The available literature and research that have been carried out in the recent past concerning United States street gangs is concentrated on the deviant dimension of gangs such as criminal activity, drug use and gang homicide. There are two main reasons for concentrating study on this dimension of gangs. First, there are concerns about violent crimes and drug use and these have been attributed to street gangs. Secondly, social scientists have a general proclivity of highlighting those groups conceived of as different from the mainstream middle class.
There are numerous and divergent theories on the reasons behind juveniles become involved in crime and gang activities in California. Some researchers have indicated that this trend can be attributed to the increasing involvement of gangs in the sale and distribution of illegal drugs (Miller, 1975). Research carried in 1960s are characteristic of this conception where adolescent cohorts are used as recruiting and training grounds for adult criminal enterprises. This conception builds from Robert Merton’s (1984) framework. Merton put into use the concept of anomie which was first proposed by Emile Durkheim.
According to him, the United States as a country is a goal oriented society and the youths desire wealth and material wealth. Class and status determine access to these resources and those with inadequate education often find that these things are not within their reach. This compels some youths to establish criminal and delinquent solutions to this problem of goal attainment. The sale of drugs fills this vacuum. The genesis of the problem The San Diego gang problem can only be comprehended when looked at from a historical perspective.
The media and the criminal justice’s conception of California Juvenile activity have been significantly influenced by African American and Latino gangs from the earliest times of gang identification. The present moral panic that characterizes juvenile crime mirrors similar fears witnessed in the 1940s. Prior to 1940’s, the stage had already been set in California during the economic boom of the 1920s. During this time, many Mexican immigrants were attracted to the state for employment. The young Mexicans were mainly rural.
They came with a tradition referred to as “polomilla” where young men would come together in a coming of age cohort (Vigil, 1988:118). During the 1920s and 1930s, they began adopting a group identity, especially neighborhood identity. These groups became the earliest establishments of the modern Chicano gangs of East Los Angeles (Sheldon, Tracy, & Brown, 2000). Some scholars have seen these groups to fall under male barrio groups, a Mexican tradition (Moore, 1991:81). There are various gangs whose history can be traced during these early days. Various groups grew out of young men’s sporting groups.
Fro instance, White Fence group was a group of young men engaged mainly in sporting activities. The activities of the group were mainly associated with La Purisima Church. Sport was the major activity during this time. The young men were fully integrated into the activities of the community. There were no drugs and the activities were family oriented. Thing however changed for this particular group as the activities of more established Latino gangs deviated from those of the church. It was during the 1930s that a shift towards the current territorial gangs escalated.
During the recession, with the worsening of the economy, many Mexican immigrants were deported. Policies that were racist and discriminating against Mexican Americans were established. It is believed that the first moral panic concerning California gangs was a response to the Zoot Suit riots. During these riots, more than two hundred servicemen charted twenty cabs and charged into the midst of Mexican America community in response to what they had seen as gang violence against military personnel. During the riots, individuals wearing zoot suits were targeted and beaten by the mob. More than five hundred Chicano youth were arrested.
The arrests were termed “preventive actions” by the police. A series of gang sweeps were started by the police in areas that the gangs existed. These actions brought the youth together, transforming boy gangs or youth groups into criminal gangs. The Chicano youths who were involved in Zoot Suit riots were seen as heroes by their younger brothers. One of the consequences of the Zoot Suit riots was the strengthening of bonds that existed among the Mexican America community. Stronger gangs were established. The reports from the media and law enforcement agencies began the moral panics.
As a way of responding to these moral panics, law makers and juvenile justice system increased the severity and surety of punishment. These are the same measures that are in operation with regard to handling the problem of gangs today. The history of California juvenile crime and justice suggests patterns and cyclical shifts in attitudes toward youth and how they should be treated. The attitudes towards gang activities and youth gangs have changed since the initial days when California gangs emerged from a traditional barrio base. California’s African American gangs went through the same evolution.
With regard to African Americans, it may be said that the Watts riots did for the African Americans what Zoot Suit riots did for the galvanization of Chicano gangs. The African Americans lacked the polomilla tradition but considering the emasculating conditions of ghetto life in the sixties, it is no surprise that African Americans were strongly appealed by the cocky, dangerous style of the Latino gangs. In many respects, African American youths started adopting the style and defiance of the Latino gang youth. According to Cornell West (1994), the inner city black community’s nihilistic thinking offers the ground for gang formation.
