Gangs are not a new phenomenon in American society. As early as the late 1700 gangs emerged on the East Coast because of immigration and poverty (Howell & Moore 2010). These early gangs helped people to feed their families and build a sense of belonging in a new country. Nowadays not much has changed individuals still join gangs to make money and feel like they belong. These gangs have kept crime alive in the cities where they exist and make it hard for law enforcement to keep crime rates low. In this paper, we will delve into the history of gangs, the activities of the gangs, and the differences between male and female gang members when it comes to membership and the victimization they experience in a gang.
In the late 18th century the United States was established as an independent country and cities in the first states were experiencing the beginnings of gangs. These gangs were not seasoned criminals but youth fighting over local territory. In the 1820’s organized gangs started to emerge after large scale immigration to the United States and the subsequent poverty and overcrowding that followed. Most of these gangs were initially white (Irish, Italian, German, etc.) but as Latinos and Blacks started to move to the cities in the 1950’s the gangs became more racially diverse. The second period of gang growth also saw in increase in Poles, Italians and Jews in the cities which strengthened the gangs of the corresponding ethnicities. By the 1950’s youth gangs have disappeared and a migration of Blacks and Latinos came into the city which sparked interracial tensions. White gangs violently resisted racial integration which led Black and Latino gangs to form as protection groups. Some modern-day gangs have their roots in penitentiaries where they were formed for protection from other inmates. In the Midwest gangs began similarly to the east where most gangs were white. Most notably Chicago which saw racial tensions between the white, black, and Latino gangs in the 1950’s. Due to these tensions the proliferation of Latino and Black gangs occurred (Diamond 2005). As for gangs in the West the first were Latino due to the high Mexican population there. Like the East the first gangs were formed by groups of boys. As time passed these groups of boys became seasoned criminals recruiting others to join for protection and family. The cultural and physical marginalization of the Latino population helped to strengthen the developing gangs in the West where the Latino population was the majority (Howell & Moore 2010). The difference between Latino gangs in the west compared to the Latino gangs in the East is that is gangs in the East arose from social disorganization stemming from the influx of immigrants coming through Ellis Island, whereas in the West the gangs arose from ethnic history and an alienation of the Latino culture.Â The major gangs that we take into consideration are MS 13, Trinitarios, The Aryan Brotherhood, The Bloods, and the Crips. MS-13 is a Latin street gang that has its origins in the poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1980’s and in El Salvador. They span from Central America through Mexico and the United States all the way up to Canada. Their strongest presence is in Washington DC, California, and New York (Adams & Pizarro). They originated in Southern California to protect each other from the violence caused by the Mexican Mafia. After time, they formed an alliance with the Mexican Mafia in 1993 which made them an official Southern California gang. To join the gang you have to be of Latin decent and go through an initiation process which involves a thirteen second beating from three older members or if you are female you have the option to be sexed in by having sex with thirteen members of the gang. Each prospective member is also required to do a trial period where they participate in gang activities. MS-13 is most notably known for their weapon of choice a machete, a number of violent acts committed by the gang are done with a machete. MS-13 is split up into cliques that vary in their own structure with larger cliques having a more military style hierarchy and smaller ones having designated leaders called shot callers. All gang members are required to follow the thirteen rules of conduct which include always obeying a superior member order to not saying “mierda” due the fact that that’s what the rival gang the Eighteenth Street Gang calls them. In addition to the thirteen rules they must bring in profit, prove their toughness, and kill on command. Another famous Latin gang are the Trinitarios they were formed in 1989 by inmates in the Rikers Island Correction Facility and was composed of mostly Dominican