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As young adults growing up in society it can be extremely challenging to fit in. This is the case for most juveniles. Juveniles tend to feel their safest around others like themselves hence the reasons they join gangs. Over the course of this paper I will be discussing the history of youth gangs, the factors that causes juveniles to join gangs, and the demographic characteristics of gang members.
Youth gangs were claimed to be first originated in Europe or Mexico. As the American Revolution ended, gangs appeared in the United States as early as 1783.
The Mexican youth experienced extremely poor circumstances in the Southwest. They had to adjust to the social and cultural of American ways. Gangs began to emerge in New England in the early 1800s as the Industrial Revolution gained ground in America’s largest cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. With gangs flourishing in Chicago, immigration and population shifts reached peak levels. The growth and peak activity of gangs during the late 1800s, the 1920s, the 1960s, as well as the 1990s had different periods.
Gangs became more aggressive during the years between the 1970s and the 1980s due to greater mobility and access to deadly weapons. The rise in weapons reduced the action of fist fights or brass knuckles. Drive by shootings were also on the increase due to the growing number of vehicles available to the public. Some gangs vastly underused alcohol and narcotics and others had strong ties to the community. Gangs of the 1980s and the 1990s tended to younger members along with older members, but more members with criminal records or connections to prisoners.
The crack cocaine epidemic started in the mid-1980s which meant that some gangs had to turn themselves into an entrepreneurial organization. Since the 1980s the United States has seen rapid emergence of youth gangs.
Young people are searching for people with same ideals and beliefs in life. Social, economic, and cultural factors are driving many adolescents into the gangs. Gangs are a group individual involved in unjust and criminal acts who stand together for a common cause. Most of the gang members appears to juveniles or young adults. Young people are persuaded to commit their illegal activities by older gang members since the adults believe that juvenile law is more lenient. As stated by nationalgangcenter.gov, “Joining a gang is a complex decision affected by multiple negative conditions that “push” youth into gangs, as well as perceived positive opportunities that “pull” youth into gangs”. Risk factors are the characteristics, variable, or hazards which make it more likely that the individual will join a gang. The risk factors to joining gangs fall into five domains: individual, family, school, peer, and community. The risk of joining gangs is significantly increased by young people who encounter risk factors in all realms. In the individual environment, at a young age, children start engaging in delinquency. The family realm, living in dysfunctional families with domestic abuse, spousal abuse, substance abuse and alcohol abuse could alienate the child from the family. Education environment, the education that the child goes to does not have a safe school atmosphere with plenty abuse and victimization in and around the school. That creates an atmosphere in which the child has no sense of protection. Finally weapons and drugs are present in the community and are popular.
An individual acting out is described as disturbed behavior, anti-social attitudes, and ideals. There are traumatic life events that tribute to this including a parent’s death, dismissal from school or victimization. Trouble behavior in the early years of a child’s life involves impulsiveness and aggressiveness, which is a good indicator of gang membership. The child’s actions slowly escalate into delinquency overtime. Recent patterns suggest that at a much younger age, children are recruited into gangs, even while they are in elementary school. Many children will tend to lie, blame, bully and even steal from others. For an example from the nationalgangcenter.gov, a teenager named Dustin would get into fights, pick fights for absolutely no reason, and make fun of people. Another teenager named Karlo explained when he was nine years old, he started getting in trouble with police. Karlo would break into buildings and explained how his father was not around and did not have a father figure to guide him in the right direction. Young people at risk of joining gangs may explain or make excuse for their actions like violating rules, stealing, and harming others. This conduct is considered acceptable by many. Some of this form of behavior is exhibited in families, people seem to assume this behavior is exactly as it should be. Traumatic incidents in life have some form of effect where the children can not handle or control circumstances. They can be affected by parents getting divorced, friends, rejection, and being left out can alienate them from others and from significant prosocial factors. Victimization is also a factor in gang participation, particularly when it happens at home, it decreases the sense of personal security and protection of the youth. Young people who are victims of violence or neglect are more vulnerable to joining potential gangs. From the nationalgangcenter.gov, a gang intervention specialist named Glendy Garcia talks about how sexual violence or neglect will increase the risk of females joining. Mothers who date men or the stepdad victimize the child. The child informs the parent and the parent blames and gets upset at the child. The child continues to live like this and may develop a substance abuse issue to cope with it and runs away or becomes sexually active at a young age or even pregnant.
