Proposal for Research
Teen Gang Violence in the Community
Teenage gangs sometimes called juvenile gangs have been a historical problem in the United States (US). That is because some change in society starts the rise or the fall of certain types of gangs and also affects their membership numbers. One of the causes in the US has been immigration which causes two basic types of gangs to band together: the local teenagers already living in the area and the new teenage immigrants to the area. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines the difference between street gangs and the neighborhood or local gangs as
Street gangs are criminal organizations formed on the street operating throughout the US. Neighborhood or local street gangs are confined to specific neighborhoods and jurisdictions and often imitate larger, more powerful national gangs. The primary purpose for many neighborhood gangs is drug distribution and sales. (NGIC, 2010, 7)
Historically New York City (NYC) teen gangs have been thought to be the most in number and in violence. Times have changed though and with changing circumstances in communities across the United States teen gangs have also changed. The FBI has divided the US into five Safe Streets Gang Task Force regions and the types of juvenile gangs have changed and the juvenile gangs with the most members have shifted to the West Coast and to the border with Mexico. (NGIC, 2010, 8) New York is located in the Northeast region with “Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, (New York), Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia” (NGIC, 2011, 8). A juvenile in most states is considered to be a person under 18 years of age but in some states the upper age is consider to be 16 years of age; so essentially a juvenile (or teen age) gang has mostly members aged under 18 years. (NGIC, 2011, 9)
This research proposes to understand how teenage gangs in New York City (NYC) compare to other states and cities with gangs based on the data available as of 2011. Two hypotheses will be used to explore this basic research question. Hypothesis 1. The number teenage gangs and the number of members in the gangs in NYC have been reduced due to changing immigration patterns in the US. Hypothesis 2. The social services provided in NYC have been more effective than in other parts of the country therefore contributing to the lower numbers of teenage gangs in NYC.
The reason it is important to study teenage gangs is fundamentally because their activities are violent and their activities have spread over the continental US from the east coast to the west coast including Alaska. Englander (2003) suggests that one of the reasons very successful in luring children into gangs is the chance to make money, on the other hand the more complex (in hierarchy) of a gang the less likely selling drugs or robbery is involved (127, 130). So Englander (2003) looks at the personal reasons that adolescents join gangs suggesting there are several strong indicators of gang membership such as (a) low self esteem, (b) no adult (including parental) role models, (c) need for some type of family structure, (d) have a familiarity with violence, and (e) to gain feelings of empowerment. (129-130) Zulu Nation was a gang formed in the 1970s to bring groups of young people from the African Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and African American population in Bronx to fuse together in a positive way. Competition was not about criminal activities but instead competitions included contest about graffiti art, dance, rap, and DeeJaying. (Moore, 2010, 5) In the 1990s bands like Green Day and Blink-182 were labeled pop punk because they still had a juvenile punk sensibility but they were commercially successful.
Gang Distribution and Law Enforcement
Tortoroli (2010) has written in the St. John’s Law Review an analysis of why gang members are not terrorists and should not be treated by law as terrorists. She makes a strong argument using examples from the New York Justice system. She states very directly and without reservation that “the New York antiterrorism statute is unconstitutionally vague and was unjustly applied against a Mexican gang member in the Bronx” (Tortoroli, 2010, 421). Tortoroli concluded that a solution can be found by clarifying the purpose of the statute and make sure it addresses only politically motivated terrorism” so that it cannot be used to punish street crime such as gang related crime (Tortoroli, 2010, 421).
