Island in the street: analyzing the function
of gang violence from a culture and
conflict perspective
Kacey Shap
Kacey Sha...
cost society up to $655 billion on an annual basis (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (FCIK), 2004;
Howell, 2009; Riviello, 2010...
Intervention policies have focussed primarily on fixing the behavioral aspects – or, in some
cases, eliminating the enviro...
When gang conflicts cease to be about food, safety, and security and are more about respect,
self-esteem, and values (as s...
identifying the frequency of the conflicts. Also, news media is a reliable benchmark for
ascertaining gang conflicts as it...
them, today’s gangs build their sense of identity from the larger mainstream society. This may
entail adopting a particula...
Motives, production, and consumption
Contrary to common perception, violent gangs want the same things that mainstream soc...
Veterans, or successful gang members, must learn to suppress their conscience, even if the act
entails turning against the...
perspectives. For gang members, the predominant mindset is often an “us against them”
mentality. This dog-eat-dog outlook ...
local newspapers (as opposed to news feeds or local news stations), confined to the USA, and
consisted of reports rather t...
were more likely to adopt a rigid interpretation of the gang problem; community members and
non-governmental organizations...
demonstrated from the excerpts below, which describe how gang members punish those
whom they suspect of snitching:
The cha...
Depreciation of life. The devaluation of life is not the intention for gang membership,
but it quickly becomes a means to ...
In another excerpt, gangs recruit young girls and force them into prostitution and force the girls
into working for the ga...
Law enforcement worldview: what we did. Law enforcement, for the most part, straddles
between the reactive and responsive ...
Gangs have adapted to the violent condition and produced a culture of violence in the process.
Therefore, claiming that th...
Cohen, M. (1998), “The monetary value of saving a high-risk youth”, Journal of Quantitative Criminology,
Vol. 14 No. 1, pp...
Gover, A.R., Jennings, W.G. and Tewksbury, R. (2009), “Adolescent male and female gang members’
experiences with violent v...
Melvin, J. (2012), “Three federal agents shot, 19 people charged in Bay Area-wide gang sweep”, Contra
Costa Times, May 3, ...
Sanchez-Jankowski, M. (2003), “Gangs and social change”, Theoretical Criminology, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 191-216.
Sanders, W. (...
US Office of the Surgeon General (2001), “Youth violence: a report by the surgeon general”, available at:
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Island In the Street: Analyzing the Function of Gang Violence from a Culture and Conflict Perspective


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Island In the Street: Analyzing the Function of Gang Violence from a Culture and Conflict Perspective

  1. 1. Island in the street: analyzing the function of gang violence from a culture and conflict perspective Kacey Shap Kacey Shap is a PhD (ABD), based at Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Nova Southeastern University, Davie, Florida, USA. Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to examine the components of a gang culture in conflict with society, and second, to explore how gangs, the community, and law enforcers externalize the gang problem from the vantage point of worldview and worldmaking. Design/methodology/approach – The researcher gathered news articles from the Nexus-Lexis research database system within a one-year period (from February 2012 to February 2013). The data was randomly selected and representative of newspapers published throughout the USA. The news articles were coded based upon the aspects of culture (lens of perception, motives for human behaviors, criteria for evaluation, basis of identification, means for communication, justification for social stratification, and mode for production and consumption). A thematic analysis was also conducted to determine: the aspects of gang culture in conflicts with society; and how the gangs, the community, and the law enforcements externalize the gang conflict. Findings – Results suggest that gang violence is largely due to issues of identity, values, and gang cohesiveness rather than the result of the pathologically based environmental conditions. Criteria for evaluation and issue of identity constituted 66 percent of the violent conflict with society. In the context of worldviews and worldmaking, gang members and law enforcement personnel are more likely to adopt a rigid, win-lose framework while members of the community are more likely to prescribe to a flexible and holistic perspective toward the gang problem. In sum, gang violence is not necessarily a deviant or antisocial act; rather, it is a result of the conflicting narratives between the gang cultures and the culture-at-large. Research limitations/implications – In dissecting gang behavior from a cultural perspective, it is easy to categorize gangs as a collective subculture. However, gang members may not view themselves as a subculture nor consider themselves as belonging to a subculture community. Practical implications – By examining the function of culture – in this case, the gang culture – as it conflicts with society at large, one may better able to develop an action plan that emphasize identities, cultures, and values rather than crime and punishment. Also, it may help shed light on how the various stakeholders (i.e. the