Overview of Gang Violence

This overview of gang violence includes definitions, psycholohy of gang members, and effects of gang behavior. Definitions of terms for purposes of this overview: (1) general dictionaries typically define a gang as an organized group of criminals. (2) The United States Departmnent of Justice defines gangs as organized groups of three of more people with a collective identity surrounding criminal activity.

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(3) Violence is behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something per most dictionaries. The majority of gangs consist of groups of young people involved in petty crime or violence… typically street gangs. Other examples of gangs include terrorist gangs, motorcycle gangs, criminal ganges as in organized crime, and prison gangs, etc. As noted by gang researcher Malcolm Klein regarding other types of gangs, “in each of these instances, the word ‘gang’ implies a level of structure and organization for criminal conspiracy that is simply beyond the capacity of most street gangs.” This essay provides a cursory examination of street gangs.

Risk factors that often motivate people to join street gangs include “presence of gangs in the neighborhood, having gang members in the family already, histories of sexual or physical abuse, growing up in poverty, having access to weapons and drugs, and a lack of success in other areas of life, such as school. Having identified these risk factors, experts propose that young adults join gangs because they both act as a surrogate family, as well as provide a sense of belonging, power, control and prestige; all things that are commonly identified as absent in childhood among gang initiates. Several gang members said that being parts of a gang meant you were never alone in the world, which is simlar to how many people describe being part of a close-knit family or group of friends. Gangs provide members a sense of belonging and protection they do not receive from other relationships or experiences in life.”

Adverse effects of youth street gang involvement impact the gang members, their family, peers, and community. Examples of consequences to individual gang members include dropping out of school, teen parenthood, unemployment, victimization, drug and alcohol abuse, commission of petty and violent crimes, incarceration, and continuation of problems into adulthood. Gang behavior results in a negative impact on entire communitieis and society in general. Negative impact typically includes heightened fear on the part of potential victims and increased costs to society for prevention, response, incarceration, and rehabilitation efforts.

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