inmates who sought protection. When the members were released they set up shop in the Washington Heights area of New York City and they are considered one of the fastest growing gangs on the Northeast. The requirements to be in the Trinitarios are that you must be of Dominican decent or affiliation as well as killing somebody or getting stabbed. The leaders from each regional chapter meet up once a year and other than that they all operate independently there are two main leaders but their identities are unknown. They have no alliances with other Latin gangs declare themselves rivals of those gangs. The Aryan Brotherhood is a prison gang that operates both in and out of prison. The gang formed in 1964 in San Quentin prison as a response to newly desegregated prisons, the founders were Irish bikers who sought protection in prison. The requirement to join the Brotherhood is that they must kill another person in a “eye drawing” fashion or kill a person of another race. Although they don’t have as many members compared to other prison gangs the Aryan Brotherhood makes up for it in pure violence and disregard for authority. For example, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood killing a “shot caller” of a rival gang in the middle of a crowded prison yard with no concern of the repercussions. The Aryan Brotherhood have certain core values like white supremacy and adorn themselves in Nazi symbols like the swastika and SS patches or tattoos, this gang is also known to work with other gangs of varying races which goes to show that making money comes before their racism. The Bloods arose in the early 1970’s in response to the Crips gang becoming a powerful gang terrorizing neighborhoods in Los Angeles. There were other African American that arose in response to the Crips and over time these “red” gangs banded together to form the Bloods. Later on in the 1970’s the Bloods and Crips began to divide up into neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area fervently protecting their territory.Â As time passed and their membership grew the Bloods are spread throughout the country both in states and their respective prison population. The requirements to be in the Bloods are that you must be African American, as well as survive a beat in by elder members of the gang and commit a crime or murder a member of a rival gang. The Crips arose in the late 1960’s on high school campuses throughout to Los Angeles area. These groups were later organized into subsets that had their own leaders and hierarchies. The initiation process for being a Crip is essentially the same for being a Blood, you must get beat in and kill a rival gang member or commit another crime. Now that we have a good background on the history of gangs and the different groups we will go over the types of crimes these gangs commit.
The crimes of these gangs are all similar in a sense they are known for drug trafficking, murder, and human trafficking. If we look deeper we can see what makes each gang’s crimes unique to them. To start off the MS-13 more specifically deals in drug distribution, murder, rape, prostitution, robbery, home invasions, immigration offenses, kidnapping, carjacking, and vandalism. All the following crimes are usually carried out as violently as possible where violence is necessary. A crime that sets them apart from the other gangs are immigration offenses, since MS-13 is a gang that requires El Salvadorian heritage many of the members go through Mexico to the U.S. where other gang members can get them into the U.S. illegally. The Trinitarios commit similar crimes to MS-13 except for immigration offenses. Since this is originally a prison gang a decent amount of the offenses may happen in penitentiaries. The Aryan Brotherhood commits crimes like the MS-13 and Trinitarios with the exception of racketeering, arms trafficking, inmate prostitution and some dog fighting. They are known specifically for distributing crystal methamphetamine. For the most part crimes happen in the prison system although they also have members that are not incarcerated that commit crimes and smuggle in money into the prison to give to other members. The Brotherhood also make themselves available as hitmen for hire for the right price. The Brotherhood mostly focuses on seriously organized crime activities which sets them apart from most gangs where the thing that they are about most is territory and not making money. The Bloods and Crips Gang activities are like the MS-13 and Trinitarios. Both gangs made large amounts of money during the crack-cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles and routinely rob and murder innocent people or rival gang members.
