Gangs and Gang Homicide

There has been an increase number of criminal gang in the United States over the last three decades. The number of gang homicides has also increased which has become a major concern among the law enforcers and criminologists.

In this research paper, the main reasons which have resulted into an increased number of gang homicides will be discussed. The social structure theories which are some of the major theories of criminologist will be discussed in relation to the development of criminal gangs.

Criminology has developed into an important discipline among sociologists. There has been a need to develop theories that explain why people commit crimes or become members of criminal gangs. There are many factors in the society that need to be analyzed and their relationship with criminal activities and criminals gangs be established. This is due to the increasing number of people especially young people who are being involved in criminal activities. The number of criminal gangs in some neighborhoods has increased tremendously over the years. This has attracted the attention of criminologist and other scholars as they try to explain the changing behavior among the population. Criminologist have employed different methods in studying the variation in the behaviors of individuals as they try to explain the increased rates of violent crimes as a result of increased criminal syndicates.

Criminologists have used the measurement and assessment of time and place in trying to explain the increased cases of homicides and violent crimes by criminal syndicates. In their analysis, they have also considered the characteristics of criminals, the criminal activities they are involved in, the organization of the criminal gangs and their main victims of the criminals.

Gang Homicide
A gang is a group of individuals who are involved in a variety of criminal activities and can be identified with a certain gang name or use a common sign. Criminal gangs have existed in the American society for a very long time. They are involved in many criminal activities ranging from homicide drug trafficking, distortion and robbery among other crimes. Cases of gang homicide were first reported in the late 1980s in the City of Chicago. Since then cases of gang homicide have increased at an alarming rate which has been a major concern among the administrators of the criminal justice systems.  It was estimated that in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, most of the gang homicides were drug related. The number of homicide increased intensively as a result of competition between the street gangs over the control of the black market as well as defending their territories. Other than  disputes related to territories between gangs, the gangs also disputed over their members identity. The identity disputes were as a result of emotional and spontaneous defense. The gang disputed over recruitment of members, glorification in the neighborhood and their reputation (Mares, 2010).

The trend has not changed much today and gangs continue to dispute over the same reasons. However, gang today cooperate with each other more that it was the case in the past years. Gang has realized the need to work together for their common interest due to the reputations of competing for territories. This change in trends has resulted into increased cases of betrayal which is a major source of disputes between gangs today. Cases where gangs involved in criminal activities cooperate and end up in betrayal by one of the gang or a gang being involved in criminal activity is betrayed by one of it members has increased in the past decade. The increased cases of gang homicides are mainly revenge instigated where gangs attack another gang to revenge or a gang member is attacked by other members for betraying them. This growing trend where the gangs are involved in high levels of crimes including economic and international crimes have been a great bother to criminologists and criminal justice systems (Decker  Curry, 2002).

Some of the major concerns among the law enforcers and criminologist are the strong linkage of gang homicide with drugs. There are compelling evidences that most of the gang homicides that have been experienced over the past two decades are linked to illegal drug trafficking. Most of the conflicts between gangs which usually result in homicide are drug wars. The trend has been more worrying as more youth criminal gangs are entering the field of drug trafficking.

Another worrying trend in gang homicides especially youth gangs is homicide becoming part of the gang members life. Criminal gangs are always involved in activities of organized crimes where gang violence which in many cases leads to homicide is common. This has become part of the gangs daily life. The increased number of youth gangs involved in gang homicide is as a result of the increased accessibility of fire arms and other weapons. Over the last two decades, gangs have been able to access lethal weapons leading to increased homicides. Research indicates that most of the homicides especially among youth gangs involve the use of firearms (Decker, 1996).

Moreover, most of the gang violence leading to homicide is as a result of gang retaliation. Gang responds to another gang using violence. These responses may be as a result of real or perceived threat by a rival gang. The retaliation of the gang against perceived threat has been used by criminologists to explain why criminal gangs are continually acquiring and using lethal weapons. A gang acquires sophisticated weapons with the perception that the rival gangs have sophisticated weapons. These weapons are in many cases used not only against the alleged rival gang but also in committing other crimes. The fear of being deficient and being faced with inadequacy incase of attack by a rival gang which call for shootout is real among the gangs. The use of sophisticated and lethal weapons by gangs has resulted into the increased cases of gang homicide in the past few years (Rogers, 1993).

Social structural theories of criminology
Due to the increased number of gangs in the society which has resulted into increased gang homicide over the years, sociologists have developed theories that seek to explain the trend and criminology in general. Different schools of thought have been developed to explain the development of criminal behaviors in the society. Most of the theories explain why some people are considered more likely to be involved in crime than others and why in certain neighborhood there are more criminals while in others there are hardly any criminal activities. Other theories explain why some people are unlikely to be involved in criminal activities. Some of the theories and school of thoughts that have been developed by sociologists include the classical school, Chicago school, biological theories, psychological theories, social structure theories, social process theorist and the social conflict theory. The most significant theories that has led to the increased of criminal gang in the society are the social structure theories. In the modern society there are many social forces that influence people in certain neighborhood to be member of criminal gangs or be involved in different criminal activities.

