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Gangs in all forms are known for their violence and involvement in illegal activities. There are three types of violent gangs which are street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs. These gangs are active in all fifty states. All three of the groups are made of numerous members that vary in age, race, and sex. These gangs commit violent acts such as rape, robbery, assault, drug trafficking, extortion, and murder. Once a member of a gang, you are in for life. This paper will discuss what makes a gang, how they are formed, how they have evolved and grown over the years, who are susceptible to membership, illegal activities the gangs are involved in, history of gangs, and information pertaining to some of the largest gangs in America.
Gangs In America
There are many different types of gangs that occupy all fifty states in our country. Gang members can be male or female and can vary in age and ethnicity. Gangs can pose dangerous threats to the cities or space that they occupy. Many people are involved in gangs by definition but that doesn't mean that their membership or organization is illegal. However, it is the gangs and their members that are involved in dangerous and illegal activities that cause a problem and need for concern. These are the gangs that will be discussed in this paper. There are three different types of gangs that are involved in dangerous and illegal activities, they are youth or street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw biker gangs.
What is a gang? A gang as defined by Webster's Dictionary is: 1) an association of criminals and/or 2) an informal body of friends ("Gang," 2009, p. 1). Each state or jurisdiction defines a gang differently. James Howell and John Moore use the following criteria to classify a group as a gang: 1) the group has three or more members 2) members are generally aged twelve to fourteen 3) members share an identity4) they are typically linked to a name, and often other symbols 5) members view themselves as a gang, and they are recognized by others as a gang 6) the group has some permanence and a degree of organization 7) the group is involved in an elevated level of criminal activity (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1).
By human nature people want to affiliate with people who feel the same way they do and desire the company of others. It is also human nature to satisfy that longing by seeking the company of others. Sociologist's state social longing is one of the strongest motivators for individuals to join gangs (Cohen, 2011, p.1).
Gangs are a growing concern in America. They are involved in many criminal activities and are found all across the United States. Today, there are approximately 20,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs. Amongst these groups there are nearly one million members that are criminally active in the United States today (FBI.GOV, 2011, p. 1). In 2000 it was estimated that forty percent of the individuals involved in street gangs were under the age of eighteen (Hernandez, 2009, p. 1). Gang members are predominately male however, there are also female members. Out of the one million people thought to be involved in some type of gang, it is estimated that 147,000 of them are currently incarcerated (Hernandez, 2009, p. 1). There are approximately 360,000 teenage boys and 32,000 teenage girls associated with street gangs in the United States (Hernandez, 2009, p. 1). According to gang study done in 2010 by the national gang center, forty-nine percent of all street gang members are Hispanic or Latino, thirty-five percent are African American, and nine percent are Caucasian or white (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1).
Street gangs can be defined by the geographical area in which they operate. Local gangs operate within a single community or area. These gangs are generally small and are found in one area such as a neighborhood or street. There are also regional gangs that conduct their activities at different locations within a defined area. These gangs may be involved in a certain city or part of the country but are not necessarily recognized nationally. These gangs are usually better organized and have more members. Finally, the largest and most widely known type of street gang is the National street gangs. These gangs are very large and can have thousands of members that operate in different regions. These gangs are highly organized and may also have members in foreign countries ("National gang threat", 2009, p. 1).
Gangs have been around in different aspects for thousands of years. The earlier gangs in history were very different from the gangs of today. Some will say that pirates were a form of the first gang. It wasn't until the early 1600's that the more structured gangs began to form in other countries. In London there were gangs who called themselves the Mims, Hectors, Bugles, and Dead Boys (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1). They were known to break windows, destroy taverns, and fight amongst themselves. Like the gangs of today, it is documented that they wore different colors to differentiate themselves from the other gangs. It was not until 1783, during the Industrial Era however, that street gangs began to form in the United States (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1). Mass immigration during this time and future decades fueled the growth of street gangs in the America.
Gangs began to immerge on the east coast in large cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston during the time when immigrants began flooding the area the population began to increase (Howell, 1998, p. 1). People from Europe (mostly from Great Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia) came to the United States to seek a better life. However, these individuals did not have great skills that would help them in the society. The economy was bad and they had a hard time finding work. The American born people discriminated against the immigrants. Because of their differences, and dislike of each other, gangs began to form and the youth began to fight over local turf (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1).
