Some gangs form around gang members who have moved from their own neighborhood to
another neighborhood. This is an explanation for why gangs
form as well as an explanation for how gangs may multiply. Some migrating gang members seek out other
youth to join them in creating a
gang. As migrating gang members socialize with local youth, some of them are
drawn into the gang life.
It has been known for
some time that young people who associate with
delinquent peers are more likely to get involved in crime. (Glueck
and Glueck, 1950)
Summarizing what was discussed in the Fluidity
of Gangs and Gang Members,
Migrant gang members may stimulate the growth of
gangs and gang membership through a variety of processes, such as
recruiting locals to establish a branch of the gang in previously
Alternatively, migrants may establish a new gang
without structural affiliation to an existing gang. No matter what process
is used, new local gangs will most likely emerge in response to
territorial challenges or perceived protection needs. Regardless of the
pattern of new gang initiation, gang member migration would create an
increase in both the number of gangs and gang membership.
In addition, the solidification of local gang
subcultures may increase the visibility or attractiveness of gangs to
local youth. It may also influence the growth of rival gangs.
of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1998, page)
A recent report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) (1999),
highlights the seriousness of the migration issue.
1996, police across the country were growing alarmed over a marked
increase in violence, drug trafficking, and related crimes traceable to
Much of the crime growth seemed to follow gangs’ migration into
new areas for fresh members and markets. Police were frustrated by newcomers’ distinctively colored
clothing, tattoos, cryptic hand signals, and graffiti.
police did not know who the youths were, where they came from, or what
illegal objectives they had in mind. In
response, several states in the northeast corridor (Connecticut,
Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) monitored gangs’
growth, activities, and migration. Arrest data, surveillance, and other information sources pointed to
a clear pattern: gang members from New York and more distant states were
using interstate highways 93 and 95 to expand gang membership and
activities into New England. (PERF,
1999, p. 1)
According to the findings of the 2004 National Youth Gang Survey,
Ten percent of (the 2,296 law enforcement agencies
that responded to the survey) reported that more than half of the
documented gang members in their jurisdiction had migrated from other
areas; however, a majority (60 percent) of respondents reported no or
few (less than 25 percent of documented gang members) such migrants.
Among agencies that experienced a higher percentage
of migration, 45 percent reported that social reasons (e.g., members
moving with families, pursuit of legitimate employment opportunities)
affected local migration patterns "very much." Drug market opportunities
(23 percent), avoidance of law enforcement crackdowns (21 percent), and
participation in other illegal ventures (18 percent) were reported as
reasons for migration to a lesser degree.
Agencies that experienced the highest levels of gang-member migration
were significantly more likely to report migration for social reasons.
of the 2004 National Youth Gang Survey, p. 2)
While migrating gang members may lure local youth to join them and form a
gang, the mass media also contribute to the formation of gangs.
Additional Resources: Earlier in Into the Abyss
the subject of the fluidity of gangs was discussed. You can find more articles
on gangs and migration in that chapter.
Michael K. Carlie
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