Gangs are a violent reality that people have to deal with in today’s
cities. What has made these groups come about? Why do kids feel that being in 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 find the way that these morals are given to the
individual. 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, theatre, drugs and our economic system.
On the surface, gangs are caused by peer pressure and greed. Many teens
in gangs will pressure peers into becoming part of a gang by making it all sound
glamorous. Money is also an crucial factor. A kid (a 6-10 year old, who is not
yet a member) is shown that s/he could make $200 to $400 for small part time
gang jobs. Although these are important factors they are not 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 TV than she/he spends in a classroom. Since nobody can
completely turn off their minds, kids must be learning something while watching
the TV. Very few hours of television watched by children are educational, so
other ideas are being absorbed during this period of time. Many shows on
television today are extremely violent and are often shown this from a gang’s
perspective. A normal adult can see that this is showing how foully that gangs
are living. However, to a child this portrays a violent gang existance as
acceptable. ‘The Ends Justifies the Means’ mentality is also taught through
many shows where the “goody guy” captures the “bad guy” through violence and is
then being commended. A young child sees this a perfectly acceptable because he
knows that the “bad guy” was wrong but has no idea of what acceptable
apprehension techniques are.
Gore in television also takes a big part in influencing young minds.
Children see gory scenes and are fascinated by these things that they have not
seen before. Older viewers see gore and are not concerned with the blood but
rather with the pain the victim must feel. A younger mind doesn’t make this
connection. Thus a gore fascination is formed, and has been seen in several of
my peers. Unfortunately kids raised with this sort of television end up growing
up with a stronger propensity to becoming a violent gang member or ‘violent-
“Gangs bring the delinquent norms of society into intimate contact
with the individual.”1, (Marshall B Clinard, 1963). So, as you can see if TV
leads a child to believe 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 a lot of time with their kids at the TV
explaining what is right and what is wrong. Quite often newer books and some
types of music will enforce this type of thought and ideas.
Once this mentality is installed in youngsters they become increasingly
prone to being easily pushed into a gang situation by 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
boredom and to belong 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 is outside the local community, while the children’s lives
are lived almost totally within it. Second, in a fully developed community, the
network of relations gives every parent, in a sense, a community of sentries who
can keep him informed of his child’s activities. In modern living-places (city
or suburban), where such a network is attenuated, he no longer has such
sentries.”2, (Merton Nisbet, 1971).
In male gangs problems occur as each is the members tries to be the most
manly. This often leads to all members participating in “one-up-manship”.
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 (A sort of Clockwork Orange mentality). In gangs with more
intellegent 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 the group). This sort of
gang is usually common of middle or upper class people although it can happen in
gangs in the projects and other low rent districts too.
This “one-up-manship” is often the reason between rival gangs fighting.
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. After a few
gang fights hatred forms and gang murders and drive-by’s begin to take place.
When two gangs are at war it makes life very dangerous for citizens in the area.
Less that 40% of drive-by’s kill their intended victim yet over 60% do kill
someone. This gang application is one of the many reasons that sexual
sterotypes and pressure to conform to the same must be stopped.
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 you from, this is not always the way it is seen by kids.
In slums such as the Bronx or the very worst case, Compton, children will no
doubt be beaten and robbed if they do not join a gang. Of course they can
probably get the same treatment from rivals when in a gang. The gang also
provides some money for these children who quite often need to feed their
families. The reason kids think that the gang will keep them safe is from
propoganda from the gangs. Gang members will say that no one will get hurt and
make a public show of revenge if a member is hurt or killed.
People in low rent areas are most often being repressed due to poverty
and most importantly, race. This often results in an attitude that motivates
the person to base his/her life on doing what the system that oppresses them
doesn’t want. Although this accomplishes little it is a big factor in gang
So, as you have seen gangs are a product of the environment we have
created for ourselves. 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 restructuring the modern economy and value system. Since
the chance of this happening is minimal, 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 do
this but this situation quite often deals with racial issues also and the police
forces regularly display their increasing inability to deal fairly with these
issues. What we need are more people to form organizations like the “Guardian
Angels” a gang-like group that makes life very tough for street gangs that are
Margot Webb, Coping with Street Gangs. Rosen Publishing Group, New York, 1990.
William Foote Whyte, Street Corner Society. University of Chicago, Chicago,
Peter Carroll, South-Central. Hoyte and Williams, L. A., 1987.
1 Marshall B. Clinard, Sociology of Deviant Behavior. University of Wisconsin,
Wisconsin, 1963, Page 179.
2 Merton Nisbet, Contempory Social Problems. Harcourt, Brace & World, New York,
1971, Page 588.