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Perceptions of Former Youth Gang Influentials: Transcript of Two Symposia

NCJ Number
Date Published
137 pages
Publication Series
Two conferences were conducted that involved Hispanic and black young adults between 25 and 45 years of age who were major figures in violent and criminal youth gangs in low-income Chicago ghettos; the purpose was to identify promising approaches to dealing with the youth gang problem.
Conference participants were asked why they joined gangs, what satisfaction they derived, their views of youth gang control and prevention policies, and what they thought needed to be done. Large differences were found between Hispanic and black gangs, and the influence of the larger society on structuring opportunities and values for Hispanics and blacks was apparent. Hispanic gang influentials seemed to be less impoverished, isolated, and alienated than black gang influentials. A sense of despair characterized the views of the black ghetto community, suggesting deeper and more difficult causal factors than in Hispanic low-income communities. Reasons for joining a gang included availability, fun, friendship, protection, personal disturbance, lack of guidance and supervision at home, older brothers in the gang, ignorance about what one was getting into, need for status, desire for power and political influence, and defective school experience. Youth gang membership appeared to be more total and continuous in black than in Hispanic communities. Factors motivating youth to leave the gang included growing up and getting smarter, fear of injury, prison experience, girlfriend or marriage, job, drug dealing, concern for youth and community welfare, interest in politics, religious experience, and assistance and interest of others. Ways of dealing with the youth gang problem were viewed differently by Hispanics and blacks. For Hispanics, improved services and changed attitudes and practices by agency personnel, especially the police, were seen as important. While some of these views were shared by blacks, they felt that a more substantial community and societal effort was required. Both groups indicated the importance of fair treatment by the larger community, increased opportunities, better social control, and stronger community mobilization.

Date Published: January 1, 1990