Deviance in Gangs Mark Sirignano 027-66-7577 Tues. Thur. 9:25-10:40 12-14-99 Deviance in Gang Involvement: Why Join a Gang? The problem of gang activity is not a new one facing our country. Ever since the beginnings of human existence gangs have served as a means of protection for humans. The issue of gang activity has recently, however, come to the forefront of dilemmas facing our nation. While cities like Chicago and Los Angeles are chronic gang sites, other cities such as “Miami, Portland, Columbus, Dallas, and Milwaukee have only recently (within the last decade) had what they termed as a gang problem” (Conly 7). Gang numbers have, without question, skyrocketed over the past 10 to 20 years.
Los Angeles, for example, has recently been estimated to have as many as 90,000 gang members (Conly 14). The importance of these numbers cannot be overlooked. However, to fully understand the problems that gangs may pose to society, the term gang must be defined. Without a definition the impact of gang maliciousness on society may be lost. Throughout its history the term “gang” has possessed a diverse usage, being linked to outlaws in the “wild west” and organized crime groups among others (Decker and Van Winkle 2).
Due to this, a clear-cut definition of a gang does not exist. However, most agree that a gang is a group of mostly males that engages in delinquent activities. However, the definition goes much further than that. A police officer, for example, may call a gang “an on-going, organized association of three or more persons who individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in criminal activity” (Conly 5). Notwithstanding, this definition is terribly obscure. That definition could include a group of boys who occasionally drink alcohol.
On the other hand it could also include a group of youths that rapes and steals from old ladies. This definition obviously ranges from one extreme end of the spectrum to the other end. While images of boys drinking in the woods does not conjure up representations of hard core gang activity it does fit under the umbrella of the definition given above. This definition, obviously, leaves much to be desired. A sociologist, on the other hand, may describe the term gang with another set of values. As a result, a sociologist may describe a gang as a group whom: Are generally perceived as a distinct aggregation by others in their neighborhood, recognize themselves as a denotable group (almost invariably with a group name) and have been involved in a sufficient number of delinquent incidents to call forth a consistent negative response from neighborhood residents and/or enforcement agencies.
(Sanders 9) This definition is less obscure than the previous one. However, it still leaves much to be desired. As one can see a “clear cut” definition is extremely hard thing to determine. In order to define the term gang one must take a combination of several definitions. As a result, a combination of these two definitions must be faceted for the purpose of this paper. Gangs, for our purpose, can be characterized in the following manner: A group of youths that commit crimes that recognizes themselves as a “gang”.
As a result of a sufficient definition being unearthed, the focus of this paper can next be turned to the reasons for joining a gang. While there are a variety of reasons one may choose to enter into the gang environment, there are three prominent reasons that stand out. These reasons are psychological, financial, and physical. The psychological aspects of gang life are plentiful. Many youths in the inner city come from broken homes.
As a result, these youths may turn to the gang life as a “pseudo” family. The gang, which has a definite family hierarchy, becomes the family for the youth. However, the purpose of a family is to provide support, love, and protection. The hazardous gang life-style often provides injury and death as well. In addition to psychological support, gang life often provides financial support as well.
Teens who would normally be making fifty to sixty dollars a week at a part time job can rake in as much as a thousand dollars per week by stealing or selling drugs in a gang setting. In fact, many gang members claim to “join and stay in gangs for financial reasons”(Spergel 94). The attraction to gang life is obvious when looked at from that standpoint. The final attraction to gang life is simply the physical aspect. Gangs provide the “safety in numbers” sense of security for many youths who are forced to reside in what is in reality a war zone. Consequently, joining a gang may result from “a rational calculation to achieve personal security, particularly, by males new to a particular community, school, or prison”(Spergel 92).
Many feel a sense of security when joining a gang. Nevertheless there is the ever-present threat of death from a wall of bullets in this lifestyle. There are, of course, some that feel these reasons are not the main contributing factors to gang enrollment. The main detractors of this theory will point to the emergence of gangs in affluent areas. These areas contain children who may not come from broken homes and may not have problems with money or being bullied. However, dysfunctional families are present in all areas of society. Moreover, if one or two children are of dysfunctional families, there influence will spread throughout a social setting of other children.
