I Want to Belong – Improve Confidence by Being Part of the Gang

Being part of a crowd or group can give us a sense of belonging, a feeling of identity. It can reinforce our sense of who we are. People often gain confidence from being part of a gang, it can provide reassurance that our beliefs and values, even ourselves are acceptable.

As a young person being in a gang is a way of defining their identity. Young children often enjoy becoming a member of a Brownies, Cubs or Scout pack. There is a shared bond and an automatic sense of friendship and belonging. It teaches about becoming friends and the shared responsibility, respect and loyalty that we have towards each other in these groups.

As they start to grow up, many young people feel unsure of themselves. They lack confidence in their opinions and tastes and becoming part of a gang provides a safe way to express those views. Young people often lack the life experience and maturity to have tried out their attitudes and opinions in the wider world. There is almost too much to know, too much to have an informed opinion about. And so a gang can become a safe extension of the family in which to experience aspects of life in an intensive but protected way.

For young people, problems can arise if the gang becomes all consuming. Some young people adopt every aspect of the gang mentality without having the sophistication to be able to identity which parts suit them and which do not. That can be disconcerting for family and other people they come into contact with, but for a time it is often part of stretching their personality and intellectual muscles as they begin to grow up.

Some gangs are almost sect like in their approach and can require adherence to a strict code of beliefs and behaviour. Often gang members will dress in similar clothes, have their hair styled the same way, share tastes in music and socialising. Interesting, when they have often been so desperate to get out of one uniform, only to put on another. This is often when being part of a gang can appear to be rebellious or shocking. Dress, tattoos, music, body piercings, bad language, maybe drug use, can all be a part of the gang identity and bring an excitement at appearing rather dangerous.

Security can be another factor of belonging to a gang. There is a shared camaraderie that protects and supports each other. It can provide almost a substitute family environment, as often a young person may feel misunderstood or unappreciated in their own home. The gang can take over and provide the nurturing and security needed for a time.

Often parents and family are horrified at the way the gang looks. They may seem odd, unorthodox, menacing, but that is often the attraction to a young person. It is part of flexing their muscles, prior to branching out on their own as an independent young adult. Often the young people who behave in this way are intelligent, questioning and highly motivated and turn into bright successful young adults.

Older people tend to call their gangs groups or clubs. These are often rather more formal in their set up and are often selective in their admittance policy. Members will share the same interests or outlook and gain comfort from that shared bond. A group will reflect their values and provide a sense of security and acceptance. It reinforces their sense of who they are and their place in society.

Groups for older people often bring together people who have a common need or interest. They provide an outlet based on sport, a desire to do business together, marital status or personal development requirements and the benefits that come from belonging. These groups may have a membership requirement and a code of behaviour attached so that members can feel comfortable about the standards of behaviour expected from each other. That reassurance of respectability is an important factor in many cases.

Gangs, In Black and White

Picture the words “street gangs” in your mind. What images do you see? Gangs, gang warfare, Crips, Bloods, Netas, Latin Kings, etc., headline our local and regional media outlets weekly. The very thought of the word “gang” reflexively conjures up mental images of black and brown violent, gun toting, drug dealing men, blaring rap music, preying on virtuous mainstream white society who react in horror, suspicion, caution, and contempt. What are we to do with this menacing social ill spiraling out of control, targeting old white men and women, pummeling good white business men, defiling young white women, and looting private property? The answer is clear: Watch, Arm Yourself, Shoot, Enact tougher laws, Shoot, Hire more police officers, Shoot, Jail them, Shoot!… and necessarily in that order.

As I sat in my rural home, in a county where the racial demographic (as is throughout most of rural and suburban America) 95.4% white, 2% African Americans, 2.7% Latino, 0.03% Asian, I asked myself some simple arithmetic questions. Why then, were reports on gang violence mostly about Bloods, Crips, and Latin Kings when the demographics of those racial groups summed up to less than 5% of the total local population? Considering the volume of articles written about gang activity, and the specific gangs repetitiously mentioned, this would have to suggest that each and every member of these demographics in my area, and others, would have to be gang members or affiliates. Was I too unknowingly a gang member? This is sarcasm of course.

