The Relationship between Socioeconomic Status and Gang-Related Issues across Cultures

Gang related activity has long plagued various communities across the world, those that are hit the worst are generally ones where they are not economically stable. Gangs have appeared in nearly every continent with the first reported occurrence in Western Civilization by Pike in the 17th century. The first gangs in the United States appeared on the East Coast around 1783 as the American Revolution came to an end. The history of gangs is important in understanding why they came to be in the first place and why they are still relevant in society. The reason(s) that gangs began differs between societies, although most began because of an important and substantial event that kickstarted a movement or a group of people to form, but they all tend to serve the same purpose such as: human trafficking, drug trafficking, and spreading their ideas, typically using violence. The socioeconomic status is a large factor because of the possible money that could be made associated with gang affiliated activities. This offers an easy way out for most youth that find school too difficult and too time consuming to the point where they no longer see their education as beneficial. The history of gangs will provide an ample background of information to understand how gangs have evolved and remained similar over time. Examining socioeconomic statuses, focusing on areas where a majority of individuals are not financially stable. will reveal why gang activity is still at large and why it is a driving force. Finally, exploring gang activity across multiple cultures will reveal how different environments have affected organized crime and whether or not there are major differences.

Highway robbers during the 17th century in England are the first documented gangs in Western Civilization. The major Chinese gang, the Triad, was also formed during the 17th century. Gangs in the United States appeared in 1783 on the East Coast as the American revolution came to an end. Gang activity in early England seemed to be mostly influenced by monetary reasons and just for the excitement of wreaking havoc on towns and cities. The mainstream street gangs in the United States began when immigration peaked. Most immigrants came into the United States impoverished and looking for a better life. The cultural differences between everyone in the Northeast did not help because groups tended to stick together and when crime became a larger issue, gangs began to form within the culturally segregated groups. The Triad in China was formed to overthrow the Ch’ing dynasty to restore the Ming dynasty. Gang violence in South Africa, mainly Cape Town, really took off when more than 60,000 people were forcibly removed from the city center. The government ordered all colored people to move to the Cape Flats and the whole neighborhood structure was ruined. The elders would usually “police” the streets and would keep violence and criminal activity at a low, but that changed after people were forced into the high-rise living situations. Gangs today exist for various reasons as opposed to when they first started. Most of the gangs that are located in the United States are still around today because they promote narcotics and controlled substance trafficking, which has been made into a business and is an easy way for someone to make fast money. Other gangs in the United States, like the Skinheads, are still based on their racist views and the crimes that they commit are generally racially motivated. This reason, along with the ability to freely commit aggressive acts, is the one main reason why gangs still exist. A majority of reports on gang activity across the world show that their actions are related to the narcotics business and violence. The history of gangs across the world show us that they were originally started for certain groups of people that had radical ideas and wanted to fight for their opinions. The largest reason being ideas that concerned the government and whether or not these groups thought that the current government was worthy of ruling over them. Although as time passed and these ideas became irrelevant, these groups still existed and never fell apart leaving us with violent groups of people whose only motivations are to sell illegal substances and cause violence.