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OFFDP) National Youth Gang Survey (NYGS) was prepared using law enforcement and social service agency reports from 1,026 agencies based records from 2010 and 2011. (OJJDP, 2011, 3) The number of agencies receiving the survey was 2,544 and the number who ended up participating was 2,158 or 85% which is a very good participant rate. (OJJDP, 2011, 1) This report was more comprehensive than earlier surveys. In the survey “gang member migrant” was defined as “a gang member who joined a gang in a former jurisdiction prior to moving to the respondent’s” in other word to the participating agencies region (OJJDP, 2011, 3). A finding that does not agree with earlier research was that gang members usually migrate to large cities rather that to smaller areas due to legitimate social reasons. (OJJDP, 2011, 3)
The FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) reported on the trends occurring in 2011. Table 1 lists the states that have the first and second biggest populations in the US. The first tier states with the most gang members have about 6 gang members per 1,000 people. New York State is considered a fourth tier state where there are zero to two gang members per 1,000 people. Only three of the five states that have the most gangs have shared borders; California, Nevada and Idaho. The other two states are New Mexico (bordering Mexico) and Illinois (in the Midwest). Meanwhile the second tier states who are considered to have about 4 to 6 gang members per 1000 people usually occur in blocks or pairs. The largest bloc is it the mid western part of the US; Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Nebraska borders Iowa and Iowa borders Minnesota. In the South Tennessee and Mississippi are second tier states surrounded by states with lower ratios of gang members per person. In the Northeast New Jersey and Maine are both second tier states surrounded by lower numbers of gang members per person. Map 1 in the Appendix shows the United States and how the estimated gang presence per capita is distributed.
Key findings from the study include that in 2011 the gang populations overall have grown, the street (criminal) gangs have grown, and the street gangs are better organized in that the control street level drug sales and have more peaceful interaction with both other gangs and crime organizations. The federal law the contains the definition for ‘criminal street gangs is Title 18 U.S.C. Section 521 (a)(A) which can be read here.
Different tattoos are used in different gangs to prove a gang member has a loyalty to that particular gang. Law enforcement officers also use tattoo identification to prove gang affiliation of people. Unfortunately mistakes are made because lots of people with no gang-related contact like the same tattoo designs. Jordan (2012) reported an incident that is having terrible effects on a man, Villalobo, and his family. He has tattoos in a design that a gang also uses. His wife is an American and they have one child, the family was living in Colorado together. Villalobo had to travel to Mexico due to some reasons required for him to receive US permanent residency, but after seven months he has not been allowed by the US State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, even though the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has no record of his ever being arrested. Villalobo is in Mexico without his family and his family is having a difficult time with their finances because he is not there to provide an income. For example, Mrs. Villalobo canceled her family medical insurance in order to have enough money for other necessities. Another problem in the count taken by law enforcement is that some victims are counted as gang members although they were innocent victims of a drive by shooting. (Jordan, 2012, wsj.com) Two interesting books have been written by sociologists and their personal experiences with gangs. Rodriquez (2005 was a former member of a gang who tried to keep his own children out of the Los Angeles gang scene. Unfortunately he was unable to keep his son from joining a gang. The book is a sobering reminder that outreach even by a loved family member may not be enough to prevent young males from joining gangs. Venkatesh (2008) has written a from the perspective of a college aged man who was invited into the New York gang life to carry out research on gangs. How he was accepted into the gang lifestyle describes the tense situations. Interestingly he spent a lot of time with the mother of the gang leader being treated to good food and conversation. So his understanding of the New York City gangs that grew out of ‘the Projects’ was from face-to-face conversations with the gang leader, the gang leaders mother, as well as other gang members and people impacted by the gang. He entered the research project with preconceived ideas about NYC gang members but soon started evaluating the reasons for their behavior.
Social Strategies that Work
Moore (2010) noted the successful use of music to help gang members find new interests. For example a punk rocker Bob Bereyle, formerly of the band Tit Wrench, got involved in politics and one reason he gives was in order to confront gang and drug problems.
You need to channel your rebellion into creative directions, rather than fight each other and fight your other gangs . . . You can channel your creativity a little more constructively and still say what you want without being violent about it or just going nowhere . . . (Moore, 2010, 70)
Watkins (2010) reported on the obstacles agencies have to face when trying to help young people stay out of gangs. The main reason is the $1.6 billion that could be used to ‘bail out’ due to The Youth Promise Act has not been distributed. For example the organization Homeboy Industries is a gang rehabilitation center with the motto, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job” (n.p.). The lack of funding caused the lay-off 70 percent of workers, most of them former gang members. Other agencies have had the same experiences such as Youth Outreach Services, Chicago that has seen a 15 percent revenue decline. When Robert Trejo lost his job at Homeboy Industries he applied to fifty jobs with no success. At that time he said, “I think I will probably go back to making money. It’s so easy making money. I can make $15 to $500 a day in an hour or two (selling drugs) or robbing” (Watkins, 2010, n.p.).
