Gangs and Society

Gangs and Society: Alternative Perspectives

LOUIS KONTOS
DAVID BROTHERTON
LUIS BARRIOS
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/kont12140
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  • Book Info
    Gangs and Society
    Book Description:

    Compiled by three leading experts in the psychological, sociological, and criminal justice fields, this volume addresses timely questions from an eclectic range of positions. The product of a landmark conference on gangs, Gangs and Society brings together the work of academics, activists, and community leaders to examine the many functions and faces of gangs today. Analyzing the spread of gangs from New York to Texas to the West Coast, the book covers such topics as the spirituality of gangs, the place of women in gang culture, and the effect on gangs of a variety of educational programs and services for at-risk youth. The final chapter examines the "gang-photography phenomenon" by looking at the functions and politics of different approaches to gang photography and features a photographic essay by Donna DeCesare, an award-winning journalist.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50751-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    This collection will show throughout that the complexity of gangs mirrors the complexity of the communities in which they are found. One dimension of the complexity of the latter is the diversity of opinion that normally exists within it. With regard to the “gang problem,” there are competing definitions—not only of its nature, but also of appropriate solutions to it. In addition, attempts to represent and speak for the community serve to problematize the concept as a unit of analysis. Is the community a concrete space—for instance, a collection of neighborhoods? Or is it instead a matter of...

  4. PART 1 THEORY AND METHODOLOGY
    • 1 A NOTE ON SOCIAL THEORY AND THE AMERICAN STREET GANG
      (pp. 3-11)
      SUDHIR VENKATESH

      Theory in street gang research continues to be defined by the human ecology paradigm, a perspective on urban social relationships formulated in the mid-twentieth century by social scientists at the University of Chicago. At that time, the urban gang was one of several agent provocateurs that researchers identified as deleteriously affecting the process of social integration: Social scientists understood gangs, to some degree, as emblematic of disenfranchised members of European ethnic groups and southern black migrants who were seeking their future in the industrial city. Gangs were publicly manifest signs that communities were poorly organized—specifically, “socially disorganized” beyond the...

    • 2 TOWARD A TYPOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY MEXICAN AMERICAN YOUTH GANGS
      (pp. 12-40)
      AVELARDO VALDEZ

      There have been increases in street violence, drug trafficking, homicides, organized criminal activities, and use of sophisticated weaponry among delinquent youth during the 1980s and 1990s. Most of these activities have been associated with African American, Latino, and Asian youth gangs in large metropolitan areas of the United States. In an attempt to understand the extent and nature of those gangs, researchers have proposed a variety of classifications. However, Spergel states, “Gang typologies and classifications suggest a bewildering array, complexity, and variability of structures, purposes, and behavioral characteristics of gangs, with these dimensions not clearly identified or interrelated” (1995:79).

      The...

    • 3 THE NEGLIGIBLE ROLE OF GANGS IN DRUG DISTRIBUTION IN NEW YORK CITY IN THE 1990S
      (pp. 41-61)
      RIC CURTIS

      The widespread belief that there is an intimate and enduring connection between gangs and drug distribution and use is deeply rooted in the perceptions of law enforcement officials, media representations, and academic studies that document their existence (Fagan 1989). Firmly entrenched in the public imagination, gangs and drugs form an inseparable pair. Although gangs have been connected to drug distribution in the popular imagination during the last fifteen years, particularly in the wake of the crack “epidemic,” empirical evidence has shown the relationship to be very uneven. Some researchers have identified the emergence of corporate-style gangs (Taylor 1990; Jankowski 1991;...

    • 4 MARGINAL YOUTH, PERSONAL IDENTITY, AND THE CONTEMPORARY GANG: RECONSTRUCTING THE SOCIAL WORLD?
      (pp. 62-74)
      KEVIN MCDONALD

      We are witnessing a profound transformation in contemporary youth experience. But with this awareness comes an increasing difficulty in making sense of what is happening. Older models of youth constructed in terms of a more or less linear transition from childhood to adulthood no longer seem to make sense in a network society, where culture is oriented to the present, not to the future (Laidi 2000). Images of young people seem to oscillate from one extreme to the other, from potential victim to potential threat, while youth experience seems to express increasingly urgent social anxieties, from the danger of anomic...