The socioeconomic status of areas strongly affected by gang activity tends to be much lower than those that aren’t very affected or affected at all. Gangs partially exist for the narcotics business. The narcotics business is one of the illegal activities that can allow for the making a lot of money quickly, but if caught, you will likely end up in jail. This is one of the reasons why many youth and young adults get tied up in gang activity; because they need to make money fast and jobs may not be available to them. One of the other reasons is that gang members receive positive feedback when they commit acts of violence. Violence is something that humans have come to enjoy, even though we should not. The main reason for this is committing acts of violence cause our bodies to produce adrenaline and adrenaline can become addictive after a certain amount of time. This means that gang members will keep on committing acts of violence so they can keep getting their adrenaline high. “Violence is a major global health, social, and justice problem”. Nearly 500,000 people died from homicide in 2012 and nearly all of those homicides took place in low and middle-income countries. Youth violence in low and middle-income countries is correlated to having: “a young mother, male sex, common mental disorders, suicidality, tolerance to deviance, weak attachment to school, poor academic achievement, going to a public school or to a school located in urban area, living with a stepfather/mother, low family SES, maltreatment, low parental supervision, poor family functioning, parent–child conflicts, parental/sibling substance use, living in a high crime or risky neighbourhood, and living in larger cities”. A majority of these factors are reflected in gang members across the world. The strongest factors that are correlates for youth violence are: “male sex, impulsivity, conduct problems, sexual intercourse at early age, smoking, drinking alcohol, using any illicit drugs, being bullied, suffering criminal victimization, watching violent TV, and deviant/delinquent peers.”. Many of these factors are all correlated to each other and it never really gives youth a chance to grow up in a good environment. It is very hard for these kids to get out of these conditions and thus their only appealing option is to join a gang and the cycle just continuously repeats with nothing to stop it. Gang activity is strongly related to the narcotics business, research has shown that drug use and homicide rate are positively correlated. This means that when gangs are thriving off of narcotics, it is also promoting violence. This violence will generally be between gangs too which could cause gang wars to begin which is one of the worst possible things that could happen to a community. Gang wars rage daily in Central and Southern America and whole regions are completely ruined. In Mexico, there are about 37,000 people that are considered to be missing, although most of them are considered dead. The extreme violence in Mexico, largely due in part to gang violence, has claimed more than 250,000 lives since 2006. The United States would be devastated is something like this ever happened in one of our major cities. All of the socioeconomic factors that were listed are what keeps gang activity and violence in a cyclical cycle that we cannot seem to break just yet. This is something that the world needs to work on so that everyone can have the same opportunity to exceed in their life.

Not all gangs are dependent on violence or drugs today. Opposed to what we always see in the media and popular TV shows and movies, some gangs don’t primarily focus on violence anymore. The Chinese Triad, for example, is heavily portrayed in media and TV shows as the mysterious, scary Chinese gang that somehow has a hold in all of the businesses in an area. The Triad originally formed to overthrow the Ch’ing dynasty and to restore the Ming dynasty. Alistair Fraser spent four years in Hong Kong with a social-outreach program to follow what they called “youth night drifters”, teenagers thought to have possible risk of joining street gangs. There was one instance where these “youth night drifters” had congregated at a park late at night, when asked what they were doing, it was learned that they were talking about ways that they could get into university. The Triad have resorted less to violence because they have realized that it is not needed and have seen the positive effects that social order has on their communities. Triad organizations still exist and do still carry out criminal acts on occasion, but violence is avoided as to not the disrupt communities. The evolution of the Triad is one example that not all gangs are negative. Another example of a place where gangs aren’t based on violence is in Glasgow. Gangs there are not based on a hierarchy or a structure, as most are. The Glasgow gangs are more about being a member of a local area and continuing the traditions that are a part of being a member of that particular area. Glasgow gangs are more about identity and community than anything else. A place where the classic stereotype of gangs are is Chicago. Fraser spent three months in Chicago in 2009 and was astounded by the extreme violence in West Chicago. A man had told him about how his son had been robbed and shot in the back and there had been retaliatory shootings and that a gang war seemed imminent. Youth groups in Chicago served as an institution but with mass imprisonment, drug war, and urban disenfranchisement have had an unchangeable toll on the adolescents of the city. Each of these three cultures have had their influence on gangs and gangs are not always the stereotypical violent groups that we think they are. Gangs across cultures are very varied and each is there to serve a purpose of its own whether it be drug dealing or for youth to have better chances to get into university.

Socioeconomic status is one the largest factors that keep youth and adolescents in a circular continuity of gang affiliation, especially for the gangs that are found in places like Chicago. The history of gangs across the world shows that each was formed for a particular reason and that time and culture has molded them into what they are today. Some gangs were able to cut back on violence altogether, while others only got progressively worse. There are various factors that are keeping gang activity prevalent, which is why it will be so difficult to cure the world of gang violence. Gang violence will continue to plague communities across the world until we can solve the world’s socioeconomic problems.  

07 April 2022
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