Youth gangs have been existing all over the world throughout history. Initially, the word gang meant a group of workmates. However, with time, this word attained a negative connotation and referred to a group of people who oppose the norms of society. According to Alexander (1996: 34-39), the word gang is currently used to portray a statement of defiance or identity. Youth gangs can be said to be youth groups who possess an identity that involves engaging in illegal activities. In the modern society, gangs refers to groups which are loosely organised and control certain territories through the use of violence that is coordinated.
This violence is also used within the gang to maintain organisation as well as control gang members. According to Short (1974: 21-28), gangs are diverse according to the nature of the belief systems and ideology that motivates and influences them. Some hate and extremist groups have acquired the tag ‘gang’ due to their nature of operations which resemble gang activities. Most gangs have turf, colours and hierarchy as their characteristics, though these are not very much emphasised.
Symbols, codes, signs, special language, group participation and collaboration in criminal activity patterns are the characteristics that are most emphasised. In terms of the territories in which gangs operate, globalisation has created a new modus operandi, where gangs operate in the Internet. According to Battin-Pearson et al. (1998: 67-73), gangs have been known to use social networking and personal websites to boast of illegal exploits and taunt other gangs. They also use these forums to organise crimes and fights with gangs that they perceive to be their rivals.
The Internet has also been used to influence and recruit new members. Their benefits to members include protection from rival gangs, providing them with a sense of belonging, and provision of illegal ways of earning a living, in cases where the members have low chances of acquiring gainful employment. Types of gangs. There are four broad categories of gangs. The first is the school-yard gangs, and these are gangs that are in their initial stage of formation. They are accountable for the high drop out rate in public schools.
According to Smith and Bradshaw (2005: 44-47), scavenger gangs are the least successful and organised gangs, with members who exhibit erratic and violent behaviour, which in most of the times is linked to their low level of achievements. These gangs usually commit spontaneous low level crime due to the low level of organisation. However, these gangs have the potential to grow to be territorial gangs, if they are well organised. According to Sanders (2002: 66-72), territorial gangs have a higher level of organisation than scavenger gangs though they still serve social purposes as their primary motivation.
These gangs may sell drugs, although this is not their major characteristic. Territorial gangs have been known to act very violently in the event that their territory is threatened. Finally, corporate gangs are conspiracies that are highly organised and mainly carry out drug activities. The turfs and symbolism that is a characteristic of scavenger and territorial gangs has no meaning to corporate gangs. They are made up of intelligent people who follow certain rules of etiquette which attract serious punishment, if flouted.
Study of gangs. Although gangs have been existing throughout history, as was earlier indicated, the study of gangs started during the early 20th century, in the United States. Among the first people to study gangs were Robert Park and Frederick Thrasher. According to Stelfox (1996: 32-37), these researchers were studying the ecology of the city and effects caused by migration. These researchers made findings which revealed that gangs were formed by the second generation of migrants, and that they usually broke the law.
The researchers were of the opinion that gangs would be assimilated to the economic and social mainstream of society over time. The gang and social structure. Some researchers oppose the view that particular migrant groups generated street gangs due to the social disorganisation inherent in them. According to Muncie (2000: 84-89), their research on the origin of gangs pointed to the conclusion that, rather than the disorganised slums producing criminal gangs, they produced fighting gangs. They explained that the organised slums were the ones responsible for the creation of criminal gangs.
They viewed that fact that both sets of gangs lacked access to opportunities, but the organised slum had criminal hierarchies that were well developed, and this led to the development of organised crime. According to Pitts (2007), these gangs that lived in organised slums are said to have maintained relations with the police, that were mutually beneficial to them. The disorganised slums on the other hand lacked these connections, and could only exert authority through physical prowess, which was mainly characterised by opportunist street crimes, low level in nature.
According to Anderson (1999: 76-81), in analysing the emergence of gangs in the US, it is important to analyse the various ethnic groups, and their contribution to the gang activity. The disorganised slums were mainly inhabited by Hispanic and African Americans, while organised slums was home to the White Americans. In analysing these groups, it was discovered that they all did similar illegal and legal activity during their teenage years. According to Ferrell and Young (2008: 28-34), during their late teenage years, most White Americans acquired unionised, reasonably paying semi-skilled and skilled work.
According to Hallsworth and Young (2004: 97-104), the Hispanics on the other hand, acquired low paid, short term work, remained unemployed, joined training schemes that had no clear objectives or engaged in the recycling of parts from stolen cars. The African Americans either acquired lower level jobs in the public service or joined street gangs that dealt in crack. According to Hagedorn (1998), these trends reveal that ethnicity and social class played key roles in providing opportunities, both illegal and legal, to teenagers in American society.
