Within the past two decades, beginning in the early 1980’s a growing concern has been focused on what can be considered a social epidemic among the youth of our nation. This social distress stems directly from the rising number and over all abundance of youth gangs throughout the country. Gang mentality and social deviance of this form has been noticed and documented in this country for decades and possibly even being recognized over a century ago. ” Prior to the 1970’s, gang violence was still popularly associated with white ethnic enclaves in the cities of the Midwest and East, and gang incidents were typically brawls involving fists, sticks and knives. Today, gangs are made up largely of darker-hied ethnic groups, especially African American and Latino Americans, and handguns and other military hardware are the typical vehicles for the acts of aggression and rampages so common in large cities” (Vigil. 2003).
Now though, in the twenty first century, gang chapters, mentality, and its proficiency as a dominant force among the youth has spread not only to the large urban cities in the country but also to the suburban and rural areas of the nation that were once untarnished by this outbreak. As the number of youth gangs reach an all time high in this country, our main concern is being able to quickly identify the problem when it arises and to swiftly eradicate it before it rises beyond the control of the officials in the area. Youth gangs rise up and take control so rapidly among youth that you have to be able to reach adolescents before a problem that at one point could have been stopped, now is forced to be merely contained. A youth gang is generally identified as “a self formed association of peers having the following characteristics: three or more members, generally ages 12-24; a gang name or some sort of identity, generally indicated by such symbols such as clothing, graffiti, and hand signs; some degree of organization; and a elevated level of involvement in delinquent or criminal activity.” (Curry 2002).
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A large misconception about youth gangs is that a gang must have a large membership ratio, which resembles the likes of the Los Angeles based gangs, The Bloods or the Crips, or has to be strongly racially or ethically based such as the Neo-Nazi’s or Latin Kings. This is not all together true.
Indeed a large majority of gang activity results from highly involved associations like the four previously mentioned, but smaller less known or even recognized gangs that do not essentially fit that presupposed criteria can cause just as many problems in more rural or suburban areas that are not used to dealing with this kind of crisis. For instance, the Columbine incident that happened a few years back on April 20, 1999 was initiated by what normal standards would be considered a very small gang, made up of local rejected youths know as the Trench Coat Mafia. And as it went, this small gang of adolescents created such an uproar by orchestrating the Columbine massacre that they got more attention by media then all the other gang happenings, no matter how large of that time period, and provided an incentive for then unaware communities to become conscious of what is happening inside them and to not write off the undertakings of possible youth deviants. Youth gangs have been getting a tremendous amount of press and media attention as the problem grows worse and worse, and because of this attention and exposure the rate of adolescents joining these gangs is constantly increasing. As of right now, gang life is in a lime light all to its own. There has been documentaries, movies, books and so on that have demoralized it as well as glamorized it, and to trouble youths who think that they have no place else to turn, gang life seems as though it can be a very acceptable and possibly through their point of view, a positive change in their some what hitched lives.
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Social experts chalk up the sudden increase of youth gang activity to two distinct reasons; ” (1) the diffusion of gang culture through popular media, and (2) economic restructuring including interrelated factors such as de industrialization, the loss of employment opportunities, and the growth of the urban underclass.” (Curry 2002).
These reasons are solid in their social correctness, but they seem to limit the rise of gang activity and involvement to simply its social foundations, while other attributes to its quality and aura are going unnoticed. To truly understand why an adolescent would join a youth gain you have to understand the psychology of a youth. I believe that the two major thought processes that would lead a youth to join a gang which then directly leads to involvement in pronounced gang activity are (1) acceptance, and (2) fear. Everybody wants to be approved of and accepted by their peers, but for youths, this notion holds much more gravity.
Youths, unlike adults haven’t yet socially adapted to their surroundings or yet have found a social identity. So when all of ones peers seem to be joining an association and the peers outside of the association are scuffed at or taken to be less desirable, any adolescent is going to want to be on the popular side of things and have a set group of friends. Also, gangs that are involved with the dealing of illegal drugs or substances give the youths working for them money and goods, which they would not be able to get from their parents or right away from job, which then furthers their acceptance. And if the child or teen is not motivated by the need for acceptance the aspect of fear will play a major role in their decision to join a gang. Since most gangs are not friendly to outsiders and the “if you ” re not with us, you ” re against us mentality” is fully in play, some teens would rather be part of the dominant group that accosts the victims instead of possibly being the victim themselves. Negative gang activity and social deviance among gang members is basically attributed to violent crimes committed, and the selling of illegal drugs or substances by gang affiliates.
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Obviously not all adolescent crime is due to the abundance of youth gangs but the vast majority of it is. For example, “in urban cities such as Denver, Rochester, and Seattle gang members were found to commit about seven times more serious, violent, or delinquent acts as non-gang members.” (Major 2004).
