Urban Street Gangs of the United States

Urban Street Gangs of the United States Free Essay


A gang is a group of people who through organization, formation and establishment of an assemblage share a common identity. There is a general agreement that the gangs have special features to identify them like a name or they can be identified by symbols such as a certain type of clothing, graffiti, and some signs like unique hand signs that are mainly known by the members of that gang. Gangs are considered to be very different from the other organizations because they lack a proper leadership structure, capital and the manpower needed to have their enterprise run. They are mostly organized horizontally with lots of subgroups. In this paper I will evaluate the main factors that have given rise to and sustained street gangs in the US since the 1950s.

Gangs are said to have been around throughout the time and all over the world. Gangs provide security for their members in the form of money and friendship in return they ought to be loyal to their work which include, selling drugs, stealing cars or even committing murder. If you join a gang then you have accepted to follow the gang’s order and failure to do so, you will be physically punished or may even be killed. By joining it you may be signing away your family, friends, future and life. As a new gang member you are ranked bottom of the gang order, you are likely to get into trouble and receive little or no reward for your efforts.

In the mid 1950s, the big city slums gave rise to a notorious young figure- the rebel.  Traditionally, the formation of street gangs was due to poverty, poor education and crime. The highly urbanized populations who faced stagnant job markets, rise in the domestic drug addiction and the absence of a strong political base to fight against crime have led to the development of gang movements and have constantly conspired to give Latin America the bad image of the most violent region in the world. (Stark, E. 2001).

The high rates of crime destabilized the American society by undermining support for democratic institutions charged with providing of security to the public, hindrance to economic development, through reduction in tourism and investment, and the result of increased insurance and security costs for the firms that may be willing to transact business in the region and lastly they erode the strength of the civil society by discouraging people from participating in their community activities. Central American gangs posed a serious threat to national security since they threatened the region’s stability because of their involvement in human and also drug trafficking. They are also involved in auto and weapon smuggling and kidnapping. (Stark, E. 2001).

In the recent years however gang activities have increased and according to the United States department of justice some 30,000 gangs with 800,000 are said to be operating in the United States. These gang groups range from small local groups to large multi state and multinational organizations. Their growth is said to have been fueled up by the explosive use of illegal drugs in the United States in the 1980s.  (Stark, E. 2001).

Many organizations that are working directly with gang members have found out that the combination of poverty, social exclusion, lack of education and lack of job opportunities are the main causes of the street gangs. The absence of family support and community support most of the marginalized youth opt to turn to gang families for social support , a source of livelihood and for protection purposes. (Kyanka, L. 2001).

There are societal stigmas against gangs and so the process of leaving that group is very difficult.  The organizations that work with former gang members especially those that have criminal records have a major problem when it comes to employment, the employers are often unwilling to employ them. Those that have been tattooed and deportees from the United States who speak native English find a major problem in trying to secure employment opportunities.

Studies have shown that the high levels of income inequality and being socially excluded are often high predictors of high crime rates. North American countries are known to have a very long history of armed conflicts and dictatorships also which are said to hinder the development of democratic institutions. Armed conflicts are said to have led to high spread of illicit firearms in the region and this has lead to violence among different cultures as a way of solving disputes that arise among them. Another reason for high crime rates is that most of the population in the United States is highly urbanized and the youth that are growing there are unemployed. As for the UN office on drugs and crime, central American countries are the most vulnerable to violent crime fueled by drug trafficking and also due to the high levels of corruption because of their central location between the largest countries that are known for drug production and consumption. It is reported that the drug traffickers use North America as their primary their central point for transshipment (Howell, J.C. and Decker, S.D. 1999).

The low capacity for justice to prevail, high corruption rates and the absence of a political will to fight against these crimes has really affected the countries’ ability to respond and fight against them. The gangs are said to be sophisticated and well organized and a research that was done shows that the gang leaders from North America were using prisons to recruit new members into their gang groups and also in increasing the discipline and the unity among themselves. (Seelke, C. 2010).

Gang members found in the United States ,once arrested they are deported and this does not solve the problem of crime since they find their way back and by the same token they result in influencing and recruiting more members and thus leading to their expansion.

Another reason that has lead to the existence of the gang groups is particularism and this is the difference from country to country in terms of their structure, logic, dynamics, and activities not forgetting their acts of violence. This is greatly contributed by specific national and also the local circumstances within which they grew up and where they are currently operating and developing. An example to this is that different gangs have different degree of violence which varies considerably. (Seelke, C. 2010).

Usage of drugs is another reason for having consistent violence and this is because most of them are0 consumers of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine etc. according to a survey conducted in the united states shows that drugs could be a factor in gang violence. (National Drug Intelligence Centre).

Community links could be another reason, some gangs have very strong links with their local communities and these gangs don’t direct their violence to their local communities. They instead prevent them from any threats and help to maintain social order. In return their community cannot report them to the police and they can even hide them when the police are looking for them. (Seelke, C. 2010).

Lack of tight security in the prisons makes it easy for the gangs to carry out criminal offences even when they are behind bars and sometimes they are even helped by the corrupt officials to commit these ill activities. (CrimeUSA).

Recently the United States is concerned and has become more concerned with curbing and solving problems that are related to gangs. USAID has partnered with the centre for disease control and prevention and the American coalition for the prevention of violence and they are trying to come up with better tactics to handle crime.  The porous borders should be tightened so that there is no easy passage for the gang members and also for the illegal immigrants and this can be done by rethinking the border patrol strategies and tactics and find ways of dealing with the illegal immigrants especially those that are involved with gangs. (Seelke, C. 2010).

The United States should look for new strategies so that they can strengthen international cooperation in fighting against gangs and crime. As part of the transnational response to fight against crime people ought to improve the rule of law. People need to trust the police, the courts and even the government itself. Criminals should be given heavy judgment once they are found guilty of committing the offence. People should be contented so that they won’t be taking the law into their own hands or even waste a lot of money in trying to secure their property.

There has to be a strong and clear indication against those found committing an offence and thus are convicted through fair trial. The United States ought to create and coordinate response to both gangs and crime in partnership with the neighbors. To be on a clear side, the perpetrators both in the United States and other countries should be heavily punished. Recruitment of new members into gangs should be prevented and also find ways to rehabilitate the gang members who have served their term.

People should not just be thrown into jail by being suspected as a member of the gang, civil liberty cannot be ignored in the name of security.  Those found must be accused of and convicted of a crime before being sent to jail.

Response to fighting crime

As part of the response to fight against gangs and crime:

  • We must improve on the rule of law and this is possible if people can fully trust their law menders who in this case are the police, courts and the government. Criminals should be strongly warned because once they are found they will pay the price dearly.
  • The government should try and concentrate on the root causes of the problems that arise and  this means that the government has to look at the long time solutions by investing in education, reducing the poverty levels and look for ways of promoting economic growth.
  • A clear and strong response against those found to be guilty of the offence and this should be conducted both in the United States and also in the other countries.
  • Effectively addressing these crimes and this requires a holistic and multi cultural approach which tackles law enforcement as well as the crimes that are rooted to social, political and economic causes.

From the policy perspective of particularism of gangs has significant implications because those specific conditions within which the gangs emerge and operate has to be taken into account and effective programs have to be put in place so that the government knows on how to deal with them specifically. The government can vary their form of program differently according to the different contexts and according to the circumstances.


In summary, a gang can be said to be a group of people who consider themselves as distinct and are generally known to have a special aggregation by the other generation they come together because they have a shared interests and are generally associated with a violent behavior and are known to be dealing with illegal substances.

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