Families are one of the key causes of youth entering gangs because of shifting families, separated parents, or a parent’s death may be disruptive in children’s regulation and supervision and make them more vulnerable. In addition, the lack of effective discipline and supervision where rules for the child’s action are not clearly laid down. Inconsistent and disengaged parenting can pose a danger to young people. Parents who fail to have clear and consistent guidelines and behavioral implications, lack of social encouragement or involvement in the actions of their child lead to conditions for a youth to participate in negative and risky behaviors. Those that spend time unattended, particularly with delinquent peers are more likely to get involved in gangs.
As mentioned above, education also plays a role in why youth are entering gangs. It involves poor school performance, low academic standards, low school attachment, a negative school climate and frequent suspensions. Students identified as students with special needs or as slow learners may be vulnerable. Completing school is extremely important to those; graduating will reduce the chances of joining gangs. The school atmosphere in which learning takes place is essential for the school to provide a safe environment, to reinforce positive behavior, and to keep them linked to school. In a negative atmosphere where the level of victimization is high, the levels of suspension and expulsion are higher, which is an unhealthy situation because children get disengaged and depressed and that may decrease the quality of success. Some may also encounter family or behavioral problems to decrease their commitment to school, resulting in low attendance and academic performance. There are multiple reasons to truancy issues such as parents not worried about children being at school, discipline issues or structural problems at home including doing drugs, hanging out with gangs, and physical abuse. It is easy for young people to be influenced by gangs because of the sense of strong community. Gangs indulged themselves in destructive acts. Peer groups have a heavy impact on attitudes and behavior. An aspect is making friends involved in delinquency. Peer pressure can lead the youth into believing that playing the gang role is cool despite the negative impact. Associating with delinquent peers may isolate youth from supportive peers and activities in the mainstream.
Community risk factor is increasing in communities where deprivation and disorganization of the neighborhoods have low rates of social integration. The turmoil helps gangs to prosper as they travel in and out of different areas. In the cracks of communities where institutions are poor, and resources are inaccessible gangs typically grow. Neighborhoods experience shootings, prostitution, drug trafficking and serious gang violence. From the nationalgangcenter.gov it states that “Poverty itself does not cause individuals to join gangs but high rates of community poverty can challenge institutions that provide help and security”. Along with rapid neighborhood population changes jobs are lost along with businesses. Tensions between residents are caused by competition for scarce resources and discrimination and marginalization between races and economies.
It is possible to both drive and pull young people who struggle to find protection and fulfillment in their families, schools, communities, and peer groups toward gangs. To many, gang memberships provides security, safety, fun, appreciation, help, affection, excitement, and access to resources such as money and drugs. They may also be pulled because of friends or family members; they may be forced to join a gang. Some young people grow up in a community where gangs are normalized. In communities and areas where gangs are active, being in a gang can provide protection from other gangs. Adolescents join social relationship gangs which give them a sense of identity and self-worth in which they seek power and control over their lives. They feel stronger, protected, and respected by peers and families. Young people tend to feel more secure with gang members as it gives them a sense of belonging and acceptance. Most youth are not coerced into gangs, their decision to join is based on their own understanding of the incentives the gang provides. A senior research associate from the nationalgangcenter.gov, Buddy Howell himself stated that “About half the kids who join a gang will be out of it within a year and only about five to ten percent will stay in that gang for three years or more”.
Regarding members in gangs, typically African Americans and Hispanics are stereotyped to be affiliated with these organizations. As stated by ojjdp.ojp.gov, “In the early 19th century, youth gangs in the United States were primarily Irish, Jewish, and Italian. According to a recent national law enforcement survey, the ethnicity of gang members is 48 percent African American, 43 percent Hispanic, 5 percent white, and 4 percent Asian”. It indicates a much greater proportion of white teenagers among the gang members in student surveys. From ojjdp.ojp.gov, Bursik and Grasmick point out that, despite the disproportionate representation of minority group members in studies as compared with white youth, ‘Blacks and Hispanics have no special predisposition to gang membership. Rather, they simply are overrepresented in those areas most likely to lead to gang activity.’ As stated by ojjdp.ojp.gov, “African American gangs are involved more in drug offenses, Hispanic gangs, in ‘turf-related’ violence, Asian and white gangs in property crimes”. Gang members were predominantly male between 1998 and 2009, with less than ten percent of the overall gang members being female. In Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the highest involvement of serious delinquency is among female gang members.
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