Gang violence refers to all activities that result to psychological, emotional, physical and cultural harm to individuals, public or damage to property. Youth gangs refer to a group of at least two individuals between the age of 12 and 24 years who have a common character, use the same clothing, symbols, and even colors. They come from the same area, and form a very strong membership that performs various illegal activities together. Gang names and membership involve initiatory rituals that comprise of “beating in” or “sexing in”. Members endure the beating by all the gang members; girls are sexed in by having intercourse with all the members of the gang. The gang members have a sense of devotion to each other and have a new language they use to communicate. The devotion to the gang membership is revealed in some of their documents known as the constitution. Failure to follow their laws has serious consequences like death penalty (Spergel, 1995).
Youth gang activities began the first decade of the twentieth century. The writers during that period observed gangs as mischievous and gentle although they carried out criminal activities. The gangs during that period were ethnic and not financially stable. Gang activities continued and developed throughout the twentieth century until today (Siegel & Welsh, 2009).
A rise in gang membership by the youth in the last few decades has called for attention from the government, social organizations and even the public. Gangs are involving themselves with illegal activities, including drug deals, sexual offenses, and even more serious crimes like murder; the more the gangs, the more the cases of crimes. They are endangering the security of the community and broadening the resources and skills of law enforcement workforce, social organizations and professionals in the court. One of the most key challenges has been the rise of crime activities by and among gang members (Spergel, 2007).
Schools are also factors in youth and gang violence, studies have revealed that 18.3% of students carried a weapon to school and 7.4% of students were injured in a period of one year. There are various factors that result to violence in school: crime rate, presence of gangs, availability of weapons, drug activity and hate crimes (Siegel & Welsh, 2009).
One of the major causes of gang violence is linked to drug trafficking. Youth gangs are influential in the drug sales and this involvement lead to youth violence. Today, many researchers agree that the youth involvement in drug trafficking is bounded by street-level distribution, involving gang members working on their own. It is observed that most drug operations are conducted by former youth gangs. Indirect connections between murder, drug activities and gang deals have been observed. Majority of gang-linked homicides might not have happened, if drug stores were not there to bring groups of opposing gangs into get in touch with each other. A connection between drug dealing and violence is common in prison gangs, and this relationship to the streets (Chaskin, 2010).
The more serious a youth participates in illegal behaviors the higher the chances of his/her involvement in drugs. Adjustments in drug use have indicated changes in illegal activities, while changes in illegal activities have little effect on drug use. Illegal activities are higher for those who sell drugs compared to those who consume drugs (Howell, 2003). Drugs and weapons are also linked in a number of ways. The drug promotes criminal activities through modifications in cognitive function. The drug dealers have to use violence in order to source funding to finance drug use. Since drug activities are illegal, violence has to be used when transporting them to their destinations.
Studies have revealed that youths that have taken drugs often get into fights; this is because of the impact of the alcohol and stimulants in the body. Parents who take alcohol and drugs may fail to give attention to their children and may involve themselves in violence. Youths who have grown in violent families have a likelihood of being violent in future and may use alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism (Howell, 2003). Gang involvement is not encouraged by the need to be involved in violence, but rather to be involved in a strong social group. They look forward to receiving things like friendship, security, loyalty and power. But, it is the reason that these social elements are sustained through violence that makes the gang a potentially damaging group.
Because youth gangs are the centre of increasing violence, it is important to discuss the continuum of social, economic, political and organization challenges that led to the violence, and to outline why youth gangs have come up as the key reasons for this violence. One of the famous trials to uncover the cause of this violence is the ‘ecological model ‘based on Bronfenbrenner. He explains that no cause or level verify violence. This model illustrates violence at several levels within which they are conditions that causes it while others shape and perpetuate it (Siegel & Welsh, 2009).
Briceno-Leon for example outlines conditions that create violence, for instance social inequality and breakdown of family; those that encourage violence such as the structure for solving conflicts; and finally those that facilitate violence such as availability of weapons, drugs and alcohol and media impact. In particular, youth gangs flourish where it is believed that a number of conditions all serve to destroy the purpose of the family unit: unstable living standards, long working hours of parents, and the lack of basic needs .The short time that parents have to spend with their children, is viewed as the cause of gang involvement; the shortage of social resources in the family was found in the gang (Siegel & Welsh, 2009).
Researchers also found that family violence can result to gang membership. The youth may have the urge to join the gang so that they can feel great and overcome the experiences of violence in their homes. Therefore, it is right to say the family is no longer able to give the youth a meaningful social personality. If the youth does not get the support and love from their families, they tend to get it from other groups such as, youth gangs (Paglicci, Roberts & Wodarski, 2002). Furthermore, lack of jobs, and low levels of education, imply that many youths experience economic elimination. Gangs become a substitute, because they are financially, socially sufficient. Gangs give their members a sense of ownership, as well as chances for financial stability, gaining a feeling of power, approval and worth.
The advancement in gang membership has taken place in cycles with various other trends. The presence of automobiles and their accessibility has promoted the mobility of gangs by permitting invasions to various communities. Easy access to weapons has changed streets into shootouts. Rise in accessing illegal drugs has motivated some gangs to become distribution centers. Migration and acculturation procedures have gone beyond the racial obstacles that were present. In some communities where financial stability was thought to protect youths from gang membership, parents and guardians now observe symbols and clothing that link their children to gang involvement (Spergel, 1995).
The schools, families and communities function as protective measures for youths who might be involved in gang activities. They decrease the effect of risks accompanied in gang involvement. Protective aspects enhance optimistic behavior, health, welfare and individual achievement. Schools, families and peer groups form good relationships that enhance close bonds among the youth. Therefore the youth cannot think of joining gangs because they feel loved.
