This article argues the existence of delinquent juvenile gangs in the United States and investigates their actions, as well as the factors that affect them and their consequences for society. Gang members perpetrate crimes in their neighborhoods, wreaking misery on innocent people. They are a danger to society and a challenge to the government and law enforcement. The feeling of security, adventure, and promise of fast wealth lure young people to gangs. Gangs are common in impoverished areas, as adolescents from families who are unable to pay for their basic necessities seek ways to support themselves and their family. Gangs exist in both urban and rural settings. Adult criminal offenders join gangs while they are young and recruit members from the gangs. Instead of utilizing illegal methods, gangs should be redirected into productive enterprises where they may put their energy to good use and earn money honestly.
According to Franzese, Covey, and Menard, the situation of the young gang member is a tragic one because instead of enjoying a productive childhood, they spend their time in burglary, muggings, robbery, gang battles, drug addiction, and drug selling (2006). Both men and girls participate in gang activities and may end up in juvenile detention centers at a young age as a result of their illegal actions. This paper will look at juvenile gangs in the United States, including the many kinds of gangs, what creates them, and the impact they have on society and the crimes they commit.
The young are always on the lookout for answers to who they truly are. They’re trying to figure out who they are, what their goals are, and where they want to go in life. This is most likely why gangs are mostly made up of young individuals who are struggling to find their place in life and society. Gangs are defined by law enforcement as organized organizations that get together for the purpose of committing criminal offenses (Barrows and Huff, 2009). Barrows and Huff also claim that gangs are tightly knit, well-organized, secretive, and brutal, and that they constitute a rapidly increasing major danger to society. They also want a location where they may feel safe and protected, as well as dignified. Gangs provide this platform and make the young individual feel safe and secure. The downside of gangs is that, although they provide a warm environment for the kids, they provide the incorrect counsel; they are a weapon of terror rather than constructive growth. Over the past two decades, gangs and gang-related crimes have resurfaced in the United States (Katz and Webb, 2006).
According to Johnson (2004), there are many kinds of juvenile gangs on the streets of the United States. Scavengers, also known as want to-be gangs, are mostly made up of white suburbanites whose primary goal is to harass and threaten other children. Hispanic gangs, on the other hand, are seen as territorial gangs. African American gangs and a few Hispanic hardcore gangs try to make money in whatever way they can while evicting rival organizations via violence. A gang’s members have a lot in common, such as ambition, devoutness, and even backgrounds. The threat of adolescent gangs is sometimes misunderstood to be exclusive to the United States, but as Siegel and Welsh point out, it affects many other countries and continents (2011). The United Kingdom, particularly London, is an excellent illustration of a state afflicted with adolescent gangs.
Despite the fact that there are many different types of juvenile gangs in the United States, they all have similar features. They are made up of adolescents, they defend certain areas, mostly in the streets, and they are involved in a variety of illegal acts. Gangs occur in every city in the United States, and members of gangs often become leaders of organized crime (Finley, 2007). Adults often train young juvenile gang members and teach them a variety of skills, including specific communication techniques. Gangs are not only involved in crime, but violent crime; juvenile gangs commit 6% of all violent crimes accounted for in the United States (Holmes, Tewksbury and Higgins, 2011).
The youth are majorly attracted to joining gangs because they are promised quick riches and protection. Gangs set a forum where the youth are taught skills which come in handy when committing acts of thievery and extortion. The gangs provide protection whether or not they are engaged in crime. These youth groupings instead of rebuking and chastising criminal activities they reward their members for committing criminal acts. Many of the criminal acts partaken by gangs often land their members in jail or death. Adults that command young female and male juveniles into uncouth behaviors, at times, have been respected members of the society and corrupt government officials (Finley, 2007). These leaders use the gang members for their dirty work which they themselves would not do.
