All gangs have identifiable levels of membership. These levels of
membership indicate status within a gang and acts as the
organizational maintenance systems. There are actually six levels of
The leader(s) of a gang determines at what level of criminal
activity the gang will function. Characteristics of the leader(s)
are reflected in the day to day activities of the gang. The leader
is all powerful.
2. Hard Core:
The hard core gang members are usually the older gang members, the
individuals who are culturally and criminally enmeshed in the gang
and are at risk of being so for life. Most violent gang activity
emanates from the hard core gang members. Hard core gang members
usually make up about 10% of gang membership.
The associate gang member has usually made a personal commitment to
the gang culture and is dedicated to achieving the level of
recognition needed to attain hard core status.
The fringe gang member is still able to function outside of the gang
structure and has not made a commitment to a life in the criminal
gang culture. This type of member drifts in and out of the gang and
seems to lack direction.
Wanna-bes are not actually gang members. They are youth who view the
gang as an exciting place to be, a place where they could become
"somebody". Wanna-bes may emulate gang dress, graffiti,
hand signs, and other gang cultural symbols, and they may associate
with known gang members, but they have not yet been excepted into
Very seldom is the gang at full strength. Exceptions to this, of
course, would be times of conflict or possibly at social functions.
What is most often seen as "the gang" is usually a clique
from within the larger gang. The clique is a group of associate,
fringe, and often, wanna-be gang members who gravitate around one or
more of the hard core gang members. This somewhat resembles a gang
within a gang.
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The needs and/or purpose of a gang as well as the particular
situation determines the methods/techniques that will be used to
recruit new members into the gang. The following categories of gang
recruitment are fairly common, but the sophistication of the gang will
certainly dictate how sophisticated the recruitment techniques will be
For a long time gangs have used this technique to
recruit new members. They create glorified myths about the gang that
are very attractive to young recruits, and very often these myths
become the foundation for young aspirations.
The most powerful of these trappings, however, are
the promise of money, sex, and glamour. The symbols of the gang (the
graffiti, hand signs, colors, tattoos, etc.) create a visual
attraction for young people, they realize that with these symbols
they are part of something organized and powerful. Parties are also
very useful ways for recruiters to seduce young people into the
gang. At the party they have fun, get high, and believe the rhetoric
they are bombarded with.
Subterfuge is a misrepresentation of what the gang
really is and what it stands for. Recruiters use lies and schemes to
convince the youth that it really isn't a gang, it's a club or it is
really a group of close friends that have to protect themselves
against a powerful enemy. Another tact taken by recruiters is to
identify latchkey and other kids who may not have a good family life
and convince them that they aren't loved and that the club is there
for them, the "club" will love them.
Often gang members will do a favor or make a loan of
something to a prospective recmit and demand that they give loyalty
as payback. Often, these favors come in the form of protection.
Girls are sometimes used to promote that sense of obligation.
Forced recruitment is an age old technique, used
most often by large gangs in chronic gang cities. This technique is
used most often during times of gang conflict, or when there is a
need to generate dues money. Coercion is usually accomplished by
threats, but physical beatings are used as well. There have been
many deaths as a result of individuals refusing to join the gang.
Coercion can mean that a family member is threatened as well.
5. Self Recruitment:
For many reasons, youth will make contact with gang
members and ask to join the gang. The reasons are many and not
always because the individual sees the gang as glamorous. The reason
may be one of necessity, money, protection etc.. The reasons may be
a combination of all of the trappings mentioned above. The range of
reasons for a youth to join a gang is very wide and does not always
mean that he has joined the gang openheartedly.
All of the recruitment strategies listed above can be
elaborated on. Training is available to communities that can provide
valuable information about gang recruitment and what can be done about
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Of the many issues that gangs of the 90's have
addressed, in their own fashion, the one that has, and will continue
to have, the most impact on the American Community, is the expansion
of gang enterprise. Not only is gang enterprise an increasingly
acceptable means of illegal income, it is also another profound
statement of counter-rejection by young people to the larger society.
According to national statistics, about 95% of hard
core gang members are high school drop-outs. It is said by these gang
members that school cannot prepare them to survive in this society.
Many of the schools they attend have a "0" academic level.
They know that four years of high school will not prepare them for
college, which means that the job market will not be open to them on a
competitive level. In essence, they have created a system of education
and a system of employment that is much more responsive to their
While much attention has been given to the association
of street gangs with drugs, there has been little public discussion of
the economics of this association. In the past, those street gangs
that depended upon crime as a source of income were limited to the
traditional methods of extortion, robbery and burglary as a means of
providing that income. Because of the opportunistic nature of such
crimes, coupled with the risk of personal injury and/or being sent to
jail, many of the gang members could be lured away from the gang by
positive alternatives such as: a chance to learn a skill and obtain
The availability of cocaine and the ease with which it
can be converted to "crack" has changed the route through
which the gang obtains its income and as a direct result, the nature
of the gangs response of offers of positive alternatives. By way of
illustration, consider the following:
On an initial investment of $2,500.00 worth of cocaine and using two
readily available household chemicals, $10,000.00 worth of
"crack" can be produced. In areas of high demand it is not
unusual for a gang to "turn over" (increase the profit on)
its initial investment by a factor of four. Therefore, the $10,000.00
worth of crack becomes $40,000.00 by the end of the day.
Typically the gang will employ one person to collect
the money for the drugs, one person to deliver the drug to the buyer
and two look outs/security men. Their pay can be as low as $50.00 per
day each. Often a percentage is offered to the team for sales over a
certain amount per day.
If the $200.00 per day cost of the team is deducted,
the profit for the day would be $29,800.00. That's tax free money and
continues seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year.
In light of these facts, it becomes clearer why gangs
resort to violence in disputes over the best sales areas and why the
mere offer of a job at minimum wage does not readily deter a youth
from this profitable enterprise.
Gang enterprise, justified through the gang system of
values, incorporated into the gang structure, and embraced by the gang
as an acceptable economic foundation for the gang society, will prove
to be a monumental challenge for communities determined to eliminate
the gang phenomenon.
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