Gang Violence as a Social Problem


Effects on Society
Historical Emergence
Effects on Individuals
Potential Solutions

Violence is one of the most damaging acts that society often faces. By instilling fear and creating distrust, violence has become a prominent problem in society. Gangs use violence as a primary operating procedure to gain power and regulate drug sales. Gang violence is a domain expansion of the general social problem of violence. Gang activity is very prevalent in lower income neighborhoods and ethnic ghettos where underprivileged children are often recruited. Economic hardships often fall on families with children under the age of 18. Poverty stricken adolescences commonly resort to gangs because a gang can give youth a sense of control and a way to make money. Youth that are craving a role model can seek this out in a gang.

Uniting as a gang is a way many oppressed individuals overcome prejudices. A gang can offer its members a sense of protection and belonging. Many of the inequalities that gang members fight against stem from racism and from the fact that they are of a minority group. In this nation there is a high value placed on being "white". Ore claims that inequality stems from the values we as a society attach to the differences we see between us and other people. The key way that gangs lash out against this inequality is through violence. Violence has become a standard operating procedure with in gangs. "Gang violence appeared to be motivated by a desire for material gain and a related desire to exert control over public facilities and resources." (Miller 1977) The violence has essentially become a culture. Guns give gang members a false sense of power and importance because of the drastic impact guns can make.

The social problem of gang violence has not gone unnoticed and has actually gained much attention from claims-makers such as politicians. To draw attention to the problem and to help move towards potential solutions claims-makers use many strategies. Claims-makers use specific extreme cases to show the immorality and injustice of gang violence. For example, a 3 year old girl was shot by a gangster because he falsely believed that her father was a rival gang member. This story highlights the purity of the victim by putting emphasis on how she was not only too young to help herself, but she had nothing to do with the original intentions of the crime to begin with. This story also attempts to strike an emotional chord in listeners by personalizing the problem.


  • Average (nationwide circa 2001) annual cost of imprisonment = $22,650
    • Stephan, James. "State Prisons Expenditures, 2001." Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report (2004): Print.
  • Average (nationwide 2008) annual cost of imprisonment = $24,888

  • Number of gang members in U.S. = 30,000 gangs with 800,000 members

  • Number of gang members incarcerated = 147,000
  • 80% of crimes in communities are from gang members


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The number of known gang members under the age of 18 rose by about 25 percent – or 242 children – in 2006.
That continues a five-year upswing in young gang members, undoing much of the dramatic drop in youth gang activity that took place in the late 90s. Children aged 8-17 now make up 10.8 percent of all known gang members, the largest percentage since 1997.

Effects On Society
On the most basic level gangs and the violence that comes with them go against the morals that we as a society have set for one another. America as a country has decided the hierarchy of power and the justice system that applies to its citizens. Gangs openly defy these morals and laws that are set for them, and everyone else, to obey. In some cases gangs not only defy the government's power, but the gang actually control the government as is the case with the Mexican Cartels of toda
pic445vk7.jpgy. The acts of violence that gangs commit not only go against our laws, but also display a lack of respect for human life. For the country gang violence is also a problem because more and more people are having to be put in jail. Gang violence is causing our prisons to overflow and forcing the government to allocate more resources to prisons. Not only does the country have to spend money keeping gang members in prison, but money is being used to hire more police officers and to pay for more time to be dedicated to trying to stop gang violence. Also gangs are offering under-served youth the option to feel like they are a part of something important and that they are needed. It is problematic that such an essential part of growing up is being fulfilled by joining a group that is affiliated with drugs and violence. Youth are joining gangs in part because there is nobody else offering them an opportunity to better their lives.

Gang violence within races has effected cultures and families in many negative ways. The Hispanic culture is not looked upon as a beautiful race with many elegant traditions and wonderful dishes, but as the race that causes problems in communities with inner racial gang violence. Most gang violence that occurs is from Hispanics and in other areas African Americans, but these violent actions have made it difficult for many people to believe these cultures have something worth showing other than gang violence.

Historical Emergence of Problem

Gang violence occurs often because of racial oppression. It is a common perception that most gang members are of a minority race. The anger that conjures in a racially oppressed group can be the explanation for the formation of gangs and the execution of violence. Blacks and Hispanics are the most commonly referred to races when discussing gang violence as a social problem. Their oppression, specifically African Americans, is sourced back to the pre-Civil Rights movement, and the resentment formed from that oppression causes underprivileged minorities to lash back in violent ways. This mindset sets the stage for a lot of racially charged gang violence throughout lower class, metropolitan areas. It can be seen in many ways as an extremist form of the black power movement, Unfortunately, the violent culture that was originally established from a back lash due to oppression has disbanded those original intentions. Nowadays, gang factions within races fight against each other rather than together as a race. Although counterproductive to the progression of minorities, violence within races is common.


The institution of language and culture represents the value society has placed on forming an identity for yourself and on maintaining a culture that destinguish groups of individuals who are different from other groups. The institution of language and culture sets the norm of what language to be spoken and the right word usage. Cultures in America that are foreign are considered "abnormal" and should be oppressed. By setting these norms, the institution of language and culture distinctly sets apart those individuals who can not speak the native language or who have a different culture. Gangs often form to unite against being considered abnormal. This construction of what is normal will always set apart minorities as less important. Gang violence often arises when groups don't understand each other's differences and become unreasonably angry with one another. The differences between gangs will never be understood because their differences are not real, but are defined by the institution of language and culture that is built into our culture.

