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What are Gangs? 
Gangs are neither just a big city or inner city problem, nor are they a problem of a particular race or culture.  Gangs cross all ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, gender and geographic boundaries.  They bring fear and violence to neighborhoods, traffic in drugs, destroy property, involve youth in crimes and drive out businesses.  Gangs pull teens away from school and home into a life of violence. 

One of the scariest aspects of gang violence is it's often indiscriminate and unpredictable.  Gang members have been known to kick, punch, hit or even kill their victims.  People who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong place often get hurt.  If gangs or gang members are in your school or neighborhood, you know it. 

What is a Gang? 
Hybrid (aka. modern) gangs are flourishing in the United States and their changing nature makes it difficult to track and respond to them. Hybrid gangs do not follow the same rules and methods of operation of traditional gangs such as those seen on TV like the Bloods and the Crips.  

Some characteristics of Hybrid gangs:

  • Less structured than older more traditional gang
  • Are locally based and have little or no real national affiliations
  • May or may not have an allegiance to a certain color
  • Usually do not have an identified leader
  • Gang members may change their gang affiliation from one gang to another with no consequence 

Here are some quick facts about gangs:

  • Gangs can be organized around race or ethic group, money-making activities or territories
  • Gangs usually claim a particular area of town which they call their "turf."  They spend much of their time fighting rival gangs to keep them out of this territory.
  • Most gang members are males ranging in age from eight to 22 years old.
  • Females, especially Asian and Hispanic, are moving away from the traditional role of being merely girlfriends of gang members and are forming their own gangs
  • Gangs wear particular items, styles, brands or colors of clothing.  Some gangs wear bandannas of a certain color or baseball caps of a specific team.  Some gangs mark their bodies with tattoos of their gang name or symbol.
  • Gangs often use a certain hand sign or handshake to tell others what gang they belong to.
  • "Gangsta" rap paints a realistic picture of daily gang activity.  The lyrics glorify violence and abuse of women and promote disrespect for authority, especially the police.

Why Do People Join Gangs?
Although people join gangs for different reasons, some common ones are:

  • to belong to a group
  • to receive protection 
  • to earn money 
  • to end boredom and seek more excitement 
  • to be with friends 
  • to be more popular 
  • family tradition

None of these is a good reason to belong to a gang. Most of the other kids who don't belong to a gang will be afraid of you and won't hang out with you.  If you think you will be safer once you join a gang, think again. Most likely, you will increase your chances of being killed or injured. Joining a gang for money doesn't make sense either.  Over a lifetime, those who don't join gangs will make much more money. Also, belonging to a gang jeopardizes your education, which will make finding a good job difficult.

What Happens When You Join?
Joining a gang is like entering enemy territory.  Typical scenarios involve rape and violence.  For example:

  • Boys are usually forced to fight several gang members at the same time.  This is called being "rolled-in" or "walking the line."
  • Girls may be forced to have sex with several gang members or fight other female members 
  • New members may be forced to prove themselves by beating someone up, robbing a store or committing a drive-by shooting

Remember, breaking the rules of the gang you join could result in your death.

What Does the Future Hold For Gang Members?
For a gang member, the future is pretty bleak.  These are some common examples of things which happen to gang members:

  • They may be killed or injured during gang activity 
  • Many get diseases 
  • Many go to prison 
  • Many become dependent on alcohol and drugs 
  • Gang members frequently drop out of school, limiting their chances for higher education and a good job 
  • They embark on a life of crime 
  • They commit seriously felonies that lead to lengthy jail time 
  • They may be killed when they try to leave the gang

Take Action:  What You Can Do about Gangs

  • If you are threatened by gang members, do not overreact.  Stay cool and try not to act scared
  • Ignore their threats and tell them you have no argument with them 
  • If threats from gangs continue, tell you parents, the police or school officials 
  • Don’t be a “wannabe” by dressing or acting like you want to be in a gang 
  • Hang out with kids who are not involved and do not want to be in a gang 
  • Get involved in activities that are not gang-related, such as organized sports, summer jobs, community organizations, volunteer groups, faith groups or arts and drama groups 
  • Show gangs you have no tolerance for their activities by staring a graffiti clean-up program or starting a youth group or club whose purpose is to improve the neighborhood or school