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In New York and other cities, gangs died or dramatically declined during the 1960s. Heroin and street workers are cited as factors in their demise. Drugs continued as a significant aspect of street life from the 1960s through the 1980s. Black and Hispanic power occupied the late 1960s, and hip hop (graffiti, rap music and break dancing) symbolized urban youth in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Violent gangs, however, have not been prominent in most cities for thirty years.

Yet, the benign neglect of urban youth over the last decade, combined with the discovery of crack, have contributed to a return of gang violence. The drug trade, automatic weapons, and a new gang style point to more violent decades ahead. One prosecutor described the current crisis of drugs and crime in military terms: "It’s like Vietnam—the cops are winning all the battles, but we’re still losing the war."

The following summarize gang activity today:

  • Gangs are different today than in the 1920s and 1950s.
  • Gangs vary in different cities and parts of the country.
  • Gangs differ according to ethnic tradition and style.
  • Gangs of the late 1980s (and 1990s) are influenced by:
    • The decline of job training in the Reagan years.
    • The growth of the drug industry and its distribution systems.
    • The escalation of the use of arms and automatic weapons.


  • Confederations and cliques.
  • Age gradation.
  • Territoriality.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Sodality.
  • Organized structure.
  • Status and norms within a "sub- or counterculture" and organization.
  • Protection and justice.
  • Escapism.
  • Income.

These are reasons for the existence and growth of gangs. As Malcolm Klein, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, explains, "To belong is to belong." The University of Chicago’s Irving Spergel adds, "The gang provides a structure where there is nothing: It gives status, strength, glamour, maybe even money." Gangs also bring turmoil to a neighborhood—including the death or maiming of many gang members.


  • The Market. "Mis-educated," unemployed adolescents looking for challenges, risks, and highs.
  • The Sources. An influx of tremendous amounts of cocaine and other drugs from Latin America and Asia; the production of vast amounts of marijuana and synthetic drugs within U.S.; impoverished farmers in Latin America and worldwide; enterprising drug lords; tremendous profits; compromised public officials (including in the U.S.).
  • The New Dimension—Crack. Simple to make; easy to conceal and sell. Drug glut has reduced price; great profits are viable from an expanding market.
  • The Gang Factor. Drug-trafficking street gangs receive drugs from Colombians and other smugglers. Drug gangs use kids of all ages; backed up by awesome fire power.
  • The Drugs.
    • Crack
      • From cocaine derived mostly from Latin American coca.
      • One kilo of cocaine costs $10,000-$20,000.
      • One kilo of cocaine makes 10,000 bags of crack ($25 each).
      • One kilo can earn a profit of over $200,000.
    • Marijuana
      • Still the most popular illicit drug in U.S.
      • Smoked by 18 million Americans.
      • Second-largest U.S. cash crop.
      • Grown everywhere (especially in national forests).
    • Mexican Heroin
      • $120-$150 per gram of brown powder.
      • $500 a gram for 80% pure black tar.
    • Asian Heroin
      • From Golden Triangle (Burma, Laos, Thailand).
      • From Golden Crescent (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India).
    • Fentanyl (China White)
      • A potent heroin substitute.
      • This synthetic "designer drug" is incredibly expensive.
    • PCP (Angel Dust)
      • Attractive to the young and extremely dangerous.


  • Cliques (Spanish: klika), Sets, or Posses (Jamaican). groups of 10-100 young people (normally 20-30), usually of the same ethnicity, age, and neighborhood, who are seen as a gang.
  • Gangs or Confederations. The "Crips," "Bloods," "White Fence Barrio," "Disciples," and "Miami Boys" are called gangs, but are probably better understood as confederations of gangs. The cliques within these confederations may be separated by cohort (based on age) or by neighborhood/city.
  • Homeboys. Hispanic gang members.
  • Barrio. Used both of Hispanic neighborhoods and of Hispanic gangs.
  • Pintos. Hispanic ex-convict gang members.
  • O.G. (Old Guard). Gang members who have served time in prison, (veterans in their twenties or even thirties).
  • Peewees or Wannabees. Grade-school youngsters "who want to be" in the gang and may act as watchers or runners.
  • Jumped in (courted in). The sometimes brutal gang initiation.
  • Gang-banger (or Banger). An initiated gang member and fighter.
  • Rollers (or High Rollers). Gang members who have made it big in drug dealing. This can be seen by their expensive jackets, gold chains, jewelry, flashy cars, and car phones.


  • An apparent gang may be nothing more than a group of neighborhood youths impressing themselves, girls, and others with a macho image, petty crime, and street fights.
  • To varying degrees such a group may be drawn into the drug trade or a larger gang configuration.
  • Almost all immigrant groups have a network of gangs across the country.
  • Strong and vicious female gangs have also appeared in some cities—often patterned after and attached to male gangs.
  • Skinheads are the white "hate" gangs.



  1. The country seems to be reaping the results of a period of neglect of urban young people in the appearance of gangs that operate on a set of norms counter to the mainstream.
  2. The involvement of street workers is an important part of the attempt to reach gang members, but it is not the answer to gang violence.
  3. Our country must decide whether police action is the way to deal with gangs. Jobs and job training must be part of a multi-dimensional approach to combating the existence of the drug trade and other anti-social gang activities.
Dean Borgman cCYS