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
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
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-acceptant’ person.
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
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,
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
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 enrollment.
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 breaking laws.
Margot Webb, Coping with Street Gangs. Rosen Publishing Group, New York,
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