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According to Merriam Webster, a gang is "a group of persons working together", with this definition being taken a step further into relevance to the subject at hand in it s next offered defining line; "a group of persons working to unlawful or antisocial ends; especially; a band of antisocial adolescents". The basic concept that is of most relevance when considering a gang is this sense of cohesion. The individuals within a gang are closely tied together through their membership, with the bonds that tie such relationships oftentimes being criminal activities. As will be discussed, gangs consist largely of younger individuals, who as per the definition often engage in unlawful and antisocial ends. There are many reasons for joining a gang, both social and economic, and through the following exploration as to the origins and practices of gangs, the preventative measures that follow will be underlined in importance.
An American History of Gangs
Within the year 2007 the OJJDP would conduct a survey through its National Gang Center. Respondents provided information pertaining to the race/ethnicity of the gang members within their jurisdictions, with the opinions of law enforcement likewise being sought and taken into account. According to the law enforcement considered, Hispanic/Latino and African-American/Black gang members comprised a greater percentage of gangs as compared to other races/ethnicities. The most recent figures provided by law enforcement according to the National Gang Center are that 49% of gangs are comprised of Hispanic/Latino gang members, 35% African-American/Black, 9% White, and 7% other race/ethnicity gang members. ("Demographics", n.d.) This is indicative of the reality that a considerable proportion of the gang community is wither African American or Hispanic, although there are alternate cultures involved, and various other iterations of organized crime that other cultures are more predisposed towards.
While this may seem to leave relatively little room for Asian gangs, it has been found through research that the Asian gang population is comprised of some 20,000 individuals. (Harris, 2007) The Hispanic/Latino demographic of gangs nationwide has nearly become the majority, with cities such as Los Angeles experiencing this reality, with the race-based violence and crime coming about as a result of this fundamental shift adding to the turmoil that gang-life brings into the country. The size of Asian and White gangs may not be significant in regards to their size or social impact, however they do provide interesting points of comparison against the more prevalent forms of gang organization.
When comparing black and white gangs, it was found that European American gangs effectively facilitated cultural assimilation, due to their close ties with formal and informal and formal political authorities and organizations which commanded substantial social and economic power throughout their development. Conversely African American gangs reinforced cultural separation due to their position within racially segregated, economically marginalized and politically powerless communities and neighborhoods. These developments throughout the history of gangs may be attributed largely to the race-specific effects of labor, housing, consumer markets, government policies, local politics, and organized crime within their communities. (Adamson, 2000) The Hispanic gangs herein considered are likewise reinforcing of social segregation and separation, in that the wars and murders based upon race clearly indicate a desire to maintain cultural homogeneity within their gang culture.
Hispanic Gangs in Los Angeles
Within Los Angeles Country there are over five hundred Hispanic gangs that represents approximately fifty percent of gang membership within the area. Their primary areas of concentration are within San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley, Long Beach, the Beach communities, Compton, and South Los Angeles. "Hispanic Gangsâ€¦", n.d.) One such gang is that of F13, Florencia, which as will be discussed in the section on violence has been particularly noted for their murderous practices. (Murr, 2007) Hispanic gangs would vastly increase in size and population in a relatively short period of time. In 1996 a national survey of gang membership would be conducted, with respondents across 122 cities being considered. It was found that Hispanic gangs comprised 44%, African American at 35%, Caucasian at 14%, Asian 5%, and other 2%. ("Race/Ethnicity", 1996) This proportion of Hispanic gang membership would shift as time moved forward.
African American Gangs in Los Angeles
Within Los Angeles there are a wide array of gangs, however two in particular stand out within the African American gang community. Of the many African American gangs within the city of LA, the most well-known are those of the Bloods and the Crips, as will be discussed. The membership within these street gangs would increase significantly throughout the 1980s and 1990s. These gangs would become noticed in the early 1970s, growing as their organized and expanded across the city and eventually the country. (Alonso, n.d.) Through a consideration of the two primary African American gangs an understanding as to the path of growth is revealed.
