Within the Mexican American barrios of Los Angeles, gang activity, including crime and violent acts, has grown and flourished. In the past, community leaders and law enforcement officials have approached the problem, not as something that needs to be understood, but only as something to be gotten rid of. Rejecting that approach, James D. Vigil asserts that only by understanding the complex factors that give birth and persistence to gangs can gang violence be ended.
Drawing on many years of experience in the barrios as a youth worker, high school teacher, and researcher, Vigil identifies the elements from which gangs spring: isolation from the dominant culture, poverty, family stress and crowded households, peer pressure, and the adolescent struggle for self-identity. Using interviews with actual gang members, he reveals how the gang often functions as parent, school, and law enforcement in the absence of other role models in the gang members' lives. And he accounts for the longevity of gangs, sometimes over decades, by showing how they offer barrio youth a sense of identity and belonging nowhere else available.
Rosas argues that although these youths participate in the victimization of others, they should not be demonized. They are complexly and adversely situated. The effects of NAFTA have forced many of them, as well as other Mexicans, to migrate to Nogales. Moving fluidly with the youths through the spaces that they inhabit and control, he shows how the militarization of the border actually destabilized the region and led Barrio Libre to turn to increasingly violent activities, including drug trafficking. By focusing on these youths and their delinquency, Rosas demonstrates how capitalism and criminality shape perceptions and experiences of race, sovereignty, and resistance along the US-Mexico border.
This groundbreaking book opens the door on the missing record of South Los Angeles juvenile gangs. It is the result of the unique friendship that developed between John Quicker and Akil Batani-Khalfani, aka Bird, who collaborated to show how structural marginality transformed hang-out street groups of non-White juveniles into gangs, paving the way for the rise of the infamous Crips and Bloods. Before Crips uses a macro historical analysis to sort through political and economic factors to explain the nature of gang creation.
The authors mine a critical archive, using direct interviews with original gang members as well as theory and literature reviews, to contextualize gang life and gang formation. They discuss (and fuss and cuss about) topics ranging from the criminal economy and conceptions of masculinity to racial and gendered politics and views of violence. Their insider/outsider approach not only illuminates gang values and organization, but what they did and why, and how they grew in a backdrop of inequality and police brutality that came to a head with the 1965 Watts Rebellion.
Providing an essential understanding of early South Los Angeles gang life, Before Crips explains what has remained constant, what has changed, and the roots of the violence that continues.
Lorraine López (author of Soy la Avon Lady and Other Stories) has created a vivid picture of barrio life, filled with honesty, insight, and humor for young adults. She paints a balanced and detailed landscape of Enrique's world. Although Enrique is confused and angered by his mother's refusal to stand up for him against the abuse of his stepfather, he also draws strength from the supportive and loving family of his friend Francisco. While some of his teachers are uncaring or inept, others provide help and encouragement at critical moments in his life.
When Enrique witnesses his friend Horacio gunned down in a drive-by shooting and is seen by the assailants, gang members set out to kill him. As the novel reaches its climax, Enrique must make some agonizing decisions.
Although specifically about barrio life, this novel is universal in its themes—the drive for success, the desire for love and family support, and the need for true friendship. López's fully delineated characters provide a rich and credible mural of our human comedy.
Dead End Kids exposes both the depravity and the humanity in gang life through the eyes of a teenaged girl named Cara, a member of a Kansas City gang. In this shocking yet compassionate account, Mark Fleisher shows how gang girls’ lives are shaped by poverty, family disorganization, and parental neglect.
Hyper-criminalization and the normalization of violence was an integral aspect of Robert Weide’s formative years growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s, where Sureño, Crip, and Blood gangs maintained a precarious coexistence, often punctuated by racialized gang violence. His insider status informs Divide & Conquer, which considers how the capitalist economy, the race concept, and nationalist ideology have made gang members the instruments of their own oppression, resulting in racialized sectarian conflicts spanning generations between African American and Latino gangs in Los Angeles and California’s prisons.
