The American Street Gang reviews what has been known about gangs and updates that information into the 1990s. It covers reported changes in the structure and crime patterns of gangs, their age, ethnic and gender characteristics, and their spread into almost all corners of the nation. It also reviews and updates the situation in other countries to determine whether the American gang is unique.
This is not a textbook. The author has a number of things to say to the reader that are based on decades of research and personal experience and that contradict many popular and professional beliefs about street gangs. The early chapters spell out four issues that are major concerns in understanding the gang problem and then weave these four issues throughout the book.
The first is the issue of defining the gang, accomplished here by describing street gangs and separating them from other forms of gangs, such as skinheads, peer groups that occasionally engage in delinquency, drug distribution gangs, and motorcycle gangs. The author sees the street gangs as qualitatively different from these other groups, though still having many structural variations.
The second issue involves recent changes in gangs, including their violence and their spread to eight hundred towns and cities in the United States. Brand-new data are presented here for the first time.
The third issue is street gangs' involvement in drug distribution. The author comes down very hard on those who have equated gangs and drug sales. He presents his own data, along with the findings of other researchers, to provide a more balanced picture than is often portrayed in the media.
The fourth issue, ways of handling the gang problem, is equally controversial. The author reviews gang prevention and suppression programs and suggests that most have been either ineffectual or actually have made matters worse. Practitioners will not like the message here but would do well to consider the author's conclusions.
The American gang situation is worsening, and our response is not improving. The author's thoughts on this situation will stir some strong reactions.