(Note: Format modified for Internet. Excerpted from SUBURBAN Gangs—The AFFLUENT REBELS by Dan Korem, International Focus Press, 1995 ISBN 0-9639103-1-0)
The slang term “gang” has been fearfully and romantically used to indicate a group or band of persons bonded together because of common emotional and social needs, whose behavior is antisocial and criminal. Old West gangs such as the Dalton and James (Jesse James) gangs of the 1880s were romanticized in newspapers and pulp books, and this romanticism persists in today’s cinema. During the Roaring Twenties, when the term “street-gang” became popular, gangs became highly organized and ruthlessly business-like, thriving on bootlegging, prostitution, extortion, and illegal gambling. Over a thousand of these gangs were summarized by researcher Frederick Thrasher in his classic book, (1936).The Gang
During the last twenty-five years, the word “gang” has been typically used in the American media to specifyinner-city gangs primarily comprised of young men and women. (In the United States, “inner-city” refers to run-down or lower-income neighborhoods, whereas in Europe, it designates the section of town within the “ring” or highway that encircles the heart of a city—both business and residential. And it is not necessarily a lower-income area.) The images usually evoked by inner-city gangs are ethnic and racial bands or packs (even though there are White gangs as well) that flourish in economically depressed areas, where hope and opportunity are abjectly circumscribed. The self-perpetuating ferment in these places leads to moral decay, desperation, and dramatic lawlessness.
The current American psyche has been traumatized by soaring crime, random violence, daily murders, and the dark presence of youth gangs—not only in the inner cities, but in the usually calm rural and suburban areas. Americans are fearful. They have become defensive and wary. They invest in security systems, buy guns, and hire security people to patrol their streets. Some cities impose curfews, but the average citizen stays home, behind locked doors, at night; and they watch their backs. The 1994 Crime Bill passed in Congress will put 100,000 new officers on the street, pump nearly $7 billion into prevention programs, and allow thirteen-year-olds charged with violent crimes—such as murder, armed robbery, and rape—to be treated as adults. In most metropolitan cities, killings and other violent crimes associated with these gangs occur daily and rising criminal violence among youths shows no sign of abating. While adult violent crime is down slightly—in New York City, for example, homicide was down approximately 15% and robbery and auto theft down 13% in the first nine months of 19941—juvenile crime is escalating and even hardened homicide detectives are alarmed.
The reason for this fear is that violent crimes committed by youths are more unpredictable, victims are often randomly selected, and the assailants are increasingly younger. Innocent bystanders are also routinely killed or injured. The prevailing perception is painfully obvious: we aren’t as safe as we were twenty years ago. The juvenile crime statistics show this to be true, and the increasing numbers of unpredictable violent crimes among youths exacerbate this fear. Slayings by teenagers, for example, rose 124 % from 1986 to 1991.2 Minors killed over 3,400 people in the United States in 1992 and assaults with deadly weapons grew from 73,987 incidents in 1982 to 143,368 in 1992.3 Contrary to the stereotypical opinion that most crimes are committed by ethnic groups, the breakdown is different: 49% of those arrested for violent crimes wereWhite and 49% were Black in 1992. Only 13% of those arrested for violent crimes were females. The shocking and alarming figure is this: 30% of all youths arrested for violent crimes were under the age of 15.4 The 15-19-year-old age group commits 20.1% of all US crimes and is the largest group in the US. (Crime rates for all other age groups are as follows: 10-14, .04%; 20-24, 19.4%; 25-29, 16.2%; 30-34, 14.3%; 35-39, 10.1%; 40-44, 6.1%; 45-49, 3.2%; 50-65, 4.1%.5) Regarding murder, 57% were committed by Black youths, but White youths (56%) were more likely to be arrested for aggravated assault.6 In 1992, seventeen-year-olds were almost five times as likely to be arrested for a homicide than a thirty-three-year-old adult.7
And there is only more bad news on the horizon.