While gang members may fail to appreciate the deeper historical and conceptual foundations of these conflicts, they rarely credit naked bigotry as the root cause. As Weide asserts, they divide themselves according to inherited groupist identities, thereby turning them against one another in protracted blood feuds across gang lines and racial lines.
Weide explores both the historical foundations and the conceptual and cultural boundaries and biases that divide gang members across racial lines, detailing case studies of specific racialized gang conflicts between Sureño, Crip, and Blood gangs. Weide employs mixed-methods research, having spent nearly a decade on ethnographic fieldwork and conducted over one hundred formal interviews with gang members and gang enforcement officers concerning taboo subjects like prison and gang politics, and transracial gang membership.
Divide & Conquer concludes with encouraging developments in recent years, as gang members themselves, on their own volition, have intervened to build solidarity and bring racialized gang conflicts between them to an end.
While gangs and gang culture have been around for countless centuries, The Gang is one of the first academic studies of the phenomenon. Originally published in 1927, Frederic Milton Thrasher’s magnum opus offers a profound and careful analysis of hundreds of gangs in Chicago in the early part of the twentieth century. With rich prose and an eye for detail, Thrasher looked specifically at the way in which urban geography shaped gangs, and posited the thesis that neighborhoods in flux were more likely to produce gangs. Moreover, he traced gang culture back to feudal and medieval power systems and linked tribal ethos in other societies to codes of honor and glory found in American gangs. Thrasher approaches his subject with empathy and insightfulness, and creates a multifaceted and textured portrait that still has much to offer to readers today. With handsome images that evoke the era, this unabridged edition of The Gang not only explores an important moment in the history of Chicago, but also is itself a landmark in the history of sociology and subcultural theory.
Although they were originally considered an American phenomenon, gangs today have grown and transformed into global enterprises. Despite these changes, criminologists have not yet reassessed worldwide gangs in terms of the other changes associated with globalization.
John M. Hagedorn aims to correct this oversight by incorporating important theoretical advances in urban political economy and understanding changes in gangs around the world as a result of globalization and the growth of the information economy. Contrary to older conceptions, today’s gangs are international, are often institutionalized, and may be explicitly concerned with race and ethnicity. Gangs in the Global City presents the work of an assortment of international scholars that challenges traditional approaches to problems in criminology from many different perspectives and includes theoretical discussions, case studies, and examinations of gang members’ identities. The contributors consider gangs not as fundamentally a crime problem but as variable social organizations in poor communities that are transitioning to the new economy.
John Hagedorn, who has long been an expert witness in gang-related court cases, claims that what transpires in the trials of gang members is a far cry from what we would consider justice. In Gangs on Trial, he recounts his decades of experience to show how stereotypes are used against gang members on trial and why that is harmful. Hagedorn uses real-life stories to explain how implicit bias often replaces evidence and how the demonization of gang members undermines fairness. Moreover, a “them and us” mentality leads to snap judgments that ignore the complexity of gang life in America.
Gangs on Trial dispels myths about gangs and recommends tactics for lawyers, mitigation specialists, and expert witnesses as well as offering insights for jurors. Hagedorn describes how minds are subconsciously “primed” when a defendant is identified as a gang member, and discusses the “backfire effect,” which occurs when jurors hear arguments that run counter to their beliefs. He also reveals how attributional errors, prejudice, and racism impact sentences of nonwhite defendants.
Hagedorn argues that dehumanization is the psychological foundation of mass incarceration. Gangs on Trial advocates for practical sentencing reforms and humanizing justice.
After nearly fifty years of rigid segregation, the demise of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the African National Congress’s relatively peaceful assumption of power in 1994 were hailed as a miracle. But a few years into the transition, this miracle appeared increasingly threatened by crime and violence. In this compelling ethnography, Steffen Jensen focuses on a single township in Cape Town in order to explore how residents have negotiated the intersecting forces of political change and violent crime.
