Youth Gangs

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Our community is not the only community currently having gang problems. Many small towns and rural areas are experiencing gang problems for the first time. In small communities, citizens jump to the mistaken conclusion that gangs are present. This occurs because small groups of delinquents are common, even in the smallest rural communities. Juveniles enjoy hanging out together, and the reality is that juvenile delinquency is often committed in groups. The visibility of these groups, hanging out in shopping malls and on street corners and their frequent problem behavior may suggest some gang involvement. Another factor that may lead to the mistaken conclusion that a gang problem exists is that our youth culture appears to admire and emulate gang culture. Certain clothing styles and colors commonly worn by gang members have become faddish in the popular youth culture. If you watch MTV for a short period of time, you can see the popularity of what once were considered exclusively to be gang symbols. Open up any magazine and see how hip-hop has influenced the fashion industry. Even if local youths are displaying gang symbols such as the colors of big city gangs, this alone does not necessarily signify a ‘real' gang problem. Local groups of youths often imitate big city gangs, generally in an attempt to enhance their self-image or to seek popularity and acceptance among other juveniles. Although community officials or residents occasionally may encounter random signs of gang activity in an area such as graffiti, arrest of a non-local gang member, or other isolated incidents, this is not necessarily indicative of a new and dangerous gang problem that is permanent. In most cases, the gang problem is short-lived and dissolves as quickly as it develops. Most often, this is mainly because small towns and rural areas do not have the necessary population to sustain gangs and any disruption such as arrest or members dropping out may weaken the gang. For prolonged survival, gangs must be able to attract new members to replace short-term members and older youths who typically leave gangs toward the end of adolescence. Research across a number of cities with typically longer-standing gang problems has found considerable movement in and out of gangs. For instance, approximately half of the youth who join leave the gang within a year (Egley, 2004). The more long-term gang members are also a part of a community's emerging gang problem and usually prove to be the most serious part. Their commitment to the gang as a permanent lifestyle change will forever negatively affect the community. An often-overlooked feature of youth gangs is that they are a symptom of deeper community problems, not an isolated problem (Huff, 2002). Gangs and related gang problems tend to emerge from larger social and economic problems in the community and are as much a consequence as they are a contributing factor. One noted gang researcher has outlined four community conditions that often precede the transition from typical adolescent groupings to established youth gangs (Moore, 1998). First, conventional socialization, such as families and schools, are ineffective and alienate youngsters. Under these conditions, conventional adult supervision is also absent. Second, the adolescents must have a great deal of free time that is not consumed by other healthy social development roles. Third, for the gang to become established, members must have limited access to appealing career lines or good adult jobs. Finally, the young people must have a place to congregate, such as a well-defined neighborhood. The 1980's saw an increase in youth gang violence with the rise of the crack cocaine epidemic. The public linked these two developments together as one causing or affecting the other. This problem seemed to be evaluated solely by public perception rather than scientific knowledge and the relationships among youth gangs, drugs, and violence are more often talked about than...
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