What were gangs like in the 1960s? Why did they develop in the United States?

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jerseygyrl1983's profile pic

jerseygyrl1983 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Few gangs are more notorious than the Crips, which started out in South Central Los Angeles and has since spread to many other parts of the United States. 

The gang was started in 1969 by Stanley "Tookie" Williams, leader of the West Side Crips. Williams was born in Louisiana to a teenage mother. His father abandoned the family when he was a toddler. His mother, like many other Southern blacks, made her way to Los Angeles with her son in the hope of finding work. However, she had to work several jobs to support her son and herself, often leaving Williams on his own. Unfortunately, this allowed the boy to find the worst elements in his neighborhood -- drunks, drug addicts, and street fighters.

By this time, South Central Los Angeles had fallen into decay. The manufacturing jobs that supported so many black families who had lived in the area in the 1940s and 1950s had disappeared. Moreover, Los Angeles was a very segregated city, with a police force that was hostile to blacks and with a freeway system that made it nearly impossible to reach more prosperous parts of town without a vehicle. Those who did not give up completely by turning to drugs or drink made a living out of crime.

The story of Stanley Williams is common to many gang members. It is important, too, that gang activity increased significantly by the late 1960s due to an increase in juvenile crime. Their tactics became increasingly violent as gangs became less about finding camaraderie and more about survival. Moreover, older gangs such as the Slausons and the Gladiators had disbanded to join the Black Panther Party, leaving room for the Crips to form. The Crips' bitter rivals, the Bloods, did not form until 1972.

jeffclark's profile pic

jeffclark | College Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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Gangs in the 1960's were almost like social clubs are today. They were not the same as what you might think of as "street gangs" today, though there was an element of toughness and rebellion. There were ways that one gang would prove supremacy over another, such as drag races or the occasional "rumble", or fight. Established territories, or "turfs", were claimed by each gang.

One of the major differences in gangs from then and now is that all of the activity, whether mischievous or violent, was confined to the gangs. There was a respect for the elderly and the young.

The reason that gangs develop during any time, whether in the 1960's America or anywhere else, is that people are looking for a place where they feel like they belong. Everyone wants to feel like someone "has your back." That is what gangs provide. It is really a sign of failures on the part the society's institutions (family, church, community) that young people need to seek this in a gang.

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