When most people think of a gang member they often think of male members but there are many female gang members as well. Although they only account for usually 11% of gang member ship according to a study conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Since females in gangs are a small minority of the total gang membership we will look at what gangs females are predominantly in. Female gang members can be separated into 3 types, mixed membership gangs where members can be male or female, auxiliary gangs, where a group of females works with a male dominated gang and finally female only gangs. Per the study “Gender Dynamics in Youth Gangs: A Comparison of Males’ and Females’ Accounts” by Jody Miller and Rod K. Brunson they found that females most likely found themselves associated with mixed gangs or auxiliary gangs. When a female is in a gang they are found to assume one of two roles the “tomboy” or the “sex object”. The tomboy role is like the male member’s role in the gang but is not usually accepted due to the male members viewing it as outside of the normal female behavior. The sex object role is obvious, the male members use a female for sexual purposes as well as using them to entrap male rival gang members and conceal weapons or drugs. In both roles, the females wanted to have the respect of their male peers. There were interesting observances of how a female presence would deter violent acts even in all male gangs. One of the all-male gang members explains “Girls keep people from doin’ things…” and he goes on to tell a story about how a girl that he used to talk to hid his gun from him an attempt to stop him from getting vengeance on a rival gang member that shot his partner. Miller and Brunson g on to summarize this by stating “Young women’s presence gave these young men an excuse for avoiding violence, even though they depicted girls as only good for sex.”. When looking at the activities that girls in gangs commit one member explains that his fellow member Tia mostly sold drugs and partied with the other members but did not participate in activities that included violence like drive bys and other confrontations with rival gangs. If a girl was involved on a violent act it was fighting another rival female member. When all the members were asked how they protected other members most of the subjects responded that guns were the primary source of protection. It was noted that girls just said guns while boys listed the types of firearms given to the members. A major difference between boys and girls when it came to weapons was that when the girls were asked what kind of weapons girls carried on them 70 percent stated they carried knives or similar instruments while 26 percent carried guns. As for inter-gang relationships between boys and girls it seems that in mixed gangs members for the most part had a sexual relationship with the other opposite sex members since dating can cause unwanted drama and fighting within the gang. As for all male gangs, they will have similar relationships with girls that hang out with the gang where they are only viewed as sex objects. The most apparent example of this sexual exploitation is seen when the initiation process of sexing in is used on new female recruits. If a female member is sexed in usually they do not receive any respect within the gang and are only viewed as sex objects. It was noted that if a female did associate with a mixed gender gang instead of a all-male gang they were afforded protection and some status within the gang.Â There are differences between how female and male members are attacked by other rival gangs. Male and female members both acknowledged that it is easier for males to be targeted by rivals than females mostly because females are allowed to wear whatever colors they want and are not assumed to be in a gang. There was a specific danger for female gang members, being kidnapped and sexually assaulted or beaten by rival gang members to make a point. For the most part females did not agree that they experienced the same amount of dangers that males face being in a gang. It is noted that both male and females agreed that once a violent situation came around the females are not included or they leave the scene. From the interviews with the gang members on their views on gender specific victimization all accounts had the idea that boys were more likely to experience lethal violence and girls were more likely to experience sexual violence.
In summary, we can see that gangs have a rich culture in the United States dating back to when the first immigrants settled here. Although the gangs vary by ethnicity it seems that people join gangs for protection, to have some semblance of a family, or to make a living. The crimes of these gangs can vary but all of them commit violent crimes and sell drugs other illegal substances. As far as gender is concerned it is shown that females make up a small amount of membership in gangs and they usually do not participate in violent life threatening acts but they help distribute drugs and lure rival gang members. Just because female gang members aren’t involved in violent crimes does not mean that that are at less of a risk of danger. Females are at risk of being kidnapped and sexually or physically assaulted by rival gang members to make a point whereas male gang members are at risk of life threatening altercations with rival gang members.
- Adams, Jennifer J., and Jesenia M. Pizarro. MS-13 Gang Profile (2009): n. pag. MS-13 Gang Profile. Journal of Gang Research, Summer 2009. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Aryan Brotherhood.” Aryan Brotherhood. Southern Poverty Law Center, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2011
- Diamond, Andrew J. “Gangs.” Gangs. Chicago Historical Society, 2005. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
- Dun, J. (n.d.). Los Angeles Crips and Bloods: Past and Present. Retrieved March 02, 2017, from https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/gangcolor/lacrips.htm
- Howell, James C., and John P. Moore. “The History of Street Gangs in the United States: Their Origins and Transformations.” History of Street Gangs in The United States (2010): n. pag.History of Street Gangs in The United States. U.S. Department of Justice, May 2010. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Miller, Jody, and Rod K. Brunson. “Gender Dynamics in Youth Gangs: A Comparison of Males’ and Females’ Accounts.” Justice Quarterly 17.3 (2000): 419-48. Web.
- Olmstead, Scott. Organization Data Sheet: Los Trinitarios Author: Scott Olmstead Review: Phil Williams A. When the Organization Was Formed + Brief History(n.d.): n. pag. Los Trinitarios. Pittsburgh University, May 2012. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.