Various strategies can be used to reduce violence in schools. Parents play a significant role with their involvement in the child’s school life. The parent should monitor their children to ensure that they don’t carry any weapons when going to schools. The students should also be open to their parents to share their experiences in school, for example when they are bullied or forced to enter into gangs. The school administration should be involved and coordinate with outside agencies including the police. This is important when violence in school have gone beyond the control of school administration, and so the need for outsiders.
While at school, teachers play the role of a parent because they are very close to the students. Therefore, it is possible for teachers to prevent their students in joining gangs, they should closely monitor their students, and in case of disruptive students the teacher should invite the parents to school in order to discuss the students’ behavior and what can be done to help the student (Siegel & Welsh, 2009). As gang involvement and violence continue to rise, the leaders are faced by a dilemma: Identify and tackle the problem, or assume the problem does not exist. Those who have identified the problem have tried preventing gang rise. Those who have assumed it does not exist have seen the gang crimes spread across the communities and have felt the effects (Howell, 2003).
Another issue has dealt with the efficiency of law enforcement as opposed to social services reactions. Some people think that a tough reaction from police, prosecutors and the courts give the only valuable solution. Others have argued that gang issues are caused by individual and social conditions and therefore can be solved through intervention and treatment. Connected to this issue is the question of prosecutorial reaction. Some jurisdiction allows adult trial for any youth accused of a gang illegal activity. Others have incorporated new strategies like vertical trial; this is where a prosecutor is given particular members of a gang and follows them through each prosecution (Howell, 2003).
Heated arguments have also risen concerning officials who try to control gang activities at the expense of individual rights. An example is school dress codes. The school authority has come up with rules that prohibit certain clothing that can symbolize any gang. By prohibiting gang members from wearing certain attire that identify them, officials hope that they can prevent gang crimes and activities. Civil democrats oppose that this policy violate the right of students to wear as they desire and should not be implemented school systems (Spergel, 1995).
Several researchers have observed the danger, need, and preventive conditions linked particularly to gang involvement. They have argued that preventive and intervention activities should concentrate more on all youths rather than only those who are involved in the illegal activities. Effective prevention measures should tackle every social system, deal with every danger and protective measure, and should cover every level from the family system to the government (Spergel, 2007).
Prevention can also be observed as a range that has various levels: primary, secondary and tertiary stages. Primary intervention involves dealing with actions taken to prevent the youths who are at risk of membership from joining the gang. Secondary prevention involves lessons that are targeted to the youth that have already joined the gang. Tertiary prevention is for those youth who are involved in illegal activities of the gang (Paglicci, Roberts & Wodarski, 2002).
Many programs have been formulated for primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention. The Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (GREAT) is a good example of primary prevention. Students in school are given advice concerning the negative side of gang involvement, taught how to tackle conflicts and cultural sensitivity. These classes are taught by police officers, analysis have shown that there is a small increase of students’ capacity to oppose peer pressure and gang involvement (Howell, 2003).
The Boys and Girls Clubs of America give gang prevention through targeted outreach. This prevention is secondary, it comprises of recreational, informative, and life motivation skills. Case managers are given specific youths, with relevant information on program involvement, school progress, legal system involvement, and other life aspects. This information helps case managers observe the youth’s performance and become aware of behaviors that link to gang involvement like failing grades.
Tertiary prevention actions involve law enforcements that aim at containing gang activities. Many police officers have created gang units and formed policy strategies. This strategies arm the police and the public with information concerning gang activities, this has increased the presence of police officers in areas with gang problems.
Solutions to helping youths abandon gang activities can handle both individual traits and several social factors. They may play a crucial role in advising other youths not to join gangs. Many youth do not know what they are involving themselves with when they join gangs, therefore a youth who has joined a gang before can give advice on the implications involved with it. Peer advice is also crucial in instructing youths to abandon gangs. Such plans form part of a way of breaking the conception that gang membership is a right of passage. Outreach plans of local youth organizations are viewed as the major system for forming the counseling networks (Paglicci, Roberts & Wodarski, 2002).
It is important to give young people the resources and support they require, instead of modifying the managerial capital of gangs in more positive directions. This has significant effects in terms of policy, because it focuses on the purpose of youth in the attainment of community goals. The role of youth organizations gives both instructions and gives alternative social groups. Such groups give the advantages of joining a gang where in this case, there are no crimes or dangers associated with it. Organizations are therefore seen as the proper place for emotional and mental motivation. Furthermore, organizations can give advice to parents so that they can know what promotes gang membership, and thus are in a better position to help their children not join the gang. Organizations can therefore sustain the youth indirectly by increasing the supportive ability of the family (Howell, 2003).
The church also plays a significant role by rehabilitating gang members; therefore it has contributed to reduction in gang membership. This is true for two major reasons. First, gangs agree to go to church as a sign of moving out of the gang. Secondly, the church gives a social system that is similar to a gang in several ways. Just as gangs have strong social bonds among their followers and follow certain conducts of behavior, the church also offers such a supportive system and functions according to its own social aspects (Paglicci, Roberts & Wodarski, 2002).
Gang membership can also be reduced by advancing the wellbeing of the youth by introducing youth projects. The purpose of the project is to produce source of information that improves the quality of life of the youth, both socially and financially and strengthens family, community and cultural bonds. This project is based on teamwork, participation, and ownership. The youth centers give the youth a secure, optimistic and relaxed environment (Spergel, 2007).
The youths are trained to be voluntary teachers, and other several technical trainings programs. A major element of the programs is the direct employment of the youths that complete the training. Also, the sense of belonging brought crucial emotional advantages; youths feel they are in a place where they are trusted and honored and they could share their opinions freely with others. The group enhances the ability of young people to be a means of change, and motivate them to know their function in the community. The instruction they get, increase their ability to guide and help others (Chaskin, 2010).