Street gangs in the City of Chicago are described as a group of individuals who may or may not claim control over a certain territory in the community and engage, either individually or collectively, in violent or other forms of illegal behavior. However, one of the simplest and most functional definitions is that a gang is a group of people who form an allegiance for a common purpose and engage in violent, unlawful, or criminal activity.
Gangs always have a name, they claim a particular territory or neighborhood, and usually direct its criminal activity towards rival gangs and the general population in the form of robberies, assaults and narcotics sales. Gang members participate in a variety of anti-social behaviors, including battery, mayhem, sexual assault, damage to property, larceny, murder, gang wars and other criminal activity.
Gang members do not fit the movie image in which they are portrayed, fulfilling specific roles in the gang such as president or enforcer, and wearing gang jackets. Rather, leadership roles in street gangs are normally not formally recognized positions. Roles within the gang are usually assumed by a member who demonstrates or asserts dominant control at a particular incident, or for a limited time thereafter. Regarding smaller gangs, however, it is more likely that a single individual will become a recognized leader. Within the ranks of gang members, there are individuals who run the gamut from pranksters, to vandals, to armed robbers, to murderers!
Gangs have also become more violent. Anybody in the area is fair game, including men, women and children. Previously, victims of gang violence were rival gang members, now they are often innocent bystanders killed or injured by stray bullets. In reality, certain gang-infested neighborhoods are frighteningly similar to a war zone. At one time, gang members used chains, knives and an occasional homemade “zip gun” when exhibiting violent behavior, now they use shotguns, automatic rifles, handguns and explosives. It is a lamentable fact that in our society, there is such a readily available supply of firearms. This fact, coupled with the availability of drugs and alcohol, leads to much of the impulsive violence that occurs in gang territories.
Gangs exist in almost every urban area, and until recently, have even become known in rural areas as well. They number well over a quarter million individuals throughout the country. They often form along ethnic and racial lines, although there is an increasing trend of young people joining gangs for economic motives.
Gangs also differ sub-culturally in their behavior. For example, homicides among Latino gangs are often ritual exhibitions of manhood, where in contrast, African American gangs typically fight over drug trade transactions, pay-offs, un-met expectations and similar “business” disappointments. Asian gangs’ crimes are notorious for extortion and home invasion robberies.
Many gangs adopt names that have significance when related to their neighborhoods (street names, hills, valleys, housing projects, and occasionally regional names). Some gangs are generally further divided into factions or cliques. A gang faction will usually have its own name. Once in a particular faction, the member will remain in that faction throughout his gang career. The faction may change or alter its name as it matures, but the same individuals tend to remain in close association with each other.
If they do not have one already, most gang members adopt nicknames when recruited into the group. The gang tends to select a name that fits the individual’s physical or psychological characteristics. A gang member called “Slice,” for example, may get his name from his skill in handling a knife, or the nickname “shorty” because he’s short in stature.