Gangs and gang membership are some of the main challenges faced by security agencies across the United States of America. The federal government, in conjunction with state and local governments, has put numerous efforts to tighten homeland security by addressing this challenge. Although most gang activities are localized, the rate at which they are spreading across the country has created a need for an immediate response from the relevant authorities.
Numerous studies have been conducted to establish the state of gangs and gang membership in the United States. Gangs involve themselves with a wide variety of criminal activities in order to achieve dominance and create an identity. This often leads to conflicts when different gangs try to establish their territory in the same place. The rivalry between gangs can be a major threat to homeland security when differences arise over control of territories. Studies have established that young people in America join gangs due to peer pressure, lack of good mentorship, identity crisis, and economic factors, among others.
Gangs are defined as an association of criminals (Branch, 2013). Studies have established that most gangs are based in urban areas. There are numerous types of gangs operating across the United States of America. It is estimated that more than one million people are actively involved in gang activity across the country. Gang membership has been increasing over the years due to factors such as peer pressure, lack of employment, self-esteem issues, lack of identity, and economic hardships, among others.
The challenge of gangs in the United States has intensified over the last couple of years (Branch, 2013). This has been necessitated by the kind of crime reporting by the media, which tends to create an illusion of the problem is widespread. According to experts, gangs may be a major threat to homeland security in the United States, but the cyclic nature of their activities allows security agencies to regulate their influence (Branch, 2013).
The current state of gangs and gang membership
In 2011, the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) commissioned a study that was aimed at identifying emerging gang trends and the danger they posed to people (2011National Gang Threat Assessment, 2011). The study followed the recommendations that were made in the previous study conducted in 2009. One of the recommendations from that study was a need for more research on the state of the gang menace in the country.
The study identified that gangs were responsible for most cases of violent crimes reported across the country. The research also established that close to 1.4 million Americans were active gang members (2011National Gang Threat Assessment, 2011). Drug trafficking is highly linked to gangs, which were also identified as a major threat to homeland security. The study relied on information provided by federal, state, and local governments. The study established that gang activity in America keeps expanding and evolving every year (2011National Gang Threat Assessment, 2011).
Gangs are a phenomenon that has developed in the United States due to a number of factors. One of the main causative factors is the nature of parenting in the modern economic setting (Branch, 2013). Parents, especially those living in urban neighborhoods, have a hard time proving for their families and meeting their parental obligations.
Most parents have to do several jobs in order to provide for their families. This means that the time they spend with their children is not enough to guide them through various life stages (Watkins, 2010). Such children tend to engage in various criminal activities to attract their parent’s attention. Various state governments have come up with laws and policies to ensure increased accountability among parents as a way of addressing the challenge posed by street gangs.
For example, in 2010, the state of California passed numerous legislation under the Parent Accountability Act that required parents whose children get involved in gang activities to attend mandatory parenting classes (Watkins, 2010). According to experts, modern parents tend to spend much of their time working and eventually forget to fulfill their parental duties of guiding, supporting, and motivating their children.
Parents who attend the classes are taught on the importance of having control over their children, various ways of preventing them from engaging in gang activities, and some of the signs of identifying a gang member (Watkins, 2010). Some of the signs that indicate a child belongs to a gang include having tattoos, weird behaviors, symbolism, and conforming to a certain genre of music, among others. The punishment for children caught engaging in gang activities includes counseling, probation, and offering various services to the community.
According to experts, parents and guardians have a huge role to play in terms of addressing the challenge of the rising number of young people getting involved with gangs in the United States (Watkins, 2010). As part of their future plans to fully eliminate gangs in the streets, the California state government intends to propose a law that will allow judges to sentence parents whose children are involved in gang activities, skip school, or even engage in drug abuse. Such legislation would be very effective in ensuring that parents play an active role in the lives of their children, thus preventing them from being part of street gangs (Watkins, 2010).
According to experts, gangs are built on a strong desire to victimize others for personal gain. This means that gangs should not be ignored at any cost (Branch, 2013). Studies have established that people have a tendency to assume that gangs that do not have wide networks cannot be a threat to their lives. For example, gangs in New Orleans are not known to have strong and wide networks, but they have caused a lot of problems to the state government (Valdemar, 2010). Experts also argue that gangs are not choosy when identifying their targets or opportunities from which they can benefit.
For example, gangs in New Orleans are quite opportunistic with any form of civil disorder and natural disaster experienced there. Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster that occurred in 2005, provided a good opportunity for gangs in the city to loot during the evacuation process (Valdemar, 2010). This has made street gangs in the city to be among the most dangerous in the country. Studies have established that in 2005, New Orleans recorded among the highest number of murders in the United States. Gangs in the city are usually small but evenly distributed across its numerous districts (Valdemar, 2010).
According to experts, gangs tend to build their own identity with the kind of violence they chose to engage in, their targets, their dressing, style of communication, or type of illegal product and business they deal with. Studies have established that gangs in New Orleans are known for dealing with heroin as the main product they sell on the black market (Valdemar, 2010). Often, rival gangs engage in dangerous battles as they attempt to take control of their territories. Rivalry between gangs has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of regulating their threat to homeland security.