Street gang formation in the Western United States was started mostly due to Mexican migration. Gangs formed in large cities, such as El Paso, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles that were in route from Mexico to Los Angeles. These cities were overflowing with immigrants. "These gangs were of Mexican descent and formed from a group of men who called themselves the palomillo who formed due to their cultural pride" (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1).
A separate wave of immigrants that began to fuel the development of gangs was the movement of African Americans from the Deep South to other areas in America (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1).
The biggest outburst and development of street gangs that are still active today formed in the 1950's and 1960's (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 271). During those time movies and television shows were known to tell the story of gangs that had formed such as the Vice Lord's and Egyptian Kings. Because of these films it seemed that gang membership was worth the effort and sacrifice that comes with them. However, the growth of gangs began to slow temporarily in the 60's. That time was short lived because gang involvement and organization began to increase again in the 70's (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 271).
"In the 1970's gangs were still mainly located in large cities. These gangs continued to grow and migrate into other communities. Previously established gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, Black P. Stones, and Latin Kings had originally formed for political reasons however, during this time began to change their mode of operations. The Latin Kings, Disciples, and Black P. Stones began to shift their focus from social reform, to being involved with criminal activity for profit" ("National gang threat", 2009, p. 1). It is believed that the growth in the illegal drug market had a huge influence in the increase in gangs in the 1970's.
Street gangs followed behaviors like the Mafia. There was an organized hierarchy that showed who the leaders were. They gained profit by trafficking drugs, selling illegal firearms, and laundering money (Cohen, 2011, p. 1). Gang growth in the 70's continued and these groups began moving into the suburbs. This migration caused problems, because rival gangs would fight over the new territory. The gang members who moved to these areas would at times start their own new gang. These gangs were neighborhood-based. The neighborhood gangs are territorial and fight to control the area they occupy. The local gangs were smaller in number so they were always looking to recruit new members. Most new recruits were young men from single-parent, low-income homes who had a limited education ("National gang threat", 2009, p. 1).
During the 1980s, the drug trafficking that began a few years earlier became the major source of income for gangs and their members. The larger inner city gangs began selling drugs to people in the suburbs and the smaller gangs. Their goal was to move into adjoining communities and expand their market to make extra money on their sales of powder and crack cocaine. The larger gangs were making millions of dollars trafficking drugs into smaller urban areas. This income enabled the gangs to recruit new members. The smaller local gangs either broke apart or aligned with them. Then the larger gangs continued to increase thereby increasing their dominance. To enhance profits from drug trafficking and other crimes, large urban gangs also deployed members to locate new markets throughout the country, including in suburban and rural communities ("National gang threat", 2009, p. 1).
In the 1990's gang violence and drug dealing only grew. Gangs became entrenched in communities throughout the nation, and gang-related violence and drug trafficking became fully ingrained in suburban areas throughout the 1990's. It was during this decade that law enforcement officials began to devote time and resources to preventing the crimes the gangs commit and attempt to break apart the larger well structured gangs ("National gang threat", 2009, p. 1).
The street gang population continues to grow in American cities. As gang numbers begin to increase, so does the crime and violence rates. Most of the gangs that are active today are joined together for social reasons. These groups are known to be involved in serious crimes including rape, robbery, aggravated assault, gun crimes, and murder (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1). They are also known to steal cars, involved in weapons trafficking, and selling illicit drugs.
There are many different situations and preexisting circumstances that influence people to become involved in gangs. There are risk factors that predispose youth to membership. "The most common risk factors are the individual characteristics, family conditions, performance in school and experiences, influence by friends, and the community they are from. Other risk factors include past delinquency, especially those related to violence and alcohol or drug use, coming from a neglectful family's management, an unhealthy parent-child relationships, poor school attendance and low achievement, being involved with peers who participate in delinquent activities, and living in a neighborhood where a lot of the other youth are in trouble in which drugs and firearms are available for their use. Also intimidation measures are used to influence gang involvement. "Gangs offer their members and their family's protection from other gangs and any other threats" (Howell, & Moore, 2010, p. 1). Most members of youth or street gangs are made up of lower class teenagers who have a hard time adjusting to middle-class settings. Young men and women join gangs to obtain status, receive benefits, and to gain personal goals. "There are six reasons sociologists have associated with why people join gangs, they are identity, recognition, belonging, discipline, love, and money" (Nawojczyk, 1997, p. 1).
