Gangs have become a fixture of violence in American life. Beginning with inner city gangs of New York, the Mobsters of Chicago, to the image of thugs, gangbangers, and underground organizations we see today. Gang involvement has become synonymous with criminal activity. Chicago Mobsters are recognized for extortion and gambling, while throughout California gangs are known for red rags, blue rags, and drive-bys. Today, many inner city gangs are associated with many other things. This includes illegal and illicit drugs. Although criminal behavior and gang involvement go hand in hand, there may be a lot of myths and misunderstandings about what gang members actually “do”. By conducting research and gathering information about the relationship between gang involvement and criminal activity, one can have a better understanding of gang violence in inner city America.
Today, many American gangs are associated with illegal drugs. Many assume that gangs are involved in extensive drug rings. In these networks, gang members make and distribute drugs to the public, feeding Americans daily addictions. “Without denying the destructive effect of crack, other scholars trace the roots of the violence to governmental drug policy”, (Kopel, 2012). Weather blaming this on American drug policy or gang involvement, many people are misguided by the relationship between gang activity and drug distribution. Consequently, “not all gangs are involved in drugs”, (Carlie, 2002). Actually, inner-city gangs are less involved in the drug industry that realized. While one author cited that inner city gangs are the leading distributors of illegal and illicit drugs, other scholars claim that anywhere between 20% and 38% of gangs participate in criminal activity involving drugs, (Carlie, 2002). When it comes to drug involvement, however, mostinner city gangs participate in a number of activities relating to illegal drugs.
“Among the drug related crimes gang members commit are the cultivation (i.e marijuana) and manufacture (i.e methamphetamine, crack cocaine) of illegal drugs as well as trafficking (distribution), sales, and possession”, (Carlie, 2002). Although inner city gangs are involved in a variety of drug related activities, some scholars suggest that it is not a lucrative business for gangs. Gangs do not make enough money from this enterprise, many do not participate or do not see drug manufacturing or distribution as a real business strategy. Research conducted by Billie Weiss concluded that some gang members make as little as $1000 a month or roughly $100,000 a year, (2007). While this information may be inaccurate or questionable, other scholars feel the opposite citing that “the war on drugs has lived up to its name by producing a genuine war in inner-city America”, (Kopel, 2002). Despite these different perspectives and theories, many gangs across America, especially inner-city gangs, are involved in the drug trade weather it is a serious enterprise or a minimal means of income.
While the relationship between drugs and inner city gangs remains questionable, there is a direct association between inner-city gangs and homicides. “Gangs account for 43% of all homicides in Los Angelos County”, (Weiss, 2007). This number is also expressed in different parts of the country. In parts of the mid-West the number of gang related deaths increased by as much as 60%. In addition, the number of gang related deaths involving a handgun or firearm rose to more than 92%. This number was significantly lower throughout the 80’s and 90’s where gang related deaths using firearms was about 80%. Many account the increase of murders and death by firearm is associated with the increase of guns that can be found on the street. However, many researchers and scholars associate this with gang commitment, gang rivalries, and turf wars, (Weiss, 2007). Other scholars suggest that the increase in murder has to do with the bad attitude of gang members. Some gang members become violent without cause or warning, starting a fight over a bad look or a bump on the shoulder. However, while most scholars credit this to the increase in gang murder, a lot of this violent hostility is geared towards revenge and respect. “In 2007 law enforcement officials in Irvington, N.J., a Newark suburb, reported 23 homicides for the year – 20 of which were gang related”, (Duda, 2012).One gang member killing someone else from another gang can start a war that can last for years. Gangs feel that they must avenge or retaliate against the rival gang. One way to do this is to slowly kill off the members of their gang. This only fuels that fire of gang rivalry which each gang attempts to kill the other.
Not only are gangs synonymous with drug activity and murder, they are also participate in a variety of other criminal activities. There is a current rising trend of inner-city gang involvement and theft. This includes, larceny, grand larceny, burglary, robbery, and armed robbery. Overall gangs are attributed to as much as 83% of all incidents involving theft, (Carlie, 2002). Gangs include themselves in a different number of activities involving larceny. This includes vehicle theft, home invasions, and armed robbery. Theft and gang activity is recognized by crimes against property, all of which has continued to rise since the new millennium. The study and research by Micheal Carlie concludes that “gang members participated at high and medium levels in 72% of all burglaries and 62% of motor vehicle theft”, (2002). Thus, incidents of theft though commonly associated by an individual in desperate need of financial gain, more and more gangs are becoming involved in theft and robbery. Committing acts of theft arise less suspicion from law enforcement when compared to distributing drugs. When selling drugs, gang members will patrol a certain area, increasing their presence and notoriety for selling drugs, thus increasing their chance of getting caught. Theft requires less exposure to law enforcement. While selling and distributing drugs can take a matter of hours, a theft can occur within a matter of minutes. These reasons along with many others encourage gangs to become involved in more incidents of theft and larceny rather than drug distribution.
