Introduction to Gangs in America

Introduction to Gangs in America

Introduction to Gangs in America

Introduction to Gangs in America


Gangs have long been a social and criminal threat to society. Introduction to Gangs in America explains how gangs are addressed as a criminal justice and public policy problem, providing a student-friendly, easily accessible, concise overview of the role, place, structure, and activities of gangs in American society. The book describes what gangs are, what differentiates them from each other, how they share similarities, and how they fit into contemporary American culture. The authors explore the history and structure of gangs, reveal their clandestine activities, and analyze their social impact. The book also includes information on gender issues in gangs, and provides insight into how gangs impact American educational institutions Offering an insider's account, the book provides in-depth profiles of specific gangs, including: Europe's five major biker gangs The Outlaws The Hell's Angels The Bandidos The Pagans Bloods Aryan Brotherhood Black Guerrilla Family Mexican Mafia Texas Syndicate Neta Discussion questions appear at the end of each chapter, stimulating debate and classroom discussion. It may never be possible to eradicate gangs from our culture.But by understanding their structure, their strengths and vulnerabilities, and how they operate, law enforcement can better protect the public from their nefarious activities. This text gives future law enforcement professionals rare insider insight into a subject typically shrouded in secrecy.


Whenever the term “gang” is used or heard, individuals undoubtedly get a mental picture of a particular type of person, most probably someone threatening, or a minority, or someone that is easily recognizable as a “bad guy.” That is to be expected because the primary types of images and messages we receive in our society fit with these stereotypes. While the messages and images about gang members that are common in our news and entertainment media are clearly based on stereotypes, there is also a large degree of truth and accuracy to many of these messages and images.

The truth is that gangs and gang members are difficult to profile. Therefore, in this first chapter, our goal is to provide a general overview of what a gang is, who are commonly found as gang members, and what types of structures and activities are common for gangs and their members. This chapter is not meant to provide information that will allow the reader to go out and easily and accurately identify gang members. That is, this chapter is not able to assist individuals or groups in determining who is or is not in a gang. Instead, this chapter is designed to help individuals understand the structure of gangs, examples of gangs and gang members, and gang members and their victimization or victimizers.

The Structure of Gangs

Gangs do not have a universal, specific structure (McGloin, 2007). Gangs and gang members come from all lifestyles: Demographics (age, sex, race/ ethnicity), setting (street, prison, or motorcycle), type (social, delinquent, or violent), and purpose (defensive or turf defense) or degree of criminality (minor or serious), level of organization (simple or corporate vertical or horizontal), and function (cultural or instrumental) can and do vary quite widely across the full range of “gangs” (Spergel, 1990).

Generally, gangs have a loose structure. Many gangs may only last for a short period of time (i.e., weeks, months, or a year), but then they break up (Klein and Maxson, 1989; Curry and Decker, 1998). When gangs are operational, they often function using a traditional, hierarchical structure.

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