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Gang Life in Two Cities

Gang Life in Two Cities: An Insider's Journey

Robert J. Durán
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Gang Life in Two Cities
    Book Description:

    Refusing to cast gangs in solely criminal terms, Robert J. Durán, a former gang member turned scholar, recasts such groups as an adaptation to the racial oppression of colonization in the American Southwest. Developing a paradigm rooted in ethnographic research and almost two decades of direct experience with gangs, Durán completes the first-ever study to follow so many marginalized groups so intensely for so long, revealing their core characteristics, behavior, and activities within two unlikely American cities.

    Durán spent five years in Denver, Colorado, and Ogden, Utah, conducting 145 interviews with gang members, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and other relevant individuals. From his research, he constructs a comparative outline of the emergence and criminalization of Latino youth groups, the ideals and worlds they create, and the reasons for their persistence. He also underscores the failures of violent gang suppression tactics, which have only further entrenched these groups within the barrio. Encouraging cultural activists and current and former gang members to pursue grassroots empowerment, Durán proposes new solutions to racial oppression that challenge and truly alter the conditions of gang life.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53096-5
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Getting jumped into a gang was not an expected outcome for my life. I was living in Ogden, and if you asked any of the gang experts around the country they would have limited information available to comprehend gang activity in the state of Utah. This was not Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York; it was a conservative and highly religious state where everything was perceived as better than the ghetto neighborhoods that existed across the country. My homies and I were going through struggles that appeared to have no relevance to most people. We were not going to...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Researching Gangs as an Insider
    (pp. 19-39)

    The event described above was one of the deciding moments in my life. No matter how badly I wanted revenge or how badly I wanted to maintain my lifestyle, in the long run my options were limited: prison or death. I wanted a better future for my daughter and girlfriend.

    Contrary to stereotypes, I was not born a gang member. My parents weren’t involved in gangs. My dad worked at one of the biggest open copper mines in the world, Kennecott Copper. He woke up early and came home late five days a week for thirty-four years. My mom raised...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The War on Gangs in the Post–Civil Rights Era
    (pp. 40-65)

    The early 1980s in Denver and early 1990s in Ogden can be seen as a period of early formation of gang enforcement as an institutional framework for responding to actual and perceived gang activity. This was not the first time authority figures targeted gangs, as this book will outline, but it was the first time in which gang enforcement became federally funded and organized around a gang suppression model involving intelligence gathering, aggressive law enforcement, and prosecutorial interest. In the post–civil rights era, such a strategy to suppress gangs ensured that the level of cultural activism never again achieved...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Racialized Oppression and the Emergence of Gangs
    (pp. 66-93)

    This chapter provides the historical context of how gangs emerged in Denver. Karl Marx (1994:188) reported, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” Making the link between contemporary issues required understanding how and why gangs first emerged into an informal institution that fit a niche provided by no other formal organizations. In outlining this history, I argue how...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Demonizing Gangs Through Religious Righteousness and Suppressed Activism
    (pp. 94-117)

    In Utah the Mormon religion is the central framework for every institution and how individuals go about their day to day living (Yorgason 2003). Explaining gangs in the state of Utah requires the incorporation of not only race but also religion. The history of how Utah became the place for Mormons and their relationship with those considered nonwhite is the focus of this chapter, followed by a chronological overview of Utah and the social construction of gangs in Ogden. The historical countermovement against Mormonism in of Utah has led to changes in politics but has continued to maintain white superiority,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Negotiating Membership for an Adaptation to Colonization: The Gang
    (pp. 118-146)

    The goal of this chapter is to determine how individuals in the barrio negotiate the line between being an associate or member in a group created in response to colonization. Researchers have often argued that only a small percentage of youth ever join a gang—anywhere from 4 to 14 percent. Thus even in the poorest neighborhoods most youth will never join these groups (Vigil 2007) . It is the context of different lived experiences between Latinos and whites that influences the development of a chapter focusing on the decision making involved in joining a gang. I analyze four pathways...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Only Locotes Standing: The Persistence of Gang Ideals
    (pp. 147-171)

    The idea of a chapter on the persistence of gang ideals developed from my research studies to figure out what exactly was holding gangs together. What was the glue? Why did individuals stay committed despite negative outcomes? My initial interest in creating a theoretical understanding of what holds gangs together reflects my interest in the work of Emile Durkheim (1951, 1984). Durkheim devoted his career to outlining different forms of cohesiveness and integration into society and theorizing how changes in regulation and control may affect individual behaviors. My goal was to discover the unwritten yet strictly observed patterns of behavior...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Barrio Empowerment as a Strategy for Transcending Gangs
    (pp. 172-197)

    From the inception of gang studies, researchers have offered suggestions about how to transform these groups and reduce their level of delinquent and criminal activities. In 1927 Thrasher argued that attacking the problem required taking the boy out of the gang by moving the member to another neighborhood or by providing meaning to life, allowing ambitions and dreams to become significant. Over the years many responses have developed focusing on prevention, intervention, and suppression, or a combination of all three. Suppression has been the most funded and favored approach since the 1980s. ASAP would be described as a form of...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 198-214)

    This book has presented evidence that gangs originated as a response to racialized oppression that will require a social movement to alter membership affiliations. My insider status and comparison of two different southwestern cities allowed me to reach several conclusions.

    Joan Moore, one of the longest-engaged researchers on Latino gangs, argued in 1978, “If Chicano gangs are going to be taken seriously, the current theories of gang behavior must be drastically modified” (51). The focus on crime in the most popular and widely cited gang literature ignores the role of racism in creating unequal communities and giving rise to adaptive...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-218)
  14. References
    (pp. 219-242)
  15. Index
    (pp. 243-254)