Jensen spent years closely observing the actions of residents both male and female, young and old, as well as gang members, police officers, and local government officials. The poisonous legacy of apartheid also comes under Jensen’s lens, as he examines the lasting effects that an official policy of racist stereotyping has had on the residents’ conceptions of themselves and their neighbors. While Gangs, Politics, and Dignity in Cape Town brims with insights into ongoing debates over policing, gangs, and local politics, Jensen also shows how people in the townships maintain their dignity in the face of hardship and danger.
In this illuminating look at two Chicano gangs in East Los Angeles, Joan W. Moore examines the changes and continuities among three generations of barrio gangs. As a sequel to the author's award-winning study, Homeboys (Temple, 1979), this book returns to the same neighborhoods to chart the development of gang behavior, especially in terms of violence and drug use, and to compare experiences of male and female gang members.
In a remarkable research collaborative effort, Moore and gang members worked together to develop an understanding of both male and female gangs and an internal vision of gang members' lives. By using excerpts from individual interviews, the author depicts more about the gangs than simply their life together as a unit; she gives them a voice. Gang members discuss their personal reaction to violence, drug using and selling, family relations and intra-gang dating; they share intimacies that reveal varying levels of loyalty to and dependency on their affiliations, which often become a family substitute.
After maintaining neighborhood ties for 17 years, Moore's research group has established a relationship with these communities that gives her a rare perspective. This is a fascinating and informative book for anyone interested in sociology, criminology, youth behavior and deviance, and ethnic studies.
Gang-related violence has forced thousands of Hondurans to flee their country, leaving behind everything as refugees and undocumented migrants abroad. To uncover how this happened, Jon Carter looks back to the mid-2000s, when neighborhood gangs were scrambling to survive state violence and mass incarceration, locating there a critique of neoliberal globalization and state corruption that foreshadows Honduras’s current crises.
Carter begins with the story of a thirteen-year-old gang member accused in the murder of an undercover DEA agent, asking how the nation’s seductive criminal underworld has transformed the lives of young people. He then widens the lens to describe a history of imperialism and corruption that shaped this underworld—from Cold War counterinsurgency to the “War on Drugs” to the near-impunity of white-collar crime—as he follows local gangs who embrace new trades in the illicit economy. Carter describes the gangs’ transformation from neighborhood groups to sprawling criminal societies, even in the National Penitentiary, where they have become political as much as criminal communities. Gothic Sovereignty reveals not only how the revolutionary potential of gangs was lost when they merged with powerful cartels but also how close analysis of criminal communities enables profound reflection on the economic, legal, and existential discontents of globalization in late liberal nation-states.
Girls in gangs are usually treated as objects of public criticism and rejection. Seldom are they viewed as objects worthy of understanding and even more rarely are they allowed to be active subjects who craft their own public persona—which is what makes this work unique. In this book, Marie "Keta" Miranda presents the results of an ethnographic collaboration with Chicana gang members, in which they contest popular and academic representations of Chicana/o youth and also construct their own narratives of self identity through a documentary film, It's a Homie Thang!
In telling the story of her research in the Fruitvale community of Oakland, California, Miranda honestly reveals how even a sympathetic ethnographer from the same ethnic group can objectify the subjects of her study. She recounts how her project evolved into a study of representation and its effects in the public sphere as the young women spoke out about how public images of their lives rarely come close to the reality. As Miranda describes how she listened to the gang members and collaborated in the production of their documentary, she sheds new light on the politics of representation and ethnography, on how inner city adolescent Chicanas present themselves to various publics, and on how Chicana gangs actually function.
Sensational headlines have publicized the drug trafficking, brutal violence, and other organized crime elements associated with Central America's mara gangs, but there have been few clear-eyed analyses of the history, hierarchies, and future of the mara phenomenon. The first book to look specifically at the Central American gang problem by drawing on the perspectives of researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds, Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America provides much-needed insight.