Criminologists predict that because the number of youths under the age of 18 will increase from 60 to 70 million by the year 2005, overall crime rates are expected to rise as well as juvenile crime rates. James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, observed, “To prevent a blood bath in the year 2005, when we will have a flood of fifteen-year-olds, we have to do something today with the five-year-olds. But when push comes to shove, prevention programs often fall by the wayside in favor of increased incarceration.”8
It should be noted that US crime rates have cycled through five- and ten-year cycles and some perspective is as follows:
Criminal justice experts say the reasons for the [recent] drop in [the overall] crime [rate] are many. Cocaine use has diminished in recent years. Local governments have imprisoned more criminals, and with longer sentences. More police officers have been put on street beats. Finally, and perhaps most important, the
aging of the 76-million-strong post-World War II baby boom generation has made the population grayer.
[Regarding the national homicide rate], it soared from 4.8 to 9.8 per 100,000 in the 1960s and has hovered between 8 and 10.2 murders per 100,000 since 1970. . . . Criminologists attribute a dip in homicides from 1980 to 1985 to the fact that the number of baby boom youths between 17 and 24 peaked in 1980. Criminologists [had] predicted more than a decade-long decline in violent crime as the population aged; they just didn’t count on the arrival of crack cocaine in 1985.9
Because a significant percentage of these crimes are committed around the periphery, if not directly by inner-city gangs, most of the public focus has rightfully been on inner-city gangs and associated violence. The infusion of crack cocaine and an almost unlimited supply of guns in the 1980s in the gang crime scene is believed to be one of the biggest contributing factors to the institutionalization of inner-city gangs and violent crimes associated with the drug trade. Some of the common characteristics observed in inner-city gang members and their neighborhoods are: absent fathers, depressed socioeconomic conditions, deteriorating schools, lack of recreational facilities and programs, absence of strong political and community leadership, and chronically high crime rates from theft, assault, and murder.
If it is still hard to imagine what could drive youths to commit vicious and senseless acts of violence and terror, this background profile of a female gang member who held her boyfriend’s gang together while in jail will help.
The perception of what constitutes trouble depends on the magnitude of the dangers that are routinely survived. It’s useful to look at violence from the other side, to suspend morality and, for a moment, fear. Imagine you are 15. Your stepfather has raped you, and the only thing keeping you from another year in foster care is your sinking mom. You have learned that the only way to keep your mother away from liquor is to beat her. It takes 20 minutes to subdue her. After you do this, you must calm your little sister. This private weekend life makes it easier to mug a stranger for money that you need, especially when a mugging lasts no more than two minutes. The money means you do not have to ask your overwhelmed mom, who hates you when she’s sober. Or the money is for your mom or your little sister, people for whom you hold much shame, obligation and guilt.10
Fostered by this combined fear of violent youth crime and constant images of inner-city gangs on evening news reports, when gangs started to appear in affluent communities in the 1980s, many assumed that inner-city gangs were expanding their turf and recruiting more members. This is incorrect. The first gangs observed in affluent communities were either composed of White youths or youths hostile to ethnic groups.
Since the early 1980s, essentially three types of gangs have been observed in affluent communities: delinquent, ideological, and occultic gangs. Each has one thing in common: the youths commit crimes in aspecific context. A brief characterization of the context in which each gang type commits criminal acts is as follows:
A more detailed explanation of the typology used for the three gang types is discussed in chapter 12 and a thorough examination of each gang type is found in chapters 12-15. The first affluent gang types to appear in the United States were the ideological and occultic gangs.
Beginning around 1983, occultic gangs were noticed on the West Coast and eventually became visible across the United States by the mid- to late-1980s. Gangs formed around the central theme of attaining occultic powers, which is why many were mistakenly labeled as cults. Their criminal activity was principally limited to small-time drug trafficking, although some violent crimes were committed. These gangs surfaced almost exclusively in affluent communities with few ethnic members.
Around the same time, ideological gangs—most notably skinhead gangs—also appeared. These gangs initially surfaced in middle-income neighborhoods and were aggressively anti-ethnic. Then in the late 1980s, youths from affluent communities started forming their own gangs as well as joining existing gangs. The criminal activity of these gangs involved physical assaults and even murder directed towards minority and ethnic groups, such as Blacks, Hispanics, and Jews. Some of these gangs also engaged in low-level drug trafficking. The assumption was that groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were solely responsible for spawning these gangs. Consequently they were not labeled gangs but subversive groups.
