There are very few things new to this world, money, greed, religion, or even science. But like all things, over time, ideas and concepts grow and reform, taking on seemingly new impressions in the eyes of the people. One of these “ideas” that has seemed to sneak up on the world is gangs, and their new found territory of untold violence and crime, that has rose and spread like the plague across America and many major countries around the world. Even though it seems to be an out of control problem, the complexity is still very simply understood and broke down to help reason why many would put themselves as well as their family in a life of crime.
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In the definition of a gang, it is explained as a loosely formed group of at least three people through which an organization, formation, or establishment of an assembly, share a common identity. However, gangs in today’s society have taken the word to embody fear due to its relationship to criminal organization and the negative connotation that go with it. The group usually has a name to bond around with a structure of leaders or with one sole person in charge. Many of these developed gangs have started to use identifying signs such as colors, symbols or tattoos to distinguish themselves. These groups continuously and regularly commit crimes in support of the gang. As well as being known for trouble, gangs have grown from small street crimes to larger level felonies involving drug and weapon dealing causing a large number of unsettling homicides within the United States and around the world.
The first street gang in the United States emerged sometime around the 1820’s in New York City, and just thirty years later, there were more than two hundred fights reported. After only a few generations and a still steady flow of immigration, Chicago had reported more than a thousand gangs in 1920. In those days, most of the crimes involved small criminal activities and large brawls. Drug trafficking of today’s gangs doesn’t play a role until the later 1970’s.
As the same as in the 1920’s, it doesn’t take long for gangs to expand, grow, and relocate. In 2006, the United States reported active street gang members numbering around 785,000. Even with its birth in our country being New York, the ideology has spread across the nation and has settled in today’s capitol of Los Angeles County, California. The county itself has somewhere around 120,000 with an estimated 41,000 within Los Angeles. To bring light to how fast the populations of gangs grow, in just one year, the number of known active members grew to around 900,000 in 2007. “The United States Department of Justice estimates there are approximately 30,000 gangs, with 760,000 members, impacting 2,500 communities across the United States in its most recent reports and steadily growing every year.” (Hagedorn, 2008)
The numbers produced around the world are not much better. For instance, the Mexican drug cartel may have as many as 100,000 members not only involved in minor gang activity, but also produce a large percentage of the world’s drugs, which has become something the newer versions have evolved into. In addition to that, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that the four largest Italian organized crime groups to be around 25,000 collectively with as many as 250,000 affiliates around the world. One of the largest single associated crime groups in the world, the Yakuza, has more than 102,000 members from what Japan’s reports say as of 2005. “The United Kingdom has as many as a thousand known gangs as of 2009, and estimating that they are thought to make as much as £352 billion through the drugs trade” (Hagedorn, 2008).
Regardless of origin, there are several different types of gangs, separated by race, religion, or simply by goals in life. However the most three concerned by law enforcement, and most influential types, are street gangs, prison gangs, and criminal gangs. Street gangs are the most widely known and fastest spreading organizations. The prison gang exist behind bars and add a new level to the street gang operations. The criminal gangs are normal associated and made popular by mob families, like the Italian Mob.
With street gangs, the people involved generally have relatively similar backgrounds, motivations, and struggles with a self-formed union of peers. This formed group becomes united by mutual interests, with identifiable leadership and internal organization. Once the steps to becoming organized have been accomplished, the group can act collectively or as individuals to achieve specific purposes, including the conduct of illegal activity and control of a particular territory, facility, or enterprise. Street gangs often take over territory or turf, as commonly used, in a particular city and use this area as protection for themselves as well as providing protection for the community. Many gangs use the front of protection in the community to influence and gain revenue in an area safe from intrusion.
Prison gangs are groups in a prison or correctional facility designed for mutual protection and advancement. These gangs tend to have more affiliates and chapters among the different prisons across the nation that interacts due to the high frequency of transfers. “Studies have shown that there is a high correlation between street gangs and prison gangs” (Hagendorn 2008). This is due to the fact that many gangs use the protection scare tactic to recruit large amounts of members quickly, transfer them, and expand even more. Even when behind bars, many gang leaders are able to communicate operations to the foot soldiers still on the streets.
Like street gangs, criminal gangs also function in and out of the prison system, such as the Mexican Mafia does, where many of its highest members are locked up and still have control. Criminal gangs are involved in all areas of street-crime activities like extortion, drug trafficking, both in and outside the prison system and theft. Criminal gangs are more involved with victimizing individuals by robbery and kidnapping. Cocaine is the primary drug of distribution by the criminal gangs in America, which like to use large cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York who all have large ports to export drugs internationally quickly. Often, the larger, more organized groups hire lookouts, which tend to be the smaller less organized street gangs, to warn members of upcoming law enforcement. This team work builds dangerous affiliations that help and make it more difficult to pin point specific gangs involved in crimes. The dense environment of urban cities, like public housing projects, corruption of police, as well as the division between the relationship law enforcement has with such neighborhoods, has helped gang members escape and hide from police easily.