These essays trace the development of the gangs, from Mara Salvatrucha to the 18th Street Gang, in Los Angeles and their spread to El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua as the result of members' deportation to Central America; there, they account for high homicide rates and threaten the democratic stability of the region. With expertise in areas ranging from political science to law enforcement and human rights, the contributors also explore the spread of mara violence in the United States. Their findings comprise a complete documentation that spans sexualized violence, case studies of individual gangs, economic factors, varied responses to gang violence, the use of intelligence gathering, the limits of state power, and the role of policy makers.
Raising crucial questions for a wide readership, these essays are sure to spark productive international dialogues.
“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather, much like a good detective, in gathering facts, not myths or urban legends. As a result he has produced an accurate and comprehensive look at a grave and present danger to our society.”
—From the Foreword by Chris Swecker, former Assistant Director of the FBI and former head of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division
No Boundaries is a disturbing account of what many consider the “next Mafia”—Latino crime gangs. Like the Mafia, these gangs operate an international network, consider violence a routine matter, and defy U.S. law enforcement at every level. Also, the gangs spawn kingpins such as the notorious Nelson Varela Martinez Comandari, who nearly became the first “Latin godfather” in the United States.
Focusing on the Los Angeles–based Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street Gang, and the Chicago-based Latin Kings, Tom Diaz describes how neighborhood gangs evolved into extremely brutal, sophisticated criminal enterprises and how local and federal authorities have struggled to suppress them. As he makes clear, the problem of transnational Latino gangs involves complex national and international issues, such as racial tensions, immigration policy, conflict in Latin America, and world economic pressures.
Gangs are multifaceted and varied, so any attempt to understand them cannot be restricted to a singular approach. On Gangs provides a diverse and comprehensive survey of the available theories for understanding this social issue as well as the broad range of responses to it. The authors look at the many influences on gangs’ operation, growth, prevention, and enforcement.
The authors provide different criminological, psychological, and sociological approaches to gang studies, including interviews with past and current gang members. On Gangs presents the core issues for understanding gangs, including emerging topics like prison gangs, gender and gangs, and international gangs. There is also a focus on policing, legislation, and punishment. Weaving together research and policy findings to address the causes, contexts, and consequences of gangs, the authors address topics including joining, resisting, and leaving gangs, and how gangs operate in communities and institutions.
An authoritative and sweeping tour of gang scholarship, On Gangs showcases the critical evidence-based solutions in prevention, enforcement, legislation, and intervention. The authors seek to answer the question: How do we effectively deal with gangs and gang membership?
In 2003, an FBI-led task force known as Operation Fly Trap attempted to dismantle a significant drug network in two Bloods-controlled, African American neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The operation would soon be considered an enormous success, noted for the precision with which the task force targeted and removed gang members otherwise entrenched in larger communities. In Operation Fly Trap, Susan A. Phillips questions both the success of this operation and the methods used to conduct it. Based on in-depth ethnographic research with Fly Trap participants, Phillips’s work brings together police narratives, crime statistics, gang cultural histories, and extensive public policy analysis to examine the relationship between state persecution and the genesis of violent social systems.
Crucial to Phillips’s contribution is the presentation of the voices and perspectives of both the people living in impoverished communities and the agents that police them. Phillips positions law enforcement surveillance and suppression as a critical point of contact between citizen and state. She tracks the bureaucratic workings of police and FBI agencies and the language, ideologies, and methods that prevail within them, and shows how gangs have adapted, seeking out new locations, learning to operate without hierarchies, and moving their activities more deeply underground. Additionally, she shows how the targeted efforts of task forces such as Fly Trap wreak sweeping, sustained damage on family members and the community at large. Balancing her roles as even-handed reporter and public scholar, Phillips presents multiple flaws within the US criminal justice system and builds a powerful argument that many law enforcement policies in fact nurture, rather than prevent, violence in American society.