The first of the two primary African American gangs in LA is that of the Crips. In 1969 Raymond Washington would being a group while aged 15 years at his Fremont High School that would later be known as the Crips. The reasoning behind the necessity of such a group being formed is partially attributed to the waning power of the Black Panthers, whose power base has been eliminated in Los Angeles during the 1960's. Washington would model his group loosely after the style of the Panthers, while at the same time emulating another local gang that had persevered through the times that eliminated the Panthers known as the Avenues. Washington would originally name his group the Baby Avenuess, or Avenue Cribs, to represent a new generation of youths, keeping in tone with the definition offered above. ("Crip Neighborhoodsâ€¦", n.d.) While the initial motivation behind the group was similar to the Panthers regarding its social and political core, this shift as the gang developed.
The gang would grow throughout the late sixties and by 1972 had 8 recognized members according to the LA County Probation Department, increasing to 45 in 1978, 45 in 1978, and as of the late 1990's there were nearly 200 individual Crip gangs active in Los Angeles county. The gang at the current time is either maintaining its size or rather dwindling due demographic change within particular areas of LA. Within the organization of the Crips there are a great many segments and individual groups, such as the West Side Crips, East Side Crips, Compton Crips, Inglewood Crips, and many other groups. ("Crip Neighborhoodsâ€¦", n.d.) The Crips have been around for over four decades and have increased in number from hundreds of members to hundreds of affiliated gangs. The second primary African American gang within Los Angeles has likewise experienced significant growth since its outset.
The attention that the activities of the Crips would receive within the media for hteir violent and criminal activities would actually draw increased membership. While many of these individuals now interested in joining gangs would become a part of the Crips, new gangs would likewise be formed. The power of the Crips would grow to the point that those gangs that were not affiliated with them would often be stepped on. Due to this a meeting would be called in the early 1970s in Compton on Piru Street amongst a number of non-Crip gangs, which would ultimately result in the formation of the Bloods. During the mid 1970s violence between the gangs would grow considerably, particularly between the Bloods and Crips. In 1978 there were 45 Crip gangs against 15 Blood gangs, with the number of black gangs rising from 60 to 155 between 1978-1982. (Alonso, n.d.) The presence of the Bloods and the Crips within the African American gang community would create a situation of polarization in which alliances were necessary for survival. Given that there was fighting against and within the gangs however, the rate of gang-related violence and homicide would multiply in accordance with the increase in number and prevalence of gangs.
During the year of 1974 there were over seventy gang-related homicides, many of these between the Bloods and Crips. In 1980 there were reportedly over thirty thousand gang members within Los Angeles, accounting for a total of 355 gang-related homicides during that year. The gang-related homicide rate would continue to rise from this particular time forward, with 1992 seeing a rather shocking 803 gang-related murders within that year, breaking down to over fifteen murders each week within the city. (Alonso, n.d.) The sheer numerical realty of gangs within the Los Angeles area would grow exponentially over time, with Hispanic gangs eventually eclipsing African American gangs in regards to numerical superiority as time would move forward.
Girls in Gangs
The reality of females within gangs is a subject that has not been explored particularly in depth, although the fact of the matter is, women are involved. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Gang Center, a division of the OJJDP, females consistently comprised approximately ten percent of gang membership from 1998-2007. Those areas that are noted for gang activity would likewise report upon the prevalence of female members within their gangs. In larger cities, which would relatively reflect suburban county and smaller city gang membership, 8% had no women, 33.4% of respondents reported that one in four gangs in their area had females, 12.6% would report that approximately one in ten gangs had females, and 15.5% of respondents would state that one in two gangs in their area had female members. ("Demographics", n.d.) While the numerical reality of female gang members is undeniable, their recognition is limited.
Within most media attention focused upon gangs, female gang members are generally described largely in relation to and as an adjunct of male gang members. Female gang members must be noted, in that they are the ones within the culture who are likely to bear and have the responsibility for children. The children of female gang members are statistically predisposed to being members of gangs as well. This link and intergenerational spread of a life of crime is something that must be addressed through effective intervention programs, as should a female gang member and mother be influenced to leave the lifestyle, not only hers, but the life of the child is also saved. As of 1983 research indicated that females had a relatively low-status position within gang life, and while this has persevered to a limited extent, female gangs have grown and established themselves. ("Gang Girls", n.d.) The means of participation of females within gangs is of import in that it reflects the way in which they are viewed and treated by the male members.