Could there be any other types of gangs of other races out there contributing to this hellish downfall of communities and larger Western Society itself? Was there some violent genetic flaw that I personally had escaped, being of Latino origin? Suddenly, I remembered gangs by the names of Pagans, Aryan Brotherhood, Hell’s Angels, Skin Heads, Bikers, HAMC, Wheels of Soul, etc. But, where were these gangs in the popular narrative, even in areas where their culture was the dominant one? Did these gangs not commit violent crimes, rely on symbolism, reflect their political views through certain musical genre, engage in the proliferation of drugs, and revel in the abuse and defilement of women? Then I remembered Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who were responsible for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City where over 168 lives were taken and over 680 injured. They were reported to have been affiliated with mainly anti-government militia groups, but supremacist ones as well. Yes, other kinds of gangs do exist and are just as violent.

However, after scanning article after article I noticed that whenever a journal referred to mainstream white gangs the language subtly shifted. They were no longer “gangs” or “gang members” per say, but transformed into “groups,” “radical groups,” “militia groups,” and “anti-government organizations.” These terms now acknowledged purpose, even political acuity, and relevance. A certain subtle respect was now bestowed on these labels: “anti-government groups,” and “militias.” They were not conveyed as gun toting thugs, criminals, murderers, or drug dealers, but rather as “stockpiled militias,” and arms bearing “anti-government groups.” I was forced to take a step back and contemplate whether or not the Crips, the Bloods, Netas, and Latin Kings, etc. had any kinds of similarities with their white gang counterparts. For example, did they share contempt for government, for mainstream society, for our economic system, and/or for our justice system? And if so, where and through what vehicle of communication were they making these appeals? Therefore, I created a list of six questions to identify any similarities between “street gangs” and “antigovernment militias:”

1. Where were they using symbolism to identify their position in opposition to the mainstream?

2. Where were they applying uniformity to identify themselves uniquely?

3. Did both kinds of groups/gangs seek peer relevance and acceptance?

4. Did they make continuous public references swearing to not remain being economically challenged?

5. Were both joining their groups as a statement of defiance of authority?

6. Where they both stockpiling guns, and committing crimes?

The answer to ALL of the above questions is emphatically, “Yes!” But, language dictated not only the implication of intelligence surrounding certain gangs, but also dictated the implication of whether or not being armed was perhaps even justified for certain gangs. Why the stark difference in representations? What badge of honor had white gangs received in terms of recognition yet low profile convenience that minority gangs did not?

A particular article about the Oklahoma City bombers, written by the Washington Post caught my eye in that it was making an actual connection between the violence the bombers caused, their evolving mental state, and their progression of affiliation with groups. However, in most of the articles scanned about minority gangs there were seldom any connections made at all between their violence, individual and group evolving mental states, and their progression of affiliation. They were just criminals, simply put.

“A kid from the heart of America who feels the society has let him down can be very dangerous if he has underlying emotional quirks,” said Charles Bahn, a forensic psychologist from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who studies the psyche of terrorists. “In urban America, gangs fill this void. In the Midwest, it’s cults, the macho gun world, militias, belonging to fringe groups.”

I began to really get into this whole “gang thing” and exploring their typical and similar characteristics:

• Most gang crimes are committed within their own racially/class based and dominated neighborhoods

• The largest victim groups related to gang violence were in fact Hispanics and Blacks

• Most gang members were minors between the ages of 12 and 19

• Most gang members targeted other gang members in most crimes

• The proliferation of drugs and drug use is proportionately equal in terms of rural, suburban, and urban areas.

These statistics painted a very different picture than what was typically being represented to the public at large. Purely minority gangs seem to dominate all conversations about ruthlessness and lawlessness, and, their membership were the only ones being represented as spreading exponentially and to be feared. White gangs go conveniently unnoticed and remain under the radar. However, statistics proves otherwise because in fact urban minority gang violence and membership has been slowly decreasing nationwide, yet white militia and anti-government group violence and membership is increasing exponentially according to a 2010 report by Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now news hour.