gangs, law enforcements, and the community) perceive the conflict, which may assist researcher to develop a comprehensive and holistic approach toward intervention. Finally, implementing a culturally based gang violence intervention may reduce cost. Originality/value – This research is unique in that it analyzes the function of gang violence in relation to the society-at-large. Also, the research addresses the issue as to how the various stakeholders interpret the “gang problem.” Finally, this research is innovative in that it employs news articles as units of analysis rather than the traditional qualitative interviews or quantitative surveys. Keywords Thematic analysis, Culture and conflict, Gang culture, Gang violence, Worldviews, Youth violence Paper type Research paper Introduction The Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Gang Intelligence Center (2011) estimates that there are over 1.4 million gang members living in the USA. Consequently, the gang problem can PAGE 78 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014, pp. 78-98, C Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-11-2012-0009
  2. 2. cost society up to $655 billion on an annual basis (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (FCIK), 2004; Howell, 2009; Riviello, 2010). Simply put, if the cost of gang violence were considered a global military expenditure, it would account for 33 percent of global spending and be equal to that of the next ten nations, respectively: China ($143 billion), Russia ($71.9 billion), UK ($62.7 billion), France ($62.5 billion), Japan ($59.3 billion), India ($49.9 billion), Saudi Arabia ($48.5 billion), Germany ($46.7 billion), and (Brazil ($35.4 billion) (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2011). Each time a gang member engages in a violent crime, society bears the burden, evidenced by the expense of incarceration, legal proceedings, property damage, healthcare, cost of administering justice, and loss of income associated with the death of bystanders. For example, one gang-related homicide can cost up to $1,000,000, both directly and indirectly, in the form of property damage, manpower to investigate the crime, cost of the court system, cost of healthcare due to injuries such as bullet wounds, and impact on the penal system (Cook and Ludwig, 2006). A study conducted by the US Office of Surgeon General (2001) determined that gang violence accounted for $90 billion in the US criminal system, $170 billion in productivity and quality of life, $65 billion in security, and $5 billion in victim treatment. It is estimated that a career criminal will cost the system between $1.7 million and $2.3 million within the first ten years of his or her criminal activities (Cohen, 1998; FCIK, 2004). The gang problem has reached an epidemic proportion. Evidence of gang escalation and violence can be seen in the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Gang Intelligence Center (2011) report, which revealed that gang violence accounts for half of all violent crimes in the USA, with some jurisdictions reporting as high as 90 percent rates. Furthermore, approximately 55 percent of the victims of gang shootings are innocent bystanders (Kelen et al., 2012). In 2012, an American civilian is four times more likely to be shot and killed in the streets of Chicago by a gang related crime than a deployed American soldier is to die from a shooting in Afghanistan (Erbentraut, 2012). The gang problem is not only limited to the USA alone but is becoming a problem in other parts of the world as well, including Australia (White and Mason, 2006), Europe (Gatti et al., 2011), North and South America (Decker and Pyrooz, 2010), and Asia (Pyrooz and Decker, 2012). Governments abroad must also face the same challenges, violent aggression, and conflicts currently plaguing the communities in the USA. It is for such reason that society needs a more comprehensive approach toward analyzing gang violence, one that looks beyond the traditional discourse of law and order, right and wrong, and justice and lawlessness. Need for cultural and conflict perspective on gang violence Though research on gang violence has spanned the past century (Esbensen and Winfree, 1998; Gover et al., 2009; Thrasher, 1927), few studies have examined gangs as a subculture or studied the cultural functions for such violence. Similarly, researchers, experts, and even law enforcement personnel have mostly emphasized the pathological conditions in impacting the deviant behavior. Simply put, it is generally believed that gang violence is environmental and the byproduct of socioeconomic conditions (Kinnear, 1996; Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991; Oehme, 1997; Sanders, 1994). Supporting such claims, Brantingham et al. (2012) found that inter-gang conflicts are more likely the result of border disputes and the maintenance of the gang territory. Regarding the conditions supporting gang violence, Bradshaw et al. (2013) concluded that the typical gang member is more likely to experience academic problems, be picked on by fellow peers, and engage in various types of substance abuse. Similarly, Olate et al. (2012) found that low future orientation, educational troubles, school expulsion, low empathy, and association with other delinquent peers are also strong predictors for gang membership and subsequent delinquent behaviors. Studying the immigrant community in Southern California, Vigil (2002) established a link between gang membership and immigration histories, discrimination, feelings of marginalization, and failure to acclimate with the larger society. In conducting a review of youth gang affiliation, violence, and criminal behaviors, O’Brien et al. (2013) found that individual disposition, peer, family, and school to be contributing factors in gang membership and youth violence. In short, a number of scholars on the subject of gang violence have contended that the phenomenon is situational and based on pathological conditions. VOL. 6 NO. 2 2014 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jPAGE 79
