A proper understanding and perception of gangs requires an understanding of when a group turns into a gang. Additionally an understanding of the significance of the gangs’ characteristics is required. Understanding gangs is a crucial step in being able to reduce the violence and inequalities all around the world. This is because gangs are a global phenomenon and they are the voice of the millions of individuals that are marginalized. Understanding Gangs Gangs have been a subject of interest for decades, but to this day there is still no agreement upon a single and universally accepted definition of a gang.
Even though there is no single definition there is commonly used criteria for classifying a group as a gang. In order to be classified as a gang there generally has to be at least three members. The members of the group must share an identity which is generally linked to a specific name and frequently other symbols. In addition the members identify themselves as a gang and are recognized by others outside of the group as a gang. Furthermore the group has some degree of permanence by associating frequently and showing some evidence of organization.
Lastly the group is involved in a prominent level of criminal activity. Many researchers dispute whether a gang should be defined by their involvement in criminal activity but Spindler and Bouchard (2011) argue that criminal involvement is what makes gangs qualitatively different from delinquent groups. Gangs being their formation like any other group which is by offering the members something they may want or may need. The group may then commit delinquent acts together but are generally unorganized and are highly transitory (Howell & Griffiths, 2016).
At this time the gang is not a formal organization and lacks permanence. As a result their delinquency is not recurrent or violent (Howell & Griffiths, 2016). The gang only becomes a real gang when it makes a commitment to the emphasis of criminal activity. This is the final step in the formation of a real gang because the group transforms from an unstructured group committing sporadic crimes to a structured gang with planned crimes (Decker & Winkle, 1996). Conflict then helps define the boundaries of the gang and strengthens the ties between the members of the gang because it unites them against a collective threat.
When a gang becomes a genuine gang it is at this time when they become a great concern as a threat to society. The formation, expansion and the consequent actions of gangs greatly affect society. It has been consistently found that gangs are normally linked to serious crimes and violence (Decker, Melde & Pyrooz, 2013). As these gangs become constant and stable fixtures in their community they become a permanent option for marginalized individuals. The gangs can then become more formalized in structure and may even specialize in certain criminal activities and can eventually develop into social actors in their communities (Ayling, 2011).
As a result they can play significant roles in the political, economic and social elements in cities around the world. At this point the gangs have embedded themselves as part of their social environment. In situations of deep-rooted institutional and social marginalization the gangs often are a fundamental organization for the community (Winton, 2014). The gangs become a part of how the residents give meaning and structure to the world. Ultimately when a gang becomes an official and genuine gang they become part of a worldwide phenomenon and a voice of the marginalized (Hagedorn, 2005).
As permanent fixtures in a community a gang’s participation in the gang subculture becomes normal and this often distinguishes them from the rest of the community (Ayling, 2011). These characteristics generally provide the gangs with their values, beliefs and procedures for action (Howell & Griffith, 2016). In general, gang members share many common characteristics which include their fashion and specific colors. For instance gang members may wear baggy clothes of specific name brands in addition to wearing bandanas and shirts in the gang’s specific colors. Furthermore nicknames and tattoos are consistently used in gangs.
According to Howell and Griffiths (2016) gang members establish and ascribe nicknames as a sign of acceptance and tattooing the nickname or gang name confirms membership. Other characteristics of identification include gang hand signals, distinctive manners in walking and graffiti. Howell and Griffiths (2016) indicate that gangs use graffiti for different reasons which include to threaten violence, taunt and insult other gangs as well as to brag their achievements and mark territories. These characteristics are significant to the gangs because they are a form of communication which allows them to mark their territory and send messages to ther gangs and across territories (Lozon & Besimon, 2015).
Another significant manner in which the gangs communicate their characteristics is through their music. Through gangsta rap gang members can publicly declare their identifying characteristics and culture (Harkness, 2013). The characteristics that gangsta rap exemplifies through its lyrics is sexism, misogynistic attitudes as well as violence (Patton, Eschmann, Butler, 2013). The lyrics of gangsta rap illustrates those characteristics as typical characteristics of gangs.
The culture and characteristics of gangs is a way of life for them because it separates them from the mainstream world. It is their distinctive way of behaving, thinking and talking. Groups may turn into gangs as a result of the hardships they face which forces them to build resistance strategies in order to survive (Lozon & Besimon, 2015). By doing this gangs are creating resistance identities. The resistance strategies that they are implementing may try to fulfill economic or political needs and may develop a distinctive identity through specific characteristics, symbols and rituals.
Understanding the characteristics of gangs is significant in order to truly understand gangs. The depth and complexity of their alienation can only be completely understood by understanding their subculture identity. Understanding gangs means understanding them as social actors. This is critical in being able to create the proper policies and social movements (Hagedorn, 2005). Without a proper understanding of gangs the reduction of violence and inequalities will not be possible.