In the past most gang members were people from minority ethnic communities who felt sidelined and threatened by the current mainstream life and sought protection against harsh living conditions thus finding comfort in groups consisting of people from their ethnic community or people in a similar predicament as them. The criterion of gang formation and membership has since changed from minorities and the sidelined seeking protection to more complex and deeply psychological reasons. Increase in gang activities and gang related activities in minority groups especially the African American group residing in the United States has been to a great extent due to a large scale shift in ideological trends especially within the urban areas from family values of a highly conservative nature to more anti-social, liberalized and radicalized values (Walters, 2007). This shift dates back to the black socialist movement that rose to prominence in the 1960s and this shift directly aligns with formation of the first American gangs ever to be documented, the bloods and the Creeps. The feeling of disenfranchisation from the mainstream culture has been the chief psychological factor contributing to young African Americans joining gangs which by all means offers them a seemingly viable outlet to express their suppressed anger at the establishment.
Decrease in the number of reliable adult mentors and role models is also a contributing psychological factor which sets people, especially the youth, on a path to gang membership. Massive failures by adults in dispensing their parental role in the lives of their children are also a factor that sets the youth on a fast track to gang affiliations (Walters, 2007). Since the adults have a tendency of sidelining and overlooking their children, these children become easy pickings for gang recruitment as they find mentorship in gangs and stronger social and emotional connections than they do at home. Gangs are most prominent in poor neighborhoods. Youth from affluent neighborhoods are less likely and have a lower tendency to join gangs. Poverty seems to also be a motivating factor, and a strong one at that as gangs provides their members with a means of earning a living, though mostly through criminal activities, which offers the gang members financial reprieve and somewhat economic relief. Decrease in interesting and captivating after school programs leaves children idle and thus susceptible to gang recruitments. Idleness of children is a major factor as far as gang membership is concerned because gangs offer then activities that some might find interesting or even captivating.
Valdez argues of gang members being precluded from full consequences of their actions. He talks of gang members acting under an almost emotional wave that comes with the group mentality and excludes them from full consciousness of their actions (Valdez, 2006). This assertion is based on the argument that most violent activities perpetrated by radicalized gang members involve the gang members acting in groups and well thought out and structurally strategic units. A gang member might fell the strong need to prove himself as a worthy stakeholder and what better way to do so than in front of fellow gang members. As much as acting in groups might cloud a gang member’s better judgment and deprive them of full comprehension of the extent and consequences of their actions it also serves as a proving ground for new recruits especially and also provides a perfect window of opportunity for ambitious gang members to prove what they are capable of and their level of commitment in front of their fellow gang members.
Valdez, A. (2006). Gangs: a guide to understanding street gangs (5th ed.). San Clemente, Calif.: Law Tech Pub. Co..
Waters, K. C. (2007). Guide to understanding gang violence: exploring the mentality behind the madness.. S.l.: Xlibris Corp.