Within gang life males often prefer the females to maintain a support role. Within a recent study, the males interviewed did not want the female members to be participating with them in gang related activities. To take this further often reported that the women related to the gangs would try to influence the males to not participate. The kinds of environments from which family gang members descend are similar to those attributed to men in research, in that they are traditionally dysfunctional, with many female gang members having bad relationships with their parents. ("Gang Girls", n.d.) It is from the home life that the traits develop that make the female gang members considered predisposed to the lifestyle. As discussed herein, the gang lifestyle is one that is closely knit, oftentimes through blood, with membership within families and throughout generations in no way being uncommon.
Considering that many female gang members have problems with their parents, oftentimes they leave home. Having nowhere to go, relatives are looked up and other such close social ties, however oftentimes the gang is the group that provides a place for the youth in need. According to one gang member, Rebecca, "You can depend on the homies. They're like family to me. They're there for me. Anything I need - a place to stay." The role that these females assume however upon being dependent upon living with the gang is not always positive or beneficial. The girls at times live on the streets or act as personal assistants essentially for their male live-in boyfriends. ("Gang Girls", n.d.) Due to the stressful and largely negative lifestyle experienced by female gang members, coping mechanisms are pursued.
A popular means of coping with the stresses of gang life by females is that of drug abuse, with a considerable proportion of those women considered becoming hard-core drug abusers. Heroine is one of the more common drugs of choice amidst these individuals. As women age in gang life they tend to take one of two paths. The first of these is to phase out of gang life and raise their children, who as mentioned, statistically will eventually join gangs and once again involve their mothers. Secondary to this however is the continuation of drug abuse. When drug use is the primary motivation of female gang members, their activities are primarily comprised of drug getting, dealing, and other related activities, which often continue to occur even in the presence of minors. ("Gang Girls", n.d.) The behavior and affiliation of the parents play a direct role in the resulting activities of the next generation, with there being a genuine concern regarding the link between gang membership and its capacity to be passed down.
When considering 522 adolescent females in a survey, it was found that those with a history of gang involvement were more likely to have been expelled from school, be a binge drinker, have a positive toxicology test for marijuana, and further to have participated in three or more fights within the past six months, to have a non-monogamous partner, and finally are also more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases. (Wingwood, 2002) The behavior of such parents directly involves their children in the gang lifestyle, predisposing them to membership as will be discussed in the following section.
Why Youths Join Gangs
The decision to join a gang is oftentimes not so much a conscious one but rather a development of circumstances. Those individuals that eventually join gangs tend to grow up areas in which they are saturated by gangs and gang membership, whether around them or even within their families. Female gang membership or affiliation is the activity which largely propagates the gang lifestyle. Children who grow up within gang-related households are often dressed in gang-related attire, and as a result of this develop in regards to their gang affiliation as they come of age, with such irresponsible parental acts precluding their children's membership within gangs. ("Gang Girls", n.d.) The risks of gang-life dropping down to the next generation is a very real worry for the parental level.
Within a recent survey of 419 new mothers in South Central Los Angeles, 39% said that their primary concern for their children was fear of gangs and violence, with disease and health problems, and drug and alcohol use falling beneath this worry. (Schuster et. al., 1998) The lifestyle of gangs is oftentimes pervasive throughout families, with parents in this lifestyle often not bothering the shield their children from criminal activity. Gang affiliation brings with it a milieu of negative lifestyle activities that are mutually damaging to the foundation from which the children raised in these environments grow, with continued exposure to such activities making them more likely to participate.
In the Mexican community of gang-members there is a family style known as "cholo". In this particular style of family related to Hispanic gangs, parents fail to exercise control over their offspring. As opposed to strict control and discipline, "cholo" parents teach their children to be hustlers, encouraging such practices as swindling money and stealing, as well as lying to social workers, law enforcement, teachers, and other authorities to cover up their parents' lack of skill in parenting. The parents in this culture are known to dress even their toddlers in gang attire, introducing and affiliating them before they could possibly have the capacity to make a conscious choice. ("Gang Girls", n.d.) The environment within which individuals are raised is the largest influencing factor behind their joining gangs.
When one's family members and friend are affiliated within a gang, it is an almost natural development to join the lifestyle as well, with only heavy social friction and effort enabling one to overcome such significant social influences. Despite the best of efforts however, it is often difficult to eliminate the gang problem. The incorporation of gang members and drug dealers into social networks of law-abiding kin and neighbors serves to prevent complete elimination from taking place. (Pattillo, 1998) Should a majority of one's peers be affiliated with one gang or another, the person who stands apart is often one who becomes a target for those who are involved in a gang. When immersed in such an environment, to not choose a side is to be vulnerable to all sides, making the decision to join a gang at times one of personal safety. Given the pervasive influence and presence of gangs within such areas as Los Angeles, their complete elimination is a prospect that is largely incomprehensible, with significant social efforts necessary to achieve even minimally tangible results.
