Gangs and Gang Membership in America

Gangs and Gang Membership in America


Throughout history, activities of criminal gangs have punctuated newspapers front pages, television news headlines and the internet. Most of these gang activities have formed the foundation and scripts of many block buster movies that have ranked among the best movies, as well as become the inspiration for many future gangs. This trends have not escaped the eyes of the government or the other community organizations, and many interventions have been put in place to address gang membership and recruitment. However, very little has been achieved by these interventions, continuously gangs have been viewed as societal role models with more and more people looking forward to be part of a gangs. Many factors have been attributed to this behaviour and various psychological perspectives have been put forward to explain this trend, however one thing that is clear is that gang membership and its perception as something to be proud of or an achievement is a mentality that needs to be erased from the society to pave way for a more responsible youth and a community that is safer and more conducive for raising a child.


Gangs and gang membership has not only been a concern that has troubled parents all over America, but the society in general. Despite countless endeavors and interventions by various stakeholders such as community organizations, the government and religious organizations, the membership of gangs has continuously grown recruiting more and more members at a younger age, and even boosting of a female membership that has sky rocketed. A balance of prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies to curb new gang membership such as interventions at the individual level with at-risk children, family preventions and school and community-level prevention have been employed but with no or minimal impact on deterring gang membership. This trend has attracted widespread debate with regards to what could be leading to the young people more and morejoining these gangs. This paper will present some of the reasons which have contributed to the elevation of gangs and gang membership into role model status. It will also present my personal psychological review that explains this trend in gang worship and membership.

Why Certain Elements of Society have Elevated Gang Members to Role Model Status

One of the key factors that have ensured that gang membership continuously has a steady flow of new members is the elevated status of gang membership into a pedestal that places them in the same level as societal heroes. The elevation of gang members into role model status can be attributed to a myriad of factors, both societal and individual. These factors range from a perceived closeness of gang membership, to popular culture among other factors.

A key factor that results to the elevation of gang membership into role model status is the perception that gang membership affords an individual love and support in form of a feeling of Belonging, family bond;Power (Respect, recognition, Control); Safety (Security, Protection); Freedom (Choices, independence); and Fun (Excitement, parties, sex)(Siegel, 2008 ).A common public perception is that most youth are coerced into joining a gang. Quite to the contrary, most youth who join want to belong to a gang. Gangs are often at the center of appealing social action: parties, hanging out, music, drugs, and opportunities to socialize with members of the opposite sex. The gang may be appealing because it meets a youth’s social needs.The members of a particular gang are perceived to get along well; they care for each other, even considering each others as brothers. In fact, they are perceived to care about each other more than a lot of other people who are not in gangs do.

Popular Culture is another key influence that results to the viewing of gang culture as something to be admired(U.S Department of Justice, 2010).  Apart from personal reasons for joining a gang, media presentations make gangs seem very appealing. The “hip” lifestyle and sensational portrayals of gangs and their members have a significant influence, particularly on more susceptible youth. Increased media popularization of gang culture has led to the point that, “most young people in America recognize the look, the walk, and the talk of gang members. The diffusion of street gang culture in modern-day movies, music, and clothing merchandizing has served to intertwine gang culture with the general youth subculture. This has led to the overall perception of gangs and its membership as something to be admired.

These factors with time result to the attitude of young people towards gangs becoming more and more positive as they grow up and with time, the young people begin to define gang members as straight, cool, and together. That is, gang members increasingly become being viewed as people to be admired and not resented.Additionally, the absence of strong social intervention that portray gang membership as criminal and delinquent, as well as the failure to depict gang life as ending in a ruinous life, together with the absence of social education that demonizes a life in crime makes gang life even more delightful and a death in the course of gang pursues something to be more proud of, results to the continued portrayal of gang membership as a larger than life endeavor that can only be rivaled to hero worship(U.S Department of Justice, 2010).

