Gangs are nothing new in America. They have existed in America since the late 19th century. They are a place where young people who feel like outcasts can feel like they have a family. For a long time gangs were just that, kids who have a commonality with each other forming a group. Whether brought together by their nationality or their neighborhood, they were going through life together. These gangs did cause trouble with fighting and crime. But, throughout the past thirty years, with the introduction of new drugs, gangs have become much more then just a gathering of youth starting trouble. They have become criminal enterprises, some worth millions. Because of this "new generation" of gangs, the wars and crimes between these gangs have greatly escalated. Now they aren't just an urban problem. They are now in small cities, suburbs and even rural counties (Wiley, 104). Gangs are a growing problem that is harmful to American communities due to increasing membership and the increasing number of illegal activities they are involved in; but they could do communities good if they changed their ways.
Kids join gangs all the time. There are many factors leading to young people joining gangs. In many places around America, it is very dangerous doing simple things such as walking to school without a gang bothering you, or possibly hurting you. Many kids join these gangs to have protection. If you are in a gang and somebody threatens you or try to hurt you, you can just gather you gang members and take care of the problem. With this comes respect. Everybody wants to be respected, and in some places respect is earned by being violent. These people join gangs for respect. Many people living in gang infested environments have friends and family in gangs. This puts pressure on that individual to follow in their footsteps. Many young people don't feel they have a family at home that cares for them. Many even live on the street or in homes where parents don't care if they are out for days at a time. These people don't have a family at home or any real structure in their lives. They turn to gangs for that sense of family or belonging. Gangs do provide a certain bond between people. And through this bond they fill that void of not having a family at home. Many people join gangs because of ethnic pride as well. Maybe a person is Mexican and lives in a black neighborhood. They find a gang that is proud of being Mexican and then he feels proud too and joins. When ethnicities are new to neighborhoods often there is racism. Gangs are often formed as a way for these new ethnic minorities to fight back against the racism they are experiencing. Many people join gangs for the money. It is hard for many people in impoverished areas to get jobs. Gangs provide a means for money. Most of it is illegal but it is still money. Many people in gangs aren't even involved in the money part of gangs. But if one wants to be and has the smarts for that business, there is a spot for them within gangs (Rick Landre)
Gangs have been getting increasingly more violent throughout the past few decades. Throughout the last decade more then thirty-five hundred people have died in gang-related incidents in Los Angeles alone (Wolf, 24). The main reason for all this new violence is the introduction of crack cocaine. When crack hit the streets in the 80's, literally over night people became rich. This is a drug that is cheap and very easy to make. This quickly becomes the gang's main income. This also creates an excuse for violence. Before people would fight and scuffle over honor. This still happens, but most of the gang violence is rooted in the business of drugs, mainly crack. People trying to take over territory, because the more places a gang controls the more places they can sell their merchandise, hence, the more money they get. This is the business sign of American gangs in this age. Also due to the drug market, gangs expand their territory into other towns and cities ignored to previously and now allowing for more drug territory. A gang can end up having sets in as many as 35 different states. It is much like a franchise. Another huge reason for the increasing gang violence is the fact that it is getting increasingly easier for gangs to get hold of guns. With guns, gangs shoot before thinking. When they had only knives is was much more personal. With guns all one has to do is shoot in a specific direction and you will probably hit one of your enemies. With guns comes the newest form of murder in gang areas, dive-by shootings. This is the perfect hit. You are already in the getaway car. Gang members just see people they suspect of being in an enemy gang and drive past them shooting wildly in their direction. This makes shootings less needing to be planned and also increases the chance of a person getting away with the shooting. Therefore, there is an increasing amount of shootings in gang infested areas.
Gangs effect communities in many different ways. Murder-rates in gang areas around America are very high. Gangs war with each other over respect and money. Through these wars come high death tolls. Not only are gang members dying, innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire everyday. Homicides effect people in the community in which they regularly happen much like war effects veterans. It desensitizes people. They stop thinking seeing dead bodies is a big deal, and many have nightmares for the rest of their life about the violence in which they saw growing up.
