Canada alone has approximately 434 major youth gangs, with roughly 7,000 members nationally, 94% of those members are male and 48% of those males are under the age of 18. These young Canadians are all just drops in the ocean of Canada, but as time progresses these drops are turning to puddles. According to UN estimates, by the year 2020, half of the world’s urban population will live in poverty (Cohen), a main contributing factor of gangs and gang violence in Canada. Many gang members come from broken homes, many of those who wind up in gangs are doing drugs, drinking, and smoking, committing crimes, and committing violence. Many of the members consider their fellow gang members "family”, while some of the gangs actually do have real family members within them. We as a society must recognize the contributing factors toward the forming of and recruitment for gangs. To effectively curb gang violence, the focus needs to be shifted to the social and economic factors that contribute to the growth of gangs.
Many feel that if harsher punishments are implemented then the increasing number of gangs would disappear; as though these harsh punishments would scare members away from partaking in violent gangs. The Gang Prevention and Deterrence Act was presented by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Diane Feinstein in October of 2003 in the United States. The Act stated an increase in funding for the federal prosecutors and FBI agents, needed in order to conduct coordinated enforcement efforts against violent gangs. The U.S government creating new gang-prosecution laws and methods is counter-productive. Many youth are not even afraid of being imprisoned; they are taught that going to jail is not a big deal and most of them already have relatives who are incarcerated anyway, so what’s to fear. If the government put that money into rehabilitation and gang prevention programs it would be of better use. There could be a system created that identifies potential gang members and helps those youth get involved into extra-curricular activities and make better uses of their time. There could also be programs created that gives these potential gang members’ role-models to relate to and emulate, and to give the positive adult supervision that they may not be receiving at home. It is clear that harsher punishments are not successful, so by the focus being shifted to the contributing factors gang prevention programs are more of a reality. Gang members are stuck flowing down the wrong stream, and as a population we must be addressing the contributing issues and putting up a dam to stop the flow of those streams.
Poverty is a very big issue amongst most gang members. “Large areas within megacities have admittedly become unmanageable, and armed groups are stepping into manage the unmanageable spaces,” he explains. The equation, as he sees it, is quite simple: urbanization +poverty = gangs (Cohen quotes Hagedorn). Urbanization is creating a ripple in our ocean. By urbanization happening a higher percentage of our countries are becoming poor and living in poverty, which is resulting in an increase in the number of gangs. The only way we can stop this is if we rectify the problems before they have started. Money is also a crucial factor. A kid (6 - 10 years of age, who is not already a member) is commonly shown how he/she could make between two hundred to four hundred dollars a month for a small part time gang job. A gang is a business that is always hiring.
There are definitely some benefits that gang members feel that they have by being part of a gang - even if they could end up in prison or dead, and perhaps lose all of his or her previous friends and family. Some benefits would be the companionship of others in the gang, in addition they get protection, even if joining that gang gets them even more enemies, the member will still have a sense of belonging due to their new found gang, and he or she may even get training on how to fight. A few other benefits may be increased self-esteem and a feeling of power, in addition to access to fast money, even if it is not legal.
Gang members often come from broken homes. They are aiming to find a feeling of family and to feel included somewhere. Broken homes can be a breeding ground for potential gang members, what they are not receiving at home they look for elsewhere. The gangs provide love, identity and status; in turn they develop loyalty to the gang. There are numerous ways of preventing gangs from starting, beginning at the home. Start in the family - parents should pay attention to what their kids are doing, and be aware of signs that they may be involved with a gang. Parents should also be looking for changes in behaviour and the lifestyle of their children. As an alternative to having kids come home after school and hang around in the streets, they could be signed up to after school programs and activities. Often free or subsidized programs are aware at the local Community Centre. Parents should pay attention to their child’s activities when they are young, before they grow up in the streets and consider leading the glorified gang life of violence.
Many gang members have a criminal past. A study done on gang members showed that on average, the members committed their first criminal offense at the age of 9. From this first encounter, their criminal histories escalated. Five gang members had committed murders, 10 had perpetrated armed robberies, 11 had committed burglaries, and all had engaged in drug violations and weapons offenses. Also, all gang members had been confined to juvenile detention centers by the courts, and four had escaped from these facilities one or more times. Their average age at the time they joined the gang was 13. All admitted to carrying weapons, including knives and handguns, at an early age and quickly learned how to effectively and efficiently use them (Pinizzotto). Violence is often a necessity in order to maintain individual and gang status. Gangs thrive on intimidation and notoriety. These crimes committed will lead to a criminal record and often close doors and take away job opportunities after the member has left the gang.
Surroundings also play a large part in forming the person you become. When the people you look up to, such as your parent, or brother, live the gang lifestyle, it is natural to want to emulate them. If the gang life is all around you, this becomes normal – it’s hard to break free when it is all you see. Perhaps it becomes difficult to see that there is a large world of opportunity, especially if there is limited exposure to this. The personal and family expectation for the individual may be to drop out of school and join a gang, and they follow the expectations presented to them. Feelings associated with exposure to gang violence vary among youth who are exposed at a young age. They may feel compassion towards the victim, but have little concern towards their personal safety. This may suggest that constant exposure to violence may lead to desensitization and a sense of the inevitability of being a victim of violence.
Another major part of the gang life is the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood where gang members grew up comprises a large part of their lives. It was where they had their first interactions with people outside the family setting and where they felt safe at an early age. When asked about their neighbourhood, most gang members will usually answer with pride, talking about how their neighbourhood is better than others. More often than not, these neighbourhoods are run down, littered with graffiti, and contain few commercial establishments, forcing residents to travel long distances to shop for food and other necessities. While these locations may not resemble areas that most people would consider desirable, these gang members call it their home and take pride in it. Some gang members even feel responsible for their neighbourhoods, going as far as bringing groceries for the elderly or taking care of the younger children. Many of those gang members also take it upon themselves to [teach] younger members of the neighborhood better ways to steal and break into cars acted as both a recruiting tool and a way to help the neighborhood residents become thieves. Protecting the neighborhood to these gang members meant keeping outsiders (rival gangs) away from the area (Pinizzotto).
To effectively curb gang violence, the focus needs to be shifted to the social and economic factors that contribute to the growth of gangs. Unfortunately, there is no real prepared force to help scrap gangs. Of course the police are theoretically supposed to be "cracking down" on gangs, even though, they themselves rather often deal with limited resources, and witness minimal judicial punishment for the crimes committed by gangs. The residents in the gang’s neighbourhood are often of little help to the police, as they do not want to get involved. If the focus really is shifted to the causes and factors that contribute to gangs and gang violence then the cycle will be ended and the issues will be stopped in their tracks.