A gang is a group of individuals who share a common identity and, in current usage, engage in illegal activities. Historically the term referred to both criminal groups and ordinary groups of friends, such as Our Gang.
Most commonly, the word "gang" refers to street gangs (a.k.a. youth gangs), groups who take over territory ("turf") in a particular city, sometimes simply for lack of something better to do, and are often involved in "providing protection" (a thin cover for extortion, as the "protection" is usually from the gang itself), or in other criminal activity. Since roughly the 1970s, street gangs have been strongly connected with drug sales (especially crack cocaine). Some commit burglaries, car theft, and armed robbery. Most members retain their gang affiliations when sent to prison.
Gangs have been known to claim colors such as red or blue, a trend that started as far back as the late 18th century and early 19th century with Mexican bandits and roving marauders in what would later become the Southwest/Western United States. (In the United States, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, "gang colors" can refer to the entire design of a gang jacket.)
Gangs often spread by a parent or family moving out of the gang neighborhood, and the children taking the gang culture and lore with them to a new area and recruiting new members for their old gang. This concept has been referred to as satellite gangs. Some offshoots of the original Norteņo/Sureņos concept include Crips and the Bloods, African American gangs. Other large gangs include the Aryan Brotherhood, a mostly prison-based white power gang, the Nazi Low Riders , or NLR, the Latin Kings, the Gangster Disciples of Chicago, and the Los Angeles-based 18th Street gang. In the 1980s, other gangs, such as the Central American Mara Salvatrucha, the Asian Boyz (ABZ), and the Tiny Rascal Gang (TRG) emerged, especially from Southern California. At one point, there was an alleged cybergang by the name of Glock 3, but it turned out to be a hoax.
Apart from street gangs, there are motorcycle gangs (such as Hells Angels), prison gangs or Security Threat Groups (such as the Mexican gang la Eme - the Mexican Mafia), organized criminal mafias (a term deriving originally from the Italian, but now also applied to the Russian Mafia), and Asian criminal gangs (such as Chinese triads and the Japanese yakuza, as well as smaller Chinese-American outfits like The Ghost Shadows ).
Some commentators use "gang" to refer to small, informal, and disorganized "street gangs," while "syndicate" or "organized crime" are used to refer to larger international organizations which may control entire legitimate businesses as "fronts" for their illegal operations.
The word "gang" generally appears in a pejorative context, though within "the gang" itself members may adopt the phrase in proud identity or defiance.
Last updated: 10-26-2005 13:32:27