Crimes Gang Members Commit
According to a recent
longitudinal, multi-city study conducted on behalf of the Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention, "...being a member of a gang
increases the rate of involvement in a variety of deviant behaviors over and
above the impact of having delinquent peers." (Gang
Membership, Delinquent Peers, and Delinquent Behavior, 1998, page)
Field Note: I
asked a federal prison warden what he thought about the gang situation in
the United States. He said "Look at our president [Clinton]. Here's the leader of our
country, he's morally bankrupt and he's still in office! Why? Because
the economy has been strong while he's served as president. What does
that tell you about us as a people? Material wealth is more
important than values and morals.
"Apparently, when faced with a
choice between inappropriate sexual relations with a
student intern and material gains, material concerns outweigh moral concerns. That's what it communicates ... to everyone - children, adults ...
everyone. I think that's an expression or sign of where we are as a culture
and it's sad. What's wrong with a ghetto child selling drugs to
make money if the president can get away with what he did?!"
Gang members commit crimes against members of their own gang, members of
rival gangs, and against non-gang members. Depending upon the nature
of the gang and the individual members in it, the crimes they commit vary. Drug-oriented gangs commit
drug-related crimes. But not all gangs are involved in drugs. They may specialize in the theft of cars or
theft from cars, shoplifting, or have no specialty and commit a variety of
crimes. According to Egley's (1999) survey of over 3,000
law enforcement agencies in the United States, "Offense types reported
to be most prevalent among gang members are larceny/theft, aggravated
assault, and burglary/breaking and entering." (Egley,
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Gangs and Drug-Related Crimes
Potential gang members and the general public seem to think there is a
great deal of money to be made by gang members who sell illegal drugs on the
streets of American cities. Levitt and Venkatsesh (1998)
, economists and social
researchers, recently reported that few of the members of the inner-city African-American gang they
studied made more than minimum wage selling illegal drugs.
They found that, contrary to public perceptions, few
gang members pocket lots of money. Indeed, says Levitt, the gang members
could not make a living off their profits from drug sales alone.
Over a four-year period in the late 1980s and early
1990s, a former gang member, who now works in the legitimate business
sector, kept careful records of his gang's profits, passing the
information to Venkatesh on loose-leaf sheets copied from the gang ledger.
Levitt then created an economic model based on the gang's general expenses
and its revenue from drug dealing and membership dues. For safety reasons,
Levitt and Venkatesh chose to keep confidential their sources and the
now-defunct gang's whereabouts and members.
The focus gang had a leader, three officers, about 75
foot soldiers, and some 200 rank-and-file individuals. The gang leader
pocketed a documented average of $100,000 a year. Officers, who managed
gang funds and drug operations, received an average of $1,000 a month,
says Levitt, while the foot soldiers, the equivalent of part-time workers,
earned no more than minimum wage selling drugs on the streets.
Rank-and-file individuals, the freelancers of the drug world, did sporadic
drug dealing for the gang. (University of
Chicago Magazine, 1998)
|Field Note: A
seasoned gang member and drug dealer told me "There are
only a few gang members who realize that there is money enough for
everyone. Those who recognize this go about their work of
sellin' drugs in a more laid-back way. The gang members
who do not see this are more anxious, pushier, they rush up on
While he didn't see any accumulation of wealth within gangs he did
suggest that "Two gang members might pool their money, ones who
really trust one another. But they have to be wary of fellow
gang members and of rivals in these situations."
For gang members selling drugs on the street he said "They
probably turn down more deals than they make ... there are so many
undercover cops out there trying to buy drugs. In a good day a single seller may
net six hundred to two thousand dollars [the sale of one or two ounces of
crack cocaine]. For a real hustler, he might make two thousand
in an hour. How much someone makes depends on the neighborhood and the
Referring to the sale of drugs
on the street be said "It's a business, like any other
business." When asked who might supply the drugs, he said
"The supplier might be a member of the gang with his own connections
or someone from outside the gang."
