For some parents, educators, community members and even teen peers, youth gang-related violence seems to evade common sense. It’s important to reject labeling such youth as “bad” kids by considering the underlying factors. Gang participation can surface due to a perceived lack of alternative choices and available support.
In today’s gang culture, both girls and boys are considered valid targets for a variety of physical and sexual crimes and neither gender is considered off-limits for any “job” or harm.
Common characteristics of youth who become gang-involved:
- A strong desire for peer acceptance
- Poor academic performance
- Recent immigrant status
- Drug and alcohol use
- Lack of parental supervision
- Lack of positive role models
What is a youth gang?
Youth gangs control crime on the streets. They deal in drugs, prostitution, and are involved in other illegal activities. Gang members lead very dangerous lives. They carry weapons, steal cars and other property, and are always on the run—from the police and other gang members. Discrimination and racist attitudes are behind some gang violence.
Are gangs dangerous?
Gang leaders get their junior members to do dangerous things. Members talk about being part of a family, but they can turn their backs on each other in a heartbeat. If you are thinking of joining a gang, here are some things to keep in mind:
- You will live in fear. Fear of getting caught, fear of getting killed, fear of the rest of the gang.
- Getting caught means going to jail or getting killed.
- Gangs demand loyalty and have very strict rules. Just imagine the rules in jail.
- You will be forced to choose the gang over your friends and family.
- You won’t get what is promised to you. Gang leaders take the largest cut of all profits. You’ll be left with the scraps, no matter what you did to earn it.
- You will be forced to hurt innocent people; in some gangs, committing the most serious crimes is a way to rise to the top
- You will never feel good about yourself, or hold onto the things you achieve (status, independence)
What’s the price?
- In most countries, the police have the right to take away anything that is bought with criminal money. This includes luxury cars and motorcycles, jewelry, clothing, and even your home.
- Having a criminal record makes it very hard to get a job once you’re out of jail. You won’t be able to leave the country easily, either. Being in jail means having zero freedom or choices.
- Prison can be violent, unsafe, and lonely. The gang won’t have your back once you’re in. You’ll be on your own.
Who are you “repping”?
You might know that there are gangs in your community, but can you pick out the members? There are no hard and fast rules for what gang members look like, but here are some things to look out for:
Gang members might wear specific colors. They might also wear baseball hats in the same way, like sideways, or roll up a pant leg. Some gangs use bandannas or “rags” to show which gang they’re in. Bandannas might be wrapped around the head or stuffed into a pocket.
Tattoos are common in gangs. Some tattoos prove gang membership, others might show information like how many jail terms a gang member has served. Scars, like burn marks, are also a way of showing gang membership.
Hair might be shaved in some way to show that someone is in a gang. This includes shaving slashes in an eyebrow or the side of a head.
Hand signals are used to show gang membership and to disrespect other gangs.
Street graffiti can be used to show that a gang is “active” in a neighborhood. This is sort of like staking out territory. Not all graffiti is gang graffiti. Gangs have special tags, or symbols.