gang, group of people organized for a common purpose, often criminal. Gangs of criminals were long known on the American frontier and also flourished in urban settings. Notorious were the outlaws led by Jesse James and his brother, the Sydney Ducks of San Francisco (active in the 1850s), and the Hudson Dusters of turn-of-the-century New York City. Modern criminal gangs are largely urban and highly organized (see organized crime). Adolescent gangs before World War II were generally poverty-area recreational groups that turned to crime under the influence of adult gangs. Often the groups were rehabilitated through recreational leadership and guidance in community centers. In the late 1940s fighting gangs arose in the poverty areas of most large cities. Uniting to seek security and status in a discouraging environment, the young members divide their neighborhoods into rival territories and amass homemade and stolen weapons. Boundary violations or other insults invite intergang fights in streets or parks. Most fighting gangs are organized intricately, with caste systems and with officers who arrange battles and prepare strategy; the gang may range in size from several members to over 100. Factors related to the development of delinquent gangs include blighted communities, dropping out of school, unemployment, family disorganization, neighborhood traditions of gang delinquency, psychopathology, and ethnic status. Gangs provide acceptance and protection to inner-city youth; in Los Angeles gangs doubled from 400 in 1985 to 800 (with 90,000 members) in 1990. See also juvenile delinquency.
See L. Yablonsky, The Violent Gang (1962, repr. 1970); M. W. Klein and B. G. Myerhoff, Juvenile Gangs in Context (1967); J. F. Short, ed., Gang Delinquency and Delinquent Subcultures (1968); E. Liebow, Talley's Corner (1968); J. Haskins, Street Gangs: Yesterday and Today (1977); W. F. Whyte, Streetcorner Society (1981); A. Campbell, Girls in the Gang (1984); E. Dolan, Youth Gangs (1984); L. Bing, Do or Die (1991).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.