Gangs are a violent reality that people have to deal with
in today’s cities. What has made these groups come about?
Why do kids feel that being in a gang is both an acceptable and
prestigious way to live? The long range answer to these
questions can only be speculated upon, but in the short term
the answers are much easier to find. On the surface, gangs
are a direct result of human beings’ personal wants and peer
pressure. To determine how to effectively end gang violence we
must find the way that these morals are given to the individual.
Unfortunately, these can only be hypothesized. However, by
looking at the way humans are influenced in society, I believe
there is good evidence to point the blame at several
institutions. These include the forces of the media, the
government, theatre, drugs and our economic system.

On the surface, gangs are caused by peer pressure and
greed. Many teens in gangs will pressure peers into becoming
part of a gang by making it all sound glamorous. Money is also
an crucial factor. A kid (a 6-10 year old, who is not yet a
member) is shown that s/he could make $200 to $400 for small
part time gang jobs. Although these are important factors they
are not strong enough to make kids do things that are strongly
against their morals.

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One of the ways that kids morals are bent so that gang
violence becomes more acceptable is the influence of television
and movies. The average child spends more time at a TV than
she/he spends in a classroom. Since nobody can completely turn
off their minds, kids must be learning something while watching
the TV. Very few hours of television watched by children are
educational, so other ideas are being absorbed during this period
of time. Many shows on television today are extremely violent
and are often shown this from a gang’s perspective. A normal
adult can see that this is showing how foully that gangs are
living. However, to a child this portrays a violent gang
existance as acceptable. ‘The Ends Justifies the Means’
mentality is also taught through many shows where the “goody
guy” captures the “bad guy” through violence and is then being
commended. A young child sees this a perfectly acceptable
because he knows that the “bad guy” was wrong but has no idea
of what acceptable apprehension techniques are.

Gore in television also takes a big part in influencing
young minds. Children see gory scenes and are fascinated by
these things that they have not seen before. Older viewers see
gore and are not concerned with the blood but rather with the
pain the victim must feel. A younger mind doesn’t make this
connection. Thus a gore fascination is formed, and has been
seen in several of my peers. Unfortunately kids raised with
this sort of television end up growing up with a stronger
propensity to becoming a violent gang member or ‘violent-
acceptant’ person.

“Gangs bring the delinquent norms of society into
intimate contact with the individual.”1, (Marshall B Clinard,
1963). So, as you can see if TV leads a child to believe that
violence is the norm this will manifest itself in the actions of
the child quite, often in a gang situation. This is especially the
case when parents don’t spend a lot of time with their kids at
the TV explaining what is right and what is wrong. Quite often
newer books and some types of music will enforce this type of
thought and ideas.

Once this mentality is installed in youngsters they become
increasingly prone to being easily pushed into a gang situation by
any problem at home or elsewhere. For instance, in poor
families with many children or upper-middle class families where
parents are always working, the children will often feel deprived
of love. Parents can often feel that putting food on the table
is enough love. Children of these families may often go to the
gang firstly out of boredom and to belong somewhere. As time
goes on, a form of love or kinship develops between the gang
members and the child. It is then that the bond between the
kid and the gang is completed because the gang has effectively
taken the place of the family.

The new anti social structure of cities also effects the
ease in which a boy/girl can join a gang. ” The formation of
gangs in cities, and most recently in suburbs, is facilitated by
the same lack of community among parents. The parents do not
know what their children are doing for two reasons: First, much
of the parents’ lives is outside the local community, while the
children’s lives are lived almost totally within it. Second, in a
fully developed community, the network of relations gives every
parent, in a sense, a community of sentries who can keep him
informed of his child’s activities. In modern living-places (city
or suburban), where such a network is attenuated, he no longer
has such sentries.”2, (Merton Nisbet, 1971).

In male gangs problems occur as each is the members tries
to be the most manly. This often leads to all members
participating in “one-up-manship”. Quite often this will then
lead to each member trying to commit a bigger and more violent
crime or simply more crimes than the others. With all members
participating in this sort of activity it makes for a never
ending unorganized violence spree (A sort of Clockwork Orange
mentality). In gangs with more intellegent members these
feelings end up making each member want to be the star when
the groups commit a crime. This makes the gang much more
organized and improves the morale of members which in turn
makes them more dangerous and very hard for the police to deal
with and catch (There is nothing harder to find and deal with
than organized teens that are dedicated to the group). This
sort of gang is usually common of middle or upper class people
although it can happen in gangs in the projects and other low
rent districts too.
This “one-up-manship” is often the reason between rival
gangs fighting. All gangs feel powerful and they want to be
feared. To do this they try to establish themselves as the
only gang in a certain neighborhood. After a few gang fights
hatred forms and gang murders and drive-by’s begin to take
place. When two gangs are at war it makes life very dangerous
for citizens in the area. Less that 40% of drive-by’s kill
their intended victim yet over 60% do kill someone. This gang
application is one of the many reasons that sexual sterotypes
and pressure to conform to the same must be stopped.

Lastly one of the great factors in joining a gang is for
protection. Although from an objective point of view, we can
see joining a gang brings more danger than it saves you from,
this is not always the way it is seen by kids. In slums such as
the Bronx or the very worst case, Compton, children will no
doubt be beaten and robbed if they do not join a gang. Of
course they can probably get the same treatment from rivals
when in a gang. The gang also provides some money for these
children who quite often need to feed their families. The
reason kids think that the gang will keep them safe is from
propoganda from the gangs. Gang members will say that no one
will get hurt and make a public show of revenge if a member is
hurt or killed.
People in low rent areas are most often being repressed
due to poverty and most importantly, race. This often results
in an attitude that motivates the person to base his/her life
on doing what the system that oppresses them doesn’t want.
Although this accomplishes little it is a big factor in gang

So, as you have seen gangs are a product of the
environment we have created for ourselves. Some of these
factors include: oppression, the media, greed, violence and
other gangs. There seems to be no way to end the problem of
gangs without totally restructuring the modern economy and
value system. Since the chance of this happening is minimal, we
must learn to cope with gangs and try to keep their following
to a minimum. Unfortunately there is no real organized force
to help fight gangs. Of course the police are supposed to do
this but this situation quite often deals with racial issues also
and the police forces regularly display their increasing inability
to deal fairly with these issues. What we need are more people
to form organizations like the “Guardian Angels” a gang-like
group that makes life very tough for street gangs that are
breaking laws.

Margot Webb, Coping with Street Gangs. Rosen Publishing Group,
New York, 1990.

William Foote Whyte, Street Corner Society. University of
Chicago, Chicago, 1955.

Peter Carroll, South-Central. Hoyte and Williams, L. A., 1987.

1 Marshall B. Clinard, Sociology of Deviant Behavior. University
of Wisconsin, Wisconsin, 1963, Page 179.

2 Merton Nisbet, Contempory Social Problems. Harcourt, Brace &
World, New York, 1971, Page 588.



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