Gang activity remains a major problem in the United States with its history dating back to more than two hundred years ago. Although the understanding of the causes of formation of gangs could be of significance, many analysts argue that the history of gangs is intertwined with several issues ranging from social, political to economical.
The question many have asked is how gang activities became a threat to a point of concern. This paper gives a comprehensive analysis of the history of gangs in America. To achieve this objective, this synthesis mainly focuses on the timeline of events and activities which characterized several gangsters and gang groups in America from 1800s to date.
History records that gangs began establishing themselves during the early immigration of people to America. These people mainly migrated from poverty stricken countries and entered America in search for better life in terms of socialization and protection (Berger & Worth, 2001).
They had shared background with regard to race and ethnicity with the first gang group, “The Five Points” which established itself in New York City. Another gang that was formed in 1826 was “Forty Thieves”, led by Edward Coleman. Due to government corruption, gangs operated with a lot of ease (Kyanka, 2001).
They looted and committed other criminal activities without being charged for offense by the police. The end of the Civil War saw Italian, African, Irish and Jewish gangs commence in New York. Philadelphia became a home for over a hundred gangs by 1870 having entered the city in 1840. During this time, most gangs identified themselves through distinctive clothing (Berger & Worth, 2001).
In early 1900s, gangs were not yet well organized and most of them especially street gangs were dirty and homeless young people who spent most of their time playing and perusing newspapers. They engaged in activities like loitering on the streets and vandalism. In 1920s, the number of gangs in Chicago exponentially increased turning into a capital city for several gangs (Kyanka, 2001).
Close to 1,300 gang groups and over twenty five thousand members, existed in the city with immigration of people being a major contributor. Moreover, Africa-Americans formed their first gang in early 1930 in Los Angeles, forming other clubs in the outskirts of the city for networking of their activities (Berger & Worth, 2001). “Boozies” mainly hung where the current 105 Freeway is located and they engaged in robbery and prostitution among other criminal offences.
According to research findings, the “magnificents” operated in the eastside on Los Angels, where they too got involved in a series of criminal offences. Nevertheless, the groups weakened and died off as the youths advanced in age. The arrival of half a million people in the United States between 1941 and 1945 led to the increase in population of main towns like New York leading to the emergence of new gangs (Berger & Worth, 2001).
This period saw the rising of more organized gangs than before. They changed their dress code to plain shirts with jeans. Having been born and grown up in American most gang members had related names which mostly ended with “-ie” (Berger & Worth, 2001). It is believed that street gangs of this time rarely engaged in criminal actions but wasted their time smoking and standing along the streets. They also engaged in dancing late at night and fighting against rival gang groups.
Furthermore, most gangs were formed to protect black people who were facing violent treatment from Whites. This led to the popularity of black clubs in New York which included Huns, Devil Hunters and the Farmers (Kyanka, 2001). There was severe fighting between white and black gangs whose activities were mainly coordinated through housing projects. It is worth noting that most of the gangs were considered to be a threat to national security.
One of the major gang events that was witnessed during this period was the formation of the 18th Street Gang which became a major rival with MS-13 which was formed later (Berger & Worth, 2001). In 1965, several gang clubs came together to form an alliance that was aimed at resisting Watts Rebellion. After a successful rebellion, gang members diverted their efforts with some joining political parties and movements. For instance, Bunchy Carter, a former gang leader rose to become head of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles.
Other personalities who had served as previous gang leaders included Hakim Jamal, William Sampson, Robaire Nyjuky and Ron Wilkins among others (Kyanka, 2001). In addition, there was rivalry between police officers and gangs in mid 1960s with a fatal clash in August 1965 where 34 people were left dead with over a thousand others wounded during the Watts Riots. This period also saw the formation of the Black Power Movement.
With a number of black leaders having been imprisoned, the number of gangs in Los Angeles and other cities increased. Raymond Washington was only fifteen years old when he started the Baby Avenues in order to replace Black Power Movement (Berger & Worth, 2001).
The gang later came to be known as the “Crips”. Crips encountered resistance due to rivalry with other gangs leading to gun violence. This resulted into the merging of non-Crips gangs to form “Bloods”. By 1974, Bloods and Crips were active in several regions covering an area of up to 30 square miles. The shooting of Raymond in August 1979 sparked violence with LA registering 30,000 gang members by 1980 (Hagedorn, n.d.).
Introduction of Crack Cocaine devastated South Central region with Bloods and Crips fully involved in production and trading of the drug (Berger & Worth, 2001). Notably, high criminal levels spread to other parts of the country resulting into countless incarceration cases. According to research findings, gang rivalry that resulted in killings and drug trafficking became major activities and games (Kyanka, 2001).
In 1990s, Gang activity and police brutality against African-Americans heightened with riots being witnessed. In 1992, tension between Crips and the Bloods calmed before violent rivalry erupted among more 100,000 gang members in LA in 1993 (Hagedorn, n.d.). Gang activities received presidential condemnation from Bill Clinton after the murder of Stephanie Kuhen in LA.
By mid 1990s, over 650,000 gang members were in the US with close to 150,000 in LA alone. The period between late 80s and early 90s recorded proliferation in gang activities. This was attributed to a number of factors including but not limited to, increased trafficking of drugs, easy access to firearms among gangs, poverty and unemployment among the youths.
This period registered changing demographics with increases in Asian gang population and increasing gang rivalry. As a way of changing the image of South Central, its name was changed to South Los Angeles in 2003 (Berger & Worth, 2001). By 2005, prison rates had grown high with South LA ranked top for the highest numbers of prison releases, the same year when Stanley Williams was executed.
Gangs remain a major challenge in the US with gang activities being recorded in every state. They have led to increased crime rates among young people and high levels of insecurity in schools, homes, streets, etc. Nevertheless, enactment of legislation which prohibits illegal acquisition of firearms and drug trafficking is giving some hope. Above this, schools should support victims to reform through guidance and counseling (Howell, 1998).
Laws for prosecution of victims should be tightened, and drug trafficking controlled to prevent criminal activities among young people.
Berger, L & Worth, R. (2001). Gangs and Crime. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.
Hagedorn, J. M. (n.d.). Gangs and Politics. Gang Research. Retrieved on September 19, 2011, from: http://www.gangresearch.net/GangResearch/Policy/gangsinpolitics_files/youthact_files/gangsinpolitics.html
Howell, C. J. (1998). Youth Gangs: An Overview, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved on September 19, 2011 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/167249.pdf
Kyanka, R. (2001). The history of Street Gangs. Something Awful. Retrieved on September 19, 2011 from http://www.somethingawful.com/d/news/history-street-gangs.php