Gangs are a violent reality that many people have to deal with in today's cities. What has made these groups come about? Why do kids feel that being part of 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 first find the way that these morals are given to individuals. 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, the theatre, drugs, and our own economic system.
On the surface, peer pressure and greed cause gangs. Many teens in gangs will pressure peers into becoming part of a gang by making it all sound glamorous. Money is also a crucial factor. A kid (6 - 10 years of age, who is not already a member) is commonly shown how he/she could make between two-hundred to four-hundred dollars a month for a small part time gang job (Carroll 48). Although, one wouldn't think that factors such as this are strong enough to make kids do things that are strongly against their morals.
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 television set than he/she spends all day in a classroom actually learning something productive (Clinard 73). Since nobody can completely turn off a child's mind, the youth must be learning something, even if it is morally wrong. Very few hours of television watched by the common child are educational, so other ideas are being constantly absorbed during this period of time. Many shows on television today are extremely violent and are often shown from a gang's perspective mainly because that is what interests people, not because it is morally right. A normal adult can see that this would not be an acceptable way to live. However, to a child this portrays a violent existence as acceptable. "'The Ends Justifies The Means' mentality is also taught through violence and is then being commended. A young child sees this as perfectly acceptable because he knows that the 'bad guy' was wrong but has no idea of what acceptable apprehension techniques actually are (Nisbet 21).''
Gore in television also takes a big part in influencing young minds. Children see gory scenes and are fascinated by things they have not seen before. Older viewers see gore and are not concerned with the blood but rather with the pain which the victim must feel. A younger mind doesn't make this connection. Thus, a "gore fascination" is formed. Unfortunately, kids raised with this sort of mentality end up growing with a stronger inclination to become a "violent-accepting" member of society (Clinard 179).
"Gangs bring the delinquent norms of society into intimate with individuals (Clinard 180)." So, as you can see, if television programs lead a child to believing 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 time to explain to their children what the actual meaning of the programs that they are
watching on television are. Quite often newer books and some types of music will also enforce this type of thought.
Once this mentality is installed in youngsters they become increasingly prone to being easily pushed into a gang situation bye 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 wanting to obtain a feeling of belonging 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 deal with issues outside of the local community, while children's lives are lived almost totally within their local community. Second, in a fully developed community, the network of relations gives every informed parent, in a sense, a community of 'sentries' who can keep him informed of his child's activities. In modern living-places (either city or suburban) where such a network is attenuated, he no longer has such 'sentries (Nisbet).'" In male gangs, problems occur as each of the members tries to be most manly. This often leads to all members participating in "one-up-manship (Carrie 91)." 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. In gangs with more intelligent 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 any particular group (Webb 55). This sort of gang is usually common of middle or upper class people. Although, it can happen in gangs located in the "projects" and other low rent districts too.
This "one-up-manship" is often the reason that causes rival gangs to feud. 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 or territory. After a few gang fights, hatred forms, and gang murders followed by drive-bys begin to take place. When two gangs are at "war" it makes life very dangerous for citizens in the area. Less than 40% of drive-bys kill the intended victim, yet over 60% do kill someone (Whyte 17).
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 one from. It is too bad that children do not often see it this way. In slums such as the Bronx, or in the very worst case, Compton, children will no doubt be ostracized and even beaten and robbed if they do not join a gang. Of course they can probably get the same exact treatment from rivals when in a gang. The gang also provides some money for children who quite often need to feed their families. In this case, the members of the
family may have absolutely no idea how the child get the money, yet praise him/her for providing. In this case a youth is sent a wrong message supporting his gang membership. This is normally brought about through "dead-beat" parents who are unemployed, are living off of tax dollars paid to them by the government for unemployment and various other reasons, and who want to obtain as much money as possible through any way possible.
So as one can see, gangs are a product of the environment people have created for themselves. 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 reconstructing the modern economy value system. Since reconstructing the system is absolutely impossible and since the moral value system will become increasingly worse in the future, 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 be "cracking down" on gang life, although, they themselves quite often deal with racial issues within their own organization and regularly display their increasing inability to deal fairly with gang issues. I feel that society's only hope to cut back on the number of gangs in existence is to educate as many people as possible on many of the same issues which I earlier discussed such as what a true gang-life is like.
Carrie, Daniel Ames (1993). Street Gangs. Portland: Pocket Press Inc.
Carroll, Peter (1987). South Central. Las Angeles: Hoyte and Williams.
Clinard, Marshall B. (1963). Sociology of Deviant Behavior. Wisconsin:
University of Wisconsin.
Nisbet, Merton (1971). Contemporary Social Problems. New York:
Harcourt, Brace, and World.
Webb, Margot (1990). Coping with Street Gangs. New York: Rosen
Whyte, William Foote (1955). Street Corner Society. Chicago: University of