The emergence of the delinquent gangs as a trend didn’t begin until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Isolated cases of delinquent gangs have always been present, but delinquent gangs as a trend is a recent development. The criminal activity of these gangs has run the gamut—assault, theft, burglary, and drug trafficking. This gang type will probably grow the fastest over the next ten years.
It is imperative to recognize that in the beginning youths from affluent communities chose to form their own gangs separate and apart from inner-city gangs. In most cases, these youths did not form gangs at the recruitment urgings of inner-city gangs. The spill-over effect of inner-city type gangs recruiting youths into their fold didn’t become a significant factor in affluent communities until the early 1990s. The Andy Kriz case (chapter 3) is one such example. Typically, gangs that did form because of the direct influence of inner-city gangs became delinquent gangs and didn’t attach themselves to a particular belief system or ideology like the occultic and ideological gangs. As of this writing, affluent gangs forming at the urgings of inner-city gangs doesn’t represent the majority of affluent gangs. However, because of the large numbers of at-risk youths present in affluent communities and the increasing influence of inner-city gangs, this is a potential trend that warrants careful monitoring.
In the media an inaccurate characterization was often conveyed about the types of gangs that were forming in affluent communities. Gang members were usually characterized as those from ethnic groups. In the summer of 1993, the New York Times printed a front-page story on the spread of gangs to the suburbs, entitled, “Gang Membership Grows in Middle-Class Suburbs.” Although the interior of the article recognized that “Gangs are attracting more teenagers from all backgrounds and socio-economic groups,”11 the front-page picture used showed two ethnic youths. Pictures of White youths were noticeably absent. This kind of characterization in the media, often done to protect the local community’s image or as a result of ignorance, fed the misplaced, popular belief that inner-city youths were the cause of initial affluent gang formation.
It is crucial to recognize that the affluent gang trend began and grew on its own—that affluent youths on their own (in most cases) formed their own gangs without direct external direction. Why? Because unless communities acknowledge the actual cause-and-effect relationship, effective action can be neutralized. When communities think that gangs are solely forming because of “outsiders,” then valuable resources will be ineffectively appropriated and the problem will only grow and spread.
Another factor that contributed to the failure of recognizing these groups as gangs in affluent communities was due to “boosterism.” City hall in many affected communities failed to acknowledge that they had a gang problem for fear of tarnishing its image and driving away business. A typical example was the suburb of Carrollton where I personally investigated several gangs around 1989 and 1990. City officials declined to acknowledge their own gang problem and initiate effective action. (As a counterpoint, neighboring Farmers Branch, a suburb with a similar community, recognized its gang problem and took action. They implemented a model for prevention that has attracted the attention of officials from cities across the US. How they approached this issue is addressed in chapter 19. It should also be noted that by 1992, Carrollton reversed its previous denial of its gang problem.) A police officer from another Dallas suburb during the same time period said, “You know there are gangs and I know that there are gangs. But the word from city hall is: ‘We don’t have a gang problem.’”
Vocal recognition of an affluent gang problem by a handful of local communities didn’t begin until around 1990, but by 1992 many upscale communities were forced to acknowledge the growth of gangs. For example, in Tucson, Arizona, in the late 1980s the first recognition of gangs properly focused on inner-city gangs that were spreading to lower-income areas of Tucson. Gang members from other cities, such as Los Angeles, moved into Tucson. They were fleeing police crackdowns and were motivated by profits from the sale of “crack” cocaine. This began the public perception of gangs in the 1980s. But by 1990, local law enforcement acknowledged that gangs were now in affluentcommunities. This was puzzling to local officials because there wasn’t a direct connection to the new inner-city gangs that moved to town.