When asked "Why not have a legitimate job so you don't have to
worry about police and being arrested and all of that?" he said
"You mean an eight hour day? Pay taxes? I can't earn enough that way.
Now, some gang
members start out that way, but then they have to add to that in
order to have enough money, see that they can make much more sellin'
on the street, and they leave the job.
"Besides, if you know your
rights and you know how to read the police, you don't have to worry
too much about bein' arrested or convicted of anything. Like
when they come rollin' up on you. Sit still, don't run. The police will know you have some warrants if you run."
As Table 34 (below) indicates, only 25-38% of the gangs studied in 1998 were
drug gangs. (National
Youth Gang Survey, 1998, page)
The very next year, Egley "estimated that 46
percent of youth gang members are involved in street drug sales to generate
profits for the gang." (Egley,
That's a significant number, but still less than half of all gang-related
Table 34 also shows that, in 1998, drug gangs were more prominent in
rural counties (38%) than in large cities (35%). Although some studies
suggest somewhat different percentages, all note the spread of drug gangs across cities
and counties of all sizes.
|Field Note: I
asked a juvenile officer about drugs, guns, and the gangs. She
said she has "...seen more weapons coming into the
schools. The little brothers and sisters of adult gang members
are being sucked in. They're told to pass out joints
[marijuana cigarettes] to other kids in the school for free and, in return,
the older gang members tell them 'If you'll do that for me I'll give
you some toys.' And you know how kids feel about toys! And they ask them to steal a gun, like they recently did from
a showcase in a pawn shop, and give them a gift for it." The purpose of giving away the marijuana is to build demand for the
drug among the students at the school.
A gang member I interviewed observed that in Oklahoma City and
Chicago "What was once a focus on territory has turned into making money selling drugs.
there's been a decline in drive-by-shootings, killings, assaults and general
He told me there are few turf battles in those cities because of
the plentiful supply of drugs and the large demand for them. There is
no reason for conflict over drug sales. "There's enough for
everyone," he said, "so what's to fight about? Besides, you fight, you get hurt,
you can't sell drugs, you're not making money! On a good day I
can make between two hundred and five hundred dollars. A really good dealer can make from
two thousand to four thousand a day, easily. I rode with a dealer one morning and in just three hours he had made
eleven hundred dollars in sales for drugs that cost him around three
The early to mid-1980's saw rapid growth in the use
of cocaine as crack became the drug of choice in the inner cities. (Fagan,
1996; Fagan and
Chin, 1990; Klein and
Maxson, 1994). Research conducted in the
1980's and 1990's has documented extensive youth and adult gang member
involvement in drug use and generally higher levels of use compared with
nongang members. (Chin,
1990; Chin and
Fagan, 1990; Fagan,
cities, such as Detroit (Taylor, 1993) and San Francisco
Hansen and Waldorf, 1992), found an increasing number of females involved
in gang drug trafficking and violent crime, but the consensus is that
female involvement in these behaviors has not increased commensurately
with the increase among males (Chesney-Lind, 1993;
Hagedorn, 1996). (Howell
and Decker, 1999, page)
|Field Note: While
observing a probation and parole officer during her office visit
hours I met one of her probationers, Karen. Karen was the girlfriend of a
gangster called Fish.
Karen has only recently kicked her
methamphetamine addiction, one she shared with her father. Her probation officer told me Karen and her father
"used to do drugs together. They once went on a
twenty day binge abusing the drug."
Karen is a beautiful young woman, and her baby girl could be a
poster child. Both are dressed in clean and bright clothes,
they're groomed well and are very polite. Recently, Karen was awarded
a "Success Certificate" for her positive achievements
while on probation. She has a new boyfriend and is
happy, as is her probation officer, that he is a positive influence
in her life.