Negative Effects of Gangs
One of the largest and most lasting effects of gangs is that of premature death. The violence and murder that comes about as a result of the presence of gangs as outlined within the section on history has been increasing nearly every year since the seventies when street gangs emerged onto the scene. In 2007 there were 269 gang-related killings in Los Angeles, with gang-related crime having leapt up 15.7 percent from the previous year, in sharp contrast to non-gang-related crimes which largely experienced a reduction in occurrence. (Harris, 2007) The mentality that gangs imbue upon their members is likewise a negative influence upon both those involved and those within society surrounding the gangs.
The motivation behind gang violence is that of profit, with this behavior having been learned through participation in gang culture. In addition to learning the ways of criminality through participation within a gang, racial tensions are also learned and internalized through competition within gangs and recent developments in Los Angeles. The growing Hispanic population in the area is bring about a shift in demographics, with this bringing about a radical shift in gang culture. The tension in this fashion has peaked to the point, as outlined herein, that being the wrong race in the wrong neighborhood can result in death. (Harris, 2007) As is evident the negative implications of gang involvement are many, with gang affiliation likewise increasing the likelihood of alcohol and marijuana use. (Wright & Fitzpatrick, 2004) Behaviors learned through participation within gang life are negative influences upon the perspectives of those who are within the gangs, and likewise upon those in society towards whom their improper world-views are directed.
Leaving a Gang
The decision to leave a gang is a step towards a more positive lifestyle. This decision however is often difficult, particularly considering the draw of the gang lifestyle. As mentioned, a contributing factor to joining a gang is both environmental and social immersion in the gang lifestyle of most individuals that are involved. When one's friends and families are in gangs, it is natural that a socially or relationally connected individual likewise join. In addition to these means of affiliation however are the superficial means through which gang members are identified as being members.
Gang identification is a practice that must be ceased for an individual to step away from the lifestyle. Clothing plays are large part in this, however some means of identifying with gangs are more permanent. It is common within gang culture, both on the streets and in jails, to tattoo one's gang affiliation upon their body. Thus, in an effort at getting away from the gang, such tattoos oftentimes must be removed. To this end surgeons have begun to donate their services towards tattoo removal in an effort at helping to curb the gang problem in America. Such tattoos as tear-drops under the eyes indicate a stint in prison or a person killed, with such tattoos clear indicators of gang affiliation. (Smalley & Thomas, 2009) These are efforts that are oftentimes necessary as beyond relocating, the presence of gang tattoos will continue to affiliate and thereby result in one being treated as an active member.
Getting out of a gang however is more difficult than simply the removal of tattoos and changing of one's clothing. Some gangs, such as Mara Salvatrucha 13, a Hispanic gang in LA, do not allow its members to leave, instead killing them should such a choice be made. The herein mentioned F13, while entirely violent, does allow its members to leave, given that they have served time in prison and "done the work", in that they have exhibited the capacity to sell drugs and use firearms. An example presented is that of Gabriel, a former member of F13 whose quest to remove his tattoos through over 43 sessions at a free clinic earning him media attention and a meeting with then first-lady Laura Bush. He would be a poster child for leaving gang life, however a few months after his meeting with Laura Bush would be back in jail. (Smalley & Thomas, 2009) It was through his incarceration that his involvement in gangs would be immortalized upon his flesh, with this affiliation being removable only through such arduous efforts as continuous tattoo removal and socially ostracizing oneself from their former lifestyle. As the case of Gabriel would exhibit, the capacity to socially move away from gangs is far more difficult than the superficial efforts, with his failure to do so resulting in his third strike and thereby life in prison.
Multicultural Differences in Gangs
The presence of gangs within Los Angeles County is problematic in and of itself, however the multicultural differences amongst the gangs creates further conflict in the area. One such example of this is in the activities of the Hispanic street gang mentioned above known as F13. This gang has engaged in a campaign of neighborhood "cleansing" according to federal prosecutors, in which the South LA gang has targeted not only African American gang rivals, but even civilians within their neighborhood. The gang has maintained domination over their turf through shooting members of a rival gang and also random innocent black civilians. According to U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, the "most disturbing aspect [was that] innocent citizensâ€¦ ended up being shot simply because of the color of their skin." (Murr, 2007) Such violence is largely as a result of the multicultural nature of both the population and gang population of Los Angeles, with race oftentimes playing a role in resulting violence.