West believes that young blacks establish a detached attitude towards others in an environment of despair. They also develop a self-destructive disposition that is not only damaging to themselves but also to the people around them. This sentiment is echoed by many individuals. According to Ice-T (1994), gangs are given birth to within the chaos of the society. He holds that one never has a thing when he is growing up in the South Central and this means that he does not have anything to control in his life. The gangs offer this control and a minute is intoxicating according to him.
The members try to seek control of their own tiny world-an alley or a street. But this is like an empire to them. There are other individuals who are in support of a rational choice model. According to this model, likely gang members choose to be associated themselves with gangs to increase their financial rewards. Thornberry et al. (1993) discovered in their research that drug abuse and rate of delinquency among the youths were lower than those of existing gang members before they joined the gang. Once they join the gang, their rate of delinquency and substance abuse significantly increased, only decreasing when they quit the gang.
Their conclusion was that instead of gangs providing a haven for delinquent youths, they facilitate criminality. This increased criminality view is supported by various other studies. Gang members record higher rates of street crime involvement and other serious offenses before joining the gang when compared to non-gang members. Another view is that, contrary to the conception that gangs appeal to adolescents because of the desire to possess money and fame, the youths are instead attracted to them because of their deep rooted desire for tribal group process that saw their ancestors through the life challenges.
The approach cites the members’ initiation into the gangs as symbolizing their transition from childhood to adulthood. Gang names such as cobra, raven and jaguar indicate totemic ancestors due to their symbolisms. As much as these perspectives offer explanations of the reasons behind some low income urban youth join criminal gangs, they offer no explanation on why others do not. Not all youths in East Los Angeles are involved with gangs. Many regions in California have experienced massive job losses and poverty situations yet they have not experienced the formation of gangs.
A study of San Diego gangs indicate that the vast number of low income urban areas and the absence of gangs and gang members in relation to poverty presents a major problem in knowing about gang formation. Solution to gang problems War against gangs in San Diego and elsewhere in California can be won if the problem is aggressively addressed in schools, homes and streets. The current approaches taken by the criminal justice needs to be focused on specific cases. This is however difficult considering the diversity of theories concerning gang formation.
Poverty and group affiliation may be attributive causes but findings suggest other causes that have to do with the environmental factors. Following the history of the evolution of gangs, it is clear that the only way of reverting the formation and effect of criminal gangs is by monitoring neighborhoods. This will mean more law enforcers and intervention workers, more youth programs and more jobs to keep the youths occupied. All these translate to increased budget as they are bound to cost more money.
Scholars, law enforcement officials and community activists have developed a consensus conception that cultural aspects must be addressed if criminal gangs are to be eradicated. The hard core criminals, who are the minority, must be removed from the streets. Programs must also be developed which offer alternatives to the vast population of youths in poor areas. These alternatives can be offered through recreational, educational and employment programs. This is a necessary option as long as criminal gangs remain in communities.
The graffiti which is so much an instrument of gang domination should be taken out. If these aspects of criminal gangs are allowed to remain, there is no claim that can be made with regard to success in ridding San Diego of criminal gangs. Rooting out criminal gangs also require adequate resources, strong leadership and a high level of cooperation among the local, state and federal agencies. The community members should also help law enforcement agencies in identifying gang members.
Leaders of institutions within the community also need to offer small children more education and financial opportunities to help them avoid being involved with gangs. The police alone cannot eliminate the problem even though they make important contributions in easing the magnitude of the problem. The key to comprehending and getting rid of criminal gangs in the society lies in understanding the reasons why youths become gang members, understanding the reality behind prevention and suppression efforts and establishing societies that can act on their own.
Work cited Ice-T. The Hometown. Base Publishers, 1994 Miller, D. California Social Problems. Emmie Press, 1975 Moore, S. Criminal Gangs: A Study of San Diego. Bobby and Bobby, Publishing, 1991 Sheldon, M.. , Tracy, B. & Brown, D. Youth and Delinquency. Chicago Press, 2000 Thornberry, Kkrohm, Lizotte and Chard-Wierschan. Criminal Gangs and Drug Abuse: A longitudinal Study. Rochester Youth Development Study. 8(9) 123-156, 1993 Vigil, D. Criminal Gangs: Theories and Concerns. Harvard University Press, 1988 West, C. Race Matters. Harvard University Press, 1994