Some feel that gangs result simply out of an “inordinately large number of children crowded into a limited area..spontaneous play groups are forming everywhere – gangs in embryo”(Spergel 71). While the overcrowding of youths in a limited area may play a role in the formation of gangs, the main contributing factors to the creation of gang activity are the fulfillment of psychological (family), financial, and physical needs. Perhaps the most significant draw to the gang arena of life is the psychological fulfillment that gangs provide. Many youths that join gangs come from a family that is deemed dysfunctional. In this case, a dysfunctional family may be one of an abusive parent, one parent, or even no parents.
As an illustration, almost fifty percent of children in the United States, 32.3 million children total, do not live with both of their biological parents (Korem 53). This number is even greater in the inner cities of American society where gang life thrives. Moreover, a family may appear to not be dysfunctional on the outside, but “if even one parent is severely dysfunctional and a youth takes the brunt of that dysfunction – it can be the activating mechanism that initiates gang involvement”(Korem 55). In order to escape from this dysfunction, a youth may turn to the family hierarchy of a gang for family fulfillment. The family hierarchy of a gang that was previously mentioned is definite and closely resembles that of a non-dysfunctional family, or that of a “normal” family.
In the case of gangs there are four distinct levels that resemble those of a family. These four levels are, namely, the core members, floaters, wannabes, and the veterans. This gang organization, it can be argued, substitutes in distinctive ways for a particular pattern of inadequacy in existing familiar relationships (Spergel 70). The first, or top, level of gang organization is that of the core members. The core members may make key decisions and set the standards of the group. Moreover, core members may support or sanction the actions of other members of the group.
The core members are, in effect, the parental figures of the gang. It is needless to say that without the actions and support of core members, the group would become dysfunctional and unable to function. Therefore the core members are obviously the most important members of the group. The next level of the gang hierarchy consists of a group that is called the “floaters”. The floater is not exactly a gang member, as they often exist across and between gang lines (Spergel 84).
Nevertheless, the floater still commands high status and respect from other gang members. The floater often sets up meetings between gangs. These meetings may, for example, set up drug deals, gun deals, or just encounters between friendly and opposing gangs. Floaters, In other words, command high respect from other gang members for their special skills and abilities to set up meetings between gangs. A floater may serve as a family friend or neighbor to the gang family hierarchy.
The next level of the gang hierarchy is that of the “wannabes”. The wannabe is, in actuality, the child of gang life. Actually, this is very fitting, as the wannabe group is mainly comprised of young children and teenagers. The wannabe or recruits are, more often than not, “younger, aspiring, potential gang members” (Spergel 84). This group services the needs of the group through theft and drug sales.
However, this does not follow that of a “normal” family. In a “normal”, or non-dysfunctional, family the parental figures are the breadwinners. Conversely, in a gang setting, the children are actually the breadwinners. This role reversal is extremely interesting. The final, or third level, of the gang hierarchy is comprised of the veterans.
The veterans are old gang bangers who are “no longer active in gang involvement, but still serve as important, symbolic reference persons”(Spergel 84). The veterans command a high amount of respect for their previous efforts to help the gang. Moreover, a veteran who has served time in prison for their efforts to help the gang is almost revered as a demi-god. The veteran serves as that of a grandparent. In other words, the veteran no longer mettles in the day to day activities of the gang, but still serves to influence the gang from previous occurrences that serve to teach the new members of the gang. Like most families, gangs have sets of rules.
The rules imposed by most parents and those imposed by most gang leaders are extremely different, however. In addition, unlike those rules imposed by most parents the rules imposed by gang members are “understood” and do not need “formal articulation”(Decker and Van Winkle 100). The most outstanding of these unspoken rules are: Being a perp (in 2 gangs at a time), running from a gang fight, or letting your gang rag touch the ground. These violations are punishable through many ways ranging …