  5. PART 2 GANGS AND POLITICS
    • 5 GANGS AND THE CONTEMPORARY URBAN STRUGGLE: AN UNAPPRECIATED ASPECT OF GANGS
      (pp. 77-94)
      ALBERT DICHIARA and RUSSELL CHABOT

      Stereotypes dominate the debate about gangs. The most popular stereotypes are those that emphasize the criminal tendencies of gangs and the social and personal pathology of gang members. This is no less true for academic criminology, because the leaders of this field have adopted the control ideology of criminal justice agencies (Klein 1995). But it is important to remember that as sociological and criminological phenomena, gangs exist on several continua. Gangs vary in terms of criminality, social organization, ideological foundations, and degree of alienation. Gang members, too, range from the “wannabe” to the “OG” (original gangster), from the irresponsible street...

    • 6 URBAN STREET ACTIVISTS: GANG AND COMMUNITY EFFORTS TO BRING PEACE AND JUSTICE TO LOS ANGELES NEIGHBORHOODS
      (pp. 95-116)
      JUAN FRANCISCO ESTEVA MARTÍNEZ

      In 1998, The Street Organization Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice¹ was involved in an ongoing research project documenting the organizational transformation of street organizations in the New York City area. Some of the street organizations include the Ñetas, Zulu Nation, and the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation. In May1999, the latter street organization contacted members of the Bloods in Los Angeles to mediate between them and the New York City Bloods in order to contain or stop the violence between these two groups. Bloodhound, a leading member of one of the strongest sets of the L.A....

  6. PART 3 GANGS, AGENCY, AND AT-RISK YOUTH
    • 7 THE ALMIGHTY LATIN KING AND QUEEN NATION AND THE SPIRITUALITY OF RESISTANCE: AGENCY, SOCIAL COHESION, AND LIBERATING RITUALS IN THE MAKING OF A STREET ORGANIZATION
      (pp. 119-135)
      LUIS BARRIOS

      As should be clear from the choice of quotations above, my approach to the study of gangs will be somewhat different from orthodox criminological gang studies whose primary interest in gangs is to discover the origins of crime and deviance. In contrast, my foremost interest in researching these groups is to understand them as examples of collective resistance to systems of domination and as sites of spiritual practice, which extend, perpetuate, and reinforce their coherence. In other words, spirituality is presented in this paper as a strategy of resistance to dominance. This conceptual orientation is informed by my twin vocations...

    • 8 EDUCATION IN THE REFORM OF STREET ORGANIZATIONS IN NEW YORK CITY
      (pp. 136-158)
      DAVID C. BROTHERTON

      King B, above—honest, proud, and resilient—is discussing with the author the role of education in his “nation.” In many respects, his response is typical of the ninety-eight interviews held with respondents from two “street organizations”¹ (Brotherton 1999): The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation and the Asociación Ñeta over a period of three years (1997–2000). These empowerment claims that are so prevalent in the data are in stark contrast to the findings in most studies on gangs that presume a negative relationship between the processes and practices of formal education and gangs at the organizational and individual...

  7. PART 4 WOMEN AND GANGS
    • 9 LIBERATING YET LIMITING: THE PARADOX OF FEMALE GANG MEMBERSHIP
      (pp. 161-182)
      DANA NURGE

      Throughout the 1990s and continuing into the new millennium, the public has been bombarded with dramatic headlines, sound bytes, and images depicting female gang members (e.g., Ford 1998). Stories about female violence are always a hot topic, but recent increases in female delinquency arrest rates have fueled the media fire (Chesney-Lind 1993, 1999). Although it could be argued that increased attention to the existence of female gangs is warranted and, in fact, long overdue, the sensational nature of the media’s portrayal of “girl gangsters” as ruthless, amoral predators has generated public fear and outrage, while providing minimal understanding of the...

