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The Psychology of Street Gangs

In a report for the Justice Policy Institute, Greene and Pranis (1-16) define a gang as an organization, association, or collective of three or more persons engaged in criminal activities. The authors note that the typical criminal activities engaged in by gangs include assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, homicide or manslaughter, the sale, possession for sale, transportation, manufacture and/or offer to manufacture controlled substances, shooting an inhabited dwelling or occupied motor vehicle, arson, the intimidation of witnesses and victims, and grand theft of any vehicle, trailer or vessel. They also note that the gang is often associated with an identifying sign or symbol and that criminal activities can be engaged in by the gang as a whole or by individual members.

Although gangs have existed since at least 1200 AD, when they were discussed in India as a source of criminal activity, Staiger (555-569) states that the rise of gangs in America began in the late 1800s and grew to notoriety during Prohibition. However, it was the Five Points Gang, led by Italian immigrant, Paolo Antonini Vaccarelli, that was the first street gang composed mostly of youths and young adults. Since then, influenced by the media's reports, television programs, and movies of gang and gangland activity, street gangs have flourished in America, including gangs related to both the dominant White culture, as well as minority subcultures such as Asians, Hispanics and African-Americans.

With the civil strife of the 1960s, urban street gangs were on the rise and they continue to thrive and operate today, primarily engaged in the manufacture, sale, and distribution of illegal substances and criminal activities related to these goals. Indeed, today's gangs have so dramatically increased in number and in scope of activities that Snyder and Sickmund (3-20) report that law enforcement is now targeting the estimated one million people eng


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The Psychology of Street Gangs. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:48, February 28, 2017, from