In 1990, the Arizona Daily Star quoted several officials who noted the appearance of gangs in affluent parts of Tucson. Pat Carrillo, supervisor of juvenile intensive probation for Pima County Juvenile Court Center, said, “It’s here now. . . . I’ve seen places where they let it go and let it go. . . . It’s like doing nothing about cancer. Sure, it doesn’t hurt now, but it will spread and eventually it will kill you.”12
Sgt. Ron Zimmerling, then head of the ten-member, anti-gang unit for the Tucson Police Department, added that “our estimates are always low. There’s so much intimidation in gangs that a lot of people don’t report them.”13 Former Tucson police officer, Warren Allison, who worked for the Tucson Unified School District on a two-member anti-gang task force, observed that the gang phenomena was spreading to middle- and upper-middle class suburbs: “In Tucson, it used to be typical barrio gangs in certain neighborhoods [referring to Hispanic gangs]. But now it’s spreading. I don’t know why.”14 Mr. Allison’s bewilderment was characteristic of many communities throughout America. Eventually by 1993, most communities that had gangs began openly discussing their dilemma. Even those that had formerly resisted began to take action. The problem couldn’t be ignored.
The cause-and-effect relationship of why gangs are forming in affluent communities is presented in detail in chapters 5 through 11. For reference purposes, a condensation of a typical flow of events that lead up to gangs in affluent communities is as follows:
A 1994 New York Times/CBS News Poll revealed that 18% of White youths stated that gangs were a problem in their school. The results of the seventy-three questions in the survey pointed towards the fact that most of the 1,055 youths were not from inner-city areas.
The number of gangs present in affluent communities, however, is uncertain. The trend is too new for law enforcement to have gathered abundant and reliable data. States don’t require the mandatory reporting of gang activity by all communities. It has only been in the last couple of years that states, driven by public fears, have begun to collect reliable data on inner-city gangs. (Some states, for example, that have long been affected by chronic juvenile crime, are just now agreeing to share youth crime data with public schools so that they can more effectively be a part of the solution to reduce violent juvenile crime and gangs.)
Another reason for uncertainty is that the problem isn’t nearly as chronic as it is in the inner-city. The wake-up call has been sounded. It’s not perceived as sufficiently threatening to incite sophisticated, nationwide studies. Additionally, hard data is difficult to obtain because affluent youths don’t usually brag about their gang membership. They don’t want the police monitoring their activities, and they don’t want to be hassled or arrested. This is very different from inner-city gangs where identification is part of their bravura code. In 1993, though, I noted that the number of youths whohad indicated gang activity in their own neighborhood seemed to have markedly jumped.
Each summer from 1988 to 1993, I spoke to several thousand youths at sports camps on the subject ofdeception and how it appears in various social trends, such as gangs. These youths were predominantly from affluent families across America. At the end of these presentations, I asked: “How many of you know about gang activity in your own neighborhood?” The purpose of my question was to find out if the affluent gang trend was growing or if it was a momentary youth subculture phenomenon.
Up until 1992, only about 5%-10% indicated that they knew of such activity. The summer of 1993 was different. The needle jumped. The average response leaped to 40%-60%. Because of the extraordinary increase, I fine-tuned my question and asked, “Had you simply heard about gang activity from someone or through the media—you know, secondhand and thirdhand stuff? Or do you actually know people in gangs in your neighborhood?” The response was “personal contact.” In October of 1993, I lectured at the FBI National Academy to over fifty law enforcement officers from across the US on the subject of gangs. When asked the same question, their response mirrored the student’s response that summer. Like the students, the officers’ perceptions were not based upon increased media coverage of this issue. They knew about it firsthand. The same percentage has continued to remain steadfast through 1994.
(Note: In 1993 and early 1994 I made a similar inquiry of college students in America at various universities, aged 18-21, during lecture presentations. Some of the campuses included: USC, University of Minnesota, Louisiana Tech, Penn State, and West Virginia University. Although my survey isn’t strictly scientific, the sampling is compellingly empirical. Over 10,000 students indicated that only about 10-15% had come in contact with some kind of gang activity in their neighborhoods. However, a larger number, as high as 20%, indicated that they knew about gang activity in their neighborhood that began after they had started college. This suggested that the younger the youth, the more likely that he or she had come into contact with gang activity. This matches the typical age for gang involvement (12-17). Also, students polled in more stable communities with lower crime rates like Minneapolis, had predictably lower percentages than communities like Chicago or Los Angeles.)