2008 — ALLA Prize for Best Book on Latina/o Anthropology
The Pico Gardens housing development in East Los Angeles has a high percentage of resident families with a history of persistent poverty, gang involvement, and crime. In some families, members of three generations have belonged to gangs. Many other Pico Gardens families, however, have managed to avoid the cycle of gang involvement.
In this work, Vigil adds to the tradition of poverty research and elaborates on the association of family dynamics and gang membership. The main objective of his research was to discover what factors make some families more vulnerable to gang membership, and why gang resistance was evidenced in similarly situated non-gang-involved families. Providing rich, in-depth interviews and observations, Vigil examines the wide variations in income and social capital that exist among the ostensibly poor, mostly Mexican American residents. Vigil documents how families connect and interact with social agencies in greater East Los Angeles to help chart the routines and rhythms of the lives of public housing residents. He presents family life histories to augment and provide texture to the quantitative information.
By studying life in Pico Gardens, Vigil feels we can better understand how human agency interacts with structural factors to produce the reality that families living in all public housing developments must contend with daily.
Winner, Best Book on Ethnic and Racial Politics in a Local or Urban Setting , Organized Section on Race, Ethnicity, and Politics of the American Political Science Association, 2002
This cross-cultural study of Los Angeles gangs identifies the social and economic factors that lead to gang membership and underscores their commonality across four ethnic groups--Chicano, African American, Vietnamese, and Salvadorian.
With nearly 1,000 gangs and 200,000 gang members, Los Angeles holds the dubious distinction of being the youth gang capital of the United States. The process of street socialization that leads to gang membership now cuts across all ethnic groups, as evidenced by the growing numbers of gangs among recent immigrants from Asia and Latin America.
This cross-cultural study of Los Angeles gangs identifies the social and economic factors that lead to gang membership and underscores their commonality across four ethnic groups—Chicano, African American, Vietnamese, and Salvadorian. James Diego Vigil begins at the community level, examining how destabilizing forces and marginalizing changes have disrupted the normal structures of parenting, schooling, and policing, thereby compelling many youths to grow up on the streets. He then turns to gang members' life stories to show how societal forces play out in individual lives. His findings provide a wealth of comparative data for scholars, policymakers, and law enforcement personnel seeking to respond to the complex problems associated with gangs.
Street gangs are a major concern for residents in many inner-city communities. However, gangs’ secretive and, at times, delinquent tendencies limit most people’s exposure to the realities of gang life. Based on eighteen months of qualitative research on the streets of Indianapolis, Real Gangstas provides a unique and intimate look at the lives of street gang members as they negotiate a dangerous peer environment in a major midwestern city.
Timothy R. Lauger interviewed and observed a mix of fifty-five gang members, former gang members, and non-gang street offenders. He spent much of his fieldwork time in the company of a particular gang, the “Down for Whatever Boyz,” who allowed him to watch and record many of their day-to-day activities and conversations. Through this extensive research, Lauger is able to understand and explain the reasons for gang membership, including a chaotic family life, poverty, and the need for violent self-assertion in order to foster the creation of a personal identity.
Although the book exposes many troubling aspects of gang life, it is not a simple descriptive or a sensationalistic account of urban despair and violence. Steeped in the tradition of analytical ethnography, the study develops a central theoretical argument: combinations of street gangs within cities shape individual gang member behavior within those urban settings. Within Indianapolis, members of rival gangs interact on a routine basis within an ambiguous and unstable environment. Participants believe that many of their contemporaries claiming gang affiliations are not actually “real” gang members, but instead are imposters who gain access to the advantages of gang membership through fraud and pretense. Consequently, the ability to discern “real” gang members—or to present oneself successfully as a real gang member—is a critical part of gangland Indianapolis.
Real Gangstas offers an objective and fair characterization of active gang members, successfully balancing the seemingly conflicting idea that they generally seem like normal teenagers, yet are abnormally concerned with—and too often involved in—violence. Lauger takes readers to the edge of an actual gang conflict, providing a rare and up-close look at the troubling processes that facilitate hostility and violence.