The people who have been denied opportunities to employment have higher chances of joining street gangs than those who have these opportunities. These factors are important to understand, since they shed light on the emergence of gangs, and through studying them, we can know how to prevent their emergence as well as neutralise the existing ones. During the 1980s, the manufacturing industry in the Mid West and American West collapsed, and this led to the increase in drug trade in poor neighbourhoods.
The international drug economy concentrated its activities in these poor neighbourhoods, and this led to the growth of street gangs. By the 1990s, the activities of the street gangs had increased from affecting half of the twelve largest US cities in 1975, to affecting ten of the largest US cities. However, there was a general increase in gangs in all cities, regardless of their size, and these activities affected over 45 US cities, by the mid 1990s. The predominant ethnic groups that joined gangs during this period was Hispanic and Black Americans.
Gangs in the UK. The UK uses similar terms in defining gangs, as those used in the US. Hallsworth and Young (2004), describe a gang as a street based relatively durable group who are perceived by others and also perceive themselves to feature violence and crime as a basic characteristic of their identity. They further differentiate peer groups from gangs and organised criminal groups. According to Miller (2001: 55-58), peer groups are seen as a transitive unorganized groups that share space and history but do not feature crime as a characteristic.
Gangs have been defined above, and organised criminal groups are defined as professionals who undertake criminal activities for personal gains and they operate in illegal places. Knife crime in UK. The cases of knife crime have increased in recent years, and this is a cause of alarm for the society in general. According to Campbell (1984: 33-37), knife crimes involve crimes in which the attacker uses a knife to either injure his or her victim, or cause perceived threat to the victim’s life. The increase in knife crime can be attributed to the increase in carrying knives by teenagers.
In 2000, a study conducted in Scotland revealed that 12% of teenagers below the age of 16 carried sharp instruments that included razors, knives, swords and machetes. MORI research group carried out another youth survey in 2005, and this revealed that at least 32% of pupils below the age of 16 had carried knives over the past year. Further research indicates that the use of knives in violent crimes has increased from over 107,000 cases in 1997 to over 147,000 in 2007. The Home Office asserts that 38% of fatalities between 1995 and 2000 were caused by a sharp instrument. Majority of the sharp instruments in this case were knives.
Gangs are attributable for more than half of all the cases of knife attacks, and most of these cases are reported in poor neighbourhoods. In fact, the homicide rate in wealthy areas has fallen while it is steadily increasing in poor neighbourhoods. According to Thornbury (2003: 44-48), most of the fatalities in the poor neighbourhoods are caused by injuries by sharp objects and this is attributed to the increase in gang activities. Gang murders. The number of gang related murders in the UK has sharply risen over the years, raising concerns of the safety of the general public.
For instance, early this month, Lewis (2008) reported that detectives linked six murders that occurred in Sheffield during the past five years, to activities related to gangs. The victims included a child, who was shot while playing on the play ground, and highlighted an issue that had been ignored for a long time. Meg Hughes, the Chief Constable for South Yorkshire announced that he recognises the gang culture problem, but added that major cities had higher rates of gang related fatalities. For instance, Manchester had over 50 fatalities related to gangs over the same duration.
The crimes were blamed over gangs which were fighting amongst each other, and the issues included stolen property, drug supply and girlfriends. In this case, most of the violence is directed at each other, which reduces the risk to the general population, but we cannot ignore the possibility of hurting or killing innocent bystanders. According to Shillingford (2007), the fatalities that are caused by gang related violence in London are rising at a fast rate, and are robbing the city of productive members of the community.
He further says that this trend cannot be ignored, and this is the reason that the media should cover such cases. In April of 2007, he says that fatalities caused by gangs became apparent after Erhahon Paul was murdered. He was the sixth boy to be murdered in a duration of eight weeks, in London and he was aged under 16. He was stabbed by a rival gang and he died shortly after the incident when he tried to run home. According to the Metropolitan Police, in London, each week an average of 50 people become victims of knife crimes. According to Maguire et al. 2007: 31-37), in Britain, every two weeks a child is fatally stabbed, and more deaths are caused by knives compared to firearms. Further evidence shows that teenagers carry knives as if they are fashion accessories. In fact, there is an interesting case where a five year old boy was suspended from school for brandishing a blade. The problem with gangs in Britain, is when they are caught, they see a sentence in prison as badge of honour. According to Cloward and Ohlin (1960: 77-85), other jails in Britain have good resources and many consider then to be hotels.
It therefore defeats the logic of jailing these young teenagers, since instead of them reforming in jail, they come out as hardened criminals. These are the challenges that the British Police have faced, and they have necessitated the use of North American studies on gangs in efforts to contain the situation. Use of the North American gang studies to understand gang murders in Britain. There are several common attributes between the gangs that are found in North America and Britain. These attributes help law enforcers and the general public in Britain in efforts to contain the gang violence.