There doesn’t appear to be any particular reason why affluent gangs suddenly increased in numbers—seemingly overnight—other than it had been a growing trend that had finally reached a critical mass. As already noted, gangs such as skinhead and neo-Nazi types already existed and were now being recognized as gangs in local communities. This may have accounted for a sudden surge in law enforcement numbers.
I sought out numerous sociologists with expertise in gang research to obtain a workable definition of gangs. Malcolm Klein, Ph.D., director of the USC Social Science Research Institute, states: “A gang is a bunch of guys involved in delinquent and violent activity,”15 His definition focuses solely on “street gangs” and excludes groups with a specific goal orientation such as biker and skinhead gangs. He writes in his book, The American Street Gang (to be published in 1995), that he finds it necessary to exclude almost as many different groups as he would include to avoid unwanted stereotyping.
Irving Spergel, Ph.D., a sociologist at the University of Chicago, when asked about the idea of affluent gangs, said, “It’s almost a contradiction in terms,” as his research has primarily dealt with inner-city gangs. About the possibility of affluent gangs, he characterized them as “a bunch of guys that get together and raise some hell. They’re an odd-ball gang. Maybe they’ll steal, but then they’ll disappear.”16
The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin featured an article on gangs in which the authors, an officer with the Baltimore Police Department and a university professor, wrote: “A gang is a group of youths . . . banded together for antisocial and criminal activities.”17
Developing a “scientific” definition for the term “gang” isn’t practical because not all gangs are comprised solely of youths. Neither do all youths join gangs in order to commit crimes, nor do all gangs commit crimes of violence.
For the purposes of having a working definition for this book, I have modified the above definition to specify ayouth gang. There is also a general consensus in America that the term gangs should specify that criminal activity is afoot, even if a specific youth doesn’t have the intent of committing crimes. Groups of youths who adopt the gang façade—attire, hand signals, speech, etc.—but who don’t commit crimes will not be labeled as a gang. To qualify as a gang, criminal activity must be a characteristic of the group. The crimes committed don’t necessarily have to include more severe acts of violence, such as murder, but can simply be limited to assault—as in fist fights. In fact, some gangs may completely avoid violent crimes and simply buy and sell drugs. For these reasons, the definition of a youth gang is as follows:
A group of youths who are banded together in a specific context and whose activities include, but are not limited to, criminal acts. Adults may or may not be a part of this group, but when there is adult involvement, they will only represent a small minority of the gang membership.
(The reason for the inclusion of the possibility of adult members is that young adults, under thirty years of age, are sometimes gang members.)
This modest refinement will help provide a specific context for the rest of this book, separating a youth gang from other terms that are part of professional and popular jargon—clubs, cults, social movement, mob, or even Mafia. Compare, for example, the definition of a youth gang to a working definition of a cult, whose application can be equally ambiguous:
A cult is an isolated and/or anti-social group of persons who give their allegiance to a leader or leaders, whose purpose and/or goal it is to attain manipulative power through unquestioned loyalty to a system of beliefs.18
Cult is also a word that can be used quite broadly, and among sociologists is another word that has never been definitively defined with such specificity as to become standard. The definition included here was developed in order to provide a referential framework when comparing different groups. Gangs and cults can of course overlap each other. For example, in some youth gangs there might be a leader who seeks unquestioning allegiance to a belief system, but in many gangs this isn’t present, such as the Andy Kriz case. In Kriz’s gang, youths simply committed themselves to each other to profit from theft. There are cases, however, where a gang might also qualify as a cult, particularly in some occultic gangs in which youths give their allegiance to a particular belief system at the urgings of a manipulative leader, such as The Satanic Cult (chapter 3).
Popular expressions such as “hanging out,” where youths simply gather together usually at a specified places, wouldn’t qualify as a gang because crimes aren’t typically committed. “Hanging out” is often a forerunner to the beginning of gangs, but by itself wouldn’t constitute a gang.