Members of gangs are involved in warlike lifestyle where fights and shootings happen all the time. To join a gain the individual may be told they have to perform an act of violence such as fighting or raping someone. Boy recruits may be forced to fight several other gang members at the same time which is known as them being "rolled-in" or "walking the line". Female recruits may be forced to have sex with several gang members or have to fight another female who is in the gang to be considered for membership. To prove themselves to the gang, new recruits may be told to beat up an innocent person, participate in illegal activities such as armed robbery, or even murder such as in drive-by shootings (Department of Justice, 2011, p. 2).
Street gangs are involved in many different illegal crimes such as selling drugs, business extortion, home burglary, armed robbery, automobile theft, and vandalism all of which are felony offenses. "Street gang members are believed to be responsible for as much as eighty percent of all crimes in America" (Ryan, 2009, p. 1). Gang members also commit crimes against members of their own gang and rival gang members. The crimes the gangs commit vary amongst the different groups. Some gangs are more involved in drug dealing, other gangs may specialize in stealing cars or items out of cars and/or shoplifting, and then there are gangs who do not have a certain crime they specialize in, they are just involved with a variety of different crimes (Carlie, 2002, p. 1). According to a survey of over 3,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, the most prevalent crimes committed by gang members are larceny or theft, aggravated assault, and burglary or breaking and entering (Carlie, 2002, p. 1).
Gang members operate within a hierarchy. "There are three types of street gang members: they are the leaders, hard-core members, and fringe or marginal members" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 271). The oldest member of the group is usually the leader and the most feared. The leader has an inner circle of members that he or she surrounds themselves with. The hard-core members are the more dangerous members because they are very violent and have already committed some of the worst crimes. The fringe or marginal members are the newest recruits to join (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 271). Most of the illegal crimes committed by gangs are performed by the hard-core members and new recruits. These members are the foot soldiers. The leaders orchestrate what operations will occur and where.
A young gang recruit may believe that there is a lot of money to be made by entering a gang, especially a gang that makes profits by selling drugs, but that is not the case. Contrary to what most people believe, only a few of the gang members make a lot of money in the gang. The majority of gang members cannot live off the profits they make in drug-dealing (Carlie, 2002, p. 1). "Over a four-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a former gang member kept records of his gang's profits. The gang he was in had a leader, three officers, approximately seventy-five foot soldiers, and an estimated two hundred other members. The leader profited an average of 100,000 dollars a year. The three officers, who lead the drug operations, received an average of 1,000 dollars a month with the foot soldiers or those who do most of the drug dealing earned no more than minimum wage" (Carlie, 2002, p. 1).
Street gangs differentiate themselves from other gangs in many ways. Gang members are often proud of their gang and will admit their affiliation with a certain gang. Many members have tattoos that identify their commitment. Some gangs wear a certain color clothing or bandanas that they affiliate membership with. For example the well known Bloods are known for wearing their red colors and the Crips wear blue. Graffiti is often used to mark the gang's area. Hand signs and gestures are also used by gang members to intimidate or threaten rival gang members (Schoenfeld, 2005, p. 1). Gang graffiti is one of the most common ways a gang communicates. This graffiti is understood by other gang members, even those in rival gangs. The graffiti has been called the newspaper for gangs and projects many different messages such as challenges, warnings, and accomplishments. Gang members have to learn these symbols and what they mean (Nawojczyk, 1997, p. 1).
Some of the most known street gangs are the Crips, Bloods, and the Latin Kings. Each gang has one thing in common they are all involved in violent and illegal actions. As the number of street gangs continue to rise in the United States so does the need for preventative measures to prevent young adolescents from joining gangs. There is abundant information provided by local police stations, schools, and online to provide information to kids and their parents to help prevent juveniles from being influenced into joining a gang and teach parents the warning signs of gang involvement. There is also information to help the public recognize if there are gangs active in their neighborhoods and what to do in those circumstances.
