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Real Gangstas

Real Gangstas: Legitimacy, Reputation, and Violence in the Intergang Environment

Timothy R. Lauger
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Real Gangstas
    Book Description:

    Street gangs are a major concern for residents in many inner-city communities. However, gangs' secretive and, at times, delinquent tendencies limit most people's exposure to the realities of gang life. Based on eighteen months of qualitative research on the streets of Indianapolis,Real Gangstasprovides a unique and intimate look at the lives of street gang members as they negotiate a dangerous peer environment in a major midwestern city.

    Timothy R. Lauger interviewed and observed a mix of fifty-five gang members, former gang members, and non-gang street offenders. He spent much of his fieldwork time in the company of a particular gang, the "Down for Whatever Boyz," who allowed him to watch and record many of their day-to-day activities and conversations. Through this extensive research, Lauger is able to understand and explain the reasons for gang membership, including a chaotic family life, poverty, and the need for violent self-assertion in order to foster the creation of a personal identity.

    Although the book exposes many troubling aspects of gang life, it is not a simple descriptive or a sensationalistic account of urban despair and violence. Steeped in the tradition of analytical ethnography, the study develops a central theoretical argument: combinations of street gangs within cities shape individual gang member behavior within those urban settings. Within Indianapolis, members of rival gangs interact on a routine basis within an ambiguous and unstable environment. Participants believe that many of their contemporaries claiming gang affiliations are not actually "real" gang members, but instead are imposters who gain access to the advantages of gang membership through fraud and pretense. Consequently, the ability to discern "real" gang members-or to present oneself successfully as a real gang member-is a critical part of gangland Indianapolis.Real Gangstasoffers an objective and fair characterization of active gang members, successfully balancing the seemingly conflicting idea that they generally seem like normal teenagers, yet are abnormally concerned with-and too often involved in-violence. Lauger takes readers to the edge of an actual gang conflict, providing a rare and up-close look at the troubling processes that facilitate hostility and violence.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5375-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    On the northeast side of Indianapolis, along a busy highway, large spray-painted letters mar an unremarkable brick building. Plainly written in black paint, without much creativity or attention to style, the letters spell out the name of a local street gang—DFW Boyz. Lacking traditional gang signifiers like bright colors, numbers, pitchforks, a crown, the Star of David, or other discernable gang jargon, the writing does not resemble stereotypical gang graffiti. If one is bound by preconceptions of gang signifiers, the writing can be easily mistaken for the work of a preadolescent child or a wannabe playing the part of...

  5. Chapter 1 Gangs and Their Environments
    (pp. 15-40)

    At first glance, the busy intersection of Keystone Avenue and Thirty-eighth Street in northeast Indianapolis seems relatively mundane. Various fast-food restaurants, stores, and financial service businesses line the streets that lead to this junction. Vehicles passing through are notably varied, indicating that people of different economic classes use these roads to traverse the city. The mostly small, run-down houses that line these intersecting streets suggest that this area is poorer than others, but they do not signify to outsiders that it is a ghetto. Visitors may know from experience, reputation, or media reports that the surrounding area includes some of...

  6. Chapter 2 Joining a Gang
    (pp. 41-72)

    As was often the case in the course of my research, I was ending a day by driving a few members of the DFW Boyz to their desired locations. Accompanying me were brothers Layboy and Shawn, and their cousin TJ. The boys defined certain settings as turf, but their movement through Indianapolis was not defined by geography. The original members of the gang knew each other from hanging out in a far-east-side neighborhood, but few resided there anymore. Layboy and Shawn, for example, had created so many problems in their far-east-side recent apartment complex that their mother was again forced...

  7. Chapter 3 The Dilution Narrative: An Understanding That Some Gang Members Are Not “Real”
    (pp. 73-97)

    Although gang membership may be caused by an individual’s response to his or her chaotic social, familial, or economic environment, it is not a particularly successful avenue for solving one’s problems. Gangs may provide real friendship, and even a secondary family in which widespread loyalty mandates that members look out and care for other members. They can offer an escape for a distasteful home life, school experience, or peer environment. For some, gang life offers a short-term solution to abject poverty. Despite these benefits, gang membership has short- and long-term negative consequences. Most notably, individuals often join gangs for protection,...

  8. Chapter 4 The Paradox of Legitimacy
    (pp. 98-117)

    Given that gang members are immersed in a social environment that is characterized by pervasive skepticism, their social routines are influenced by the mere possibility that a peer or peer group is observing and assessing their actions. Such concerns are heightened by the uncertainty that accompanies that skepticism. The dilution narrative is a commonly embraced story, but it is not accompanied by stable, predictable, and clear indices that allow for objective distinctions between real and fake gang members. One may be tempted to accept unquestioningly a single version of “real” offered by an OG or the members of a particular...

  9. Chapter 5 Known in Naptown
    (pp. 118-139)

    While I waited for Shawn and Layboy in Aaron’s apartment, I sat on an older black loveseat and listened to music blaring from a nearby stereo. Considering the close proximity of neighboring apartments, I was always surprised at how loudly the boys played music during the day. Given that windows were ajar and a sliding back door was fully open, the music drowned out any attempted conversations and left the confines of the apartment for all to hear. I recognized the song; it occasionally played in my car when we drove around the city. It was written and performed by...

  10. Chapter 6 Teenage Gossip and the Presentation of Self
    (pp. 140-159)

    The need to establish a violent reputation can, quite naturally, cause one to engage in violent acts. Often, gang members slowly develop reputations by interacting with a variety of people. Within the context of these social relationships, a single violent act or a series of violent acts can provide the basis for building a reputation. Yet gang members must broadcast their capacity for violence beyond their immediate social circle, which remains a significant challenge. Loosely connected but extensive social ties maximize the diffusion of information, and, as noted in the last chapter, gangs’ and gang members’ capacity to become known...

  11. Chapter 7 The Violent Encounter
    (pp. 160-183)

    Intergang interactions are imbued with meaning. In various social settings, gang members observe, interpret, and assess the behavior of their peers. They freely use dismissive labels such as “wannabe,” “weak,” “false flagger,” or “dick rider” to signify that a peer is not a part of the intergang field. The need to prove otherwise, to legitimize one’s self or gang to other participants in the intergang environment, is a focal concern for gang members. An act of violence legitimizes, but its effects are limited. A person or group must, therefore, build a reputation for violence that is broadly accepted in the...

  12. Chapter 8 Hope, Intervention, and Tragedy
    (pp. 184-206)

    My time with Shawn, Layboy, and other members of the DFW Boyz often led me to ponder their immediate safety and future prospects. Although I recognized the seriousness of their actions and knew that, according to research, they were at high risk for either violent victimization or felony arrest, my concerns were often suppressed by their illusion of control and the assumed invincibility of youth. The boys constantly expressed the belief that they were untouchable in the streets of Indianapolis, and that confidence proved to be somewhat contagious. In retrospect, I should have been more concerned. The depth and duration...

  13. Appendix: Researching Gangs
    (pp. 207-222)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 223-232)
  15. References
    (pp. 233-246)
  16. Index
    (pp. 247-254)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-258)