If violence is a cornerstone of gang involvement, what explains why some youth join a gang if there is little difference in types of aggression? Explain your answer in detail.

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Violence is definitely a major component of life in a street gang. For many gangs, initiation into the group entails violence, with prospective members forced to conduct physically brutal acts while also, occasionally, being subjected to violence themselves at the hands of fellow gang members. Street and motorcycle gangs depend upon intimidation and violence to accomplish their goals, which include enrichment, enforcement of gang rules, expansion of territory at the expense of rival gangs, and defense of turf from encroachment by rival gangs. Violence defines gangs, both internally and externally.

While violence is a cornerstone of gang activity or involvement, it does not explain the reason so many youth and young adults join gangs. The main reason is entirely sociological. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of young boys and some girls join neighborhood gangs for a sense of community or family lacking at home. For many susceptible youth, the structure, rules and sense of family that gangs offer serves as a substitute for a broken or otherwise dysfunctional family situation at home. The camaraderie and sense of purpose—defending the gang, hanging with fellow members, depending on each other—represents the most stable environment they have experienced.

Not all members willingly join gangs. Some are forced into gang life by neighborhood gangs forever seeking new “recruits” to expand their numbers. Established gang members using threats of violence against the prospective recruit or his family can compel participation in the gang. Members who want to leave the gang are often prohibited from doing so by the threat of being murdered. Sometimes, the person will only be allowed to leave after enduring a brutal beating by the rest of the gang.

Individuals join gangs for any of several reasons. Few join because of the violence gang activity entails. The violence is an integral component of gang life, but most are motivated to join either out of a sense of family with other gang members or because they were forced to join.

alex4208 | Student

Many youths join gangs for different reasons. Some want acceptance, while others want some sort of family to look up, and forward to. When looking at the different factors that make people want to join gangs, it is important to pay attention to the environment those people are exposed to. Many of the larger cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, are so badly plagued by gang violence, the youth of those communities are willing to join the gang solely for protection. Society also plays a large role in why someone will join a gang. Music, television, and movies, all affect how adolescents see themselves and how they see society. Being part of something is important to young people, and many older people as well, and the violence and aggression can be over looked. Stopping and looking at the consequences is something many young people avoid. They tend to act off of impulse and often figure out what they got involved in too late. 

Social Psychology says humans are influenced for different reasons. It could be a real or imagined consequences that they are chasing (power, protection, "family") and only after they see there is no real benefit do they realize how negative the consequences of their choices are. Most gangs operate off of coercion and violence, which can be appealing to young children growing up. Being the most powerful, most feared, and most respected may influence the decision making of an adolescent. For example, the Surenos are a street gang that originated in Southern California (South Siders in English). Many of these gang members join the gang at a young age to make easy money dealing drugs. Along with the "easy" money comes the difficult task of protecting the territory. These young gang members are expected to protect their territory by any means necessary which often times includes violence. Assaults, kidnapping, and murder often send a strong message to rival gangs, and earn respect that is essential to thriving in that lifestyle. After being exposed to this lifestyle for any given amount of time, these young men and women reeducate themselves to their new lifestyle, and the aggression and violence just becomes a way of life, which makes it difficult to see that they are doing anything wrong.