A Psychology Evaluation of why Gangs are perceived as Role Models

However, the membership to gangs and elevation of gang membership to role model status cannot simply be explained or taken at face value. It is an extension and is reflective of various societal failings that force the young generation to finddesire and glory in joining the gangs as more of a necessity as opposed to an option.In my own understanding from a psychological perspective, gang membership and its elevation to role model status can be explained by various societal happenings that tend to influence youths decision to join a gang.

First, the youth of present day America have been disenfranchised from their parents, as a result of this, and the constant need for a sense of belonging, gangs come as surrogate families to such youths. Additionally, the American society is continually being predominately by kids who are growing up in houses without fathers, or a participating father. Women nowadays no longer see the need for a father to be present in the home; consequently the mother raises these kids who are continuously searching for their identity.This search for identity leads them to accept any proposition that seems closest to resembling a family this result to their joining such gangs and elevation of such gangs into a different level.

Secondly, in most societies, it is human nature to admire a warrior class. In America, the warrior class might be the military. The problem with that for the youth of America is that they are so far removed from it that they cannot relate to them. However, what they can relate to are those individuals who reflect extreme power and control over the urban poverty stricken environment that they live in, and this “extreme power and control” is reflected by gangs. This gives the society and the youth a sense of thrill and not only results to the elevation of such groups into the society’s high pedestal of heroes, but it also makes it a privilege for any youth to be part of such a gang.

Thirdly, the elevation of gangs into role model status can be attributed to the tendency of people to romanticize the villains and predators of society, if they have power. This probably started in the 1920s with the beginning and gaining of prominence of the mafia. Most of the gangs in American in the present seek to emulate dangerous mob men like Al Capone, Tony Montana, and the other gangsters in popular movies. Eventually they used rap as an outlet, and once rap became popular it inspired a lot of kids and youths to look up to those people as role models. Additionally, throughout history Criminals have been romanticized, whether it was Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, or 50 cent, the media has always turned criminals into heroes, mainly because they have interesting and exciting lives, while everyone else is just your average Joe.

Fourthly, the young generation in general does not like authority. They perceive obeying elders and following rules as uniformity and a death to their individuality, and also they think it keeps them stuck in a boring, complacent life. Gangs offer kinship, especially if the child has a bad home life or no other friends at school; the gang becomes their family and friends. The gang also is a symbol of freedom and wildness, free from society’s chains. This transforms these groups into symbols that should be venerated.

Lastly, the murder, stealing, and negative lifestyles may just be a front. Attention-seeking tactics, to show the world and say “hey i’m out here, i’m alive, not dead and I can do things just like everyone”. Broken families lead to the lack of education, and thus the lack of tools to ‘solve problems’.Within the gang, they find comfort in each other, a tight knit group that is responsible and willing to look out for those within.With the lack of family relationships and broken families, youths are turning to alternative social groups. Joining a gang or ‘crew’ may be an attempt to replace what is missing or lost from within their own families. Also, I think it has spread simply because the world is getting to be a tougher place to live in. Parents and families loose jobs, lower wages, lower quality of living, this leads people to finding heroes in the unlikely of sources, even in gangs.


This paper has presented some of the rationaleswhich have contributed to the elevation of gangs and gang membership into role model status. It has also presented my personal psychological review to explain this trend in gang worship and membership. From the literature, the elevation of gangs into role model status can broadly be categorized into personal reasons such as family background, and personal characteristics; and popular culture by the media which has placed gang life on a pedestal and glorifying it through reporting of its exploits.



Siegel, L. L. (2008 ). Criminology: Theories, Patterns, and Typologies (10 ed.). Cengage Learning.

U.S Department of Justice, O. O. (2010). Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Progarms. Juvenile Justice Bulletin.

Williams, F. P., & McShane, M. D. (2014). Criminological theory: A Text Reader (6th ed ed.). Englewood Cliff, N.J: Prentice Hall.


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