How Youths Find Out About
Note: I asked an Indian Reservation police officer
"Why do you think the gangs are starting to appear here?" "We have cable television now,"
he said "and they all watch it. They're all going to
public school now and learning what the white children learn and talk like they
do. And they're having a problem with alcohol and that's related to some of the
violence. So the kids are drinking more and killing more. Then there's the problem of the Indians who go to prison and come back to
our community. Now they have status and more power and they are a very bad
influence on our children."
There are a variety of ways in which today's youth learn about
gangs. The following are among the better known.
|Gangs are an every day reality on the streets of many
inner-city neighborhoods. Simply walking out of one's residence may mean walking into the gang culture.
This daily exposure ensures that
children in those neighborhoods will learn about gangs, come to know many of
the gang members, and will likely have to deal with one or more of them each
day in an effort to navigate through the neighborhood to play, attend
school, or go to the store.|
| Media exposure increases the likelihood that a child will learn
about gangs. Movies, the Internet, television programs, and rap music also transmit
knowledge of gangs, their language, values, demeanor, dress, and
concerns. This may be referred to as the process of electronic
socialization into gang culture.|
A gang unit supervisor I interviewed believes "Gang members are mimicking what they see on TV and hear
in rap music. If a rapper is wearing something in his new CD
that catches the fancy of gang youth, it's likely to be incorporated in the
gang wardrobe. And, because of the growing Hip Hop culture of American cities,
it's likely to infiltrate the wardrobes of non-gang youth as well."
The National Alliance of Gang Investigator Associations states that:
The crossover appeal of rap is, in many
respects, grounded in the rise of gang culture and the gangsta style of
rap music which promotes (the rappers say reflects) that lifestyle. It is
a lifestyle rooted in the themes of money, women, guns, and drugs; the
physical posturing in promoting those themes; and the language of the
culture and its nonverbal forms of communication such as gang hand signs
Through the music and movies this lifestyle inundates
households, promoting the image of the gang member as a "noble"
soldier fighting an oppressive system while reaping the material trappings
of mainstream success.
In essence, gang members become icons, heroes to be
looked up to with admiration and respect for having the courage of their
outlaw convictions while conquering a sociopolitical system that would
keep them bound and gagged for offensive indiscretions. The vocal and
visual image of the inner-city minority gang member embracing the
"thug" way of life proves to be intoxicating and addictive to
Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, "Gangs and the
Media," taken off the web at
|Youths sometime learn about gangs from their gang member siblings,
parents, or other relatives. This is so common that there is a form of initiation
known as being "blessed in" to a gang - being welcomed in as the
brother, child, or other relative of an established member of the gang.|
|Some gang members actively recruit for new members. Having heard that Skinheads were becoming a problem in
the community, I asked
the local police chief if the Skinheads were doing any recruiting. He said "Yes.
They recruit on the
local college campus by handing out
flyers and leaving open web sites on white supremacy for other students to find when they entered the computer labs.
They also have
business cards that they hand out at the mall and around the central square of town."|
|The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the
Phoenix (AZ) Police Department conjointly developed the Gang Resistance
Education and Training Program (G.R.E.A.T.). It consists
of eight lesson plans, each introduced at the rate of one per week in an elementary or middle-school
and now has a new family component. Although there are positive aspects
to this program, it has been alleged by its detractors that it may
prematurely introduce children to gangs.|
Field Note: A veteran juvenile officer
told me gangs developed in his
community in three ways: "local youths watched movies and television portrayals of gangs and
then mimicked that behavior and attitude," by the "immigration of L.A. gang members who came here to sell drugs and
involve local youths as fellow gang members, and good people migrating from Southern California to escape gangs who,
unknowingly, brought children who were already a part of that problem. They're actually importing the problem to our
Some gangs recruit for specific skills depending upon what it is that the gang needs. Members may
be sought out or accepted because they bring one or more of the following to
|political power (in legitimate or illegitimate circles),|
|financial support (directly or through their connections),|
|expertise (in the commission of certain kinds of crimes),|
|contacts (in acquiring drugs or women, contacts with fences),|
|a market (for selling drugs and illicit services),|
|strength (they are strong, present a threat to rivals), or|
|specific jobs or tasks (i.e., hit men, drivers, look outs,
runners or mules).|
Additional Resources: Some
via the Internet. For additional information about how gangs recruit for
new members, visit
learn more about the Gang
Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program.
Michael K. Carlie
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