There are juvenile gangs of different cultures as may be noted from their various types; there are Hispanic gangs, Caucasian gangs, Chinese gangs and African American gangs, although unique instances may demand a mixture. The desperation to survive in a harsh world with a young person coming from a poor background is another encouraging factor for the juvenile to join a gang. Children from well-off families do not often join gangs as they have basic necessities well facilitated to them like food, clothing, shelter and a good education as compared to the child coming from a poor family that struggles to obtain these necessities. Youth from wealthy families who join gangs do it for the fun of it or out of lack of attention from their parents who usually spare little time for them. The youth who join gangs also come from poor neighborhoods marred by many gangs and thus, joining a gang becomes an easier than harder option for them. Many a times, communities do not report gangs that hail from their surroundings to the police for fear of the gangs turning against them.
Economics is central to understanding operations of gangs. Gangs blossom in regions where immigrations and displacements facilitate a class of destitution which find it difficult to be part and parcel of the larger community. Youth males and females through gang relations make easy money from gang crimes such as drug dealing, and this way they gain confidence with themselves and in the gang. The state of believing in themselves and the group is brought about because they can now pay for their families’ needs which the family could not probably afford before joining the gang. The youngster can now also afford adolescent pleasures which they value a great deal. The fact that they can now afford a life they could not afford before will make them remain more grounded in the gang and even gain more ambition and, therefore, footing in crime.
Beyond offering fulfillment for money, security and survival, gangs also offer fun and adventure. Within gangs, there is status: The more a person accomplishes their criminal tasks, the more they gain higher status other than wealth. Youth belonging in gangs represent fear for other people in their neighborhoods. The more a person is active in their gang and is seen to be witty and cunning, the more they climb the status ladder and even end up becoming leaders of the gang. The status may also be reflected in their communities.
A youth affiliated with a gang, especially a young recruit is expected to respect high status members and be knowledgeable about gang laws when carrying out instructions from the gang leader(s). Where one is seen to rebel or betray the group they mostly receive quite heavy punishments. They may also be killed by other gang members as chastisement for their indifference. When one joins a gang, they are expected to stick with it failure to which their exit is almost always followed by their murder. This is so often done owing to the fact that every gang member is privy to some confidential information that may be used in the capture of gang members. They may also act as lead witnesses and may have admissible evidence against the gang members.
Juvenile gangs in the United States may dress in a particular manner, for example, wearing similar caps or shirts representative of their gang group. They may also bear particular tattoos to show that they have a specific group affiliation. When a new member is recruited, they may have to undergo certain rituals. The person will probably be put to test to demonstrate that they have chosen to become part of the group and they will be loyal to that group regardless of situation. Members of a gang are not allowed to demonstrate fear of carrying out tasks that benefit the gang. For gang members, death is a usual occurrence and enemies are mainly taken out by murder. Gang members are clear on the notion that, they leave by the sword and so they shall die by the same. The person being recruited has to be triumphant and to prove that they are worth the risk as recruiting new members is in itself risky.
Juvenile gangs greatly affect the community and their families. The community is immersed in crime due to the criminal acts engaged in by these gangs. The police constantly knock on the doors of those purported to engage in gang crimes. Many a times, the police may harass family members to giver the whereabouts of the juvenile gang member. Adding to this, families of youth gang members are stigmatized and embarrassed especially the parents. The families live in fear of their lives and that of their loved one. Family members fear for the death of their child or sibling, and in case of their arrest parents may be credible witnesses who may bring down the entire gang.
Many juvenile gangs assign names to their gangs. They want to be deemed prestigious and to assert fear and their place in society as being above all others. Gangs have gained a great deal of attention recently in the media due to the crimes in which they engage. The collaboration of gang membership and being part of a racial minority such as African American or Hispanic raises a high risk of arrest for a young juvenile (Tapia, 2011). Juvenile gangs are seen as an enemy of the state by the law enforcement system and the legal system. The law enforcement system, especially the police, engages in patrols with the objectives of ensuring safety and getting rid of gang members in the streets. Research demonstrates that many gangs are made up of males as compared to females (Schram and Gaines, 2008). The youngster who joins a gang visualizes the gang as their family; their own family have broken down or failed them in providence either emotionally or materially. The strength of a family holding up together may usually prevent a juvenile from joining a gang. The relationship between adult mobsters and gangs is a strong one as many adult criminals emanated from juvenile gangs.