At the present, gang experts in America have focused their attentions on the inner-city gang problem, the affluent gang trend taking a back seat. One sociologist when asked for information about affluent gangs, expressed concern that attention shouldn’t be diverted from inner-city gangs because this could lead to a reduction of resources and manpower to address this problem. This caution is well noted, but if the affluent gang problem isn’t addressed now—especially in a preventative mode—the long-term effects could be disastrous.
Inner-city gangs have and will probably continue to dominate the public’s attention for the next few years. The sheer volume of news coverage of inner-city gangs, however, has created inaccurate stereotypical impressions of affluent gangs. For this reason, it is important to clarify the significant differences between inner-city and affluent gangs. Each of the differences discussed should be preceded with the qualifying word “typically,” because not every gang will follow every observed trend. The following explanations are only intended as guidelines and must be evaluated based upon individual cases.
Territorial—This is one of the most obvious differences between current inner-city and affluent gangs. Inner-city gangs are typically “turf” gangs. They mark out a specified territory as their own with graffiti and acts of intimidation and violence. Gang members know that to enter the territory of a rival gang is to take one’s life in one’s hands. Affluent gangs have rarely been seen to be territorial with an “own the neighborhood” mentality. The exception are some delinquent gangs that mark off territories where they can steal and sell illegal goods. Affluent youths have more money and are therefore more mobile. There isn’t the need to feel that one has to stake out a territory; they like the idea of seeing new sights. Inner-city youths often don’t have the same ability to be mobile, so there is a lot of currency attached to being the king of one’s “hood.” A large street gang with two or three hundred members taken as a whole, however, often does have mobility with increased illegal revenue, evinced by gangs spreading their crime networks to other cities. The average individual gang member, though, doesn’t.
Institutionalized—Inner-city gangs are now entering the third and fourth generation of membership. It isn’t uncommon for one’s father, uncle, or cousin, or even grandfather to have been a member of the same gang. For this reason, inner-city gangs have well-developed infrastructures and are an intimate part of the substructure of economically depressed communities. Connections have been made and contacts networked that have endured for twenty and thirty years. Affluent gangs are a relatively new phenomenon and don’t have these kinds of entrenched roots. Currently, they don’t continue on in a community for more than a couple of years. Unlike inner-city youths, most affluent youths after a period of time lose interest and start thinking about getting a job or going to college. For this reason, affluent gang activity is a much easier problem to attack. Most of the youths in affluent gangs are separate and apart from the mainstream of the youth culture. They are more isolated and therefore easier to target for disengagement and preventative action. But unless affected communities act, individual acts of affluent gangs can be just as deadly as inner-city gangs. Bullets can kill just as easily when fired by a youth in a project as a bullet fired from a youth from a white-column home.
Ideology—Inner-city gangs typically don’t have an ideological bent (some exceptions are noted in chapters 13 and 14). The turf and the trafficking of drugs are the key factors that bind inner-city gangs together, as well as social needs. Of the three affluent gang types, ideological and occultic gangs are more likely to attach themselves to an ideology. Most delinquent gangs, including those in affluent communities, usually don’t form with an ideological bent.
Disengagement—Disengaging any kind of youth from a gang is difficult, but in the inner-city most professionals agree that once a youth is in a gang, it is a slim chance that he/she can be talked out of their gang. This isn’t pessimism, this is just the reality of the problem. Many, including myself, are upbeat about preventative action that will keep youths out of inner-city gangs, but once a youth becomes involved, the hostile nature of many neighborhoods provides cover from attack. This doesn’t excuse gang activity, but this fact has to be reckoned with before most youths will exit as most gangs have severe penalties for those who decide to disengage. For affluent gangs, the prognosis isn’t as dismal. There aren’t as many day-to-day pressures that would necessitate a youth remaining a part of a gang. Like inner-city gangs, however, it is easier to launch preventative measures that will work than to attempt to disengage a youth who is involved in a gang. Once a youth joins a gang, there is a strong bond that is often difficult to break.
