Protecting Your Children-A Guide to Gangs

What Is A Gang?

A gang is a group of people with a common objective, interest, identity and mission. Today, however, the word, gang, is used in referring to a group of people whose mission and objectives are extremely negative (engaging in criminal activities). Gangs develop from people of common interests, economic situations, geography and/or ethnic lines. Gangs can form colonies and could be a subset of a larger organization.

Gangs identify themselves by the clothes they wear, the way they greet fellow members of their gang, and the language they speak. Upon initiation, a new gang member is placed in the lowest cadre of the gang structure. As the member grows in the gang and contributes by introducing more people, he gets promoted and becomes more involved in gang activities. His mode of identification may also change from graffiti on notebooks to tattooing themselves. Finally, there are members known as “hard cores”, or the oldest, most tenured members of the gang. They are members of the gang for life and care little , if any, for activities outside the gang.

The most common gang activities involve aggressiveness on the streets, theft, drug pushing, vandalism and violence. To perpetrate crime and violence, as well as keep their tough reputations, it's not uncommon for many gang members to carry guns and knives.

Why Do Gangs Develop?

Gangs can develop anywhere and for a multitude of reasons. Research has shown, however, that even though gangs possess different values and beliefs they often form for similar reasons.

Many gangs develop due to racial issues. Traditionally, men have been found to be more inclined to joining a gang. This still rings true, however, there has been a rise in the number of female gangs and female involvement in gangs overall. A lot of gangs are location related. There are many gangs named after the neighborhoods and sometimes even the streets they “run”.

A lot of times gangs form out of social unrest. Many gangs take root in ares that have been hit hard by poverty. A lack of employment leads people to find other ways to support themselves and their families, and many turn to crime. In this way, a gang is a business. A new member of the gang becomes the newest employee of the gang business, and many of those new employees are kids.

Why Do Kids Join Gangs?

Several reasons have been identified for the participation of kids in gang activities. Many kids join gangs in hopes of gaining respect from peers that have joined the gang. Some kids may have gotten into trouble already and join in exchange for promises of protection made by gang recruiters. Many times kids from broken homes join gangs to feel like they are a part of something bigger. Many are looking for acceptance from a group of people that have certain things in common. Kids can be interested in the flash of a gang. A kid making minimum wage at a grocery store could find the money, cars, and lifestyle associated with gangs extremely appealing.

The strength of a gang lies in its numbers. The more members there are in a gang, the more powerful the gang becomes. Like any business gangs have tactics for recruiting new members:

  • Subterfuge: To recruit kids gang members convince kids the gang is just a group of friends or family. Gang members will tell kids their real families don't love or care about them, but the gang will.

  • Seduction: Money, cars, clothes, jewelry, and friends. Gangs show all of these things to kids and make the promise that the kid will have the same.

  • Obligations: Gang members often take advantage of children in need. The gang offers to provide protection or money for a kid in exchange for his or her loyalty to the gang.

  • Coercion: The act of forcefully recruiting people into a gang. This is a common practice in larger cities. This happens especially when there is a need for more members or more money. New recruits are beaten until they submit to joining the gang.

  • Self-recruitment: Many reasons could lead a kid to contact a gang about joining. It could be for a combination of any of the above reasons. It's often due to a lack of self-esteem and a lack of acceptance among peers.

How Are Gangs Identified?

  • Hand-Signs: Gangs often have their own code for communicating with their hands. Messages about gang activities can be communicated between members of the same gang or threats can be communicated to members of rival gangs with a quick “flash” of the hands. Some gangs have hand signs so extensive, they can complete entire conversations without speaking a word. This is often done to keep non-members from hearing about gang activities.

  • Clothes: Gangs normally have a special way of dressing so that any member, even at a very far distance can easily recognize them. Baseball hats are a common gang identifier. Both the color of the hat and the logo on the hat can be gang identifiers. Shirts, pants, bandannas, and even shoelaces are common gang identifiers. Even the way clothing is worn can be a gang identifier. Some gangs may wear hats turned to the left because their rival gang wears their hats to the right.

  • Colors: Colors are another common gang identifier. Gangs often have a handful of colors they use to identify themselves. Probably the most commonly known gang colors are blue and red. The “Bloods” are known for wearing red while the “Crips” are known for wearing the color blue. The colors can be displayed by gang members in clothing, hats, bandannas, and graffiti

  • Tattoos: Many gangs have symbols they require members to tattoo on themselves. It could be an abbreviation of the gang name, a nickname, a number, or an object associated with the gang. For instance, the “Latin Kings” gang is known for a five point crown tattoo.

  • Jewelry: Gangs have certain types of jewelry they use as identifiers also. Some gangs may have a specific piece of jewelry, maybe a custom made gang logo, that it requires members to wear. Other gangs have a required amount of jewelry it's members must wear.

  • Street names: When a new member joins a gang they are often given a gang name. It could be something simple, such as a shortened version of the child's real name. A gang name could also be violence, drug or gang related.

  • Graffiti: Many gangs have their own “tags”, or symbols, they use to identify their “turf”. Many gangs will spray paint graffiti on walls of abandoned or closed buildings. Tags could be abbreviations, gang code, or gang symbols.

How Do I Know If My Child Is In A Gang?

Discovering your child is in a gang could be the worst day of your life, especially if you discover it too late. There are signs to watch for and actions to take to protect your child from living the life of a gang member.

  • Does your child have a large number of new friends?

  • Is your child keeping odd hours?

  • Does your child have unexplained extra money?

  • Has your child changed the way they dress?

  • Does your child own a lot of clothing of the same color(s)?

  • Are your child's grades slipping?

  • Is your child acting out violently?

  • Has your child gotten a tattoo that resembles a gang logo or name?

What Do I Do If My Child Is In A Gang?

The first step to helping a child in a gang is to be caring and provide support. Ask calmly and perseveringly about their involvement. Being closer than normal by showing warm affections can also help at this time. Speak openly with the child about the situation and gauge how serious the gang issue is. After gaining an understanding of the situation contact school personnel and the local police gang unit and inform them about the situation. They will be able to provide additional assistance.

For More Information:

Not My Kid/Not This Kid: Videos for parents and youth for preventing gang involvement.

Structure Of Gangs: An explanation of the gang hierarchy.

Recognize The Signs: A comprehensive guide to identifying gangs(.pdf).

What Gangs Do: A guide to common gang activities.

What Is A Gang?: Detailed explanation of what a gang is.

Gang FAQ: Frequently asked questions about gangs.

Why Kids Join Gangs: Reasons why kids join gangs and their possible remedies.

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