A second type of gang is found in our prison system. Prison gangs are defined as "an organization that operates within the prison system as a self-perpetuating, criminally oriented entity consisting of a select group of inmates who have established an organized chain of command and are governed by an established code of conduct (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 297). "The prison gang usually operates in secrecy, and its goal is to conduct gang activities by controlling its prison environment through intimidation and violence directed towards non-members" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 297). In 1986 the United States Department of Justice identified 114 gangs in the United States prison system that represents at least three percent of the total prison population. Of those gangs identified by the Department of Justice, five have emerged as the most powerful and influential, they are: the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, Texas Syndicate, Aryan Brotherhood, and Black Guerilla Family (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 296).
Prison gangs were originally formed in the 1960's and 1970's as a way for inmates to protect themselves from other inmates (Walker, 2010, p. 1). All prison gangs, no matter which ethnic origin, are known for their violence and use their power to maintain control over fellow inmates. Some of the violent acts they perform include assaults and murders of inmates, correctional officers and even people outside of the prison walls. They also are involved with prostitution and drugs (Walker, 2010, p. 1). Prison gangs continue to thrive because prosecuting them has been difficult due to the fact that many members are already serving life sentences with no possibility of parole.
Most prison officials believe that many of the prison gangs have adopted a "blood-in, blood-out" motto for membership. This means that a gang recruit is ineligible for membership unless they first spill the blood of someone else such as a fellow inmate or correctional officer. This initiation allows the gang to see the potential member in action so that their abilities can be judged. It is also believed that the gang is a life time membership so to leave the gang; his or her blood must be spilled (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 297).
Ethnic background, gang membership prior to incarceration, and what area or city an inmate comes from are large determining factors in the selection of members into certain prison gangs (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 297). "Other considerations for gang membership include, but are not limited, to the following: the sharing of strong beliefs such as religion and politics, the sharing of a particular lifestyle (e.g. gang members who ride motorcycles), being a stand-up convict, also known as, tough or one who is physically imposing appearance and propensity toward violence" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 298).
"Once a member of the gang, the new recruit gains the power, prestige, influence and protection of its gang. Members can move up in ranks based on their physical and mental abilities, loyalty, and contributions to the organization as well as violent acts, physical stature, leadership qualities, and length of gang membership" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 298). Sometimes inmates who are not already members of a gang will intentionally perform an act of violence when gang members are around to seek recognition and hopefully be considered for membership. Because of this, at times it is hard for prison officials to determine the cause of violence. Is it just a regular fight breaking out or is gang related?
There are leadership hierarchies in the prison gangs that operate under a chain of command. Most of the time there is a single strong leader but there can also be a committee or council. The leader may only be in the position for a short time due to parole, transfers between prisons, or if the group disapproves of the leader's performance (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 298). "According to a 1983 U.S. Bureau of Prisons report, the longest time period that a prison gang leader was in power was between ten and fifteen years" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 298).
Even though each gang operates differently, there are similarities amongst the different gangs. Each gang maintains a code of secrecy and demands loyalty to the group. They may have tattoos with different logos or names to show their gang affiliation. Disciple within the group is ensured. "The most commonly used tactics to ensure obedience in the prison gangs are intimidation, threats of violence, and the actual use of violence" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 299). Each gang also has a negative attitude towards prison officials. Members are not to be associated with the staff unless the gang member is exploiting the staff member to be used in future illegal activities. At times violent acts are directed towards prison staff as the staff represents everything opposite of what the gang stands for.
As previously mentioned, there are five main prison gangs, the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, Texas Syndicate, Aryan Brotherhood, and Black Guerilla Family. Each has different types of members and history. The Mexican Mafia (EME) is the oldest prison gang in the United States. "The Mexican Mafia consists of Mexican-American youth gang members who first organized in 1957 at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 300). "The gang was founded by Luis "Huero Buff" Flores, Mundo Mendoza, Joe "Peg leg" Morgan, and Eddie Gonzales" ("Mexican mafia", 2010, p.1). The Mexican Mafia adopted its name by imitating the alleged La Cosa Nostra (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 300). The Mexican Mafia originally formed to protect each other from other inmates which led to the quick growth of the gang. Because of this quick growth the Mexican Mafia began to control activities inside the prison such as drug trafficking, homosexual prostitution, money extortion, and gambling. Most of the victims of their crimes and violence were directed towards African-Americans and Caucasians. They stayed away from the other Mexican inmates providing them safety even if they were not affiliated with the gang.