Unpredictability—The random violence committed by inner-city gangs is one of the greatest threats they pose. You can’t predict when or where they will strike next. What is predictable is that the allegiances are well staked out and easy to identify as they have persisted for years. Up until the present, affluent gangs haven’t been as violent as inner-city gangs, but random acts of violence can appear just as easily as seen in cases cited later in this text. What is unsettling about affluent gangs is that money and increased educational know-how can combine together to create especially frightening terrorist types of gangs. The structure and nature of inner-city gangs hasn’t changed much over the last ten years, except for the merchandise or drugs being sold. Affluent gangs, though, are more likely to change and develop rapidly, inspired by what is currently in vogue in the youth subculture. Secrecy is a big part of the affluent gang aura as well as a greater need to act out in new and creative ways, fueling their unpredictability.
Female Members—In inner-city gangs, female membership typically hovers around 10%19 according to recent surveys, except for Hispanic gangs where “auxiliary” female counterparts are common. Affluent female gang membership is considerably lower. Precise numbers aren’t available, but based upon firsthand inquiry into scores of gangs in the US and Europe, less than 5% is a reasonable estimate. Female crime as a whole has been persistently lower than male crime figures in the US and Europe. Logically, however, it is not uncommon for females to be found around the periphery of a gang dating gang members, although criminal participation is minimal except for the ingestion of drugs. (Because female affluent gang membership has not been a major factor in affluent gangs, discussion of females in gangs is limited in this text.)
Identity Factors—Identity factors refers to how a gang distinguishes itself from other groups of youths. Gangs usually rely upon things one can see or hear, with preference to what one can see. Turf, attire, initiations, lingo, hand signals (which operate like passwords) are some of the distinguishing devices used by gangs. This is true in inner-city and affluent gangs. Music fads, dress fashions, and visual media are quick inspiration points as they are easily conveyed to youths who look towards an idol to emulate. The key difference is that an affluent gang is more likely to rely upon nonvisual or more subtle means of identification so as to remain invisible to adults. Affluent gang membership isn’t yet something to be widely flaunted for fear of police monitoring. For some affluent gangs, such as an occultic gang, developing a concealed, secretive cover is part of the thrill. Being part of a group without even one’s peers knowledge adds to the excitement.
As is true in the US, gangs are forming in affluent communities across all of Europe from England to Germany to Hungary to Switzerland to Poland to Holland. No country has been able to escape this new trend. The appearance of urban and affluent gangs has been rapid in some countries, while others are just now being affected. (Also in common with the US are the escalating violent juvenile crime rates in most of these countries. In England in 1994, for example, Scotland Yard broke with its long-standing tradition of unarmed British bobbies, and a few dozen specially trained officers in “armed response vehicles” started strapping on sidearms in hip holsters.)
In Hungary, after the fall of Communism and the authoritarian rule—albeit not as severe as in other countries such as Romania—gangs started to proliferate20 according to Laszlo Czendes, an officer in Hungary’s Department of Crime Prevention and one of Hungary’s leading juvenile gang experts. He notes that crime overall from 1989 to 1990 increased 51.3% according to Ministry of the Interior studies. Regarding gang activity, Gypsy gangs were the first to begin to grow in numbers. (His comment is not a racial slur, but rather an observation similar to stating that inner-city gangs are typically ethnic in the US.) The hard authoritarian rule kept a lid on these types of gangs. This same observation has been made throughout Eastern (Central) Europe and the former Soviet Union—especially Russia. Czendes adds that most of these gangs weren’t violent, just motivated by greed or survival. Currently, this trend is changing, though, and gang activity has been observed to be more violent. Additionally, affluent gangs have begun to appear with greater frequency. He attributes this to severely dysfunctional family factors that are further addressed in chapter 6.
Even in Switzerland, a country worlds apart from Hungary, gangs are forming in small but perceivable numbers in affluent communities for the first time. This is hard to believe. Switzerland was the first European country to embrace democracy, is virtually slum-free, has the highest standard of living in Western Europe, and has relatively few ethnic groups. The Swiss have traditionally felt safe in their country that maintained its neutrality during WW II.
During a 1994 lecture tour, I was asked to speak to a group of police officers in Zurich. My facilitator for the lecture drove me to a building in the equivalent of a downtown district in the US. His daughter, four, was in the back seat. He jumped out of the car, and started to escort me into the building. His daughter was still in the car. I said, “You forgot Sabrina.”
