After six months, you'll know all there is to know. Hans Mattick, winter 1962
Hans Mattick was wrong. Not in six months, or in thirty years, have I learned all there is to know about gangs. But what I have learned, I now want to share.
This book is about the American street gang. Despite its very considerable variety -- over time, across locations, and even in its internal substructures -- I see the American street gang as rather different. That it is not totally different is also clear: Although I'll describe counterparts in such contrasting places as Russia, Papua New Guinea, and Berlin, the common varieties of street gang still are essentially an American product.
We need to understand this gang for intellectual purposes, to seek to control its excesses and prevent its continuing regeneration, and also to understand our society better. Gangs are no accident; our society inadvertently produces them, and they will not decline as a social problem until we confront our relationship to them. And to confront our relationship to street gangs is to come face-to-face with some well-entrenched self-interests that also are important to understanding ourselves. Gangs have a societal context, and to paraphrase Pogo, the context is us.
How can we know a gang when we see it? Does a gang member stand out in some way? How do we distinguish a gang-related criminal act from any other? As a case in point, consider the most infamous incident in the Los Angeles riots in 1992, occasioned by the acquittal of the police officers who beat black motorist Rodney King to a pulp. It was the "payback" beating of a white trucker, Reginald