Gang Violence In America And How Authorities Are Trying To Prevent It

“Together, we're going to restore safety to our streets and peace to our communities, and we're going to destroy the vile criminal cartel, MS-13, and many other gangs. But MS-13 is particularly violent. They don’t like shooting people because it's too quick, it's too fast. ” – President Trump. MS-13 is growing rapidly and is now the biggest gang in the United States. Gangs like MS-13 continue to grow as law enforcement continues to try and control it. The gangs are a national threat especially to the youth of the nation. Currently, street gangs are a great fear for many in the United States and more specifically the urban population and police need to take control. How have gangs been able to be so important and are our police and gang units doing enough to help reduce gang violence? Ultimately, how successful either side is will determine who is “winning” whether law enforcement or gangs. This essay will explain gang violence and how authorities are trying to prevent it. It will explore the history of gangs and current culture as well as assess where it is headed.

It may be unlikely that authorities can wipe out gangs all together. It may be necessary to settle and accept that authorities can only continue to try to prevent the gang culture from getting too out of hand. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a gang is a “group of young people who do illegal things together and who often fight against other gangs or a group of people who are friends and who do things together. ” The United States has had street gangs throughout its history most notably developing after the American Revolution. As of May 2017 there are an estimated 1,150,000 gang members in the United States. Total number of gang members in the U. S – 1,150,000. Number of street and prison gangs in the U. S. – 24,250. Percent of gang members who are under 18 years of age – 40%. Percent of gang members who are female – 8%. Percent of juvenile boys in a correctional facility with gang affiliation – 90%. Percent of U. S. cities with 100,000+ population that reported gang activity – 86%.

Most gangs seemed to develop out of necessity as a result of immigration. Immigrants would come to the United States in need of safety and protection in order to survive and connect with those who they felt similar to. The Midwestern gangs developed as a result of internal migration in places like Chicago. The west coast developed around the Mexican revolution and later on the immigration of the Chinese. The northeastern gangs such as in New York City developed mostly from the immigration through Ellis Island where many immigrants were of European descent. “The members of the gangs that first drove social stakes in the streets of New York in the late 18th century were the same age as most members of current street gangs, from the early teens to about the mid-twenties. They consisted of five main groups: The Smiths’ Vly gang, the Bowery Boys, and the Broadway Boys were white, mainly Irish groups; the Fly Boys and the Long Bridge Boys were black”.

Many of these street gangs developed as a result of disorganization in “slum” areas. They grew and thrived as a result of more and more grocery stores developing and the eventual interest and possible power from a political aspect. They were able to take advantage of the need for organization in these “slums” whether good or bad. Though the gangs in these areas have an initial history of development, they continue to change and develop as the makeup of this country changes. For example, in Lowell Massachusetts many of the gangs first started as a result of Irish immigrant workers coming to work in the mills. These immigrants developed communities to support each other in the struggle of poverty and new life. The most recent wave of immigrants to Lowell are Cambodian and other Asian immigrants. Gangs such as the “Moonlight Strangers” are a Cambodian gang associated with the Bloods that created a stronghold in Lowell as the population changed with immigration. One member stated many of the young members joined because they “found comfort on the streets, where other Cambodian kids were struggling with similar things”.

Currently, gangs continue to develop and adapt throughout the country and much of the concern is centered around drugs and violence. As of May 2017 a majority of gangs are involved in drug trafficking at 63%, while many are involved with some type of illegal activity. Most gangs are also associated with colors. The bloods are red the crips are blue the latin kings are black and gold the bounty hunters are green and grape street is purple etc. Sometimes if you are wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood you could get jumped or killed by other gang members. Though many gangs originally started to protect one another from authority and danger, much of the violence now is between rival gangs over things like territory.

The United States has a variety of types of gangs, from the mafia, to prison gangs, from motorcycle clubs to street gangs. In particular, the street gangs have developed many ways to connect and attract the current youth. From music to pop culture and social media, street gangs gain popularity and notoriety as a result. There are a lot of connections between Hip Hop/Rap music, pop culture and everyday life. In the hip/hop and rap industry most artists are affiliated with gangs. Some examples are, Snoop Dogg, The Game, Lil Wayne, YG, Suge Knight, etc. One strong musical influence was N. W. A. They showed the public that living in Compton was tough but since they were in a gang they made it out and made money. They rapped about their street life and gang violence. This was one of the first examples of gang association with rap and music. They rapped about their life in their hometown and the violence that was happening at the time. This was one of the first times that rap was brought into hip hop. Before NWA, gang violence was not rapped about. They brought the topic out of the dark and made it more of a public topic. Their lyrics portrayed the gang lifestyle as positive and the benefits of it, showing what the gang life of Compton really was like. For example, one former gang member, Derek Brown, explains “‘I remember listening to N. W. A. and they were signing ‘(f-word) Tha Police,’ and I became somebody who believed in that kind of language, and low-grading women and calling them out of their names’, Brown said. ‘When I shot people, the first thing I did was put on a record’. ” He goes on to say “music controls the minds of many of the young men who are gangbanging. He said that in the absence of more positive role models, the singers take up the slack. ”

