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This becomes further complex as economic ties blur between the poor and middle classes and the expectations each has about the definition of materialistic success. By belonging to a subculture, however, one can feel part of something larger, insulated a bit from the criticisms and unattainable messages of the upper middle class, and certainly a way to belong and feel important with one's own environment (Siegel and Welsh, 2009, 130-1).
Contemporary Urban Issues- in the United States, the National Gang Center estimates that there are almost 800,000 active street gang members, most concentrated in Los Angeles County and the greater Chicago area. Demographically, Hispanics account for almost 50% of gang members, African-Americans 30%, Caucasians 13%, and Asians 6% (Carlie, 2002). Unfortunately, Native American communities are also being overrun by gang violence and drug trafficking. Most tribal communities, in fact, have significant gang activity; contributing also to the continued economic downturn of that community (Eckholm, 2009). The problem of gangs is global in scope, especially in urban areas. There are approximately, 1,000 known gangs operating in the United Kingdom; 100,000 member of Mexican gang; 300,000 members of Russian Gangs; almost 100,000 member in Japan's Yakuza; double that for China's Triad, and yet a paltry (in comparison) 25,000 members of the Sicilian Mafia, in both Italy and the United States (Adamoli, Di Nicola, Savona and Zoffi, 1998).
Structurally, most scholars segment gangs into three types: street, prison, and criminal. Street gangs are individuals with similar backgrounds and motivations who pool resources together because it is often the only way they see out of their economic situation or their own ability to succeed. These groups tend to act collectively to achieve specific purposes, typically that of enrichment through illegal actions (Covey, 2010). Prison gangs are groups that band together for either mutual protection of affiliation while incarcerated or confined. Often, prison gangs have several affiliates in different prisons so that members can remain tied to an organization throughout their criminal career. These groups, however, are not just tied to prison, new research shows that a number manage and organize both activity inside and outside the prison walls. Many prison gangs are based on ethnicity or cohesion of ideologies (e.g. skinheads, anarchists, etc.) (Fleisher, 2006). Criminal gangs that function both inside and outside prison institutions (Mexican Mafia, Aryan Nation, etc.) is usually structured in a way that they term mutually beneficial to the growth of their organization. In fact, because of many criminals that are habitual visitors to the major institutions, a rather sophisticated communications and indoctrination system occurs with many of these gangs (Pappas, 2001).
Trends in gang related activity are down from the late 1980s and early 1990s, as are the total number of gang members in the United States. However much good news that is, though, gang members, particularly youth gang members, still commit a disproportionately higher number of the overall offenses committed by juveniles, and even larger proportion of those that are violent in nature (Ibid). One of the more interesting trends, though, is that despite gang-related activity being something that has always existed in society, the increase in gang activity shown by the media coupled with the extreme violent nature of that activity, alarmed more Americans who now demanded more vigilance from law enforcement, and turned almost angrily to social scientists to try to understand the nature of gang activity (Monti, 1993). We certainly know when an issue has permeated the psyche of America to a large degree when we note the number of gang-related themes that appear in popular culture via television and movies; many bringing the serious and frustrating nature of the problem into a middle-class reality like never before. This is also exacerbated in much of the street and rap music that sometimes advocates violent behavior, and most certainly focuses on a level of hatred and hopelessness that is almost palpable (Spergel, 1995, 130-5).
One of the newer trends in gang activity in American society is that of the penetration of gangs into the U.S. Military; member often using their military knowledge and training to commit or manage criminal activity. A 2009 FBI paper on gang activity found that the military's screening for gang membership is ineffective and that there are documented situations in which gang members obtained military grade weapons and technology for use in gangland activities. According to this report, "gangs are morphing, multiplying, and migrating - entrenching themselves not just in the inner city," but in suburbs and rural communities, responsible for up to 80% of all crime (the Gang Threat - Get Educated, 2009).
Potential Solutions to Gang Problems- Much of the literature focusing on gang related activities focuses on two areas: gun control and punishment. Advocates of gun control believe that if there is a greater reduction in the availability of weapons there will be a resulting decrease in the ability for gangs to inflict violence on society. Gangs certainly do not announce their intentions to the local police, and if weapons are decreased, police protection will be less necessary (Suter, 1995). While this view may seem logical, it fails to address than guns are but the tool used, not the underlying cause of the issue - almost as if removing breakables from toddler's reach will prevent them from doing damage.
A second major theme involves increasing police presence and tougher criminal prosecution for gang violence. This view holds that the greater the vigilance, the more prevention occurs. Within the school system, this means putting rules in place that prohibit wearing gang colors, clothing, or symbols; removing known gang members from the system if they are unable or unwilling to become part of mainstream education, to assign more police during public or areas/times in which gang activity is predominant, and provide more serious punishment for convicted gang member. In a way, though, this is an indirect response to gang activity - and certainly, we note that placing more gang members into the prison system is clearly not a deterrent, and may even be the cause of an increase in certain types of gang activity. In fact, in modern society, it would be impossible to have enough police protection to effectively end gang violence without adopting a totalitarian state. Most communities want peace and security, but are simply not able to fund enough police to provide a high enough level of protection as gang activity increases (Katz and Webb, 2003).
Instead, combining a criminological and sociological perspective, one must ask the seminal question: why do gangs exist and what benefits do they provide. Certainly there are a number of reasons for this in modern society: increased access to drugs and weapons, poverty, racial divisions, lack of parental control, lack of employment and recreational activities, excessive sex and violence in the media, and a sense of hopelessness from many disenfranchised youth. Gang activity starts with youth - there are benefits to being a part of a gang: companionship, protection, fast and easy money, relief of frustration with society, a greater sense of power, and a way to increase self-esteem within a local community. The simple fact is that when benefits of being in a gang outweigh the risks, it is likely there will be an increase in gang membership (Goode, 2008).
It remains difficult, however, for much of middle class society to see that prevention programs that have upfront costs, actually save money in the long-term (medical intervention costs, prosecution, increased violence, incarceration, etc.). Because these costs are buried in the system it is often difficult to see that for every $100 spent on prevention, several thousand dollars are saved from the results of gang activity. These prevention tactics are, like any prevention program, not a quick-fix or panacea. Instead, they are a slow but effective way of mitigating a problem at the source. Instead of prosecuting gang members, why not provide support for victims; assimilate gang-oriented students into the mainstream school culture; encourage parental involvement; remove graffiti immediately and encourage pride in the school and community; provide sports, drama, music and recreational activities at all levels of school and community affairs; add gang and drug prevention into the core curriculum at school; set up professional agencies to help with gang activities; work with the media to send the message that gang behavior is not a sensational way to glean attention; provide witness protection programs; and fund specific gang task forces that remove the most hardened criminals and their influence (Gangs in America, 1993). The overall solution, then, is to provide tangible alternatives to gang activity and funding ways to help those at risk avoid the temptation to join and participate in gang activity. In addition to the reduction of criminal activity, this type of program implementation will result…[continue]
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