Gangs - The Overall Picture Personal
Caroline Becerra
Poverty & Prejudice: Gangs of All Colors

No one ever believes it will happen to them. But it does. And in 1992, in Tucson, Arizona, Desert View High School felt the impact caused by this incident My school has 1500 students. Ninety-percent are Latino/Hispanic. The surrounding community is primarily low4ncome Spanish speaking immigrants. Our school is better known for its high drop out and pregnancy rates, than for its SAT scores. The students are very much aware of the gang members that attend the school.

In October 1992, a sophomore named Oscar De Leon was shot and killed on campus. It was gang affiliated. Although Oscar was not in a gang, he was seen with students who were. A car full of gang members spotted the three boys and started throwing gang signs in their direction. One of the guys in the car pulled out a gun and shot at Oscar, wounding and killing him. This was when my school was made very aware that gangs were present.

They dress the same. The guys wear the pants that your grandfather would wear; the most popular color is tan. They wear the "wife-beaters" or white tank tops. Some of them wear thick gold jewelry.

For the girls it is similar. Some of them wear pants like the male gang members, but they are more fashionable in colors. They prefer these pants in black. Their make-up is very heavy. The trend for a while was black eyeliner around the lips colored in with dark maroon lipstick. Their eyebrows plucked almost completely and then penciled in. Their hair is usually curly or wavy with lots of gel. They also tended to wear a lot of jewelry. Many of them do not graduate.

Definition of a Gang

A normal group of friends hanging out at school does not appear to be very different from the definition of a gang. Friends tend to dress alike, and share similar interests. For example, the "jocks" at a school could be considered a gang. As could the cheerleaders, the group of smart kids, the alternative crowd who dresses in black and listens to alternative music1 and the drama/artistic group could all be considered gangs. What is the difference between these groups and the groups Americans have learned to fear? The difference lies in the degrees of violence a group decides to participate in.

Although gang members may be unaware, many officials and experts have identified many specific characteristics.). "In their significant research on juvenile delinquency, Haskell and Yablonsky (1982) described three prototypes of gangs that may evolve from groups of youths who hang out together: the social, delinquent, and violent gangs. (Taylor, 1988 1989; Lal et al., 1993; Thomberry et al., 1993).

These three types of gangs vary in the degree of violence. The first is the social gang. This group tends to hang out at a certain location. Members will engage in various group activities. Typical members of a social gang are actually stable youth "who have the closest association with the norms and values of society in general." This form of gang does not depend on a leader; its various members are considered equal. According to this definition, the cheerleaders and jocks at our schools could be placed in this category. The least violent that is. The second type of gang is the delinquent gang. The group is organized around the idea of gaining money from committing delinquencies. Members are dependent on each other to provide necessary help and to participate in these activities. The leader of this group tends to be the best at planning and committing crimes, primarily stealing. The members of a delinquent gang, however, are considered to be emotionally stable. Although members spend much of their time is spent organizing and participating in criminal activity.

The violent gang is centered on the goal of obtaining emotional satisfaction through violent activities. The violent gang follows an emotionally unstable leader who has a tendency to control and manipulate others. Both members and leaders overestimate the importance, size, and power of the group. The group also includes an inner-group violence. This definition of a gang is the one we have become accustomed to when we think of large gangs such as the Crypts and Bloods in Los Angeles. This group displays the highest degree of violence and is therefore the most feared by society.

The definition of a gang seems to have changed throughout the years. This may be due to the fact that the public is simply more aware of the presence of gangs. The general definition of a "Criminal Street Gang is:' Three or more persons having a common identifying sign or symbol or an identifiable leadership who continuously or regularly associate in the commission of criminal activities." A gang may or may not "claim control over a certain territory." This is noted by graffiti signs that gang members will place in different places. Another way of making themselves identifiable are their hand signals, which vary for each gang. Gang members will "engage, either individually or collectively, in violent or other forms of illegal behavior."

Society in general has been experiencing an increase in violence. There have been many debates as to whether the increase in violence shown in movies and television is actually a reflection of society, or whether society is a reflection of what the media portrays. The activities of youth gangs are an indication of changes in American society. As the violence in America has been growing in general, gangs have also become more violent. ( monographs/ uds107~gangs.html)

In general gang members are characterized as being of similar ethnic or racial backgrounds. For example, in Tucson, Arizona where the population is highly Hispanic, gang members tend to be Latino. There are also white-supremacy gangs. An interesting comparison between these two is that minority gangs appear to commit crimes against each other. Drive-by shootings may aim to hurt members of other Latino gangs. However, white-supremacy groups appear to show violence towards members of other ethnicities.