The Mexican Mafia's chain of command is set up similar to that of La Cosa Nostra in that they have generals or godfathers who are the leaders of the operations and are in supervision of captains, lieutenants, and soldiers. To become a member of the gang a person must be sponsored by someone already in the gang. The first action they must commit to be a prospect is to either murder someone or draw blood from someone. Once this is accomplished the gang members will vote on final acceptance (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 300). If accepted the member has to make an oath of allegiance to the gang. The Mexican Mafia's oath is as follows: "If I ever break my stride, or falter at any canale's side, this oath will kill me. Should my word prove untrue, should I betray those chosen few, this oath will kill me. If I misuse my people's trust, should I submit to greed or lust, this oath will kill me. Should I refuse to make a stand, should I show fear to any man, this oath will kill me. Should I become lax in discipline, or in time of strife refuse my comrade's hand, this oath will kill me. In other words, all canals have togetherness-awareness-brownness-and-proudness" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 303).
"The 1967 stabbing death of a Mexican-American inmate in San Quentin was the first recorded killing of a fellow Mexican by the group and was ordered by a leader of the Mexican Mafia" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 300). The individual murdered had allegedly given staff information into the gang's drug trafficking activities in the prison. Even though the group stayed away from other Mexican inmates they found the murder justified due to the circumstances surrounding what he did. Because of this, other Mexican-American inmates started to form a group to defend themselves against the gang (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 300). The new gang formed calling themselves the Nuestra Familia which means "our family".
"In 1968 members of the Mexican Mafia assaulted two members of the Nuestra Familia over a pair of shoes. After this conflict there was a fight between the two rival gangs which resulted in seventeen stabbings, one of which was fatal" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 300). Since then these gangs have been at war with each other. The Mexican Mafia gang has continued to grow over time and is estimated to have close to six hundred members distributed in numerous prisons throughout the United States.
Originally the Nuestra Familia was smaller than its arch rival, the Mexican Mafia. However, during its early years it became widely recognized in the prison system and grew because other inmates were seeking safety from the Mexican Mafia. The gang was initially open to Latin-Americans but due to the war with the EME membership was extended to those of other ethnic origins (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 301). "The recruitment process requires at least two years to demonstrate one's character, potential, and righteousness. Because the process can take many years, only those convicted of very serious offences, such as murder or armed robbery, are successfully recruited into the organization" ("Nuestra familia", 2006,p. 1). The gang has a constitution which states that once a member always a member and that the gang comes first. They also live by a creed that is followed by its members. "Included in the creed is the following: life has one guarantee; you will always have me, you lead and I will follow, if I fall behind, you push me, if I betray you, kill me, I'll lead and you follow, if you fall behind, I'll push you, and if you betray me, I'll kill you" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 303).
Another top prison gang in the United States is the Texas Syndicate (ETsE). This gang emerged in 1974 in Folsom Prison (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 304). The gang was founded by Juan "Pajaro" Solis-Vela and Francisco "Panchito" Gonzales. The gang was originally organized as a form of protection for its members from the Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia ("Texas Syndicate", 2010, p. 1). The Texas Syndicate is known in the prison system as one of the most violent of all the gangs. The members of the group are of Mexican-American descent and are originally from the El Paso and San Antonio areas. There are approximately 175 members in the state of Texas (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 304). The Texas Syndicate membership requirements are more secretive than other Mexican prison gangs. Like other prison gangs they believe once a member always a member and are involved in drug trafficking, assaults, extortion, and murders. "The Texas Syndicate creed is 'Back your fellow Texas Syndicate member's play'" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 304).
Another large gang in our prison system is The Aryan Brotherhood (AB). This gang is composed of motorcycle riding white supremacists. "The Aryan Brotherhood began in the 1960's, originally named the Diamond Tooth Gang, at San Quentin Prison in California" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 304). This gang's violence and hatred is focused on African-American inmates. In the early years of its formation members were easily recognized because they each had a piece of glass embedded in a front tooth. After years passed, the group had the name, the Bluebird Gang, and members were tattooed with a bluebird on their neck. Today, the members of the Aryan Brotherhood are mostly composed of members of an outlaw motorcycle gang. Like other gangs the Aryan Brotherhood are involved in illegal activities and is highly active in our prisons.