Violence between gangs however is most often motivated simply by turf, profit, or affiliation, with race not being a significant foundation for this. The behavior of F13 in targeting blacks is thus seemingly unique, exhibited by research. According to University of California Irvine criminologist George Tita, "On average, the violence just isn't race-basedâ€¦ Our studies show there's not pattern of black-brown crime." This is evidences by the reality that between the years 2000-2006 black offenders in south LA were seven times more likely to kill black victims, while Hispanic killers would target fellow Hispanics only twice as often. (Murr, 2007) Thus, while the multicultural nature of gangs may largely determine their composition and recruitment, a majority of the violence perpetuated by gangs is based upon business and not racial foundations.
This lack of a racial component within gang warfare however may soon be a concept of the past. Due to recent killings it has been brought to public attention that there is a war between 'black and brown' going on in the ganglands. According to Khalid Shah, the director of Stop the Violence, "All of the signs are there that a racial war is going to explode in this city, It will be 10 times bigger than what happened after King. You are looking at an event which could not only paralyze an entire city but an entire state." (Harris, 2007) This reality is something that must be heeded by authorities within Los Angeles, as the inherent risk of such an eruption is both considerable and important to avoid.
Criminal and Illegal Gang Activity
To exhibit the expansion of gangs into various criminal enterprises, a consideration of their evolution is useful. Having considered the history of the African American gangs, it is seen that during the seventies and 80s the black gangs dominated Los Angeles. These gangs included the legendary and above-explored Bloods and Crips, who were able to capitalize upon the crack epidemic with considerable efficiency. As the gang environment would shift into the current Latino domination, the concern would shift to fighters concerned with their turf above all. This contrasts sharply with the black style of gangs which were both organized and disciplined, with Cheryl Maxson, an association professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine, stating "The stereotype was that [the black gangs] were all about the [drug] business." This concern with business resulted in considerable wealth, with the above sourced Alex Alonso stating "there was a millionaire in every neighborhood". (Murr, 2007) The initial period of Latino gangs would be one of turf wars and disorganization, however as of late they have made a move towards tighter organization as with the black gangs, thereby resulting in additional criminality.
The shift in the organizational cohesion of gangs brings about weakness and violence. The F13 gang has been assaulting the black community to assert their strength and also to exploit a weakness in the sect of Crips in their area, the East Coast Crips. According to Olivia Rosales, a gangs prosecutor for the district attorney's office of Los Angeles, "The Hispanic gangs like F13 were incredibly regulated, from the street level to the leadership in the prisons... the East Coast Crips weren't as organized." This lack of organization would result in death and violence, both upon the members of the black gangs as well as civilians, with the attack of innocents having been organized by Mexican mafia leaders, who worked to "make sure that all F13 cliques were participating in the assaults of African-american rival gang members" (Murr, 2007) It is due to the organization of gangs that they are most dangerous, in that the rivalries between sects are quite active and violent, with the sheer numbers perpetuating it continuously.
Gangs and Drugs
Within the gang environment the drug trade is one that has proven to be particularly lucrative. The gang lifestyle may be partially attributed directly to drugs, in that the substantial presence of illegal drugs in inner cities has effectively created war zones in which rival gangs fight for control over the drug market, with many involved youth dying both as a result of this war and also drug abuse. (Joseph & Pearson, 2002) Given the recognized profitability of the drug trade, the competition is likewise intense, with considerable violence and murder resulting from this. For example, the gang mentioned herein known as F13, a Hispanic gang in Los Angeles, has been indicted by the federal government on many counts regarding drugs. It has been alleged that gang members controlled drug houses within the Los Angeles area through which considerable substances were trafficked. The illegal drugs sold would include cocaine, crack, and methamphetamines. (Murr, 2007) All of these substances, particularly crack and crystal meth, are damaging to the community at large alongside the gang members who participate in the dangerous sale and manufacture thereof.
