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Youth Gangs

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Within the past two decades, beginning in the early 1980's a growing concern has

been focused on what can be considered a social epidemic among the youth of our nation. This social distress stems directly from the rising number and over all abundance of youth gangs throughout the country. Gang mentality and social deviance of this form has been noticed and documented in this country for decades and possibly even being recognized over a century ago. " Prior to the 1970's, gang violence was still popularly associated with white ethnic enclaves in the cities of the Midwest and East, and gang incidents were typically brawls involving fists, sticks and knives. Today, gangs are made up largely of darker-hied ethnic groups, especially African American and Latino Americans, and handguns and other military hardware are the typical vehicles for the acts of aggression and rampages so common in large cities" (Vigil.2003) . Now though, in the twenty first century, gang chapters, mentality, and its proficiency as a dominant force among the youth has spread not only to the large urban cities in the country but also to the suburban and rural areas of the nation that were once untarnished by this outbreak. As the number of youth gangs reach an all time high in this country, our main concern is being able to quickly identify the problem when it arises and to swiftly eradicate it before it rises beyond the control of the officials in the area. Youth gangs rise up and take control so rapidly among youth that you have to be able to reach adolescents before a problem that at one point could have been stopped, now is forced to be merely contained.

A youth gang is generally identified as "a self formed association of peers

having the following characteristics: three or more members, generally ages 12-24; a gang name or some sort of identity, generally indicated by such symbols such as clothing, graffiti, and hand signs; some degree of organization; and a elevated level of involvement in delinquent or criminal activity."(Curry 2002). A large misconception about youth gangs is that a gang must have a large membership ratio, which resembles the likes of the Los Angeles based gangs, The Bloods or the Crips, or has to be strongly racially or ethically based such as the Neo-Nazi's or Latin Kings. This is not all together true. Indeed a large majority of gang activity results from highly involved associations like the four previously mentioned, but smaller less known or even recognized gangs that do not essentially fit that presupposed criteria can cause just as many problems in more rural or suburban areas

that are not used to dealing with this kind of crisis. For instance, the Columbine incident that happened a few years back on April 20, 1999 was initiated by what normal standards would be considered a very small gang, made up of local rejected youths know as the Trench Coat Mafia. And as it went, this small gang of adolescents created such an uproar by orchestrating

the Columbine massacre that they got more attention by media then all the other gang happenings, no matter how large of that time period, and provided an incentive for then unaware communities to become conscious of what is happening inside them and to not write off the undertakings of possible youth deviants.

Youth gangs have been getting a tremendous amount of press and media attention as the problem grows worse and worse, and because of this attention and exposure the rate of adolescents joining these gangs is constantly increasing. As of right now, gang life is in a lime light all to its own. There has been documentaries, movies, books and so on that have

demoralized it as well as glamorized it, and to trouble youths who think that they have no place else to turn, gang life seems as though it can be a very acceptable and possibly through their point of view, a positive change in their some what hitched lives. Social experts chalk up the sudden increase of youth gang activity to two distinct reasons; " (1) the diffusion of gang culture through popular media, and (2) economic restructuring including interrelated factors such as deindustrialization, the loss of employment opportunities, and the growth of the urban underclass."(Curry 2002). These reasons are solid in their social correctness, but they seem to limit the rise of gang activity and involvement to simply its social foundations, while other attributes to its quality and aura are going unnoticed. To truly understand

why an adolescent would join a youth gain you have to understand the psychology of a youth. I believe that the two major thought processes that would lead a youth to join a gang which then directly leads to involvement in pronounced gang activity are (1) acceptance, and (2) fear. Everybody wants to be approved of and accepted by their peers, but for youths, this

notion holds much more gravity. Youths, unlike adults haven't yet socially adapted to their surroundings or yet have found a social identity. So when all of ones peers seem to be joining an association and the peers outside of the association are scuffed at or taken to be less desirable, any adolescent is going to want to be on the popular side of things and have a set group of friends. Also, gangs that are involved with the dealing of illegal drugs or substances give the youths working for them money and goods, which they would not be able to get from their parents or right away from job, which then furthers their acceptance. And if the child or teen is not motivated by the need for acceptance the aspect of fear will play a major role in their decision to join a gang. Since most gangs are not friendly to outsiders and the "if you're not with us, you're against us mentality" is fully in play, some teens would rather be part of the dominant group that accosts the victims instead of possibly being the victim themselves.

Negative gang activity and social deviance among gang members is basically

attributed to violent crimes committed, and the selling of illegal drugs or substances by gang affiliates. Obviously not all adolescent crime is due to the abundance of youth gangs but the vast majority of it is. For example, "in urban cities such as Denver, Rochester, and Seattle gang members were found to commit about seven times more serious, violent, or delinquent acts as non-gang members."(Major 2004). Gang members are also far more likely to carry or

use a firearm then non-gang members. "In the 2000 National Youth Gang Survey, 84 percent of the gang problem jurisdictions reported at least one occurrence of firearm use by one or more gang members in an assault crime."(Curry



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