"The Aryan Brotherhood was founded by white Irish-American supremacists Barry Mills and Tyler Bingham in 1964 at the San Quentin state prison" ("Aryan Brotherhood", 2010, p. 1). The gang was originally formed to protect white inmates from racist black inmates. The gang's symbol is now a three leaf clover. "The gang is one of the most violent white supremacist groups in the nation and is accountable for over one hundred murders" ("Aryan Brotherhood", 2010, p. 1). The gang is one of the largest prison gangs in the nation and has branches in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia,, Kansas Ohio and Colorado ("Aryan Brotherhood", 2010, p. 1).
"The Aryan Brotherhood has an estimated 500 members located in prisons throughout the U.S." (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 304). The Aryan Brotherhood is aligned with the Mexican Mafia in their fight against the Nuestra Familia and Black Guerilla Family. They are similar to other gangs in that they have a creed that they must abide by and are promoted in the ranks by committing acts of violence. To become a member of the gang one must be referred by an existing member. A vote takes place in which the recruit must have 100 percent of the votes or they are not allowed to become a member. Once accepted into the gang it is a known concept that membership is for life. Those who choose to leave are usually killed. The gang tattoos its member with their symbol which is considered an honor. If a member is expelled the tattoo is removed by cutting or ironing them off (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 306).
The last of the top five prison gangs is the Black Guerilla family. "The Black Guerrilla Family was founded in 1966 by George Lester Jackson, W.L. Nolen, David Johnson, James Carr and other black racist convicts in California's San Quentin state prison" ("Black Guerilla Family", 2010, p. 1). The gang was formed to unite and protect African-American inmates. They also started the gang to attack, what they believed, were the white prison officials that showed racism toward African American inmates ("Black Guerilla Family", 2010, p. 1). Once the gang was formed there were thousands of angry African-Americans who wanted to be a member. "The Black Guerilla Family was responsible for dozens of staff assaults and even the murder of a Marin County court judge in 1970" ("Black Guerilla Family", 2010, p. 1).
Today, new recruits for the gang are usually members of black street gangs. The Crips, one of the largest street gangs, is aligned with the Black Guerilla Family. Most members of the Crips, once incarcerated are automatically members of the Black Guerilla family. Like other prison gangs, a death oath is made once joining the gang. "The gang abides by a strict code of discipline which consists of the following: the individual is subordinate to the family, the minority is a subordinate to the majority, the lower level is subordinate to the higher level, and the entire membership is subordinate to the central committee" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 306).
Like street and prison gangs there are another type of gang that reaps havoc in the United States, they are the outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMG). These gangs are organizations made up of members who use their motorcycle club as a means for criminal activities such as violent crimes, weapon trafficking, and drug trafficking (Trusty, 2011, p. 1). "Outlaw motorcycle gangs were originally formed in the late 1940's" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 282). The original gangs were made up of World War II veterans and throughout the years they grew in number due to the tough-guy image they portrayed. "It is estimated that there are over eight hundred motorcycle gangs in the United States" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 282). However, there are four gangs that are the largest and most organized. They are the Hell's Angels, Outlaws, Pagans, and Bandidos.
Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs are easily identified because of their colors or membership jackets. Like other forms of gangs the bikers are proud of their colors that bear the official logo which is sewn into their jacket. Additionally, the member's bike holds a great source of pride and significance (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 283). "Most outlaw motorcycle gangs require members to own only a U.S. made motorcycle with at least a 900-cc engine" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 283). Their bikes represent the member's life style which is composed of being free-living and reckless. Another common characteristic of members in the gang is that they usually are carrying concealed weapons. "In 1984, the U.S. Marshal's Service stated that OMG members are armed at nearly all times with concealed weapons located in pockets, boots, and belly bands. Additionally, it is common for a female associate to carry guns and knives and to remain close to their mate at all times" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 283).
All outlaw biker gangs have bylaws or a constitution that is set forth as a standard of conduct for members and operations. They also define membership requirements, punishment for breaking rules, and acceptable behaviors during their rides. "Experts have found that most of the bylaws for the different clubs are the same as the following: all persons must be eighteen or older for membership, all recruits must be sponsored by a current member, all recruits will have a probationary period, new members must pay the national headquarters initiation fee, members pay monthly dues to his chapter, any member caught using a needle will lose his colors and everything that goes with them, only Harley-Davidson or Indian motorcycles will be used while in the club" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 288).
