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Gangs: A handbook for community awareness


Landre, R. Miller, M., & Porter, D. (1997). Gangs: A handbook for community awareness. New York: Facts on File.


This book provides a simple guide of gangs and gang activity, with an explanation of how and where they operate in today’s society. The information is shared through the voices of past and present gang members.

Background information chronicles the history of gangs in America and the factors that give rise to gangs.

Its guide to the symbols, fashions, graffiti, and rituals will help readers recognize their presence and activity. Many successful programs of deterrence are described as well.

Finally, the book offers a guide to resources, support groups, and organizations needed in protecting a community from dangerous gang activity. Gangs "combines testimonials, dramatizations, and detailed information to help communities build foundations that support their youth and deter their affiliation with gangs members."

Presentation of the Contents of this book should encourage people to obtain a copy.

  • Section I. Gangs Defined
    • Colors and Crime: Gang Characteristics
    • Homies, Wanna-bes, and OGs: Gang Structure
    • Jumped in: Gang Memberbship
    • Defining and Tracking Gangs
    • Rural and Urban: Seven Communities Fight Gangs
      • Rick’s Report: Respect Your Elders
  • Section II. Ethnicity, Gender, and Beliefs: Gang Profiles
    • Prison Gangs
    • White Hate Gangs
    • Black Gangs
    • Asian Gangs
    • Hispanic Gangs
    • Girls in the Gang
      • Rick’s Report: The Case of the Closet Nazi
  • Section III. From Initiation to Burial: A Culture of Violence
    • Weapons
    • Drugs
    • Initiation
    • Throwing Signs: Communicating Gang Identity
    • Graffiti
    • Victims and Survivors
      • Rick’s Report: Lord Help Me!
  • Section IV. Everyday Life: Gangs in American Culture
    • Gangs in the Boardroom (Making a profit from gang lifestyle)
    • Gangs and the Military (Gang member in the ranks often overlooked)
    • Gangs in the Schools (Gang problems in community usually centered in schools)
    • Gangs in the Media (Gangsta rap and the glamorization of gangs in the media)
    • Gangs in the Courtroom (Evaluating the Criminal Justice system regarding gangs)
  • Section V. Working toward Solutions
    • A United Front: Enlisting the Help of Community and Service Groups
    • Home Work: Parents and Youth Get Involved
    • Classroom Strategies for Teachers and Administrators
    • Protecting the Bottom Line: Business and Media Solutions
    • Curfews and Community Policing: Laws that Work forEveryone

This book is important because the number of gangs and gang members (250,000 just in the state of California) are growing—as are juvenile arrests for homicide, which often stems out of gang activity. In their Preface the authors conclude:

Law enforcement agencies around the country agree that just arresting the youth involved in gang warfare is not the long-term answer. Communities must work together to combat gang problems with alternative programs that combine methods of prevention, intervention, and suppression (emphasis, DWB). This book is designed to help ordinary citizens, as well as professionals whose work involves gangs, clarify what they already know and build upon that knowledge so that they can develop or join a community-based anti-gang program in their locale. It will also direct readers to related resources and provide assistance in acquiring additional information. (p. xi)


  1. What has been your experience with gangs or gang members?
  2. Do you understand the reasons people give for joining gangs? Are there other underlying reasons of which they may not be aware?
  3. Think of several positive benefits gangs can provide a community or gang members.
  4. Consider the negative dangers of gangs to a community, to its members, and others—even innocent bystanders.
  5. What do you know or need to know about gangs? Do you think this book could help you? Where else could you get your questions answered?


  1. Gangs make up for some of the deficits in the lives of people for whom the advantages of a society do not seem appropriate or available (like family, education, safety and security, economic possibilities, belonging to a dynamic group and to something bigger, and social life).
  2. Violence, sometimes drugs, and crime, and a dead-end life are part of the negatives.
  3. Both anti-gang and alternative programs are growing. The goal is healthy young people with viable options—and this will take healthy families and healthy communities. At a Boston meeting for at-risk youth, almost everyone attending knew kids involved in gangs or were involved themselves. The mayor’s representative had options to offer. Still some wise guys in the second row kept up their disturbance. Street activist, Rev. Eugene Rivers, challenged the trouble-makers: "Since you don’t seem to care about yourselves, do you at least care about your mothers?" The answers came back from the three: "I don’t know." "I don’t got a mother." "I don’t love no one." Here is where we must start.
  4. This book is one of the few, one of the better, and one of the most recent handbooks on gangs.
Dean Borgman cCYS