  3. 3. Intervention policies have focussed primarily on fixing the behavioral aspects – or, in some cases, eliminating the environmental factors – of gang violence. These measures often include passing tougher laws to deter gang membership, increasing manpower to combat violence, or creating harsher penalties for gang-related crimes (e.g. Eighteenth Statewide Grand Jury, 2007; Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Gang Intelligence Center, 2011; Florida Collier County Sheriff’s Office (FCCSO), 2006). Law enforcement personnel have also channeled their efforts to reduce firearms by passing comprehensive anti-gang legislation (McGarrell et al., 2013) and limiting overt drug marketing cartels within communities (Corsaro et al., 2013). The results of these efforts have been mixed. Hipple et al. (2010) conducted a longitudinal study spanning 37 months to examine the impact of gang related drug reduction policy. They found a 9.1 percent decline in property crime, a 7.3 percent decline in violent crimes, and a 5.5 percent decline in drug crimes following the interventions. It has also been found that interventions made on the basis of pathological conditions are not necessarily effective in the long run. As such, Engel et al. (2013) assessed the Cincinnati Initiate to Reduce Violence (CIRV) and found that while CIRV did reduce violence over time, the success rates varied across sites. The researchers also found that CIRV could not account for the significant or sustained declined in gang violence. Furthermore, some researchers have challenged the success of gang intervention programs all together due to the lack of implementation procedures and failure to provide a criterion for success (Klein, 2011; Klein and Maxson, 2006). In fact, Klein (2011) goes so far as to assert that “almost [any intervention strategy] is ‘promising’ because so little has been tested properly” (p. 1037). Even if anti-gang policy works, there is no guarantee that the effect will be long lasting post intervention. For example, Melde and Esbensen (2013) analyzed self-reports of gang members, former gang members, and non-gang members and found that while former gang members reported a significant decline in violence and antisocial behaviors, former gang members still committed a significantly higher level of delinquency as compared to non-gang members. In another example, California experienced a spike in gang violence in the 1990s after California lawmakers instituted a spending cut on social programs that had previously helped reduce gang violence (Rodriguez, 2005). Increased governmental intervention does not prove to be effective, and in fact it has only worsen the problem. For example, the gang problem was officially recognized as a national epidemic in 1995, when the US Department of Justice formed the National Youth Gang Center (NYGC) to survey 4,000 agencies across the USA in order to assess trends in gang violence and criminal activity (US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1997). Since the formation of the NYGC, the number of gangs has doubled, from 665,000 to 1.4 million. Gangs have since adopted more violent tactics to resolve their conflicts, engaged in more sophisticated criminal activities, participated in human trafficking, and developed international ties with other criminal syndicates (Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Gang Intelligence Center, 2011; Thomas et al., 2013; Ulloa et al., 2012). If government involvement had been successful, there would have been a decline in violence, which has not the case. Government interventions do not make society safer either. In fact, it appears that when law enforcement imposes stiffer punishments, increases manpower to combat gang shootings, makes it harder for gangs to associate, or targets the criminal activities, gangs escalate the conflicts with equal and deadly force. For example, gangs have learned to take advantage of the loopholes in the legal system by rechanneling their criminal activities from blue collar to white collar crimes; respond to police force with AK-47s and semi-automatic rifles; turn to social medias such as Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace to coordinate drug deals and recruit new members; and plant moles within law enforcement and police agencies to undermine law enforcement efforts (Lim et al., 2012; Papachristos, 2005; Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Gang Intelligence Center, 2011; FCCSO, 2006; US Department of Justice, 2009). Violence may be pathological, but the motives governing such behavior are an issue of cultures, identities, and conflicts. For Avruch (1998), culture is the derivative of acquired solutions to life’s challenges; individuals must learn to adapt to the ever-changing environment by forming families, obtaining food, warding off enemies, curing diseases, managing disputes and raising children. PAGE 80 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014
