When a gangster is constantly nagged, abused, condemned and neglected by the society, one turns into a bitter individual. Heartfelt care and concern, an understanding approach, and tender regard for one’s feelings are necessary pre-requisites to heal the inner wounds. Coupled with this, one needs to learn to forgive and forget gangster’s past in order to help one build a new identity. One’s being a gangster is not important; how one became the gangster is the issue. Inequality in society and the related economic, social maladies are the root causes of the criminal activities by the gangsters. The inner core of every human being is essentially divine, even of the worst villain. It just needs to be revealed to help one align oneself with the true personality. Apart from the legal strategies, community-based interventions are necessary to prevent the downward march of the gangster to help to shape as a worthy individual/ citizen and create favorable conditions to join the mainstream of the society.
Randall G. Shelden holds Doctorate in Sociology from the Southern Illinois University. He specializes in subjects like gangs, female crime and delinquency, crime control and history of criminal justice and he is therefore eminently suited to write the book on youth gangs. In the book, “Youth Gangs in American Society”, the authors have done research and survey on the basis of the existing literature as for the origin of gangs and their activities in America. The root cause for gangs sprouting up, gang typographies etc are discussed. Gangs have a peculiar culture surrounding them. They have a system of working, their own traditions and unwritten rules of mutual interaction. They are loyal within their ‘own society’. Given proper chance and avenues of rehabilitation, they are willing and wish to change. Barring a few exceptions, to which criminality is the way of life, others are pushed to the fold of gangs due to circumstances beyond their control. The desperate situations in their lives made them so. Contrary to popular belief that the gangster is a rough and tough individual, there is no denying the fact that an intensely shattered personality lies within the four walls of the prison, when a gangster is arrested and imprisoned, and his psyche needs constant care. Upon acquittal or on release, he has to restart and rebuild his life from the scratch that too amidst a society that is not likely to assimilate him easily and willingly. Whether guilty or not guilty, the prison stamp shall remain for ever on the forehead of the gangster. From where does he get the strength to erase it or will he not mind the impression of additional stamps? A gangster needs the assurance from the society that there is a life outside the gang-life and it is worth a fair try.
History Of Youth Gangs
Gang members belong mostly to the combustible younger generation. They are there because they are not accepted and wanted elsewhere. The authors provide authentic clues to the structural, historical, and cultural context for the birth of gangs. A gang must have a leader to plan strategies and execute them. The authors write, “A stereotype of the gang leader is someone who is tough, with a long criminal history, and who has strong influence over a long period of time.”(Shelden, 2000, p.36). Just as there are local level problems and national level problems, gangs have a similar identity and the treatment to them needs to be on similar lines at the appropriate levels. Urban gangsters have become a “class” to themselves. The educated youngsters taking up this mode to become gangsters is the highly disturbing trend. When other than economic factors contribute to the birth and growth of the gang culture, the managers of the society in political, social or religious areas, should do concrete thinking to arrest the trend. The birth of “girl gangs” is a matter for concern. The steady growth of gangs in Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Chicago and the manner in which they control the underworld activities all over the country, calls for national level strategies to counter them, according to the authors. Piece-meal approach on the basis of victims and the victimizers is no permanent solution to the issue. The psychological and social components need to be clearly identified and continuous long term projects be evolved to give attention to the issues on perennial basis.
Nine categories of gangs have been broadly identified by the authors. They are: Hedonistic/social gangs, party gangs, instrumental gangs, predatory gangs, scavenger gangs, serious delinquent gangs, territorial gangs, organized/corporate gangs and drug gangs. (Shelden, 2000, p, 37-38) Gang-culture is nothing new. In good old days, they operated in the jungles and we have often read in fables about the gangs robbing the high-way travelers. Now their presence is in the concrete-jungles and they operate using modern methods and weapons. At the end of the American Revolution, gangs sprouted in New York City and Philadelphia. Their numbers and consequently the number of violent incidents increased in proportion to the levels of immigration and major population shifts in 1800s, 1920s, 1960s and 1990s. The globalization concept has caught up with the gangs speedily and that is the real threat to Nations. So, discussion on issues related to gang culture has often been in the agenda at international forums.
Gangs were once not more 10-15 member outfits. Now they have established themselves into international criminal networks with affiliation. Two important Hispanic gangs, Calle 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, established in Los Angeles in 1960s have fraternal links to about 300,000 members in Central America and Mexico. Apart from cities, these gangs are deeply entrenched in the rural areas. About the type of gang members, the authors write, “The most common method of distinguishing among different gang members is the base on the degree of attachment to, and involvement in, the gang. It might be useful to think of a continuum from complete involvement.”(Shelden, 2000, p.38). The activities of the gangs are the same old stories through the Ages like extortion, smuggling, arms and drugs trafficking and armed robbery (also bank robberies).When two or more neighboring nations have common porous borders, the operations of the gangs becomes easy. Rules and regulations vary from one country to another. Countries concerned may not have extradition treaty to secure the deportation of a particular gang leader. The terrorist links with the drug-traffickers has added new dimension to the problem. Such activities are related to social as well as security threat for the Nations. The political leadership in a particular country may overtly or covertly patronize a particular gang to secure political advantage and cause problems for the unfriendly country. The octopus-like growth of gangs needs to be controlled by treating the basic causes. Cosmetic approach to the issue will aggravate the situation is USA. The root causes, like economic reforms, new employment generating schemes and policies and on the operational side, better co-operation, monitoring and exchange of information at the local and national levels, to deny space for gang activities, periodical meeting and better co-ordination amongst the law enforcement agencies and above all, strict monitoring of the entry and movement of the migrant labor force, are some of the steps needed. The co-operative security links between he neighboring countries also needs to be strengthened. The unabated growth of the number of gangs demands serious attention of all wings of administration. The number of cities that had gang problems in the year 1970 was 270. In 1998, they were 2500, the growth rate being more than 800%.The National Youth Gang survey of 2002 reveals that there were 21,500 gangs with the active membership of 731,500. 85% of the gang members reside in 4 large cities.
The US administration is seized of the issue at the highest level. The U. S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has initiated programs such as parent training, re-entry programs, tracking of former offenders, job programs for youth, truancy and dropout prevention, etc. Private sectors programs like Boys and Girls Clubs have helped to rehabilitate the street children. In 2005, President George Bush pledged $150 million over three years to faith-based and community groups to help the troubled youth. Randall G Sheldon’s book takes a comprehensive look about the Youth Gangs in American Society, by elaborately discussing subjects like, what do gangs and gang members look like, the gang structure, criminal activities of gangs, girls and gangs, why are there gangs, gangs in context: inequality in American Society, Community-based and national intervention strategies, legal intervention strategies etc. Human Society today is confronted with grave and dangerous challenges. The gang culture concerns both internal and external affairs administration of a country. We need to sharpen our insight into the essence of situations we are in and to comprehend better the root causes of the current crises, if we are to set correctly the problems related to the gangs. In the process of industrialization, urbanization and globalization, the human communities have lost sight of common values in forming a cohesive whole and, as a result, all sorts of social contradictions and conflicts manifest themselves. A sense of collectivity is disappearing, ethical norms are tattered; and such social ills as environmental decay, poverty, racial and social discrimination, and violence, which threaten co-prosperity of humanity, are all the more prevalent. Chapters 7 and 8 of the book specially look into this aspect of the gang culture.