The institution of state and public policy is greatly challenged by gang violence. This institution represents the social value of maintaining order. In maintaining order all of the population is expected to follow the rules set by authorities and to contribute in a way that is acceptable. State and public policy represents the social value of punishment. Going to jail is an example of a negative consequence for what society believes is a negative action. The institution of state and public policy teaches norms that obeying the law is "normal" and those who violate it must be reformed. A major norm being taught through this institution is the idea that society must be upheld by maintaining order. Gang violence challenges these values and disobeys these norms. Gang violence disrupts the order of society by disrespecting authority and challenging the idea that specific individuals have the power in this country. The institution of state and public policy can have adverse effects, and it can fuel the issue of gang violence unintentionally. Many under-privileged youth are typecast as hoodlums due to their economic and cultural situations. The state and public policy's look to enforce rules against culprits, but at times it punishes groups that are innocent yet fit the mold of a culprit. This unintentional oppression has the potential to make the youth spiteful of the law and government, leading to a self-fulfilled prophecy. The youth feel oppressed, so they rise up in retaliation as gang members committing acts of violence. Gangs challenge society's norms by using violence to gain power that they did not feel they could possess before.

Gang violence has been emulated by the me
dia to a great extent in the past. Gangsters such as Al Capone, robbers in the wild west, and theatrical movies such as The Godfather, American Gangster, and Scarface have all contributed to giving gangs fame rather than infamy for the violence they inflict. This trend has given people a glamorized perspective of gang violence and can be attributed to causing more youth to take to gangs. For example many popular music artists of the 21st century rap about their gang related experience with violence. These songs and the videos that go along with them give adolscents the idea that the way to success and fame is through violence.

Gang Violence effects on Individuals

Violence in communities have effects way beyond the groups that inflict the violence. Communities are effected in major ways that prevent the citizens from living their daily lives in peace. Adults, seniors, and children alike are impacted by the fear established by continuous displays of unwarranted violence. They are unable to walk through neighborhoods and certain parts of town out of fear of becoming a victim. Their basic rights of happiness and freedom are put at stake because of the cruelty and indifference of the gangs controlling the areas. Often times more dramatic cases can be found; for example, psychological problems effecting children who witness gang violence like Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome have been reported.
Whether it is witnessing horrific acts of violence or losing a close relationship, these children are negatively impacted for the rest of their lives. No individual should have their life adversely effected by gang violence, but unfortunately that has become the reality for countless individuals.

Potential Solutions
Solving the social problem of gang violence is not an easy task. However, the most important aspect in preventing gang violence is to cut off the lifeblood of the gangs by halting their recruitment. To do this, the youth of today must be shown a different, more respectable way of life. One of the most influential areas of a child or young adult’s life is at schools. Providing more funding for schools specifically for anti-gang programs and including anti-gang messages into the curriculum is essential in creating an atmosphere that does not promote violence. Funding for anti-gang violence is not the only way to promote it in schools. Strict rules of on-campus activity and truancy prevention will create an educational culture that will hopefully leak into students’ lives outside school. These same messages and programs should also be reinforced in the communities outside of school. Developing after school youth programs would give children alternative options to gang affiliation and promote other activities to get involved in. Resources must be available to the communities and schools to build these programs effectively.

Preventing the recruitment of new gang members is a solution for the future, but other measures must be taken to curb the violence now. Legislation is the voice that is the most used when we talk about the construction or the attempts to solve gang violence. We look to legislation and to any government officials that have the authority to help and protect us from the gang violence that occurs all around. The voices of authority figures become the most prominent; with the issue of gang violence, it would be very dangerous for any particular person to attempt to solve this problem on their own without the right help. Establishing new laws that increase the severity of punishments for gang related violence is essential. Any act of criminality related to gangs should automatically have an increased sentence. Additionally, the recruitment of new members to gangs should have a harsh penalty. Recruiting anybody should be punishable by imprisonment, and recruiting a minor should have an increase in the sentencing. Any opportunity to enforce a RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) case should be acted on as well.


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  2. Joseph, J. (2008). Gangs and Gang Violence in School. Journal of gang research, 16(1), 33-50.,
  3. Stretesky, Paul B. and Pogrebin, Mark R. 2007 "Gang-Related Gun Violence: Socialization, Identity, and Self" Journal of Contemporary Ethnographyvolume 360 (issue 1): Pages 85-114 (Retrieved from Database Illumina on August 6, 2009)
  4. Shields N., Nadasen K., Pierce L. The effects of community violence on children in Cape Town, South Africa (2008) Child Abuse and Neglect, 32 (5), pp. 589-601.
  5. Feinstein, Diane. "Gang Violence: An Environment of Fear." U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein. 2006. 13 Aug 2009 <>.
  6. Malec, Danny(2006)'Transforming Latino Gang Violence in the United States',Peace Review,18:1,81 — 89
  7. Miller, W.B.. " Violence by Youth Gangs and Youth Groups as a Crime Problem in Major American Cities." 1977 Web.13 Aug 2009. <>.
  8. Stephan, James. "State Prisons Expenditures, 2001." Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report (2004): Print.
  9. Huff, R.C. "Crime and Delinquency: Youth Gangs and Public Policy" 1989; 35
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examination of a “Moral panic” in Nevada',Justice Quarterly,15:1,41 — 64


Justin: Effects on Individuals, Potential Solutions
Cara: Institutions, historical emergence
Michelle: Statistics, effects on society