Rap artists usually tend to gravitate towards gangs because in most cases that is where they got famous and can't leave that in their past. The gangs helped them get big because while they are part of the gangs they are usually not in school leading to a lot of free time. With all of this free time they tend to start rapping and their gang supports them. This has a huge impact on how gangs influence the youth. The youth see such artists and notice how gangs brought them up to fame and made them earn a lot of money. On the other hand, they do not notice what gangs are really like, beyond the money, and how violent and bad they are until it’s too late. This causes a lot of young teens to enter or join gangs because they think that since other rappers/icons did it, if they join a gang they can too. Social media also has a huge roll in the growth of gangs. A lot of members on social media post about their gang and how it helps them get money. On social media any young kid can see these posts. As one gang member says, “Social media is just endorsement, that’s all. To endorse where you come from, what gang you are in. ” This makes kids want to be a part of gangs because they can see these posts and how they are portraying gangs. For some kids, especially for those with difficult family lives, it is about belonging to something.

Pop culture is also huge with gang association. Nowadays if you walk down the street you could see someone wearing clothes with names of gangs on them. Some examples are Sniper Gang (kodak black), HSTL gang, Taylor gang (wiz khalifa), hells angels, red devils, etc. This shows that gangs are acceptable and people willingly represent them. Really this is just showing the youth that gangs are okay and common. Two of the largest known rival street gangs are the CRIPs and the Bloods. The CRIPs were formed by Raymond Washington in 1969 as a result of police harassment in the black communities. While there are variations to the story, some say CRIP stood for “Community Resources for Independent People” and was closely linked to the original Black Panther Party. Eventually the gang became much more violent. In 1979, Raymond Washington was killed by a rival gang member. It is estimated that there are between 30-35 thousand members. As one of the largest known gangs in the United States, they are able to continue to spread throughout the country with secondary gang affiliates in many urban areas. The CRIPs are “characterized for their aggressive and relentless nature and have been documented to be involved in numerous day to day: murders, robberies, and drug deals. ” Crips members identify themselves by wearing the color blue, or by using certain gang signs, like sign language. Members are also known to replace the letter b with c when talking. The Bloods began in the early 70’s on Piru Street in Compton. They originally called themselves the Compton Pirus. Conflict between the Compton CRIPS and the Compton Pirus helped the Bloods grow as a gang. Groups of smaller gangs that refused to join the CRIPS banded together with the Pirus for protection. Even though there was some fighting amongst the Bloods, they were “united in their opposition to the CRIPS”. A rise in membership happened during the 80’s and 90’s when the Bloods became involved with the distribution of crack cocaine. Members of the Bloods can be found wearing the color red. Like the CRIPS, they are also known for gang signs and tattoos or brands. One in particular is a “dog paw”, which is three circles made from the heated barrel of a gun.

MS-13, the gang that President Trump referred to in a recent speech, was started by Central American immigrants in Los Angeles. Since the 80’s it has expanded and includes members from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and other Central and South American countries. Inside California prisons is where Mara Salvatrucha (MS), the gang’s original name, earned the “13” now in its name. They aligned with the Mexican Mafia, or “The M” for the 13th letter of the alphabet. MS-13 is one of the more violent gangs in the country. Their motto is “mata, viola, controla” – which means 'kill, rape, control,' according to Robert Hur, an official with the Justice Department. MS-13 is recruiting kids as young as middle school. Gang members are responsible for vicious crimes like murder, rape, home invasions, kidnapping, carjacking, robbery and human trafficking. Combatting MS-13 has become one of President Trump’s goals while in office.

