Friday, 2 December 2011

Street Gangs

Gangs definition-  A relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people
who (1) see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group, (2)
engage in a range of criminal activity and violence, (3) identify with or lay
claim over territory, (4) have some form of identifying structural feature,
and (5) are in conflict with other, similar, gangs.

Face: Gang leader
Gangbanger- Gang member
Rep- Reputation
Shotter- Street level drug dealer
Soldier- Street level gang member
Tiny- Very young gang member
Wannabe Person- aspiring to be a gang member
Younger- Mid-/ low-level gang member

-Between 600 and 700 young people are estimated to be directly ganginvolvedin the London Borough of Waltham Forest alone, with an
additional 8,100 people affected by gangs.
- In the past 5 years there has been an 89% increase in the number of under-
16s admitted to hospital with serious stab wounds, and a 75% increase
amongst older teenagers.
-The percentage of school children reporting having carried a knife
increased by more than 50% between 2002 and 2005.

The role of violence:
-A single, often minor, act of disrespect: for example
someone looking at a gang member in the ‘wrong’
way. To maintain his reputation the gang member
must respond, normally through violence.
-Territorial conflict: for example someone from a rival postcode entering a
gang’s territory. This is seen as an affront to the gang’s power and
reputation, and hence to reinforce this the ‘trespasser’ must be punished.

 Gangs are not new to Britain, but the nature and scale of current gang culture
is fundamentally different fromthat of previous generations. Themodern gang
is the product of the changing economic and social landscape of British society
over the past few decades.
The past few decades have seen an increasing socio-economic divide between
the haves and the have-nots which, coupled with an environment of intense
and overt consumerism, is often explicit in the global city where poverty and wealth sit side-by-side. The decline of industry and the rise of the knowledge economy have been instrumental in
this: significant parts of the working class have become
the workless class and their income has plummeted

Social housing – incubating social breakdown
In addition to a changing labour market came a shift in the function of social
housing: no longer were council estates home to working, stable families and
long-term residents. The introduction in the 1980s of right-to-buy coupled
with a major reduction in new building and a shift in allocations policy has
meant that social housing is now home to some of our most disadvantaged and
vulnerable individuals and families.
The majority of social housing households are now headed by young,
workless lone parents and single men and women, often with incomes below
the poverty line. Gangs are, unsurprisingly, most commonly found in these
highly deprived areas.

Self-worth, the street code and the rise of territorialism
These factors together have created, in certain communities, a generation of
disenfranchised young people. Alienated frommainstreamsociety these young
people have created their own, alternative, society – the gang – and they live by
the gang’s rules: the ‘code of the street’.36
As gangs have become more common over the past decade, territory has
become increasingly important. For many gangs, defending geographical
territory – often a postcode – has become part of their raison d’être, an integral
part of their identity. This, together with the declining age of gang members,
has contributed to the increasingly chaotic nature of gang violence.

‘A group of recurrently associating individuals with identifiable
leadership and internal organisation, identifying with or claiming control
over territory in the community, and engaging either individually or
collectively in violent or other forms of illegal behaviour.

 Street crime is particularly prevalent amongst gang members, serving two
purposes: it is both a source of income and a way of building status and respect.

‘What is clear is that gangs today organise in response not just to
industrialisation and urbanization [sic] but primarily to social
exclusion and the changing spaces of globalizing cities…’

The 1980s
Most commentators on the evolution of the modern gang
trace its origins to the 1980s. The 1980s witnessed massive
economic and social change. Whilst many people
prospered, not everyone could enjoy the rewards of
economic boom. Those in our most deprived
communities became actually poorer compared to the rest
of society. As is demonstrated in the following sections,
street gangs are the products of deprivation and

The divide between rich and poor continues to increase. There are more
people living in severe poverty today than a decade ago.150 Simultaneously we
have witnessed the rise of multi-million pound bonuses. Importantly, the
global city houses both worlds. Here the polar economic extremes sit cheekby-
It is within this urban context that the growth of the modern – ‘postindustrial’
– gang has occurred. As Saskia Sassen argues, globalisation has led
‘…an increasingly sharp tendency towards social and spatial
polarization [sic], partly because power and disadvantage assume some
of their strongest forms in global cities’
And crucially:
‘Wealth and power in global cities today are not the discreet wealth and
power of older elites…In the global city, wealth is very visible, especially
through…the highly public aspects of individual consumption…’151
The divide doesn’t just exist, it exists very visibly: those living in acute
deprivation have a daily reminder, sometimes just by walking to the end of
their street, of what they don’t, and can’t, have. As one
Youth Offending Team (YOT) worker told the Working
‘…showing your wealth is a way of promoting who you
are. People show their wealth in a variety of ways.
Some people go to polomatches and show their wealth
that way. There are people that do it by music. And if
you have footballers earning £90,000 a week and
driving nice cars, a young person doesn’t want to be on
£250 a week from the local store – they want real, live
cash, and they’ll do whatever they have to do to obtain that. As a society
via the media we’ve created this feeling amongst young people where
they can get it now.’
In this environment of intense and overt consumerism – coupled with
profound social breakdown – those excluded from mainstream access often
seek alternative routes. It is no coincidence that in Britain the highest prevalence of gangs is found in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham
and Glasgow – our great global cities.

Social housing became the placing ground for the most
disadvantaged people in society and has now become an incubator of
deprivation, hopelessness and crime: a ‘social apartheid’ has developed.

 Territorialism: from drugs to postcodes

‘…in the 21st century, as the gangs expanded, links with the drug
business became more tenuous and gang territory came to be defined
by neighbourhood and, eventually postcode. The territorial violence
and aggression at this level appears to serve little purpose, providing
instead an arena in which individuals and groups can demonstrate their
fighting prowess and gain ‘respect’.’

Drugs are a lucrative business,175 but to make money
you have to ‘own’ the drugs trade in a particular area, or
‘turf ’. This requires defending it. Hence one of the key
responsibilities of a Younger (young, low level gang
member) or Soldier is to protect the gang’s drug market,
often resulting in inter-gang violence. As Pitts states,
‘violence, or the threat of violence, becomes the primary
means whereby these markets are regulated.’
This situation exists today, but as gangs have become
more common over the past decade, with the ‘gangsta’
lifestyle being modelled to disenfranchised and disaffected young people,
‘respect’ has become the key motivator. Defending territory, often a postcode,
through violence is a way of earning respect. There is still a high chance of
those involved in gangs also being involved in the drugs trade, but street
violence is now much more likely to occur due to personal ‘beefs’; individual
incidents of disrespect.

The street gang in Britain today lives by a street code centered around respect
and violence. To gain respect and notoriety, gang members behave in an
increasingly volatile manner. As one London teenager told the group: ‘you do
crazy things to get noticed by the older guys in gangs.’

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