Karen is paying restitution to the victims of her crime - stealing
blank checks, forging them and cashing them at area banks. The
proceeds were used to support her drug addiction. She
drove through a bank drive-thru to cash one of the checks and,
because the transaction was caught on film, she was found and
Gang members who get involved in drugs may be initiated
into their involvement in several different ways. Sometimes it's not a
matter of choice, or the choice is a rather narrow one, as in the following
|Field Note: I asked a gang member
named Maurice how he got started on drugs and he told me "My uncles and I would always sit on the porch of the
house and, while they were smoking marijuana, they would blow it in
my face sometimes. It was just what they did. It was just normal." I asked him to tell me a
little about his uncles and he said "You mean my fathers. I had five of them.
I call them my uncles." Later in the conversation he said "I was
I had been told, and had seen, that drugs are sometimes sold around
the neighborhood park, so I asked Maurice about this. "Is
the park a center for drug sales?" "Well, drug sales
could be made in cars, in houses, on the streets, yeh, in the park,"
he said. "They happen everywhere. I don't know if
there's a center or central place where they happen. It's like
mercury. The police bust some people here, it goes somewhere
else. It just moves
In their study of the police response to gangs, Katz and Webb found two
explanations for why there may have been an increase in gang involvement in
drug sales in the 1980s - a period which may be characterized as the crack
First, in the early 1980s, crack cocaine use
escalated dramatically, and a new drug market emerged. Because the new
market had not yet stabilized, violence was often used as a regulatory
mechanism. Second, at about the same time, the economic infrastructure
of many inner cities collapsed. Manufacturing jobs declined, and service
and technology jobs, which began to drive the new economy, were being
created in suburban communities. The economic restructuring of the
nation left unqualified and geographically isolated urban minority youth
without the means or opportunity for employment. The new crack cocaine
market provided opportunities for inner-city youth to make money.
and Webb, 2004, p. 10)
Among the drug-related crimes gang members commit are the cultivation
(i.e., marijuana) and manufacture (i.e., methamphetamine, crack cocaine) of
illegal drugs as well as trafficking (distribution), sales, and possession.
Some gangs or gang members are also involved in the theft of manufactured
drugs (i.e., amphetamines, barbiturates, ecstasy) for the purpose of selling
them for a profit or for their own consumption.
conversation about drugs and youth would be complete without giving at least
some attention to the matter of substance abuse and addiction, whether it is
gang related or not. As reported by The National Center on Addiction and
Substance Abuse at Columbia University:
Drug and alcohol abuse is implicated in all types
of juvenile crime, including almost 70% of violent offenses, 72% of
property offenses, and more than 80% of other offenses, such as
vandalism and disorderly conduct.
The problem is, virtually nothing is being done to
stem this disturbing tide. CASA found that some 1,900,000 of the
2,400,000 juvenile arrestees are drug and alcohol abusers or addicts.
Yet, only 68,600 of them-a mere 3.6%-receive any treatment. Moreover,
substance abuse is not the sole problem that goes unaddressed in these
kids' lives. Many come from broken and troubled families, have been
abused or neglected, live in crime-infested neighborhoods, and struggle
with learning disabilities and mental health problems such as depression
Alcohol and drug abuse and addiction go untreated.
While 44% of the 10- to 17-yearolds arrested in the past year already
meet the clinical definition of substance abuse or dependence (while 28%
meet the clinical test of hard-core addiction), less than four percent
receive treatment. These arrested juveniles are six times more likely to
be substance abusers and eight times more likely to be hooked on drugs
and alcohol than their contemporaries. (The
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University,
Whether a youth's abuse of or addiction to drugs was caused by gang
membership or led to gang membership is less important than educating youths
about the potential dangers of certain drugs and providing substance abuse
intervention programs whenever possible. Beyond drugs, there are other
crimes youths commit and that gang members commit. That's our next topic.
(Crimes Gang Members Commit, Continued)
Michael K. Carlie
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