Gang members are also far more likely to carry or use a firearm then non-gang members. “In the 2000 National Youth Gang Survey, 84 percent of the gang problem jurisdictions reported at least one occurrence of firearm use by one or more gang members in an assault crime.” (Curry 2004).
Gang conflicts usually increase the rate of firearms carried by members and other factors such as rival drug trafficking which also leads to many firearm related incidents and homicides. The number of cities and jurisdictions experiencing problems from youth gangs has risen dramatically from the mid-80’s to the 90’s and has even soared to an all time high in the twenty first century.
A 1995 study shows California coming in first of a list of top ten Gang-City States having a total of two hundred and ninety three gang cities within the state, Illinois came in second, having two hundred and thirty two gang cities and New Jersey came in fifth, having fifty five gang cities. (Major 2004).
A 1997 study displays the percentage of jurisdictions reporting active youth gangs by regions, presenting that 52 percent of the jurisdictions in the Midwest reported gang activity, as well as 31 percent of the jurisdictions in the Northeast, 49 percent of them in South, and 74 percent in the West, which leaves the average mean of jurisdictions in the country that reported youth gang activity at 51 percent. Which means that over half of the jurisdictions in the whole nation are experiencing youth gang related problems. To get a vague idea of what that statistic actually means in terms of people, in 1997, a Youth Gang surveying team reported that there were 18, 267 gangs noticed in this country with an estimate 30, 533 that might actually exist; also stating that there are 655, 385 gang members associated with these gangs with as estimated 815, 896 that might actually exist. (Nawojczyk 1997).
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In comparison from 1997 to 2000, a national gang survey in 2000 reported that there were over 24, 500 gangs being noticed as well as 772, 500 gang members. (4) This means that in only a span of three years that there was an increase of 117, 115 gang members in this country and 6, 233 gangs. And if this trend keeps going as is, that means today, out of the 292, 527, 231 citizens (5) claiming residence in the United States 889, 615 of them are gang members. That means at least one in every three hundred and twenty people is a gang member.
New York City has 8, 008, 278 residents, and in accordance to this math, the gang member to non-gang member ration is astonishing and frightening. (5) As these numbers are constantly increasing, questions arise to how authorities can contain or put halt to this youth gang phenomenon before the nations youth is totally corrupted beyond the possibility of repair. Some methods put to use already in major metropolitan areas include assigning special task forces within police departments to specifically deal and attempt to control gang related activity by focusing directly on it. In cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago this process does its job by efficiently cleaning the streets by putting the more deviant youths into prison, but this in turn leads to another problem within the system which is keeping the gang relations in the prisons in check and trying to rehabilitate former gang members once they get out of the penitentiary. Other methods include interventions through outside agencies like schools and churches to try to grab the youth’s attention and focus it on something positive. Answers to this problem are not going to be quick and simple, in cities that are already afflicted, rehabilitation efforts and a stern police force will help de glamorize the whole gang culture, but the best means of prevention is to stop the problem before it starts.
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The National Youth Gang Center suggests five strategies that a community can use through its agencies to help repress the threat of an outbreak of gang related activity. The strategies are listed as follows: ” (1) Community mobilization”, getting help from parents, relatives and other community members to help shape or mold the youths into decent human beings instead of letting them run free and fall into association with undesirable characters. ” (2) Social intervention”; getting help from schools, churches, and other organizations to try and get the youths going on the right path while completely demoralizing gang life in the process. ” (3) Opportunities”; get the local businesses to help out and provide jobs so the youths won’t have time for gangs and will also be making money in the process.
” (4) Suppression” institutes a strong police force that will keep the problem under control and make even the thought of gang life unwanted. ” (5) Organizational change” restructures the community into a place where gangs won’t thrive, make it a clean safe environment for families and replace all of the negative aspects with positive change. (Curry 2002).
These tactics to gang prevention seem to be a good stepping stone for any community but instituting these strategies is another problem all together. Cities need money to organize a community intervention of that magnitude and most of the areas affected by gang violence simply cannot afford to properly intervene to the point where a serious change can be made. Cities need help monetarily, and the government must give it to them.
Without the governments help, these areas will either just tread water, or sink into slums if they have not already reached that point. A bill must be passed, or a loan must be given, or the gang problem in America will remain as is, growing everyday, swallowing the potential and possibly the lives of our nations youth. References: (1) Curry, G. D. , Decker, S. H.
, and Eley, A. Jr, Gang involvement and Delinquency in middle school population. Justice Quarterly. 19 (2): 275-292. (2002).
(2) Major, K.
Aline. Youth Gangs in Indian Countries. Juvenile Justice. March 2004 (3) Nawojczyk, Steve.
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Street Gang Dynamics. The Nawojczyk Group. 1997. (4) U.
S department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (5) web.