Although juvenile gangs have always existed in the United States, the current tendency is worrying indeed. The amount of gang-related crimes is growing rapidly, and nothing promises that the situation is going to change in the nearest future.
According to the statistics provided by the National Gang Center, the number of juvenile gangs has increased by 8 percent since 2010, while the number of homicides has grown by 23 percent (which is in sharp contrast to the general decline of violence in the country) (Pyrooz & Sweeten, 2015). This tendency is mostly attributed to large cities, where the most threatening gang activity is concentrated.
Thus, the paper at hand is going to investigate the problem of gang delinquency, providing the definition and description of gangs, identifying their key characteristics, and speculating upon the danger they can pose to average citizens.
In most neutral and general terms, a gang can be defined as a group of individuals governed by a selected leader that claims control over a specific area of a city, town, village, or any other community. Gangs are typically involved in violent or illegal behavior of various kinds, ranging from minor to serious crimes. The word itself stems from the Past Participle of “gan” (an Old English form), which is a neutral word that means “to go.”
The first definition of a gang was devised in California. Now, all states accept it with minor modifications. Thus, the gang is legally defined as a formal or informal group, an association or an organization having a common name or symbol and consisting of three or more individuals involved in various patterns of criminal activity determined by the leader (Melde & Esbensen, 2014). As far as youth or juvenile gangs are concerned, it is also added that the age of its members should not exceed 24.
What a Typical Gang is Like
All gangs, regardless of their size or activities, usually share a common set of characteristics. First and foremost, a gang has a leader who sets the rules of the initiation process. In other words, it is up to him to decide who can be accepted as a new member. A typical gang unites more than three people. Second, gangsters have to prove their commitment to the common goal by getting engaged in crimes. Third, a gang has a collective identity that unites its members. It includes a name, sign, slogan, symbol, the color of clothing, tattoo, and other types of physical and clothes marking. Fourth, a gang has a territory that is usually marked by graffiti to separate it from other gangs. If the boundaries are violated, conflicts become inevitable.
That is one of the reasons gangs purposefully create an atmosphere of intimidation and fear to scare away everybody who claims the rights for their region of operation.
Members of a typical gang have common financial resources kept and distributed by the leader. Besides this, he/she is also responsible for the organization of regular meetings, protection of gangsters from others, defending common interests against rivals, and defining the hierarchy of the association. It is important to note that not all young people who display signs of gang belonging commit crimes; however, those who do not usually stand much lower in the hierarchy, the place in which is defined by the age, physical strength, level of violence, amount of money obtained from crimes, and arrest records (Melde & Esbensen, 2014).
If the gang consists of more than 1000 members, it breaks up into smaller sub-sets, each controlling one small territory. The more people are involved in the gang’s activities, the more well-structured it is. The largest gangs commonly resemble corporations or business enterprises as per the level of their organization.
Danger Gangs Pose to the Average Citizen
There are numerous short- and long-term negative consequences of gangs’ activities for the society. Although big cities have a more persistent gang problem, town agencies also report minimum of 3-5 gangs with 5-50 members per 5000 population.
The greatest danger for residents is usually posed by highly organized and violent gangs that occasionally commit serious crimes; however, start-up ones also give concerns. Their activities may include vandalism, graffiti, intimidation, and drug sales. Opinion polls show that the fear of falling a victim of a gang is higher in densely-populated, low-income neighborhoods, where such criminal groups are more frequently met.
The most common danger is intimidation and blackmailing of school children, witnesses of criminal acts, and small business owners. There are also gangs that specialize in drug distribution, especially among teenagers and young people. This not only undermines the population health but also leads to the escalation of violence. Since there are frequent fights between different gangs, residents are also at constant risk of being caught in the crossfire, wounded, or killed. Some gangs are responsible for deliberate murders, too. Typically, homicides are committed for the sake of money, but in some cases, gangsters kill to obtain firearms to be able to intimidate their rivals, thereby increasing the prestige of the group (Gordon et al., 2014).
The gang problem currently ranges among the most pressing ones in big communities. Not only does it pose a danger to average citizens (ranging from minor offenses to homicides), but it also causes a great number of teen problems, including early parenthood, victimization, alcohol or drug addiction, dropping out of school, conviction, and incarceration. Furthermore, being involved in a gang usually implies having social and economic problems in adulthood. Thus, it is highly necessary that the government should address the problem by introducing new policies and legislations to control and prevent gang formation and activities.
Gordon, R. A., Rowe, H. L., Pardini, D., Loeber, R., White, H. R., & Farrington, D. P. (2014). Serious delinquency and gang participation: Combining and specializing in drug selling, theft, and violence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24(2), 235-251.
Melde, C., & Esbensen, F. A. (2014). The relative impact of gang status transitions: Identifying the mechanisms of change in delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 51(3), 349-376.
Pyrooz, D. C., & Sweeten, G. (2015). Gang membership between ages 5 and 17 years in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(4), 414-419.