Gangs: A Serious Problem in the U.S.

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  • Topic: Gang, Crime, Mara Salvatrucha
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Current Issues: Gangs
2011, n.p.

Copyright @ 2011 ReferencePoint Press, Website: P.O. Box 27779, San Diego, CA 92198. Phone: 858-618-1314. Fax: 858-618-1730. All rights reserved.

Current Issues: Gangs

By Peggy J. Parks

Gangs at a Glance


How Serious a Problem Are Gangs?
Primary Source Quotes
Facts and Illustrations

Why Do Young People Join Gangs?
Primary Source Quotes
Facts and Illustrations

Can People Leave the Gang Life Behind?
Primary Source Quotes
Facts and Illustrations

Can Gang Violence Be Stopped?
Primary Source Quotes
Facts and Illustrations

Key People and Advocacy Groups


Related Organizations

For Further Research

Source Notes

About the Author

Gangs at a Glance
Gangs and Gang Members

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that more than 20,000 gangs with a total of about 1 million members are criminally active in the United States.

Gang Migration

Gangs are no longer confined to large cities. The FBI states that gang activity is rapidly spreading to outlying suburban and rural communities throughout the United States.

Types of Gangs

Four main types of gangs identified by the U.S. Department of Justice are street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, prison gangs, and military gangs.

Gangs and Crime

Law enforcement officials say that gangs commit a wide range of crimes, including distribution of drugs, weapons trafficking, drive-by shootings, armed robbery, assault, identity theft, and homicide. In many communities gangs are responsible for as much as 80 percent of crime.

Cities with Gang Problems

The U.S. Department of Justice has identified Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York as the top three cities for the most gangs and gang-related crime.

Reasons for Joining Gangs

Young people join gangs for many reasons including the desire to belong to a family-like group, protection from rival gangs, the ability to make money (usually from stealing or selling drugs), prestige, and ready access to drugs.

Quitting Gangs

Whether people are able to leave gangs depends on the particular gang and its rules. Jumping out (being beaten by gang members) is a common way of letting someone out. Some gangs expect their members to remain committed for life and threaten them with death if they try to quit.

Fighting Gang Violence

In cities throughout the United States, the FBI and state and local law enforcement officials are focusing on the most violent street gangs in an effort to capture their leaders and get them off the streets.

"Gangs are morphing, multiplying, and migrating—entrenching themselves not just in our inner cities but increasingly in our ever-sprawling suburbs and wide-open rural spaces."

—Federal Bureau of Investigation, a law enforcement agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Gangs and gang-involved kids exist at some level in every community. Certain groups have decided to use violence and retribution, and their acts are affecting all of us."

—Steven D. Strachan, the chief of police of Kent, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.

At 16 years old, Melody Ross was thoroughly enjoying life. She had just begun her junior year at Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, where she was an honors student and a pole-vaulter on the track team. She was popular and known for being friendly, kind, and someone who always had a sunny smile on her face. On the evening of October 30, 2009, Melody and her friends went to their school's home­coming football game. After the game ended, the girls left the stadium and were sitting on the curb in front of the school. Suddenly the loud crack of gunshots filled the air. A feud had broken out between members of rival gangs, and they were shooting at each other—with bystanders caught in the crossfire.

By the time the violence ended, three people lay on the...
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