  4. 4. When gang conflicts cease to be about food, safety, and security and are more about respect, self-esteem, and values (as suggested by Mitchell, 1989; Donnella and associates, 2005), then the conditions for conflict are no longer pathological but cultural, and violence becomes merely a means through which gang members negotiate their contrasting cultural values. This is the case because culture gives people a way to make sense of the world. It provides a sense of normalcy for particular behaviors and rituals, sets rules and limitations, determines what is beautiful, and imbues individuals with particular frames of reference (Mazrui, 1990). Accordingly, while it may be true that gang members come from a violent upbringing (as suggested Brantingham et al., 2012; Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991; Sanders, 1994), the conditions themselves do not sufficiently explain gang violence in its totality. Violence cannot account for how a former law abiding adolescent can become a ruthless murderer and forego the social norms, values, and morality associated with being a functional member of society. That is, gang members, for the most part, have consciously engaged in violent behaviors rather than just merely responding to their needs for safety and security. Furthermore, the pathological environment cannot account for how a gangster is willing to fatally shoot a grandmother because she tried to stop his gang mate from spray painting the wall (Gonzales, 2012); how a gang member had no qualms about executing his best friends in a playground just to gain membership (Derbeken and Huet, 2012); or how gang members are quick to kill each other over issues of respect (see Simon, 2012). External conditions may be the initial cause of gang membership, but it is the culture, values, and identities that perpetuate and shape their continued violence. It is erroneous to overlook the cultural implications of gang violence. Shootings, murders, and inter-gang conflicts are examples of what Augsburger (1992) calls destructive conflict; they involve a “contest of wills, of force, of courage to resist, compel, and coerce” (p. 57). Destructive forms of conflict have dire consequences for society because parties in the conflict will tend to adopt a negative assumption of each other and operate based on the mentality that the only way to avoid domination is to dominate the other first. In order to prevent violence and deconstruct the destructive conflict, a thorough understanding of gang culture is needed. It may be the case that gangs form an island in the street, as suggested by Sanchez-Jankowski (1991), because they feel isolated from the community, and constructing a culture of violence enables them to make sense with an otherwise violent surrounding. This has lead (Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991, p. 312) to conclude that “a given gang member’s display of aggressive traits or his involvement in violent exchange is not necessarily pathological; rather it is appropriate behavior in an environment whose socio-economic conditions are pathological.” The goal of this research is to segregate the aspects of gang culture from the violent behaviors that past researchers, the community, and law enforcements have come to clumped as one and the same. Thus, there are two main research questions concerning gang violence from a culture and conflict perspective. The first, what are the components of gang culture that are in conflict with society? This is critical for current research on gang violence because by identifying, categorizing, and deconstructing the cultural catalysts responsible for the conflict, one may be better able to draft an intervention policy that caters to the underlying needs and interests and thereby reduce the violent conflict. The second, how do gangs, the community, and law enforcement externalize the gang problem? There are many stakeholders in this conflict, and it is important to understand how the stakeholders interpret the problem so that practitioners can craft an intervention strategy that is inclusive, welcoming, and empowering to all those involved, which thereby will enhance the efficacy of the intervention program. This study is unique in that the primary object is not to determine how gangs think, what factors motivate violence, or why gangs engage in violence, but rather the aim is to analyze the function of gang culture when such ethos clash with the larger society. For that reason, news media are the ideal unit of analysis for this particular research as opposed to the more traditional methods of gathering data (i.e. qualitative interviews or quantitative surveys). The purpose of the research is to ascertain the aspects of gang culture that is in frequent conflict with society, and newspaper articles provide the perfect benchmark for not only documenting the conflicts but also the VOL. 6 NO. 2 2014 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jPAGE 81