    • 10 AMOR DE REINA! THE PUSHES AND PULLS OF GROUP MEMBERSHIP AMONG THE LATIN QUEENS
      (pp. 183-210)
      DAVID BROTHERTON and CAMILA SALAZAR-ATIAS

      During the years 1997–99, the Street Organization Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice carried out an ethnographic study of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (ALKQN) in New York City, which included a substudy of the female members and their role in the transformation of the group into a “street organization” (Brotherton and Barrios, forthcoming).¹ On the basis of interviews with female members and observations of the group’s formal and informal practices over time, we will provide an analysis of: the self-reported motives behind membership in the Latin Queens, and the multiple ways that the Latin...

  8. PART 5 GANGS AND SOCIAL CONTROL
    • 11 GANGS AND THE LAW
      (pp. 213-227)
      LOREN SIEGEL

      A recurring theme in American legal history is the targeting of pariah groups whose members serve as scapegoats for a whole range of social, political, and economic problems. Members of these groups—whether they are political radicals, immigrants, or welfare mothers—are invariably denied basic civil liberties that are guaranteed to others. Often, particularly during periods of social, political, or economic stress, the courts go along with majoritarian prejudices, rather than protecting minority rights.

      This happened during the time of World War I, and again in the 1950s, when “red scares” brought intense assaults on First Amendment rights to freedom...

    • 12 THE GANG CRACKDOWN IN THE PRISONS OF MASSACHUSETTS: ARBITRARY AND HARSH TREATMENT CAN ONLY MAKE MATTERS WORSE
      (pp. 228-252)
      PHILLIP KASSEL

      Both the media and law enforcement officials often attribute more coherence and organization to street gangs and prison gangs than really exists.¹

      Prison gangs present a unique and different problem for correctional administrators…. [Their] activities pose a substantial threat to the orderly operations of individual institutions and the total operation of the Department. Operating through force, intimidation, secrecy, extreme loyalty to fellow gang members and dedication to their individual gang by-laws, charters, manifesto’s, etc., gangs’ potential for destructive activity is well recognized nationwide by corrections officials.²

      In April 1995, citing the security threat posed by incarcerated street gang members, Commissioner...

  9. PART 6 GANGS AND PHOTOGRAPHY
    • 13 ON THE SUBJECT OF GANG PHOTOGRAPHY
      (pp. 255-282)
      RICHARD T. RODRÍGUEZ

      In his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin argues, “The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject” (1968:236). Metaphorically bending Benjamin’s claim, the “enlargement” or enhancement of the mere snapshot to an item for (legal) documentation also shifts the subject of gang photography—photography that focuses on Chicanos affiliated with street gangs in greater Los Angeles—from a mere photographic image to a rendering of that subject as a suspect of gang activity...

    • 14 FROM CIVIL WAR TO GANG WAR: THE TRAGEDY OF EDGAR BOLANOS
      (pp. 283-313)
      DONNA DECESARE

      For more than a decade, U.S. street gangs have been spreading to Central America and the Caribbean. It is a trend exacerbated by the policies of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). At first glance, one might ask: Why not send immigrants who have broken American laws home—especially if they belong to gangs? But sweeping the gang problem across U.S. borders has proven to be neither a tidy nor a fair solution.

      The emergence of youth gangs in El Salvador with ties to Los Angeles gangs is emblematic of a problem that affects not only El Salvador but...

    • 15 SNAPSHOTS OF A MOVEMENT: THE NEW YORK LATIN KINGS AND QUEENS 1996-99
      (pp. 314-336)
      STEVE HART and DAVID BROTHERTON

      In September 1998, a journalist from the London daily newspaper, the Guardian, called me at the Street Organization Project in New York City and asked if I would introduce him to leaders of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (ALKQN). He had heard about the group and wanted to be the first to produce a story for the British public on this self-described gang-turned-social movement. After discussing his plans with several of the group’s leading members, the journalist came to New York a couple of months later and the newspaper hired a local photographer to provide the images to...

  10. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 337-340)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 341-352)