Not only do gangs participate in drug distribution, murder, and theft, they are also known for extortion and in some cases even sexual exploitation. “Extortion or what is referred to by some gangs as paying rent or taxes… are extorted from store owners so their windows won’t be broken, merchandise stolen or destroyed or employees and customers beaten”, (Carlie, 2002). Extortion is characteristic with the mobsters and gangs of Chicago, Las Vegas, and New York as early as the 1920’s and as late as the 1980’s. Gangs participated in extortion to black-male store owners into paying them to keep the peace. By paying rent or taxes to gangs, stores are less likely to be involved in burglary or violence. In some cases, gang members will pay a store owner to let him sell drugs or allow a woman to prostitute in front of the store. Taking advantage of non-gang members and American citizens, many gangs are able to make extortion a profitable industry. Especially considering a convenience store located in the city, the store will become susceptible to theft, burglary, or criminal activity. Paying a gang member to keep the store safe is the only option for many store owners as they attempt to maintain their business in high crime areas.
Today, gang involvement is also synonymous with youth. Youth are more likely to involve themselves in gang activity than young adults. They are susceptible to the ideals of gang life such as guns, violence, respect, and protection. Other youth are drawn to gang participation as they are looking for a substitute family, friendship, loyalty, and commitment. Due to the rise of youth involvement in gang activity, the criminal activity performed by gang members have changed. For instance, because many gang members are young, presumably between the ages of 12 and 25, they are less likely to commit a criminal activity against the elderly. Instead, young gang members are most likely to commit a crime against someone who is also young. In addition, most surprisingly, “many young members are not heavily involved in crime”, (Weiss, 2007). This could be for a number of reasons. Young people may be unable to commit to the pressures or expectations involved with committing a crime. Having a young man of 14 attempt to burglarize a store may increase the chances of the individual or participating gang members to get caught. However, young members are often asked to commit a crime to prove him or herself and their loyalty to the gang. Although young gang members are less likely to commit a crime due to their age and early involvement with the gang, the longer that these young people interact with gang members the more likely they are to commit a crime.
Gang members commit crimes and acts of violence. It is part of their status as gang members and attributes to their notoriety and respect on the streets. However, gangs are known to commit acts of violence towards many people. This includes members of their gang, other gang members, and non-gang members. When it comes to gang violence and crime, gangs are non-discriminate towards who receives the force of their raft. Although gangs are most recognized as drug syndicates and murder, some research suggest the opposite. Gangs are not as involved in drug distribution as one may have first perceived. Instead gangs are heavily involved in murder due to rivalry and retaliation as well as theft. The image and portrait of the ideal gangster has changed. He is younger, more likely to participate in larceny, and less likely to commit violence against the elderly. This has changed dramatically from the mobsters we see in Scarface and the Godfather. Despite this movement and changing the face of the typical gangster, violence continues to grow on American streets. Thus, “gang violence has never been more deadlier than it is now”, (Parker, 2007). More gangs use guns to perpetrate their criminal offence, meaning that more people are dying as an effect of gang activity and violence.
Carlie, M. (2002). Into the abyss: A personal journey into the world of street gangs. Retrieved from http://people.missouristate.edu/MichaelCarlie/what_i_learned_about/gangs/crimes_gangs_commit2.htm
Duda, C. (2012, April 18). The myth of suburban gangs: a changing demographic. Youth Today, Retrieved from http://www.youthtoday.org/view_article.cfm?article_id=5245
Kopel, D. (2012). Crime: The inner-city crisis. Retrieved from http://www.davekopel.com/CJ/Mags/InnerCityCrisis.htm
Parker, J. (2007). Street gangs: the view from the street. New York, New York: Do It Now Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.doitnow.org/pages/178.html
Weiss, B. (2007). Fact sheet: Gang violence. Retrieved from http://www.ph.ucla.edu/sciprc/pdf/GANG_VIOLENCE.pdf