"The Hell's Angels were originally called the Pissed off Bastards of Bloomington. The gang formed in the 1940's in Fontana, California" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 287). Most of the original members were World War II veterans who had difficulty readjusting to life after returning from war. They wanted to live a life that was free of concern and just ride the open road. They compared their lifestyle to famous western desperados such as Billy the Kid (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 287). The gang group was known to be violent, sexist, and racist. Members proudly wore their symbol which is the death head-winged skull with Nazi insignias. "There are approximately between 2,000 to 2,500 members and over 230 chapters in the United States. They also have 26 chapters in foreign countries and can be found on six of the seven continents" (Trusty, 2011, p. 1). In the 1960's, the Hell's Angels moved into the drug-trafficking business and began to produce, transport and distribute drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, hashish, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and PCP (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 288). They are also involved in many other illegal activities such as assault, money laundering, theft, and murder.
Another large biker gang is The Outlaws. The Outlaws began in Chicago during the 1950's, however their headquarters is now in Detroit, Michigan (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 288). According to a statement made by the U.S. Justice Department, "The Outlaws Motorcycle Club has more than 1,700 members who belong to 176 chapters in the U.S. and are also active in twelve foreign countries" (Trusty, 2011, p. 1). The gang's club mascot is on their jackets which is a skull over crossed pistons known as "Charlie". They also add diamond-shaped patches to their jackets that represent the fellow members who have died. The Outlaws are involved in the production, transportation and distribution of methamphetamine, the transportation and distribution of cocaine, marijuana and, ecstasy. "The Outlaws engage in various criminal activities including arson, assault, explosives, extortion, fraud, homicide, intimidation, kidnapping, money laundering, prostitution, robbery, theft and weapons violations" (Trusty, 2011, p. 1). A feud began with the Hell's Angels in 1974 when Outlaw members killed three Hell's Angels (Trusty, 2011, p. 1). They still feud today as the Outlaws compete with the Hells Angels for both members and territory.
A third outlaw motorcycle gang is The Pagans. The gang originally formed in Prince George County, Maryland in 1959 (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 287). They increased their numbers over time by joining with smaller motorcycle gangs. "The Pagans Motorcycle Club (Pagans) is a violent OMG whose members commit similar crimes that the other biker gangs do. They distribute illegal drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and PCP. The Pagans are mostly centralized in the Mid-Atlantic area. There are an estimated 200 to 250 members and forty-one chapters in eleven states" (Trusty, 2011, p. 1). The Pagans have been tied to traditional organized crime groups in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York. Like many other gangs once you become a member you can't get out. "Once a Pagan member named Ralph Yannotta tried to quit the Pagans and switch to the Outlaws. He was found, taken to a quarry and injected with sulfuric acid from a car battery, stabbed dozens of times and shot in the head. Miraculously, he survived, but his wife and brother- in-law were later murdered" (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 293).
The last of the most known outlaw biker gangs is The Bandidos. It is the youngest but fastest growing of the four top motorcycle gangs. The gang is found in the Pacific, Southeastern, Southwestern and the West Central regions of the United States (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 293). The Bandidos were established in 1966. In 1975 heroin was the gang's main drug to traffic, however, today methamphetamines is the primary drug they manufacture and sell, with cocaine being their second drug (Lyman, & Potter, 2004, p. 294). "The Bandidos Motorcycle Club (Bandidos) is an OMG with a membership of 2,000 to 2,500 persons in the United States and is active in thirteen other countries. The Bandidos constitute a growing criminal threat to the U.S. Law enforcement because it is estimated that the Bandidos are one of the two largest OMGs operating in the United States" (Trusty, 2011, p. 1).
In conclusion, there are three major types of gangs in the United States. There are street or youth gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs. All three are involved in illegal activities and are a very dangerous threat to our society. Gangs pose a problem for the individuals involved in them, our justice system, their victims, and our communities. These gangs have evolved and grown over time. Once a person becomes a member of a gang, the individual is signing a commitment of crime and violence for the rest of their life. Many of these individuals have been arrested or imprisoned and have come in contact with Criminal Justice officials at some point in their lives. For these reasons it is imperative that law enforcement personnel and correctional officials stay abreast of gang activity within their jurisdictions. It is also important for the public to be educated on gangs and what the risk factors are for membership. If preventative measures are taken early we may be able reduce the chance for future youth to become involved in gangs.