As the gangs have grown and become more intelligent and organized, violence has become an effective weapon for advancement. Gang violence refers to mostly those illegal and non-political acts of violence committed by gangs against innocent people, property, or other gangs. Throughout history, such acts have been committed by gangs at all levels of organization and nearly every major city has been ravaged by gang violence at some point. Modern gangs introduced new acts of violence, which may also function as a rite of passage for new gang members, whether it be a beat into the gang or a killing of a rival member before a affiliate can become a full member. Because of this level of violence in the gang culture 58 percent of Los Angeles’ murders were reported to have been gang-related during 2006. Gang related homicides are concentrated mostly in the largest cities of the United States, where largest number of documented gang members reside.
Ethnic solidarity is a common factor in gangs. Black and Hispanic gangs formed during the 1960s in the United States and often adapted independent style. Both majority and minority races in society have established gangs in the name of identity, like the Igbo gang or the Bakassi Boys for instance, who defend the majority Igbo group violently and through terror. As for the whites who feel threatened by minority, defensive counter rights have formed their own groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan to threaten minority groups back. Responding to a sudden increase in black and Hispanic migration, a white gang called Gaylords quickly formed in Chicago.
If a person carries a gun while committing any crime, he or she can expect to face harsh penalties. State prosecutors or the United States Attorney’s Office, depending on the nature of the crime and the severity of the violence, may prosecute firearms offenses. Illegally carrying a handgun is a Class A misdemeanor, unless it is carried on any premises where alcohol is being sold, in which case it is a third-degree felony. A person who allows a child to gain access to a loaded firearm may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor if the child discharges the firearm and causes death or serious bodily injury to himself or another person.
Federal gun laws are very strict. A person can be punished by up to 10 years in prison if convicted of illegally possessing or receiving a gun or ammunition. A person may also receive a minimum sentence of 15 years without parole if the person has three or more prior convictions for a violent felony and/or a drug trafficking felony. Certain individuals, such as felons or drug users, are prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition. Using, carrying or possessing a firearm in connection with a federal drug felony or crime of violence may result in punishment ranging from at least five years up to life in federal prison without parole.
It is illegal under federal law for most citizens to possess certain firearms such as machine guns, assault weapons, silencers, sawed-off shotguns or rifles, or certain other destructive devices. Possessing or receiving a firearm with an obliterated or altered serial number is also illegal and is punishable by up to five years in prison.
These crimes may range from Class C misdemeanors to serious felonies. It is illegal to be a member of a gang on a public school campus. It is illegal to coerce, induce or solicit a child to actively participate in the activities of a criminal street gang through the use of threats or violence. It is a state jail felony to threaten a child into joining a gang and a third-degree felony if bodily injury is caused. If you have been threatened or coerced into joining a gang, you are a victim of a crime. It is natural to feel intimidated or be fearful of retaliation when this occurs, but what happened to you was not your fault and it was a crime. Report this criminal activity immediately to your school resource officer or the local authorities. State law provides for punishment enhancements for offenses committed with a gang. Simply put, gang membership gets you into more trouble and gets you a harsher sentence.
Who gets to say they are wrong for wanting to defend themselves. The concept of the gang as a form of protection reaches back centuries, from immigrants grouping to stay alive on the streets, to the foreign villages battling over land.
There have been many researches done on gangs and their reason for existence to try to find the core of the problem. One of the many studies done on the youth searched to single out and concentrate on the relationship between gang members and individual levels of criminal behavior. The research done in both the United States and Canada has shown the obvious, that even after separating mass triggers from individual level characteristics, gang members are more delinquent and tend to be more involved in committing crimes than do non-gang members. The conclusion drawn from these findings is that the observed relationship between gang membership and offending levels can’t be explained through a simple process singling out individual traits, but instead by understanding additional influences that gang members bring to allow higher levels of criminal behavior among the individuals who join, especially for behaviors relating to guns and violence. Case in point, involvement in gangs significantly increases the probability that a juvenile will be involved in an exchange involving a firearm.
The above information leads to implications that patterns and levels of firearm violence is evident at the community level. As membership in a gang opens the door for the possibility for a gun to be used, there becomes an increase in firearm related violence. The violence tends to be concentrated around the activity space of gangs, or on their turf. The research was conducted in what is now being referred to as an emerging gang city, or the class of cities that only recently have been introduced to gangs and have began to experience serious problems with violent urban street gangs in the last twenty years. The other classes of cities include places like Los Angeles and Chicago, which have had a much longer story of gangs and are now known as chronic gang cities. “Though some of the initial emergent gang cities have experienced a significant decline in gang activity, others appear well on their way towards becoming “chronic” gang cities.” (Tita, 2007)
A small amount of information is known about how inner-city street gangs evolve over time within an emerging gang cities. Other countries that are relatively new to the gang territory, like Canada, may provide researchers with an invaluable opportunity to study juveniles and gangs to determine the scenarios that support the development of local gangs from loosely associated groups into stronger, organized, local neighborhood establishments. Furthermore, it is important to learn and understand more intervention activities that could be most efficient at inhibiting such growth before gangs and gang violence becomes a chronic problem in more cities. This is especially important as studies have shown that gangs and the gang violence correlation often begins in heavily populated areas and spreads to smaller cities.