Gangs turn neighborhoods into open-air drug markets. This increases the amount of police presence due to these illegal activities. This causes stress among members of these communities because they constantly have to deal with police harassing them and dealers hassling them as well. This also brings drug addicts into these communities and neighborhoods. Drug addicts are horrible for a neighborhood. All the addict care about is getting the drug they are addicted to, and will do anything to get money to buy the drug robbing and killing without hesitation. Gang members are not the only ones dealing drugs but they are certainly not helping the problem.
The gang epidemic in America has never been solved. I don't see it being solved anytime soon. However, there are measures in which can help the gang problem that has plagued American cities and towns during past centuries. Gang prevention starts at school. The school system does not spend enough time, and money on the children who are in trouble and at most risk. The school system spends all their money on the honors classes and the AP classes. These are important programs; however, there are kids in America's school systems that are thought to not matter. We need to not just let these kids fall through the cracks in the system and we need to educate them into upstanding citizens. We also need to put more time and money into "bad schools". The schools for kids who have previously gotten into trouble. Many of these kids live in bad home situations and many of them are already in gangs. These schools need to be treated more as schools and not just as a stop before juvenile. "Bad kid" schools need to be provided with smaller teacher to student ratios, support groups, ties to the communities, athletic programs similar to the regular high schools, and awards for the kids who do well in these programs. We cannot just forget about these kids and pretend that they are not here. This will only increase the gang problem. These children may have lost their way but they are still the children of our communities and deserve the same attention as the "good kids" (Hernandez, 169 ).
New laws need to be formed as well to keep kids off the streets. A citywide curfew is one way of helping the situation. If police can take kids in when they see them out after a certain time, then this will clean up the streets a bit and also will take these kids off the dangerous streets. Statistically most of the crime done by youth happens between the hours of 10 P.M. and 1 A.M. (Bilchik, 107-110). If the streets are cleared of loitering gang members and bored teenagers then the late night crime should be lowered. Also anti-loitering laws, although trampling a bit on freedom can be good if executed properly by the police. If police see known gang members in a spot loitering they can break the gang up. This takes away some of their influence in neighborhoods. If residents see this they will see that these gangsters aren't as powerful as they seem. It will be sager for residents to walk the streets of their neighborhoods without gangs loitering around looking for trouble (Willard, 97-99).
Finally, gangs can actually be positive for neighborhoods if you take away the criminal element of them. Although this has never been proven I do believe that there is hope. Gangs do in fact have positive things about them. They provide a sense of unity and family for kids who might not have that anywhere else. It provides kids with other kids like them to relate to and protect each other. But these gangs always end up fighting and doing illegal activates. There must be a way that these gangs can instead of using their influence to put fear into their neighborhoods, they could actually protect them. Like the Guardian Angels. A gang formed by an ex-gang member named Curtis Sliwa. They patrol neighborhoods and protect their neighborhoods without the use of weapons of force. Just their presence intimidates some of the criminals (The alliance of Guardian Angels website). Gangs can be an honorable thing for their neighborhoods. The Latin Kings were formed in Chicago when the city started seeing a large migration of people from Puerto Rico. There was much racism against them from the existing black and white community. Even the Mexican community didn't show them a lot of grace. The Latin Kings were formed to fight back against the racism. It was a way for the new Spanish minority to fight back against these existing gangs and protect themselves. Now the Latin Kings are nothing but a drug selling street gang. A business in which selling drugs and killing people, including other Hispanic gang members is frequent (Sanchez, 123)
Gangs are crippling American society and are hurting communities. They have gotten much worse the past couple decades with the introduction of crack cocaine. The more business side of the new generation of gangs is doing nothing but worsening the problem; but there is still hope yet.