The first aspect that is analysed is the composition of the gang members. As was previously stated, most gang members in the US consists of African Americans and Hispanic Americans. Most of these groups as was earlier discussed, live in low income neighbourhoods and organised slums. According to Bourgois (1996: 25-30), in Britain, most of these gangs are concentrated in inner cities’ low income neighbourhoods. They also involve minority groups just like in North America, and some of these groups include people of Nigerian descent. The next factor that should be analysed is the reason why these gangs are formed.
When the law enforcement agencies are aware of the origins of these gangs, they may have an idea of how to tackle them and discourage their formation. In the US, it is clear as was earlier discussed that most of these gangs are formed due to lack of employment opportunities. According to Bradshaw (2005: 55-65), these are linked to ethnic origins, and it is clear that most of them were formed due to the unequal opportunities that existed between White Americans and the minority groups, mainly Hispanic and African Americans. According to Bennett and Holloway (2004: 75-83), in Britain, there is a similarity in the formation of these gangs.
Most gangs are formed due to lack of work opportunities in Britain, as well as the unequal opportunities that exist between the White Britons and minority ethnic communities, as well as immigrant communities such as Africans. Most of the minority groups in Britain lack employment opportunities and therefore resort to crime as a means of survival. This factor has been evident, since some gang members perceive the life in British prisons to be better than the life they lead, a fact that encourages them to engage in crime without fear of going to prison.
There are however factors in Britain that are lightly different from the gang environment that is experienced in North America. It has been seen that there is a culture of violence that is present in the British environment. According to Bourgois (1995: 22-27), statistics have shown that very many British children possess knives and blades, which they use to ensure their security. It has also been mentioned that a five year old boy was suspended from school for brandishing a blade.
This is a very worrying trend, since if the culture of violence is embedded in children when they are this young, it will be very difficult to reverse the situation. However, it can be safely assumed that if the problem of gang violence is addressed, this will ensure that there is a safe environment, and the young people will have no need of carrying knives. It therefore becomes very important to analyse the major causes of gang violence. According to the studies in North America, the lack of opportunities can be said to be among the major factors that encourage this trend.
According to Young and Hallsworth (2008: 76-84), these youths feel that the system has betrayed them and they resort to crime in a bid to survive. This creates many gangs, which then fight amongst themselves over their illegal activities and control of their territory. This is the exact situation that is being experienced in Britain; gangs are fighting amongst themselves, thereby causing fatalities to innocent bystanders. In order to curb this vice, a two way approach should be used, just like in the US. First of all, the British government should arrest the perpetrators of gang activities.
It should carry out simultaneous swoops aimed at netting gang members. These people should be charged in courts and handed harsh sentences if found guilty, so that it might act as a deterrent to any other people thinking of starting similar practices. According to Alexander (2000: 23-27), the second measure that the British government should do is to address the issue of unequal opportunities between the minority groups and the White Britons. This is due to the reason that arresting gang members without addressing their key issues will not be beneficial, as new gangs are likely to be formed to fight or these issues.
This can be achieved through giving minority groups incentives and empowering them so that they can become independent. According to Miller (1958: 30-37), the government should also ensure that these groups have decent housing and access to social facilities. The government should also carry out counselling activities that are aimed at explaining the dangers of joining gangs or carrying weapons, so that young people are discouraged from engaging in this vice. According to Atkinson and Flint (2003: 43-49), it is very important that the government addresses these issues simultaneously.
It should not delay implementing reforms that will reduce the levels of inequalities between the minority groups and White Britons. When gang members see that the government is genuinely committed towards uplifting their welfare, most of then are likely to change their undesirable habits and become model citizens. Conclusion and recommendation. It has been evident that the problems that caused by gangs are very common, not just in North America and Britain, but all over the world. It is a problem that is causing the death of very many young people, yet they are the future generation.
It is imperative that a solution to this problem is found early enough in order to save the lives of these people. Studying the problem is the first step towards solving it, and the studies that have been done in North America have proved very useful towards finding a solution to this problem. According to Stelfox (1998): 59-63, the similarity between the gang features in North America and Britain provide a useful source of information to Britain on gangs. The major cause of the gang activities has been seen to be the perception that the system has ignored the plight of the minority communities.
It is very important that the law enforcement agencies arrest these gang members, and at the same time address the issue of inequality, so that everyone might coexist peacefully in the society. The government should also be careful to balance the needs of the minority groups and those of the White Britons, so that the minority groups are not deemed to have been favoured. This will prevent the formation of gangs by white people to protest against these reforms. Finally, young people should be advised early enough on the dangers of joining gangs and carrying of weapons.