Those who are dispossessed will congregate, for their only remaining power is strength in numbers. All the reasons noted point to a disturbing trend -- more and more of us are becoming dispossessed, or in other words, not part of the "standard" culture. If there were true economic and political access, more people would be invested in that culture, and the "fringe" cultures would abate. As more and more people become economically and politically sidelined, the only refuge is in a gang.
In my school. we have two distinct gangs. One group wears red and calls themselves the bloods. Most of these members are of African American descent.
The other group wears blue. I cannot remember what they call themselves at this moment. Most of the members are of Hispanic descent.
These two groups often have serious, violent confrontations. We had a fight between the two groups and the school had to go on lockdown. We had to stop having break for two weeks. We just tried to keep the students moving between classes.
We also had to have professional development on the activities of gangs. It is becoming a serious issue.
I would suggest that gangs are beoming more popular because of the breakdown of the family. Gangs, in a sense, substitute for families, providing many of the kinds of support and affirmation and protection and security that families once provided. It would be easy enough to show that a breakdown in the "traditional" family (husband, wife, and children) has been occurring for the past half-century. Gangs have arisen (I think) partly in response.
I don't know if I would say they are more or less popular, as their public image is not really why people join gangs. It is much more about the social response to society's ills. Poverty, racism, the breakup of the family, poor socialization, unemployment, all contribute to the void that gangs have sought to fill. What's "popular" about them is that they offer a sense of family, albeit a warped one, instant gratification for material goods, money, power and respect.
Statistically, gang activity is on the rise in the United States, and the violence associated with it may be at the highest level ever. The use of automatic weapons has replaced the knives and chains that gang members used in the first half of the 20th century, and drug activity associated with gangs is just one of the reasons. Easy access to such weapons make even the youngest and lowest level gang members deadly these days, and the absolute disregard for human life makes today's gangs more dangerous than any that have come before them. Low socioeconomic status has always been associated with gangs, but the degree of violence of today's gang members far exceeds their predecessors.
According to a recent Reuter's article, gang activity seems to be on the rise, however this may be due to an increase in law enforcement reporting of it. Nevertheless, the FBI seems to believe that gang involvement has in fact increased since 2008, and credits social media (Facebook and Twitter) as a new form of communication gangs are using to organize and recruit. Also mentioned in this article is that the face of illegal gang activity is changing possibly in light of the economy. It seems the more larger and prominent US gangs (ie: Crips and Bloods) are turning to what the FBI calls more "white collar crimes," things such as credit card fraud and identity theft, because they are just as profitable, but easier to get away with, and the punishment (if caught) tends to be less severe, than say, large scale drug sales and homicide.
I very much agree with the points made in posts 3 and 5. I teach in a large suburban high school that has what I would say are "fringe" gang problems.Our suburb is very close to another lower socio-economic suburb where there are significant and dangerous gangs problems in the neighborhoods and in the schools. A population of our school associates themselves with these gang elements and bring in some of that culture, but it isn't an entrenched problem, yet. As a staff, we are given gang information almost yearly so that we can be aware of what to look for and what trends the police are seeing in regards to gang activity in our village. Like anywhere, the gang members or "wanna-be" gang members in our school are looking for commonality with others and a sense of belonging. Our school is one of the largest in the state and all of the students are tyring to find a niche -- this, unfortunately, is an appealing niche for some students.
Post #4 is not, in my opinion, correct about economics as a lure for gang activity. It has been shown that gangs (even those which sell drugs on a large scale) are not lucrative for their members except for a very few at the top of the pyramid. The allure of gangs is much more in line with Post #3 -- it is a psychological/emotional thing. This is why we see gangs among the disadvantaged. They feel there is no place for them in a society where "people like them" have little power. They need to feel important and worthwhile and so they join gangs.
I am not sure Post #1 fully appreciates the concept of the question, which deals with criminal gangs. They are most assuredly a problem in my school; young men often wear colored handkerchiefs in their pockets or around their wrists or necks to denote gang membership, (they refer to it as their "flag.") and often use hand signals (known as "stacking") to communicate with each other. They often react quite violently to others wearing similar colors as this "dishonors" their flags. Some even wear baseball caps designating a particular professional baseball team as a sign of gang membership. Students with overt gang symbols are frequently warned not to display them or risk expulsion.
The problem seems to be the need for a sense of self worth which membership provides. Most gang members come from poverty stricken backgrounds; have little or no opportunities in the immediate future, and are often isolated from others outside their own group. Gangs give them the sense of belonging that many young people need. As poverty in urban and even rural areas continues to grow, gang membership will grow also. It is an endemic solution with no easy fix.
I teach in a very small district. We do not have problems with the typical "gang." But, one could consider any group which binds together, has a very distinct mindset about others a gang.
A gang does not need to be violent--like seen on television. Gangs are very different than they have been in the past when examining "gang" mentality. A group does not need a label to be considered a "gang."
While a "gang" denotes a very negative label, gangs exist in every school--could be labeled as a clique today.
Therefore, gangs have always been popular. People have always migrated toward others who look, think, and act like them. If these groups have dislike for others because of their differences, they are no different from the historically denoted "gang."