The disservice to us all in these shifting labels is that it seems many pluralities of citizens, from all walks of life, are experiencing alienation, resentment for authority and governance, compelled to heavily arm themselves for protection against outsiders, and making public statements about their presence and attitudes. The lopsidedness of fear tilted conveniently ever in the direction of minority gangs and street crime, leaves us ignorant and/or blind to the truths about our national disposition as citizens regarding all of the relevant issues surrounding gangs: poverty, effectively engaging youth, public education, public safety, our criminal justice system, policing policies, and so on. We cannot enter into a constructive conversation about these issues until we deal fairly with the language and identification of what and who is in fact criminal, the non-bias and non-discriminant truth about drug and gun proliferation, and the public’s ability to accurately differentiate between headlines and actual trends in violence. I assure you that social deviance, and radical forms of social resentment are human problems, not racial or spatial ones.

Sources:

Dale Russakoff and Serge F. Kovaleski; “An Ordinary Boy’s Extraordinary Rage,” Washington Post, p. A01, Sunday, July 2, 1995.

Herrell, Erica, Violence By Gang Members, 1993 – 2005; Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, June 2005.

Amy Goodman, “White Power USA: The Rise of Right-Wing Militias in America,” Democracy Now, 2010.

A Short History of Gangs

History of gangs goes back to the time as long as humans existed in towns. If piracy is considered to be related with gangs then it stretches back to the time when ships sailed across the oceans. Gangs are generally considered by authorities as undesirable, though many gangs consider themselves as protectors of their community.

Not much is known about gangs before Romans in ancient history, although many historians suggest that if gangs were a law and order problem in Rome, they there possibly known by older empires and states. Suburban criminal gangs during the Roman times caused disruption to life with riots and mayhem, these gangs were the first to invent protection rackets.

Roman gangs were involved in criminal activities of kidnapping for ransom and they often took the help of smugglers and pirates. Most of the early historians blame senatorial corruption under powerful gangs influence for the fall of Roman Empire.

Gangs operated throughout Europe during the medieval ages, although few of them were active outside their localities. The story of Robin Hood is a good example of how gangs operated in those times. The poor people who helped the gangs were pain for their loyalty which led them to become heroes rather than villains.

On the other hand, the Arab world had no belief in the goodness of gangs comprising of thieves as many met terrible fate at the hands of good people. One such famous story is “Ali Baba and the forty thieves”.

Criminal gangs existed in India from 13th to 19th century known as thuggee, they raided trading caravans and killed people as they looted. The term thug is derived from these gangs and is synonymous with the word gangster in England.

Gangs of criminals operated in Japan and China in the 17th Century, they were respectively known as Yazuka and Triads Gangs. Japanese yakuza and Chinese Triads started as political groups but soon became known for their threats, robbery and often kidnapped and killed.

The Triads later migrated to Taiwan, Hong Kong and USA. On the other hand, Yakuza of Japan did not expand outside Japan other than Korea. The Yakuza gangs mostly spread their tentacles deep in Japanese business and many became heads of big corporations.

Gangs were known in US since the first cities developed. Most children were involved in minor crimes but later often made switch to more serious offenses.
After the westwards expansion across the continent, gangs started showing their power in the US. The Wild West outlaws like Billy the Kid, Reno Gang, Butch Cassidy, Hole in the Wall Gang and others added charm to the old west gangs nothing more than thieves and murderers.

Since the Chicago Outfit or Gambino Family of New York and the 1920s, history of gangs has changed with gangs fighting for control of territory. Al Capone, Don Carlo and Lucky Luciano were the biggest names in Mafia of that time. Gangs like the bloods and crips from Los Angeles had spread their criminal empires throughout the USA including the military.

The history of gangs is still not complete, there are complex changes happening within gangs that could change the entire industry in the next coming years.