Street gangs in Los Angeles are described as a group of individuals who may or may not claim control over a certain territory in the community and engage, either individually or collectively, in violent or other forms of illegal behavior. However, one of the simplest and most functional definitions is that a gang is a group of people who form an allegiance for a common purpose and engage in violent, unlawful, or criminal activity. Although few gangs have a form of leadership, most do not have a formal organization and have as a leader, the strongest or most active member. The gang has a name, claims a particular territory or neighborhood and directs its criminal activity towards rival gangs and the general population in the form of robberies, assaults and narcotics sales.
Gang members in Los Angeles do not fit the movie image in which they are portrayed fulfilling specific roles in the gang such as president or enforcer and wearing gang jackets similar to those worn by many car clubs having rigid structures. Rather, leadership roles in street gangs are normally not formally recognized positions. They are usually assumed by a member who demonstrates or asserts dominant control at a particular incident or for a limited time thereafter. With smaller gangs, however, it is more likely that a single individual will become a recognized leader.
Many gangs adopt names that have significance when related to their neighborhoods (street names, hills, valleys, housing projects, and occasionally regional names). Some gangs are generally further divided into cliques. A clique will usually have its own name. Once in a particular clique, the member will remain in that clique throughout his gang career. The clique may change or alter its name as it matures but the same individuals tend to remain in close association with one another.
Most gang members adopt nicknames when recruited into the group if they do not already have one. The gang tends to select a name that fits the individual’s physical or psychological characteristics. A gang member called "Slice," for example, may get his name from his skill in handling a knife.