Competition between gangs helps to reorient their focus towards reducing each other’s control over a territory or an illegal market (Valdemar, 2010). This helps to reduce cases of violence because they will prioritize on stabilizing their business dealings. Studies have established that poor policy implementation and laxity by law enforcement agencies play a crucial role in encouraging the growth of gangs in America. The legal system has a crucial role to play in addressing this challenge (Valdemar, 2010).
Types of gangs in the United States
Studies have established that there are over 30,000 active gangs in the country. These include street, prison, ethnic, ideological, motorcycle, and organized crime gangs (Branch, 2013). Street gangs in the United States operate in five regions namely, north central, northeast, south central, southeast, and west. There are five major elements used to classify gangs in the United States.
The elements are the age combination, availability of an identity, recognition by authorities, degree of organization, and level of criminal activity by a gang (Spergel, Wa & Sosa, 2006). According to experts, gangs engage in highly violent activities in order to get the attention of authorities and the media. Media focuses on highlighting activities carried out by highly organized gangs that have national recognition.
The connection between gangs, drugs, and violence
Studies have established that most gangs involve themselves with drug trafficking for economic reasons. However, the number of gangs that primarily focus on trafficking drugs is very small compared to the total number of recognized gangs. The lucrative nature of drug trafficking has played a major part in influencing young people to join gangs (Branch, 2013). According to experts, profits made from selling drugs are not used for gang activities, thus allowing members to use them for their own needs.
Drug trafficking by gangs involves a lot of violence, especially on individuals who fail to meet their targets or are suspected of giving out crucial information to authorities (Spergel et al., 2006). Studies have established that media play a crucial role in the growth of this connection because it focuses a lot on covering gangs that use violence in their activities (Branch, 2013). There are two types of crimes committed by drug trafficking gangs, namely expressive and instrumental. Expressive crimes entail violence that arises due to rivalry between gangs, while instrumental crimes involve violence triggered by economic factors (Spergel et al., 2006).
Involvement of adolescents in gangs
Studies have established that the number of youths joining gangs across the United States of America is very high. It is estimated that slightly over 8% of young people in America are members of a gang before their 20th birthday (Branch, 2013). However, this figure may not be a real representation of the degree to which adolescents are increasingly joining gangs across the country. The reason for this is that different localities across America have gangs that engage in unique violent activities.
Studies on the current state of gang membership in the country have established that most people join gangs during their adolescent years, as this is the time they start being rebellious (Branch, 2013). One of the familiar misapprehensions about gangs and gang membership is that one cannot opt out. The average time that most people stay as members of a gang in the United States is four years (Spergel et al., 2006). However, there are few individuals such as gang leaders and founders who stay for lengthy periods without considering other engagements.
Ethnic composition of gangs
Studies have established that the ethnic composition of gangs across the United States depends on the set up of a community (Spergel et al., 2006). This means that gangs are less likely to be organized along ethnic lines, because of certain social and economic factors. According to experts, a gang’s composition is highly dependent on a community’s social and economic driving forces. Forces such as existence of minority groups and high rate of unemployment influence this element. Communities that live in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country play a crucial role in determining a gang’s composition (Branch, 2013).
Most gangs in the country are mainly composed of Latinos and African Americans, as they are considered as minority groups whose accessibility to resources is quite poor. Some gangs have white Americans as members, albeit in very small numbers. However, the composition of gangs in terms of the ethnic background of members various across various cities, as certain unique factors may influence the kind of people drawn into violent activities (Branch, 2013). Experts have described the composition of gangs in America as a reflection of inequality in terms of access to social benefits and economic resources.
Summation and recommendations
The challenge of gangs and gang membership in the United States has intensified over the last couple of years. Most people join gangs during their adolescence years. Parents play a huge role in the growth and development of gangs, as they spend very little time with their children who associate with the wrong people. If parents were to play a more active role in their children’s lives, the rate at which gangs emerge across the United States could change.
There are certain policies, strategies, or programs that can be used to effectively provide a long-term solution to the challenge of gangs and gang membership. Street gangs are very notorious, and eliminating them would help a lot in fighting the development of other types of gangs. The policies that would provide a long-term and effective solution would be those offering interventions (Spergel et al., 2006). Intervention entails strategies for community mobilization and ensuring increased accountability by parents. It is vital for young people to grow in a positive environment in terms of the people they relate to and consider as role models.
Youth rehabilitation and talent development programs can be very effective in addressing this challenge on a long-term basis (Spergel et al., 2006). Most people who join gangs have numerous talents that can be tapped and developed. State governments should come up with programs that will rehabilitate gang members by helping them identify their talents. They should also develop policies to ensure that parents play an active role in their children’s lives. A good example is the Parent Accountability Act adopted by the state of California (Watkins, 2010). Some of the desired outcomes of this legislation include having more accountable parents, positive role models for young people, and a reduction in the number of adolescents joining gangs. The success of this legislation is measurable by the reduction rate in number of gangs and their members.
Branch, C. (2013). Adolescent Gangs: Old Issues, New Approaches. New York: Routledge.
Spergel, I.A., Wa, K.M., & Sosa, R.L. (2006). The Comprehensive, Community-Wide Gang Program Model: Success and Failure. San Francisco: Altamira Press.
Watkins, T. (2010). Gang Moms, Dads Sent to Parenting Classes. Web.