The activities of F13 are mirrored by those of other gangs, with a further exploration of the federal indictments against them being of universal application to gang life. The means through which the government pursues charges against many criminal organizations in the modern world is through the RICO statute, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. To this end the federal government was able to name 61 alleged F13 members in a 53-count RICO indictment against 24 alleged leaders of the gang. These gang leaders would be charged with an array of criminal activities, including conspiracy to sell drugs, possess weapons illegally, and assault and kills black gang members and civilians. (Murr, 2007) All of these charges may be leveled at gangs operating within Los Angeles, however the conscious targeting of innocent black civilians is a practice seemingly exclusive to F13.
In a second indictment leveled at F13 as a result of the RICO efforts of the federal government, drugs are once again central. The charge of federal drug-distribution is that which would be advanced upon the defendants, amongst whom over forty would plead not guilty. According to federal prosecutors these indictments are a telling snapshot as to the changing nature of gangs in south Los Angeles. (Murr, 2007) Given that the drug trade is so influential regarding violence, this particular topic will be considered in the following section.
Gangs and Violence
When the Crips came into their own and were efficiently organized, they began to delve into criminal activity, with violence being central to this. Robberies and assaults were often committed by the Crips beginning in the early 1970s, with a particular act of violence drawing media attention. A number of elderly Japanese women were assaulted by young men sporting canes and earrings in their left ear, the Crip style at the time, an exhibition of violence that would gain the Crips media recognition upon having beeen published in the Los Angeles Sentinel in 1972. The way in which the gang was named was based upon the term "crippin'" which means to rob and steal as a way of life. In 1972 the Crips were described by Jerry Cohen as "a group of juveniles that committed extortion of merchandise, mugging the elderly, and ripping off weaker youthsâ€¦". (Alonso, n.d.) The criminal behavior of the Crips and other gangs however would evolve and shift into alternate criminal activities as the members grew in both age and criminal skill and experience.
The involvement of gangs in the drug trade is likewise a cause for violence. Real estate is a valuable commodity, with the sale of drugs constituting territory upon real estate, making it valuable in the sale of drugs in the same fashion as in property alone. Due to this there has been considerable competition between gangs in the sale of drugs, with much violence and murder resulting from this. One such instance that would start a war between the Black and Hispanic gang community, which would result in the murder of innocent black civilians as outlined herein. This situation would be that of a large drug heist perpetuated by the African American gang the Crips against the Hispanic gang F13. Due to this heist there would be a gang war that would tally over eighty gang-realted shootings and twenty murders over course of 2004-2007. (Murr, 2007) Within a recent study conducted in the state of Alabama involving 1,642 African American children and adolescents, it was found that gang affiliation were significant risk factors associated with an increase in violence. (Wright & Fitzpatrick, 2006) The drug trade and the competition to control it produces violence and profit in a ratio that is entirely unacceptable to society.
Gangs and Incarceration
Given that gangs are inherently illegal, the members thereof oftentimes find themselves in jail. As opposed to being secluded from the gang lifestyle, it simply continues within prison. In fact, the growth in street gangs throughout the United States since their foundation in the late sixties has been largely attributed by the federal government as being due to prison gangs. While prison gangs were first reported in the 1950s, they have grow and changed considerably over the past few decades, with authorities still having "rudimentary knowledge of prison gangs as social groups operating inside prisons and the interplay between street gangs and prison gangs." ("Are Today's Gangsâ€¦", n.d.) The tie between the street and prison gangs is one clearly drawn.
Within prison a number of active gangs have been identified. These groups however are often referred to prison officials and others as "security threat groups". Such security threat groups include the Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings, Aryan Brotherhood, the Mexican Mafia, and many others. These gangs comprise the Latino, Black, and Caucasian gangs that are likewise predominant on the streets. ("Are Today's Gangsâ€¦", n.d.) Thus, incarceration is not necessarily something that deters gang life, but rather further secures it into the lifestyle of those involved. A former gang member of F13, Gabrielle, would further illustrate the negative influence of imprisonment and the gang lifestyle. During his tenure in prison he would be covered in gang tattoos, indicating his affiliation upon his flesh. (Smalley & Thomas, 2009) When and if the difficult choice and path of leaving a gang is chosen, the removal of such prison tattoos that indicate gang-affiliation is a necessary, painful, and timely process.
