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Gangsters: 50 Years of Madness, Drugs, and Death on the Streets of America

Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The effects of gang violence are witnessed every day on the streets, in the news, and on the movie screen. In all these forums, gangs of young adults are associated with drugs and violence. Yet what is it that prompts young people to participate in violent behavior? And what can be done to extract adolescents from the gangster world of crime, death, and incarceration once they have become involved? In Gangsters: 50 Years of Madness, Drugs, and Death on the Streets of America, Lewis Yablonsky provides answers to the most baffling and crucial questions regarding gangs. Using information gathered from over forty years of experience working with gang members and based on hundreds of personal interviews, many conducted in prisons and in gang neighborhoods, Yablonsky explores the pathology of the gangsters' apparent addiction to incarceration and death. Gangsters is divided into four parts, including a brief history of gangs, the characteristics of gangs, successful approaches for treating gangsters in prison and the community, and concluding with a review and analysis of notable behavioral and social scientific theories of gangs. While condemning their violent behavior in no uncertain terms, Yablonsky offers hope through his belief that, given a chance in an effective treatment program, youths trapped in violent behavior can change their lives in positive ways and, in turn, facilitate positive change in their communities and society at large.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8913-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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

    STREET GANGS IN AMERICA prior to the end of World War I were relatively nonviolent when compared to contemporary violent gangs. In the first half of the twentieth century, the behavior of juvenile gangs was marked by a sense of camaraderie, a territorial imperative, some fistfights, and random acts of delinquency. Over the past fifty years, in the post–World War II period, gang-related acts of madness, drugs, and death on the streets have increasingly become a serious national problem. This gang problem, involving drugs and senseless violence, has turned into a nightmare for citizens and police in almost every...


    • 1. The Current Gang Problem
      (pp. 3-27)

      ON ANY GIVEN EVENING, along with the weather report and sports scores, the TV evening news in large and small cities throughout America present the horrendous toll of assaults and deaths that result from gang violence. The incidence of gang violence has escalated, and the patterns of gang violence have become increasingly lethal in the past fifty years.

      Contemporary gangs differ significantly from gangs of the past with regard to several significant factors:

      1.Gun Firepower. Today’s gangs have access to and pack more lethal weapons than at any time in the history of America.

      2.Intraracial Violence. In the first half...

    • 2. Gangs in the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 28-54)

      THERE HAVE BEEN FOUR periods of American juvenile gangsters, violence, and gang warfare in the twentieth century:

      1. The first fifty years were characterized by a benign period of youth camaraderie, a concern with territorial control, various acts of delinquency, and violence — largely involving fistfights and knife assaults.

      2. The second identifiable period was in the post-World War II era, in the 1950s up to the mid-1960s, and showed a shift toward violence related to territorial disputes acted-out in more severe forms, stabbings now and an occasional murder using a gun.

      3. The third identifiable period saw a hiatus in gangs, gang...


    • 3. Gang Characteristics
      (pp. 57-71)

      THE OVERT RATIONALE FOR gang violence and murder committed by the violent gangs of the past was based on territorial conflicts, a sense of being disrespected by another gang, and revenge. These earlier justifications for violence clearly remain in place for gangs in the 1990s, however, the combination of gangbanging, drive-bys, the drug business, and more lethal guns account for the escalation of murderous violence by contemporary gangs. Another change in contemporary gangs is found in the different ways in which gangsters participate in the multipurpose violent gang from different statuses in their gang’s hierarchy.

      In Webster’s dictionary, the word...

    • 4. Black and Chicano Gangs: In and Out of Prison
      (pp. 72-100)

      THERE ARE VARIOUS TYPES and forms of gangs in the United States. Throughout the country, there are white gangs in urban and suburban areas, motorcycle gangs, white skinhead racist gangs, Ku Klux Klan gangs, various Asian gangs, Jamaican gangs, South American gangs, a small number of independent female gangs that are unconnected to male gangs, and other groups that could be characterized as gangs. Many of these aforementioned gang-type collectivities are responsible for acts of atrocious racism, violence, and crime. These other gangs, however, are not nearly as prevalent (and in my view, they are another order of data, with...

    • 5. Why Gangs Kill: The Sociopath Factor
      (pp. 101-122)

      KODY SCOTT HAD AN interesting viewpoint on gang murders:

      Who fired the first shot? Who knows? But, too, who cares, when one of theirs is lying in a pool of blood with his brains blown out. This question becomes weightless in the aftermath of a shooting where someone has died. Thus the goal becomes the elimination of the shooter or as many of his comrades as possible. This inevitably leads to war — a full scale mobilization of as many troops as needed to achieve the desired effect: funerals.¹

      Monster Kody’s commentary on the appropriateness of gang murder is a...


    • 6. Some Effective Interventions
      (pp. 125-147)

      WHATEVER ULTIMATELY DETERMINES THE emergence of a specific violent gang at a particular time and place, there is no doubt that the existence of violent gangs as a continuing social phenomena in American urban areas is ultimately related to deeper, more general dysfunctions in the overall social system. If this consideration is relevant for an overall assessment of the problem, it must be equally relevant to the issue of a thoroughly effective attack on the pathological roots in the social system that produce the violent gang.

      A society that fails to find remedies for its own institutionalized social inequities, including...

    • 7. The Therapeutic Community Approach to Gangs
      (pp. 148-166)

      THE THERAPEUTIC COMMUNITY APPROACH was originated in 1958 in Santa Monica, California, by an ex-alcoholic, Charles Dederich, who overcame his alcohol addiction through Alcoholics Anonymous. He based his approach on the AA principle that people who have experienced a problem and have triumphed over their problem can be effective in treating and leading others out of their difficulty. One significant departure from AA that Dederich initiated, among many others, was that the recovering alcoholics/addicts lived together in a residential setting for at least a year.

      Another major premise of the therapeutic community (hereafter referred to as a TC) is that...


    • 8. Varied Theoretical Viewpoints
      (pp. 169-185)

      A NUMBER OF SIGNIFICANT sociological and social-psychological theoretical and research efforts have contributed to the understanding of the structure and function of gangs, and many of them have been woven into the context of the book. It is useful to summarize these relevant theories for scholars and others interested in gang theories. Also, these theoretical perspectives serve as a prelude to the presentation of my own theory of the violent gang as a near-group in the following chapter.

      In his bookDelinquent Boys, Cohen views the gang as a subculture with a value system different from the dominant ones found...

    • 9. The Violent Gang as a Near-Group
      (pp. 186-205)

      THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN adequate theory on the violent gang requires an extensive foundation of relevant research data. The importance of such research for adequate theory building and the pitfalls of not carrying out such empirical investigation are cogently expressed by the sociologist Robert Merton: “Empirical research initiates, reformulates, refocuses, and clarifies the theories and conceptions of sociology. It is evident that any theorist who is remote from all research, of which he learns only by hearsay, runs the risk of being insulated from the very experiences most likely to turn his attention in fruitful directions.”¹

      It is apparent from...

    • 10. Joining a Positive Gang: A Plan for Treating Gangsters in a Therapeutic Community
      (pp. 206-222)

      IN GENERAL, ABOUT 65 percent of the 1.6 million prisoners who have been in custody in the United States are rearrested for various crimes within a few years of their release. A summary analysis of a five-year research project built into the Amity Prison Program in California’s Donavan Prison reveals that only 35 percent of the prisoners who go through this program are rearrested for crimes in a five-year period after release. In comparison, 65 percent of the control matched group of prisoners in the general prison population were rearrested within five years.¹

      Research data from other TC programs in...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 223-227)
  10. Index
    (pp. 229-237)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)