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gang, group of people organized for a common purpose, often criminal. Gangs of criminals were long known on the American frontier and also flourished in urban settings. Notorious were the outlaws led by Jesse James and his brother, the Sydney Ducks of San Francisco (active in the 1850s), and the Hudson Dusters of turn-of-the-century New York City. Modern criminal gangs are largely urban and highly organized (see organized crime). Adolescent gangs before World War II were generally poverty-area recreational groups that turned to crime under the influence of adult gangs. Often the groups were rehabilitated through recreational leadership and guidance in community centers. In the late 1940s fighting gangs arose in the poverty areas of most large cities. Uniting to seek security and status in a discouraging environment, the young members divide their neighborhoods into rival territories and amass homemade and stolen weapons. Boundary violations or other insults invite intergang fights in streets or parks. Most fighting gangs are organized intricately, with caste systems and with officers who arrange battles and prepare strategy; the gang may range in size from several members to over 100. Factors related to the development of delinquent gangs include blighted communities, dropping out of school, unemployment, family disorganization, neighborhood traditions of gang delinquency, psychopathology, and ethnic status. Gangs provide acceptance and protection to inner-city youth; in Los Angeles gangs doubled from 400 in 1985 to 800 (with 90,000 members) in 1990. See also juvenile delinquency.

See L. Yablonsky, The Violent Gang (1962, repr. 1970); M. W. Klein and B. G. Myerhoff, Juvenile Gangs in Context (1967); J. F. Short, ed., Gang Delinquency and Delinquent Subcultures (1968); E. Liebow, Talley's Corner (1968); J. Haskins, Street Gangs: Yesterday and Today (1977); W. F. Whyte, Streetcorner Society (1981); A. Campbell, Girls in the Gang (1984); E. Dolan, Youth Gangs (1984); L. Bing, Do or Die (1991).

Gangsters redirects here. For the computer game, see Gangsters (video game). For the British Television series, see Gangsters (TV series).''

A gang is a group of people who through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage share a common identity. In early usage, the word gang referred to a group of workmen. In England the word is still often used in this sense, but it later underwent pejoration. The word gang often carries a negative connotation; however, within a gang which defines itself in opposition to mainstream norms, members may adopt the phrase as a statement of identity or defiance.

Gang activities are not restricted to typical organized crime groups, but may be associated with a general class of behavior in which collective action and support of communal interests and goals serves to achieve social cohesion or solidarity "especially in gangs, cults, unions, political parties or movements, and religious sects.An article in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice defines a street gang or troublesome youth group as "any durable, street-oriented youth group whose own identity includes involvement in illegal activity". This definition was developed over 5 years and agreed on by more than 100 gang research scholars in the United States and Europe. It is a minimalist definition specifically designed to enhance comparative street gang research. Because of the frequently ethnic minority dimension to gangs, some studies of the sociology of gangs contend that gang culture arises and depends, at least in part, upon aspects of social marginality and deviance. Or it may be an attempt to receive attention lacking from potentially abusive family figures.

Historical criminal gangs

A wide variety of historical gangs, such as the Chinese Triads, Japanese Yakuza, American Old West outlaw gangs and Italian Mafia Mafia crime families has existed for centuries. These early gangs were known for many criminal activities, but in most countries could not profit from drug trafficking prior to twentieth century drug prohibition laws such as the 1912 International Opium Convention and the 1919 Volstead Act. Gang involvement in drug trafficking increased during the 1970s and 1980s, but some gangs continue to have minimal involvement in the trade.

Modern usage

In modern usage, gang often refers to loosely organized groups that control a territory through readiness to use coordinated violence, especially against other gangs. Violence also serves to maintain organization within the gang and to control gang members (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996; Horowitz, 1983; Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991; Yablonsky, 1962) Gangs are as diverse and dissimilar as the ideologies and belief systems which influence and motivate them. Extremist and hate groups in some states have acquired the label, as the extremist groups operate very similarly to corporate gangs. While hierarchy, colors, and turf are not emphasized as much within these extremist groups, symbols, signs, codes, special languages, and group collaboration and participation in patterns of criminal activity are as much a part of the gang type behavior as they are to more traditional 'street gangs'. 'Territories' have expanded to include the Internet for some gangs. Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings, Sureños, Norteños, 18th Street gang, MS-13, and other "web bangers" are among some gangs posting on personal and social networking Web sites taunting other gangs, boasting of illegal exploits, and, according to George W. Knox, director of the National Gang Crime Research Center, influencing and recruiting new members. Tod Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford University in Virginia states: “Gangs already have their own alphabet, their own language, their own hand signals, so why not use the Internet?” Gang members, using home computers communicate with each other using their own coded language to brag about criminal exploits and to organize crimes on the street, including fights with rival gangs. White Aryan Resistance (WAR), the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) are three American-based white-supremacist or neo-fascist groupuscules or gangs who have been quick to exploit the advantages the Internet and the World Wide Web offer for organizing, recruiting, and developing their small, splinter groups of extremists. While the Internet provides these gangs with the opportunity to communicate with a wider audience, the threat of increased influence on disenfranchised and underprivileged youths may be exaggerated. Gang members have also been joining and organizing within the U.S. military and learning military skills in Iraq, a phenomenon an FBI report calls "a threat to law enforcement and national security. In environments with few social supports, gangs provide young members a sense of belonging, and protection from other gangs; often, where prospects for gainful employment are poor, they also provide an illegal means of earning a living.


  • School-yard gangs such as B.I has prompted some officials to designate categories to classify gangs based on age, finances, criminal activities, and levels of sophistication. Sometimes these are referred to as "Wanna-B's." But, gang experts know that a "Wanna-B" is a "Gonna-B" without early intervention. Gang activity can also account for some of the higher dropout rates in some public school systems.
  • Scavenger gangs are characteristically disorganized and often represent the least successful of all the types of gangs. Members of scavenger gangs may be low achievers, and may be prone to violent or erratic behavior. Because these gangs are not well organized, leadership of scavenger gangs may change frequently and without reason. Scavenger gangs often turn to low-level crime, usually committed spontaneously and without planning. If a scavenger gang can become more organized, it may be able to grow into a territorial gang.
  • Territorial gangs are typically more organized than scavenger gangs, but their primary purpose is still social. Some may sell drugs, but this is not a defining characteristic of the territorial gang. Territorial gangs will often use violent means to defend their territory; in some cases this helps the gang to bond and reinforces the social structures of the gang. Gang members may be attracted to territorial gangs because they have difficult home lives. Two examples of such gangs are the Bloods and the Crips.
  • Corporate gangs are highly organized conspiracies, constructed for the purpose of marketing drugs and gaining maximum profits. The symbolism and turfs that are significant to territorial and scavenger gangs are meaningless to corporate gangs. Members of corporate gangs are expected to follow a certain etiquette, and severe punishment can be expected for any faux pas. Leadership of a corporate gang requires a higher level of intelligence than other gangs, and bosses in these gangs will often be highly successful career criminals. They also can be very territorial and can not wear the color of another gang.John Hancock, Combating Gang Activity in Prison, Gangs Across America

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