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Introduction to Gangs

Violence is inherent in gang activity. Anybody in the area is fair game, including men, women and children. Once, gang members used chains, knives and an occasional homemade "zip gun." They now use shotguns, automatic rifles, handguns and explosives. Once, victims of gang violence were rival gang members. Now they are often innocent bystanders killed or injured by stray bullets. Certain gang-infested neighborhoods are frighteningly similar to a war zone.

According to the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) gang statistics for the month of February 1998, there are 407 criminal street gangs in the City with a total membership of 65,271. In the month of March 1998, statistics reflected an increase of gang membership of 242 bringing the total to 65,513.

Gangs exist in urban areas, and more recently even in the rural areas as well. They number well over a quarter million youths throughout the country. In Los Angeles County their violent acts claim an average of one life a day. It is a lamentable fact that in our society there is such a ready and easily obtainable supply of firearms. This, coupled with the availability of drugs, including alcohol, leads to much of the impulsive violence that occurs. Consequently, within the ranks of gang members, there are youth who run the gamut from pranksters to vandals to armed robbers to murderers! It is also worth mentioning that movies, videos, and even fashions in our society often seem to glamorize youth rebellion and gangster lifestyle.

Gangs members participate in a variety of anti-social behaviors, including battery, mayhem, sexual assault, damage to property, larceny, murder, gang wars and other criminal activity.

Gangs often form along ethnic and racial lines, although there is an increasing trend of young people joining gangs for economic motives. Gangs differ sub-culturally in their behavior. For example, homicides among Latino gangs are often near-ritual exhibitions of manhood, where in contrast Black gangs typically fight over drug trade transactions, pay-offs, unmet expectations and similar "business" disappointments. Asian gangs’ crimes consist of extortion and home invasion robberies.