Gang Membership in the US
Gang Membership in the US
Anyone who has studied gangs over a period of time will admit that the more one studies them, the more complex they are. At best, we can come to understand a bit about certain features of gangs at given points of time. Gangs are dynamic, flexible and ever-changing. This paper will analyze gang membership, who becomes a gang member and what are some of the reasons behind gang memberships in the US. It is undecided exactly where gangs surfaced in the US, but researchers have tracked them back to the time of the American Revolution. Originally, gangs centered themselves exclusively in larger cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. These groups were usually characterized as being associated with the migration and immigration into the country at the time. Most of the youth gang members consisted of three main groups: the Irish, Jewish and Italian people of origin. Many of these individuals flocked to the cities in the United States where they could find consistent work. “In the late 1800s, 1920s, 1960s, and during the 1990s the US experienced significant influxes of people into the country that led to the evolution of the more modern day gangs, with increased level of violence.“ (Rizzo, et al. 2003) Rizzo (2003) pints out that gangs are usually structures build by adolescents who have had stressful family and community based experiences. Gangs are defined as “self-formed groups, united by mutual interests that control a particular territory (empire- as they are called), facility or enterprise; uses symbols in communications and is collectively involved in a crime.” (Hamilton, et al. 2002). There are many different levels (measures of involvement) and characteristics in the overall gang structure; hardcore, associated, fringe, want-to-be, and could-be members are all levels of membership in the gang world. According to Rizzo (2003), the wearing of certain gang colors, the flashing of gang signs and hanging out with the “crew” are also a part of everyday gang culture. “Studies have shown that the age of active gang members ranges between 12 to 24 years old, in addition, the number of male members dominates over female members.” (Vigil, et al. 2003). The level of gang membership has grown by alarming numbers. ” In some areas of the United States, such as in St. Louis, associating with a gang is simply a rite of passage into adulthood.” (Clarke, et al. 2003). Some of the appealing aspects of gang membership are: a sense of belonging, a form of protection, respect and purpose within their own sub-cultures and bonding rituals within their street community. Recent national law enforcement studies have broken down percentages of who has entered into the gang community. Although nationality has not been a proven variable of deciding who enters into gangs, it gives researchers an idea of their makeup. A general breakdown of the gang population at one point includes: 48% African Americans, 43% Hispanics, 5% Caucasians and 4% Asians. In order to suppress gang membership and activities, one first has to understand who and why people are driven to this lifestyle. What are some of the influential factors which can have an impact on adolescents joining gangs? Some of the playing factors are: family, school, peer persuasion, individual behavior, gender issues and negative community factors. When looking at family, experts have pointed out that where there is instability, economic hardship, structural problems, violence within home and sibling delinquency, statistically, there are higher levels of gang activity. Many researchers have found that adolescents whose families have failed to fulfill their basic needs (mainly families that live in poverty) feel a sense of hopelessness as a result of being unable to purchase wanted goods and services. Young people living in poverty may find it difficult to meet basic physical and psychological needs which can...
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