This book describes who American skinheads are, how they have developed within larger youth group scenes, their ideas and activities, the role of music in their formation and development, how they have been perceived by the media in America, and what damage they have done in American society. Jack B. Moore focuses on the cultural history of this group in America during the 1980s and suggests that while they were originally a minor distraction on the punk scene, they have grown into a dangerous and far more politically engaged source of hate thought and crime.
Since the late 1940s, a violent African criminal society known as the Marashea has operated in and around South Africa’s gold mining areas. With thousands of members involved in drug smuggling, extortion, and kidnapping, the Marashea was more influential in the day-to-day lives of many black South Africans under apartheid than were agents of the state. These gangs remain active in South Africa.
In We Are Fighting the World: A History of the Marashea Gangs in South Africa, 1947–1999, Gary Kynoch points to the combination of coercive force and administrative weakness that characterized the apartheid state. As long as crime and violence were contained within black townships and did not threaten adjacent white areas, township residents were largely left to fend for themselves. The Marashea’s ability to prosper during the apartheid era and its involvement in political conflict led directly to the violent crime epidemic that today plagues South Africa.
Highly readable and solidly researched, We Are Fighting the World is critical to an understanding of South African society, past and present. This pioneering study challenges previous social history research on resistance, ethnicity, urban spaces, and gender in South Africa. Kynoch’s interviews with many current and former gang members give We Are Fighting the World an energy and a realism that are unparalleled in any other published work on gang violence in southern Africa.
Melvin Juette has said that becoming paralyzed in a gang-related shooting was “both the worst and best thing that happened” to him. The incident, he believes, surely spared the then sixteen year-old African American from prison and/or an early death. It transformed him in other ways, too. He attended college and made wheelchair basketball his passion—ultimately becoming a star athlete and playing on the U.S. National Wheelchair Basketball Team.
In Wheelchair Warrior, Juette reconstructs the defining moments of his life with the assistance of sociologist Ronald Berger. His poignant memoir is bracketed by Berger’s thoughtful introduction and conclusion, which places this narrative of race, class, masculinity and identity into proper sociological context, showing how larger social structural forces defined his experiences. While Juette’s story never gives into despair, it does challenge the idea of the “supercrip.”
Four bullet-torn bodies in a drug-ridden South Bronx alley. A college boy shot in the head on the West Side Highway. A wild shootout on the streets of Washington Heights, home of New York City's immigrant Dominican community and hub of the eastern seaboard's drug trade. All seemingly separate acts of violence. But investigators discover a pattern to the mayhem, with links to scores of assaults and murders throughout the city.In this bloody urban saga, Robert Jackall recounts how street cops, detectives, and prosecutors pieced together a puzzle-like story of narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and murders for hire, all centered on a vicious gang of Dominican youths known as the Wild Cowboys. These boyhood friends, operators of a lucrative crack business in the Bronx, routinely pistol-whipped their workers, murdered rivals, shot or slashed witnesses to their crimes, and eventually turned on one another in a deadly civil war. Jackall chronicles the crime-scene investigations, frantic car chases, street arrests at gunpoint, interviews with informants, and knuckle-breaking plea bargaining that culminated in prison terms for more than forty gang members.But he also tells a cautionary tale--one of a society with irreconcilable differences, fraught with self-doubt and moral ambivalence, where the institutional logics of law and bureaucracy often have perverse outcomes. A society where the forces of order battle not just violent criminals but elites seemingly aligned with forces of disorder: community activists who grab any pretext to further narrow causes; intellectuals who romanticize criminals; judges who refuse to lock up dangerous men; federal prosecutors who relish nailing cops more than crooks; and politicians who pander to the worst of our society behind rhetorics of social justice and moral probity. In such an up-for-grabs world, whose order will prevail?
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