Over the years, gangs have developed and maintained their solidarity in many creative and dangerous ways. Some of these links are visible such as tattoos and gang colors and some connections are physical such as requirements for prospects to commit crimes like murder. Gang members often get tattoos so show that they are part of a gang. Some tattoos are the spider web, teardrops, three dots next to the eye, five dots between your thumb and index finger and some are just simply tattoos that say the name of the gang or their logo. The spider web tattoo on the elbow typically shows that that person has been in jail for a long time and “spider webs” have grown on their arm. The teardrop face tattoo has a few meanings, it could mean that the person has committed murder, lost someone close and if it's just an outline their inmate has gotten murdered and they are seeking revenge. The three dots next to the eye mean “mi vida loca,” or “my crazy life. ” It does not represent a certain gang it mostly represents the gang life in general. The five dots on the hand represent the person being stuck inside of jail. Four of the dots surround the last show symbolizing that that are stuck behind a wall. The tattoos are considered permanent and therefore can keep a hold of members even those seeking to leave the gang life.

Gangs have also adopted certain colors to represent the gang. For example Crips are blue and bloods are red and so on. The Bloods also wear a five-point star. The star represents: love, truth, peace, freedom, and justice. Bloods wear a red bandana on the right side of the body. However, recently gangs such as the CRIPs restrict the color wearing to attempt to reduce their attention from the police. If gangs are working to reduce police attention, what are police doing to keep gang activity in their sights? Turns out they are doing quite a few things. Law enforcement agencies all over the country are combating gang violence in similar ways. Law enforcement continues to develop and change as gangs change their strategies. On a national level, the Department of Justice has the Organized Crime and Gang Section (OCGS). The OCGS “is a specialized group of prosecutors charged with developing and implementing strategies to disrupt and dismantle the most significant regional, national and international gangs and organized crime groups. ” This division provides resources to help combat the most notorious street gangs such as the Bloods and CRIPs. Many of these gangs have not only national but international resources and the OCGS provides their own version of organization to fight back. In addition to a federal level of combat, law enforcement in different areas of the country do their own specialized work to combat the gangs and gang violence. For example, in Los Angeles, former LAPD police chief Bill Bratton started strategies focused on reducing the recruitment of gang members in the city. Using gang injunction laws is one way the LAPD is fighting gang violence in the streets. Gang injunction laws make it illegal for gang members to gather in any public places. Enforcing these laws helps to reduce gang presence in the streets of Los Angeles. This makes it difficult for gangs to display themselves, or participate in gang activities on the street like graffiti.

Another way the city of Los Angeles is fighting against gang violence is with the help of community groups. These groups are helping to find ways to reduce the recruitment of at-risk youth into gangs. One community prevention program is called Summer Night Lights. Summer Night Lights is a program that keeps parks and recreation centers open until 11:00 pm during the summer, a time of year when gang recruitment is more active. These types of programs are what the LAPD are using to help turn the city around. Looking closer to home, in Springfield, MA, gang members had started acting like insurgents in a war zone. As the neighborhoods got more overrun with gangs citizens stopped calling police, making things worse. As a result the police started using a military-style approach to law enforcement. They formed an anti-gang unit to help get the citizens to be allies again, just like the military would in a war zone. They met with residents of the neighborhood and convinced them to take the side of law enforcement. They convinced them to get involved and report crimes. They conduct weekly meetings with the community and have worked together to reduce gang membership and presence. Violent crime in the targeted areas fell 25 percent in 2012 and drug offenses dropped 50 percent. Unfortunately, determining whether or not law enforcements are doing enough to fight gang violence cannot be clearly determined. It is encouraging to see all the new and adaptive ways the police try to combat the gangs. However, seeing the continued violence is discouraging to the public. Some statistics suggest a decrease while others have shown spikes in criminal activity and membership. According to the FBI they want to make sure the public understands that “the apparent increase in membership may reflect more accurate reporting of numbers, in addition to any sudden swell in gangs' ranks. They said some of the spike could be due to much better reporting by law enforcement officers, an increase in the number of agencies reporting and other administrative factors. ” Though there are no concrete numbers, the police display continued determination to combat the gangs and gang violence from multiple angles. Fighting gang growth and violence cannot be put solely on the shoulders of law enforcement. In order to combat the gangs, the people/public needs to fight back as well.

There needs to be open lines of communication between the police and the public, but that requires trust. There does seem to be a lot that the police are doing, but there can always be more. Just as explained before, pop culture and music is a gateway to the youth in these gangs. Do these musicians and public figures owe to the people to help reduce the appeal of gangs? The successful rappers that were able to get out of the “ghetto” are rare. Maybe they can be a point of change. “One could argue that as long as there are record labels and radio stations willing to promote this music that promotes gang violence there will be young people looking up to these artists. ”

10 October 2020
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