Allen (2012) reported on a former racist-skinhead, Arno Michaels (a white), who has left the gang life and co-founded an organization to help others rehabilitate. The organization Life After Hate (LAH), has an outreach group called Kindness is not a Weakness. Former white skinheads talk to classes about their experiences as a skinhead so that children can learn before they get into too deep. In 1992 Michael’s baby daughter was born which forced him to realize that
My world had been narrowed. The only people I could interact with were other racist white people. Exhaustion was a factor [too]. It was getting more and more difficult to deny the humanity of the people I was supposed to hate. (Allen, 2012, n.p.)
Michaels grew up in a nice suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and through his work with LAH he has started to do a lot more traveling to give talks plus overseas. In 2011 LAH attend the Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin, it is now part of the Against Violent Extremism network which was developed by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, London, United Kingdom (UK).
Guerra (2012) has discussed the use of literacy education and using urban fiction to help at-risk young people who are in jail. Urban fiction is defined as a genre created in the 1970s with the purpose to “capture(d) the ghetto experience with all of its crime, poverty, gangs, prostitution, incarceration, and drug use” (Guerra, 2012, 286). She also demonstrates that the same strategy works in classrooms. The main key she reports is finding the subject that will spark an interest for reading in a particular person. Juvenile males need a motivation to read because finding the right text to start a young man reading “is related to motivation to learn, better understanding of content and stronger recall” (Guerra, 2012, 287). More data is needed for the type of fiction young non-reading males choose. Guerra found only one list of requested (or ‘Wish List’) for juvenile imprisoned males. She evaluated the list for types of genre and discovered that 55 out of the 108 titles listed were from the urban fiction genre. Interestingly the some educators have been using the lyrics from hip-hop music which has grown out of the same culture, so sometimes hip-hop lyrics are called “hip-hop’ fiction” (Guerra, 2012, 288). The types of young men Guerra has noted as becoming excited by urban or hip-hop fiction are poor, and the two main ethnicities of African American and Latino. (Guerra, 2012, 288) The problem she sees is evaluating the literature so it is good not “trash” (Guerra, 2012, 289). Guerra (2012) describes the genre “from a critical literacy standpoint, urban literature provides rich opportunities for discussion around questions of power, privilege, identity, and race. Urban fiction can be used to offer at-risk and incarcerated youths a chance to interrogate narratives than mirror the narratives in their own lives” in a safe place (Guerra, 2012, 391)
The purpose of this research is to understand how the juvenile gangs in New York compare with other gangs across the US. The first hypothesis to be examined is that the number teenage gangs and the number of members in the gangs in NYC have been reduced due to changing immigration patterns in the US. The second hypothesis to be examined it that social services provided in NYC have been more effective than in other parts of the country therefore contributing to the lower numbers of teenage gangs in NYC. The main data base that will be used to gather information will be the National Gang Threat Assessment: Emerging Trends 2011 Reports from the FBI. Two other sources for data are (a) the research evidence from Current Issues: Gangs written by P. J. Parks, and (b) the Juvenile Justice Fact Sheet: National Youth Gang Survey Analysis 2011, from the National Gang Center.
Both qualitative and quantitative methodology will be used in order to try to prove both hypotheses. The research data will be evaluated in order to answer the following questions. What are the gangs in New York? What are their membership numbers and what are the ages of their members? Do any of the gangs have interaction with the same gangs in other parts of the US? The places where gangs are located are no longer only on the coasts of the US they are found throughout the continental US. What are the beliefs of people who join the different kinds of gangs? How do they compare to the beliefs of members in New York gangs? Information about the human resources available for dealing with gangs will be quantified and compared between some states and New York.
