Gangs and gang violence are always in the news — and the high level of shootings and stabbings in inner cities is increasing at a phenomenal rate. Most of us view gangs as something frightening, to be avoided at all costs. However, to many people, mostly males from poor backgrounds, the appeal of gangs is very strong. Why is this? Why do so many young people join street gangs?
A number of polls and interviews have been conducted with gang members, and they gave a number of reasons for joining gangs:
- Being part of a gang gives disaffected youths a sense of belonging, of being part of a family where they gain recognition and feel protected. These are qualities that may be lacking at home and they therefore look elsewhere for protection and security.
- The media tends to glamorize the life of gang members, albeit unintentionally. Young people are drawn to the excitement and thrill of being a member of an ‘elite’ group. Many gangs are involved in serious crime and many carry guns which adds to their appeal.
- Belonging to a well-known gang gives young people status and a sense of power. They may believe they will receive more respect from their peers if they belong to a gang.
- The need for protection from other gangs is a prime reason for joining. Gangs thrive in poor neighbourhoods with high crime rates where there is safety in numbers. Belonging to a gang provides protection, especially with the ever-present threat of knife crime, gun crime or acid attacks.
- Pressure from friends or other gang members is another reason young people fall prey to gangs. They may join a gang where their friends or family members are already members. In many neighbourhoods, joining a gang is a rite of passage and is seen as a normal part of life.
- Financial security can also be a reason. Gangs thrive in poor areas, and many young people view gang membership as a way to make money or gain possessions. This leads to an increase in inner city youth crime.
The reasons for joining gangs are varied and complex and this knowledge is the first step towards combating gang crime. But how does a parent or teacher know if a young person has joined a gang? We will look at this issue in our next blog.