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History of Street Gangs in the United States

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2010
25 pages

This bulletin examines the emergence and growth of gang activity in the Northeast, Midwest, West, and South regions of the United States.


This report looks at the history of street gangs in the United States. The report presents information on gang activity based on the four major census areas in the United States: the Northeast, the Midwest, the West, and the South. The history of the emergence and growth of gangs is presented separately for each region. The review found that there were important differences in the history of gang emergence in these four areas. In the Northeast and Midwest, the earliest gangs arose along with the growth of immigrants from Europe, primarily white ethnic groups. In the West, gang members were of Mexican descent. In the Northeast and Midwest regions, street gangs began among adult-dominated groups engaged in criminal activities, whereas in the West, street gangs emerged from aggressive groups of young Mexican men. The review also found that each of the regions also saw a distinct second wave of Black gang development that resulted from a shift of the Black population from the South to the North and the West. In addition, gang culture in the West has continued to be reinforced by wave after wave of immigrants from Central America and Mexico. Figures and references

Date Published: May 1, 2010