The literature review can be expanded upon. The Qualitative evaluations will have to be made as to why gangs have shifted away from New York. This type of evaluation can be based on the quantitative information about the different beliefs of members in other states such as Maine and New Jersey. Also the evaluation of types of crime and involvement in drug trafficking can be found from the data. Maybe more importantly qualitative research will need to be applied in order to understand the different types of social appropriate alternatives, like Zulu Nation, that have been used to either stop young people from joining gangs or to give them something tempting enough to leave gangs. This part of the research will include a lot of anecdotal information from the different Social Service and non-profit organizations that have been or are still in use in New York. Many non-profit organizations like Love After Hate was founded by former skinheads. When former gang members set up organizations it is interesting to look at the mission statements and compare the ways that these former members changed their lives. For example, what triggered their decision to leave the gang is in important for Social Service agencies to understand but it will be necessary to describe these reasons qualitatively. Finally the types of actions law enforcement uses (such as going undercover) will be examined and discussed. There will also be an attempt to identify the most important resources for law enforcement, it could be talks in elementary schools by former gang members or it could be role modeling appropriate behavior in their communities.
The types of error in this research will be described and when possible reported quantitatively as the amount of standard deviation from the norm. Some reasons for error include people misidentified as gang members due to their tattoos, miscounting of number of members sue to migration, and or/not identifying a gang that may have either moved into an area or dissolved. The reporting of error is part of the need to present an ethically strong research report. In this particular research project the data used will be from published reports from reliable agencies including the FBI, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and a report on gangs from the Prevention Compact Research Series.
Juvenile gangs have become a problem which impacts cities, suburbs and rural America. Understanding the behavior of gangs is very important before good solutions can be formulated. Some solutions may work only on an individual basis, in a classroom or neighborhood. Not only are solutions needed in order to give gang members a good, satisfying future but also because the actions of gangs lead to murder and other harm to the people around them. This research will attempt to prove the hypotheses that NY has reduced populations of gang members compared to the rest of the US and the reason may be immigration patterns as well as effective social services. The research methodology will be both qualitative and quantitative. Social sciences by the nature of the necessary research use qualitative strategies designed to be as objective as possible. It will be possible to make quantitative evaluations because the FBI and other respected organizations have data which is publicly available.
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Bovenkerk, F. (2011). On leaving criminal organizations. Crime, Law & Social Change, 55(4), 261-276.
Boyle, G. J. (2010). The Challenge of Serving a Diverse Church: Being Christ for Others. Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry & Practice, 13(3), 380-391.
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Englander, E. K. (2003). Understanding Violence 2nd edition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Retrieved from www.questia.com
Guerra, S. (2012). Using urban fiction to engage at-risk and incarcerated youths in literacy instruction. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(5), 385-394.
Johnson, Kevin. (05 Jun 2012). Cities fight to control street gangs. USA TODAY, A.3 Retrieved from SIRS Issues Researchers
Jordan, M. (11 Jul 2012). Tattoo Checks Trip Up Visas. Wall Street Journal, A.3. Retrieved from SIRS Issues Researchers
Moore, R. (2010). Sells like teen spirit: Music, youth culture, and social crisis. New York, NY: New York University Press. Retrieved from www.questia.com
National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC). (2010). National Gang Threat Assessment: Emerging Trends. Reports and Publications, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 78 pages Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/2011-national-gang-threat-assessment/2011-national-gang-threat-assessment#CurrentGang
OJJDP (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention). (2011). Juvenile Justice Fact Sheet: National Youth Gang Survey Analysis. National Gang Center Retrieved fromhttp://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/Survey-Analysis
Parks, P J. (2011). Current Issues: Gangs. Compact Research Series, San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press. 26 pp.
Roderiguez, L. J. (2005). Always running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. 2nd edition. New York, NY: Touchstone
Temple, J. M. (2011). The merry-go-round of youth gangs: The failure of the U.S. immigration removal policy and the false outsourcing of crime. Boston College Third World Law Journal, 31(1), 193-215.
Tortoroli, C. (2010). Gangs of New York are Terrorists? The Misapplication of the New York Antiterrorism Statute Due to the Lack of Comprehensive Gang Legislation. St. John's Law Review, 84(1), 391-421.
Venkatesh, S. (2008) Gang leader for a day: A rogue sociologist takes to the streets. New York, NY: The Penguin Press.
Watkins, T. (2010 September 3). Broke Youth anti-crime groups want federal cash. Napa Valley Register, n.p.
Map 1. Estimated Gang Presence per Capita by State
Source: NGIC and NDIC 2010 National Drug Survey Data and U.S. Census Population estimates 2010 Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/2011-national-gang-threat-assessment/2011-national-gang-threat-assessment#CurrentGang