Structural Characteristics

In a violent gang, which was defined earlier, there is a very visible loyalty that all gang members must express. The idea that the "gang is more important than anything is mandatory." This loyalty is solidified by the violent, illegal, and criminal activities members will participate in. Members are usually very loyal to the point where they are willing to do almost anything for their group, including die or commit murder. These attitudes are defined as gang mentality. There is a definite hierarchy in the group, and the responsibilities of each member are defined clearly. Graffiti is used to define boundaries of specific territories the group claims as well. The distinctions of these groups are made in attire and tattoos.

The emergence of gangs takes some time to appear. According to some psychologists the process occurs in four stages. (Lal, 1991) The wannabe is the member who wants to join the gang. The second stage is the peripheral, which hangs around the gang but does not always participate in the gang's activities. The affiliate is the actual gang member. Lastly the hard-core member, lives (or will even die) for the gang. According to various levels of participation in the group is the position of the gang member. For example, before a member becomes a

hardcore he will first engage in less violent activities like "flashing gang signs, graffiti writing and claiming territory, before they become involved in serious hardcore illegal infractions, such as assaults, drug trafficking, and murder." (Lal, 1991).

The Process of Initiation

In order to become a member, one must first endure a series of rituals that have been established, in order to prove their worthiness of gang membership. This may consist of being "jumped-in." Or more specifically, being beat up by 3 or 4 other gang members at the same time. Surprisingly, this is the method currently used by less violent gangs. However, the more delinquent and violent gangs require more violent activities. This includes gang rape, drive-by shootings and even murder. Taylor, 1989; Padilla, 1992; Lal et al., 1993; California State Office of the Attorney General, 1994 I 1995)." These and other sources reported that youths that have a propensity toward delinquent behavior are four times more likely to engage in illegal acts and violent crimes as gang members than they would as non-gang members."

Who Joins Gangs?

The chance a teenager will join a gang is dependent upon exposure to various problems. A dysfunctional family that is unable to provide support for a teenager may cause this youth to search for the feeling of belonging elsewhere. Teenagers who come from families who display poor parenting skills, violence or abuse by parents, drugs or alcohol abuse have a much higher gang membership rate than teenagers who come from supportive homes. Another large determinant is a low socioeconomic background, along with a high presence of gangs in the neighborhood. For the most part, low education levels correlate with low socioeconomic status, which in turn appear to correlate with being a minority. Cfaylor, 1989; Padilla, 1992; Lal et al., 1993; California State Office of the Attorney General, 1994 I 1995)."

How have gangs changed from the past? The structure of gangs has definitely changed in recent years from that of the past There are members in gangs that are as young as eight or nine-years-old. The presence of gangs has also been increasing in suburban communities. The use of drugs and alcohol is high as well as the monetary gain from these illegal drug markets and even prostitution. Although female gangs, do not have as much power as their male counterparts do, their presence has also been increasing in recent years. The most obvious change, however, is simply the increase m violence. Guns and weapons are easily accessible to anyone, causing an increase in deaths. Much of this violence appears to be random and although it focuses on members of other gangs, crimes committed tend to involve the lives of innocent victims. (Campbell, 1990; Huff, 1990; Lal et al., 1993; Taylor, 1993):

What to Do?

There are several projects already in existence, which attempt to remedy the problem of gangs. The basis of these projects is the effort to increase the self-esteem of gang members. This is attempted by providing education. Education provides something positive a typical gang member can focus on. These youths can then achieve their goals and will no longer need the support of the gang. Another way is to help these teenagers find employment, again so that their attention will be focused on something positive. Many gang members show talent, even in their criminal displays of graffiti. However, these talents can be used to help out the community and cure its walls of gang graffiti. Instead of sending these kids to jail where they are most likely to learn even more criminal behaviors, they could be placed in educational programs.

The problem is despair as some say, and the solution is hope. Many people look at the typical gang member as a monster, when in reality he or she is only a lost kid. By approaching the problem of gangs differently perhaps we will be able to see the solutions more clearly.

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