated in a brutal way." Nowadays with guns more in the picture, every gang member is a potential threat regardless of their size or strength because guns are the ultimate equalizer. A small 14 year old youth can now potentially use a gun to settle a dispute with a bigger and stronger 18 year old. This constant use of guns to settle disputes is causing deep fear amongst high school students in areas plagued by gang violence. In some areas in Toronto, the fear is so deep that students who witness gang crimes do not report it to the authorities because they fear being harmed. "Gangs' strongest weapons are fear and intimidation." They use these to keep victims and witnesses silent, which allow them to continue their rampages without police gaining evidence to successfully prosecute them. This also creates a discrepancy within statistics due to the fact that there is an excess of unreported crimes. "Most gang-related crimes - extortion, intimidation, assaults - are never reported. Fear breads silence." If a person was to look at crime rate statistics for youth gang crimes, they would not get an accurate number because the crime rate would be terribly underestimated. Statistics do not accurately show the extent of the problem because of the high percentage of unreported cases. "Police say those figures are misleading. Today's violence is not reported. It's no longer one-on-one. Teenagers are afraid to speak up. The gangs' strongest weapons are fear and intimidation. And their shield is their victims' frightened silence." Since the severity and the extent to which youth crimes are being perpetrated is rising, but their traceability is decreasing, policy initiatives need to be taken that will address this growing problem. Fear is what allows



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