“No, she’ll be okay,” he said confidently.
“You can’t do this. Let’s take her up. Someone could abduct her,” I insisted.
“This is Switzerland. This is Zurich. Don’t worry, my friend!”
“But what if a foreigner walks by who isn’t Swiss? Aren’t you afraid?”
“No. This is Switzerland,” he said proudly and with authority.
This is how safe people have traditionally felt in Switzerland, but this is changing. Switzerland in 1968 did have social protests on campuses, but on a much lower scale than the US. (One of the worst took place in Lausanne. One result of these protests is that when the University of Lausanne was expanded, the campus was built on the outskirts of town with few dormitories. This forced students to live spread out across the city, thus making it more difficult for students to organize.) In 1992, during my first trip to Switzerland, I noted in my journal that gang activity was likely to surface soon. Grotesque volumes of graffiti, often a forerunner of gang activity, was evident throughout Zurich and Bern, and drug abuse had been a hardened trend among young people.
Although not chronic, skinhead gang activity had been present in Switzerland since the mid-1980s. The police officers to whom I presented my lecture in 1994 acknowledged that they were starting to see a marginal, but not chronic, increase of affluent gangs for the first time. The trend seems to be at about the same level seen in the US in the very early 1980s. There was unanimous agreement, though, that this new gang trend would probably continue to grow just as it has in every other European country.
The types of urban and affluent gangs found in Europe are far more diverse than in the US. Barbara Fatyga, a sociologist with the University of Warsaw and one of Europe’s foremost gang experts, has charted numerous gangs that have formed in Poland. Many of these gangs have severe ideological bents like the skinhead groups in the US. She has documented, for example, ecological gangs that premeditate crimes such as assault. These aren’t just social protests crying out against the pollution left by years of Communist rule that have threatened many of Poland’s lush forests. She has observed that many of these ideological gangs commonly display street gang activity and violence similar to other nonideological gangs. And like other countries, many of these gangs are comprised of youths from families that are not financially destitute. This diversity of ideologies that Fatyga has found in Poland is common in all the Western European countries, and is explored in greater detail in chapter 14.
It has become increasingly important to maintain some global picture of the types and variants of gangs that are forming in Europe. Some, such as skinhead gangs, have already inspired American youths, and other types could appeal to educated affluent youths desiring to be “different.” Emulating one’s foreign youth counterparts to the puzzlement of adults is something that could have enormous appeal, and the nature of the youth subculture today makes it easy to transfer ideas back and forth across the Atlantic. For those who desire to take preventative measures in the US, keeping abreast of current European developments (or other affected areas of the world) is imperative as it can be a valuable source of information.
Finally, some might assume that youths in Europe join gangs for different reasons than youths in the US. This is a misconception. While the precise gang type and variant a youth joins will be influenced by the local culture, there is a predictable continuity of the profile of a youth who is likely to join a gang, what he/she expects from gang activity, and the reasons why a youth will disengage. In short, once one has spent time with youths of one type of gang in a country, one is likely to meet similar youths in another country. And after talking to a couple of dozen of these youths, the mysterious façade of gang activity easily peels away. Only the cryptic beliefs of a handful of gangs might pose a challenge.
Gang activity in affluent US and European communities will continue to increase. This is almost a virtual certainty based upon current social conditions. Chapter 6 presents the predictable profile of a youth who is likely to join a gang, and there has been no change in the present social conditions that suggests that fewer youths will be at risk of gang involvement. Only more.
What is impossible to predict precisely is which gangs will and won’t gain favor among affluent youths. My guess is that occultic gangs, which are currently not as popular as three or four years ago, could easily resurge in another few years—when another group of youths reaches the peak period for involvement, ages 12-17. For reasons explained in chapter 12, I think that delinquent gangs will become more popular and US expressions of European ideological gangs could become the most popular with those who possess the sharpest minds intellectually. But this is just speculation. What isn’t speculation is that there is a definitive profile of a youth who is likely to join a gang and the numbers of these youths only appear to be rising.