Juvenile gangs that are most terrorizing are those in poor sections of main cities such as New York and Chicago. However, this is not to state that gangs are only found in major cities as they are also found in rural areas. Gangs tear up communities and interfere with schooling as they absorb more youngsters. Students are usually disrupted by gang activities on their way to and from schools. These kids expect gang members enrolled at their schools to commit acts of violence. They are afraid of both threats from juvenile gang members and peer pressure to join criminal groups. There is a sense of an increasing prevalence of guns and other weapons linked to gang activity in schools with juvenile gang members in the student fraternity. According to Jutersonke, Muggah, and Rodgers, the rise of gangs in the United States is viewed as not just disturbing public order but also endangering the government’s dignity (2009).
Youth gangs must not be permitted to develop into a major danger to American society. This is because the gang effort they put in criminal activities can be channeled into constructive use. Instead of spending their energy in committing crimes, that energy is diverted into productive activities such as education into various positive skills. Many youth delinquents have changed and become successful people in life. Irrespective of the huge attention given to the problem associated with gangs, researchers, legislators and police officers are yet to come to terms or fully understand the challenges posed by juvenile delinquent gangs (Barrows and Huff, 2009). The public is of the opinion that gangs pose a major threat in schools and campuses and the gangs are a factor of violence in schools and in the outside community. Gang activities often replace schooling and responsible behavior. The youths join as a result of perceiving certain shortcomings in their lives and as a way of making up for what they think they do not have. Key people in gangs such as their leaders maintain authority by using forceful tact. They instill fear in their members into respecting them and not questioning their authority or directives.
One of the ways of diverting a gang into constructive activities is by influencing its leader into positive education and programs of which the leader could influence other members. To bring down a hive of bees, one has to destroy the queen bee thus creating a rift in the main source of power that pulls the rest together. This is the same strategy that needs to be used in dealing with gangs menace. Also, youths should be encouraged to deal with issues bothering them through the channels provided for in the society, for example, community counselors. Counseling is a fundamental tool to discouraging juveniles from joining gangs and discouraging those who have already joined. It may be hard to weed out juveniles already entrenched into the gang system, but it is possible.
The youth gangs are a menace reigning on communities in both rural and urban neighborhoods in the United States. It is a challenge that needs to be solved and is possible to solve. Government agencies and various organizations dealing with the gangs should understand what causes youths to join or form gangs and device efficient and effective means of doing away with gangs. The gang members should be diverted into constructive activities and educated on how to make honest living instead of making money through crime. Much as a gang member seems to be rebellious, they are capable of changing as many have changed and now live productive lives.
- Barrows, J., & Huff, C. R. (2009). Criminology and public policy. American Society of Criminology, 8(4).
- Finley, L. L. (2007). Encyclopedia of juvenile violence. Greenwood Publishing Group.
- Franzese, R. J., Covey, H. C., & Menard, S. W. (2006). Youth gangs. Charles C Thomas Publisher.
- Holmes, R. M., Tewksbury, R., & Higgins, G. (2011). Introduction to gangs in America. CRC Press.
- Johnson, C. D. (2004). Youth gangs in literature. Exploring social issues through literature. Greenwood Publishing Group.
- Jutersonke, O., Muggah, R., & Rodgers, D., (2009). Gangs, urban violence and security interventions in Central America. Security dialogue.
- Katz, M. C., & Webb, V. J. (2006). Policing gangs in America. Cambridge Studies in Criminology, Cambridge University Press.
- Schram, P. J., & Gaines, L. K. (2008). Comparing the effects of treatment on female juvenile gang and non-gang members. Taylor and Francis.
- Siegel, L. J., & Welsh, B. C. (2011). Juvenile delinquency: Theory, practice and law. Cengage Learning.
- Tapia, M. (2011). Gang membership and race as risk factors for juvenile arrest. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Department of Criminal Justice, the University of Texas at San Antonio, TX, USA.