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The participation in the drug market has also revealed a relation to gun violence. Even though many studies involve gangs as the primary ignition source responsible for increased levels of gun violence, the participation in dealing drugs has also made firearm involvement more probable. “That is, those who buy or sell drugs do experience higher levels of gun violence than non-drug participants” (Tita ET AL). With the information, a strong case can be put together that the arrival of the crack cocaine market was accountable for the explosion of guns within the urban communities of the United States. Guns became an essential tool to promote and produce, and deal in the drug market. This seems to suggest that drug markets do serve as a source of conflict that ends up closing with gun violence more times than not. This relationship has not only been evident in the United States, but in England, Wales, Scotland, and Canada as well. Tita (2007) also gave to that:
“Given that sellers carried large sums of cash and valuable drugs, they needed to protect themselves against acts of robbery. As youth participation in the drug markets increased, carrying firearms soon became a status symbol and the carrying of guns soon diffused to non-drug youth as well.” (p. 11)
But other than gun and drug prevention efforts, more can be done to further remove the problem from a much deeper source. Studies of juveniles, done within the United States, made it clear that juveniles who decide join gangs tend to have lower levels of parental attachment. This can be due to many situations, but most commonly due to the crumbling importance of family value and structure as well as the poor economic situation in many areas. This has caused parents or guardians to work two to three jobs, missing out on valuable time to be a child’s deterrence from getting involved in trouble with gangs. Along with missing guidance in their lives, the young members that were prone to join gangs also exhibited aggressive behavior early in life, did poorly in school, and have lower levels of self-control. Gang members also tend to be among the lower members of society in terms of social and economic status and are said to have little to no chance to create the drive necessary to make it in the world. Being part of a minority groups is also a main characteristic in a gang community, combined with the members residing are in high levels of concentrated poverty, joblessness and crime give them all something in common to bond to. For these people to move away from these characteristic, investment in the community to produce better education, access to jobs, basic public services, and possible recreation alternatives the people is needed before they learn the negative behaviors.
There are many major reasons that these gangs feel the need to be violent. One of the main focuses between gangs is their belief in respect and control over their “turf” which motivates most gang-on-gang violence. To many people’s disbelief, the drug dealing business plays a very small role in the violence, yet still just as serious. Compared to non-gang homicides, gang homicides tend to involve multiple suspects in an outdoor environment, more likely concentrated in the neighborhood of the gang, more often involving a gun. Even though it is known that gangs have designated missions to take out other gang members or acting in order to defend themselves, much of the violence that is recorded is opportunistic with more than one-third of all gang homicides occurred in areas where neither the victim nor offender resided.
Regardless of the numbers recorded, there is definitely a link between drug use and the increased likelihood of being involved in an incident in which a firearm is present. Young adults and juveniles that have been questioned about using or dealing drugs reported carrying a gun far more often than do peers not involved with illegal drugs. These finding are elevated among gang members with a far larger margin within the gang. Not only do they carry and use guns at a higher rate, but they are also much more likely to be involved in a homicide. These results hold true for females as well.
There is an ongoing debate regarding the relationship between firearm accessibility and levels of gun violence. Compared to the rest of the world, citizens in the United States have greater access to the legal purchase of firearms causing many to point to this as a factor for why the United States has a much higher rate of violence than do other developed nations. However, there are some findings from studies conducted by other countries, Canada, Australia, Asia, and Europe, that contradict this believe. Many believe that lower murder rates in foreign countries prove that gun control works, however this is false. Lower murder rates have been one of the favorite arguments for gun control, and yet the numbers show that there is no direct correlation between gun control laws and murder rates across a wide spectrum of nations and cultures. In Israel and Switzerland, for example, a license to possess guns is available on demand to every law-abiding adult, and guns are easily obtainable in both nations. Both countries also allow widespread carrying of concealed firearms, and yet one of the foremost medical advocates of gun control, Switzerland and Israel “have rates of homicide that are low despite rates of home firearm ownership that are at least as high as those in the United States.” A comparison of crime rates within Europe reveals no correlation between access to guns and crime. The basic premise of the gun control movement, that easy access to guns causes higher crime, is contradicted by the facts, by history and by reason. In fact, within the United States, the states that allow registered citizens to carry concealed weapons have lower crime rates than those that don’t. Out of the 31 states that have “shall issue” laws allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons have, on average, a 24 percent lower violent crime rate, a 19 percent lower murder rate and a 39 percent lower robbery rate than states that forbid concealed weapons. In fact, the nine states with the lowest violent crime rates are all right-to-carry states. One large finding shows that guns are used for self-defense more than two million times a year, which is somewhere between three to five times the estimated numbers of violent crimes committed with guns.
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