Gangs in the United states have evolved to the point they are now considered to be criminal organizations, meaning they are no longer street thugs looking to gain a rep.
Gangs are now full fledged business empires in which their main goal is to earn capital by any means necessary.
In order to understand how gangs have evolved so greatly, we need to look back at what caused gangs to grow to the scale in which they are at now.
At this point it is hard to give a hard number to amount of active members and number of gangs, but based off National Gang Center numbers, there is an estimated 30,000 gangs and 850,000 gang members across the United states.
This number will give you an idea on how much pull gangs now have on the streets as far as power and monetization.
Gangs have grown so large in the 21st century that are now considered to be criminal organizations. To understand how big they are, here are some statistics based off the Justice Department of the United States.
- There are more than 20,000 gangs in the United States
- There are approximately 1 million active gangs members in every US state, in the District of Columbia and all U.S Territories
- There are approximately 123, 000 documented gang members in incarceration
History of Gangs in America
The earliest American gangs first appeared in the early 1780s, but these gangs were just your typical street gangs looking to make a quick buck or start some trouble, basically just common thieves at this point.
The first types of street gangs were formed around the 1800s by what immigrants of English, Irish and German races. At the time, these immigrants were treated the same way people of color are now treated in America.
The gangs would start to form in the 1800s in New York City on the Lower East Side in the area known as the Five Points.
In Martin Scorseses’ Movie title “Gangs of New York” he portrays this side of New York City.
The gangs of this time were practically gone by the 1970s due to the civil war.
The Birth of Organized Gangs
After the civil war gangs reemerged with a different agenda. Gangs became more organized and turned towards crime. The gangs of this time would be the first cases of criminal organizations which sole purpose was to make money.
New York City was once again crawling with gangs. Gangs like the Whyos, Jewish Eastman Gang, The Chinese Tongs and the American Mafia, were highly structured gangs that were involved in large drug trafficking, prostitution and gambling.
Gangs also popped up in Chicago, which included European and Italian Immigrants. One of the most famous gangs out of Chicago were the Chicago Outfit, which was ran by the infamous Mobster Al Capone. With his famous Tommy Gun, he and his crew would be involved in gang warfare and shootouts. By the 1930s these gangs would slowly phase out and die.
On the West Coast, it was the Mexicans gangs that controlled the gang life. Mexican Youth would form Chicano gangs which was known as the cholo gangs. This consisted mainly of younger men unlike the east coast where gangs were made up mainly of Men.
By the 1920s cholo gangs had come full force and formed to be the ground work of what Los Angeles gangs street gangs are today. In the 1930s and 1940s these gangs would war with the police as well as other gangs.
Territory was a huge factory for the gangs of these times, graffiti became a huge importance for marking turf controlled by each gang. Gang signs would cover building which marked streets controlled by each gang set.
Unlike the gangs in the east and midwest, these gangs were as criminally organized, and a lot of time was spent fighting other rival gangs. These gangs were constructed due to ethnic segregation and alienation, and were formed to protect ethnic groups. A thing of note, is these types of gangs did not get phased out like the Mobs or Tongs in the east coast, they would stick around and grow into some of the biggest criminal organizations we have today.
Race, Poverty and Drugs
Once the 50s and 60s hit the east cost gangs started to reemerge out on the east coast due to a rise of Latino and Black Americans migrating to Cities like New York.
The thing that made the gang wars different on the east coast vs the west coast is that gangs in the west were fighting over territory and neighbourhoods due to the vast city sprawl of California cities.
New York City is built differently, consisting of Housing Projects. This stopped turf wars in the city, but it didn’t stop the gang wars, and unlike before it wasn’t “white” gangs, it was latino and black gangs that were at war over drugs and money.
The Midwest cities like Chicago were no different due to the growth of Latino and Blacks. A lot of poverty in Chicago meant a lot of crime. During this time, major gangs started popping up that would take a strong foot hold on criminal activity in these cities.
Gangs like the Black P Stones, Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples were controlling a large portion of the Drug Trade. These gangs would prove to be the leaders of the new gang world and would control how drugs get moved throughout the United States.
As the drug trade started booming in these cities, Motorcycle Clubs like the Hells Angels also started entering the drug trade. Starting off as actual Motorcycle Clubs, these clubs would turn Outlaw and become involved Drug Trafficking, Gun Running and other crimes. Due to their active and mobile nature, it only made sense to work with some of these Black and Latino gangs.
Out west things were only getting worse for street gangs. Racism and police violence was at an all time high and were pushing not only gangs, but regular everyday people over the edge.
Blacks and Latinos were being oppressed in a big way. Revolutionary groups like the Black Panthers were standing up to the injustice of black communities. Black Influential leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X were being assassinated for the uprising of black people.
The Rodney King Riots and Watts Riots are examples of what oppression will do to a community. These events in History would be the turning points of Gangs in the West Coast.
Street Gangs were the only answer to police brutality, a way to protect the people from the Police.
Gangs in LA started to band together in unity.
One of the Gangs to try to bring the street gangs of Los Angeles together would be the Crips.
Black gangs of LA started to recruit more and more youth. The Crips would start a movement in the 60s that would change the face of gang culture forever.
The growth of the Crips would only make things worse, as some street gangs would not participate in their movement. In retaliation the Bloods would form to counteract this new force, bringing in a new war that would last decades.
With major gangs now in each corner of the Country, The United States was now on full alert. Gang Violence was running rampant and the Authorities would have no choice other than to throw a lot of gang members in Jail.
With so many gang members of all races being incarcerated, this gave rise to a power no one could control.
With top ranking members of most street gangs locked up in one place, it was now easier for gang organization to take place. Prison Gangs would control their soldiers from the comfort of their cells.
Alliances would form from Blacks, Whites, Mexicans, Asians.
There hasn’t been a way to stop the gang members on the streets, it is hard to say if they will ever be controlled. From the looks of it, it will only get worse and the war on the streets will continue for a long time to come.