The social structural theories of criminology are based on the social forces that have a big influence on the lives of individual in the society. The theories basically states that criminal behaviors in individuals are as a result of influence by the social forces in the society. Some of these social forces include the morals and beliefs of the society, customs and values as well as the laws and obligations held by the society. Some of the social structure theorists have argued that crime and undesirable behaviors in the society are part of the society and can not be avoided. These theorists include Durkheim and McKay who argues that total consensus in an ideal society can not be achieved. In his theory Durkheim introduced Anomie in the macro level which means the lack of norms as a major cause of criminal behavior. He argued that at the macro level, normality can not be attained which meant that the criminal behaviors in any society is inevitable (Hester  Eglin, 1992).

There are several social structure theories that have been proposed over the years. They include the social disorganization theory, the cultural deviance theory and the strain theory.  The social structure theories are mainly based on the changes that take place in the society that have an effect on the behaviors of an individual. These changes can be used to explain the increased number of criminal gangs in the country over the years. The social structures in any society are an important factor in the understanding of development of criminal gangs in the society. These social structures are as a result of unequal distribution of economic and political power. The social structure creates social classes. Social classes are the segments of the society that have similar values and lifestyles (Morenoff et al, 2001).

Poverty is one of the social force that drive people to adopt criminal behaviors leading to development of criminal gangs. It is estimated that about twenty percent of the children in United States grow in poverty. These children grow in the neighborhood where there are numerous problems which impacts on their latter lives. The problems associated with poverty put the children at a very high risk of developing criminal behaviors or becoming a member of a criminal gang. These problems include poor housing and healthcare facilities, high likelihood of family disruption or breakdown, high unemployment rate and poor education facilities. The child is also likely to develop despair and poor motivation to live positively. These factors that put the children in poor neighborhoods at a disadvantaged position have been termed as the primary reason for the rampant criminal gangs in poor neighborhood when compared with other better off neighborhoods. The social forces in the poor neighborhood have been rated as the greatest factor that results in criminal behaviors.

Social disorganization theory
The social disorganization theory was developed by Shaw and McKay in an attempt to explain the trend of criminal activities and criminal gang development in the cities. They divided the city into ecological zones. They divided the city into the business zone, the transition zone, the working class zone, the white collar and the suburb zone. In the development of the theory they analyzed the criminal rates in the ecological zones using the criminal records from the criminal judicial systems. They found that most of the arrest was from the transitional ecological zones. The transition zone was located next to the industrial and the central business zones with poor housing facilities, low income and mortality rate due to poor health care. The zone was also characterized by high rates of crime, unemployment and ethnic groups turnover. Children living in this zone were found to have a higher likelihood of being delinquent and being criminals in later lives.

Shaw and McKay observed that the groups of people living in the areas did not bring with them crime but the children brought up in the zone were more likely to be criminals. The zone put the young members of the society at a greater risk of developing criminal behaviors due to the prevailing conditions of social disorganization. The development of criminal gangs in these zones is as a direct consequence of poverty, social alienation, lack of jobs, suspicion and fear of others omitting crimes and unstable families. The inability of the society to organize itself and control their children in the zones always results into delinquency and development of criminal behaviors. Moreover, the children and adolescence grow in a neighborhood where criminal gangs exist increasing the likelihood of them joining a criminal gang or forming their gang (Shaw  McKay, 1942).

Strain theory
The strain theory of criminology was developed in the 19th century by Durkheim when he introduced the idea of anomie meaning lack of norms. His argument was based on the evidence of the changes in the society which have resulted into increased criminal behaviors. He noted that the society was changing from a group oriented society to an individualistic society. The trend is as a result of specialization of labor in the modern society where the society is no longer having an accord on values and norms. This results into increased crime and unsocial behaviors.

Strain theorist of the 20th century such as Merton and Cohen were influenced by the work of Durkheim. The modern strain theories states that criminal behaviors are symptoms of strains in the society. The strain in the society is as a result of lack of consensus on the social norms. Merton explained the increased crime in the United States as due to the strains caused by the American dream, the dream of being economically, socially and politically prosperous and the frustrations associated with it. He suggested five modes of adaptations which include conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatsm and rebellion. Cohen explained why children from poor families end up being criminals due to the social strains resulting from poverty.

Cultural deviance theory
The cultural deviation theory is also important theory in the understanding of development of criminal behaviors. The theory suggests that criminal behaviors are as a result of clashing values and norms in the diverse society. The entry of immigrants brings in new social and cultural values and norms which as been associated with increased crime. The inability of societies to accept new social norms and discard the old ones has resulted into conflicting norms. This has been associated with problems associated with gangs from some cultures where other communities have been unable to accept them and perceive them as criminals.

Criminal gangs have become a major criminology issue over the past few years. They are involved in a variety of criminal activities such as homicide, robbery and drug trafficking. Of major concern is the increased rate of gang homicide over the last three decades in the American cities.


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