To combat the very real problem of gangs within the Los Angeles area, increased effort on behalf of the authorities has been undertaken. To this end police published a list of the 11 worst gangs in the city in an effort at alerting the people as to their risk. This however would backfire in that it became a status symbol, with the gang historian Alex Alonso stating "Putting out a list was a bad idea. Groups that don't make the list will want to be on it. They don't exactly think rationally." Those within the sub-culture have come to look upon a position upon the list as a prideful accomplishment. (Harris, 2007) While the list may have been an effort that progressed the war against gangs in the wrong direction, additional numerical efforts on behalf of authorities are tangible.
In Los Angeles Angeles the police have vowed to employ all means available to them in combating the violence. This includes the use of the FBI agents to provide high-level assistance. Further, the police are seeking to establish injunctions that prevent gang members from meeting. Additionally, another fifty police were assigned in 2007 to San Fernando valley anti-gang activities. In south LA 120 detectives would join forces with 10 FBI agents to establish a task force. This is to address the reality that gang issues are increasing in importance and spreading in geographic location, with some areas such as the North Valley experiencing a rise of 160% in gang crime. (Harris, 2007) To combat the spread in gang activity intervention and prevention are essential, as punitive measures alone have not effectively eliminated the problem nor particularly slowed its growth.
In seeking to prevent youths becoming affiliated and gangs and thereby stopping the many negative developments that may follow as outlined herein, it is important that community and school system put for the comprehensive efforts. Prevention and intervention measures are only successful if they are sensitive to the cultural, environmental, and demographic distinctions within their target population. (Wright & Fitzpatrick, 2006) While the authorities have made moves to combat the reality of the gang problem, there are likewise means of prevention that are seeking to turn youths away from gangs in the first place.
Oftentimes individuals that join gangs do so during their years of youth. According to former gang member Alfonso 'Chino' Visuet, "People who join a gang are always running away from something. They flee to the gang." This choice is something that through education and preventative efforts may be stopped, with the experiences of Visuet in a gang influencing him to work for an organization that seek to prevent gang life and to provide intervention and counseling for those currently in it. This organization is that of Homeboy Industries, a project that helps individuals leave gang life. (Harris, 2007) The transition out of a gang is a process that is both involving and quite important, in that should the gang member not be effectively removed from gang life and furthermore, provided for, they are likely to go back.
In seeking to intervene in gang life and prevent a return, a number of initiatives are necessary. The first of these is work, as without money the life of any individual becomes unhappy, and when former gang members who are able to make money illegally come upon such situations, the likelihood of resorting to illegal means if far higher. In addition to providing help in finding a job, Homeboy Industries likewise provides education for those who participate, seeking to prevent recidivism through learning. The removal of gang tattoos is likewise paid for by the organization. (Harris, 2007) Even though an individual may desire to leave a gang, should they have identifying marks upon them they are still treated as a member by those still active in gang life.
Counseling is likewise an important facet in the intervention and removal from gang life. Having someone to talk to outside of the social network of the gangs is often an important factor in the successful exiting thereof. The measures at keeping individuals away from gangs must work towards removing the circumstances that lead to the joining of gangs and participation in criminal activity. These circumstances include poverty, abuse, and unemployment, with education and job placement services helping to eliminate these foundations of gang activity. According to Father Boyle, the individual who runs Homeboy Industries, "You have to address the lethal absence of hope. I have never seen a hopeful person join a gang" with his catchphrase being "Nothing stops a bullet like a job." The true dangers of gang life that Visuet is avoiding through having joined Boyle's program is recognized, with his having begun college put him on the path to career, as opposed to his alternate perceived future; "I was on the edge of doing something that would ruin my life, either by violence or having it done to me. That's over now." (Harris, 2007) To combat the gang problem the basic social problems that bring about its existence must be acknowledged and combated.
The reality is however that poverty breeds crime. The instability and poverty that influences the activities of gangs are largely societal, and thereby unlikely to be eliminated. This is evinced by the reality that gangs have only grown since their inception, despite the increased efforts on behalf of law enforcement to prevent such a situation. The efforts in Los Angeles to combat gangs have largely been unsuccessful, with failed plans and policing being prevalent throughout. Over the period of 1997-2007 the main anti-gang scheme functioning in Los Angeles titled LA Bridges consumed more than $100 million, however it has kept no record of whether those it helps leave gang life or return to it. (Harris, 2007) The efforts to combat gangs must be comprehensive, not only punishing the criminal acts committed, as detailed in the section on incarceration, but also to address the influencing factors in society that make gang membership attractive.