  5. 5. identifying the frequency of the conflicts. Also, news media is a reliable benchmark for ascertaining gang conflicts as it has been shown to correlate with the national gang homicide rates. In fact, Jensen and Thibodeaux (2013) analyzed the frequency of gang news from the LexisNexis database system and correlated it to the FBI reports on youth gang homicide rates between 1980 and 2010. The researchers found a significant correlation between the newspaper articles and gang violence (r ¼ þ 0.85), suggesting that what is reported in the news media is reflective of the national trend on gang violence. Social context Definition Even though common perception views gangs as groups of individuals who engage in deviant behaviors, researchers, law enforcement, and scholars have not been able to come to a consensus about what defines a gang. Frederic Thrasher (1927) was the first to define gangs as “an interstitial group, originally formed spontaneously, and then integrated through conflict [y] The result of this collective behavior is the development of tradition, unreflective internal structure, esprit de corps, solidarity, morale, group awareness and attachment to a local territory” (p. 57). Yet, this definition is overly simplistic. Furthermore, studies have shown that not all gangs engage in deviant behaviors. This has led other researchers to define gangs as organizational structures with hierarchies of power, chains of command, and tendencies to engage in unlawful behaviors (Oehme, 1997; Sachs, 1997; Sanders, 1994). While gangs do engage in deviant and antisocial behaviors, focussing solely on one particular aspect – that gangs are threats to society – may impede and exacerbate the problem; it may lead to overlooking the issues that have engendered these gangs in the first place. Defining gangs solely according to their criminal activities serves to restrict general perception of gangs. Thus, law enforcement is more likely to justify certain tactics to solve the problem, not realizing that such actions can have the exact opposite and undesired effect by enlarging the conflict as opposed to reducing and lessening it (Oehme, 1997). For the purpose of this research, a gang will be defined as a group composed of three or more individuals forming a subculture of shared values, practices, and worldviews as a response to the larger mainstream society. These shared sets of ideologies enable gang members to cope with their marginalized position and justify particular codes of conduct, which may clash with mainstream hegemonic values. Historical context The first accounts of gang activities in the US were recorded in the early 1800s in New York City’s Five Points District (Sachs, 1997). These gangs were known as the Forty Thieves and they primarily pickpocketed and fought over turf. By the Prohibition Era in the 1920s, gangs had turned to syndicate crimes and engaged in illegal and criminal activities such as extortion, gun sales, liquor sales, and bookmaking. By the 1930s, the US experienced a rise in African-American, Puerto Rican, and Mexican-American gangs; however, it was not until after Second World War that Hispanic gangs emerged on a national scale in major cities such as Chicago, New York, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Initially, Hispanic gangs conflicted with African-American gangs as they contested issues ranging from racial differences and turf disputes to honor. Despite the prevalence of gangs in US history, the present-day notion of street gangs only emerged in the early 1970s. In fact, Hagedorn (1988) distinguishes the pre-1970s from the post-1970s gangs by describing the former as industrial and the latter as postindustrial. This is a notable distinction in that postindustrial gangs have a proclivity to adopt economic function in their repertoire, to use violence to regulate their illicit dealings, to use firearms, to be influenced by prison gangs and to adopt the mainstream ideals of money and success despite their lack of upward mobility (Hagedorn, 1988). Furthermore, the emergence of more powerful weapons enabled gangs to resolve their conflicts by more destructive and violent means (Sachs, 1997). Postindustrial gang members differ from their industrial counterparts in many ways. Whereas pre-1970s gangs were more likely to identify themselves by the neighborhoods surrounding PAGE 82 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014
  6. 6. them, today’s gangs build their sense of identity from the larger mainstream society. This may entail adopting a particular brand-name as a way to “search for respect that is constructed in relation to the dominant culture” (Sachs, 1997, p. 69). For Aldridge (2003), the 1970s period represent the emergence of the postmodern self; the transition to a postmodern self-focusses on the here-and-now mentality, on constructing the fluid self and on desire and wish mentality (pp. 30-1). As a result, individuals may join gangs as a response to social disorganization; as such, gangs provide a sense of order in a disorganized world and allow the marginalized population to reconstruct its sense of identity, self-esteem, honor, and respect (McDonald, 2003). Theories Development of gang cultures and functions Mazrui (1990) maintains that culture provides seven key functions that are paramount to human survival. First, culture provides a frame of reference: the lens of perception that comes to dominate people’s interpretation of reality, experience, personal ideologies, values, and goals. Second, culture provides the motives for human behavior; it enables people to justify a particular action, behavior, belief or norm. Third, culture provides the criteria of evaluation; individuals come to espouse what is moral, beautiful, immoral, and ugly. Fourth, culture forms the basis for identification; individuals associate with the larger group via ethnicity, race, religion, and nationality. Fifth, culture provides the means by which people communicate; individuals are able to express and exchange information through art, music, symbolic gestures, and language. Sixth, culture justifies the basis of social stratification; individuals come to categorize and to label their differences through class, rank, and status. Finally, culture provides the mode of production and consumption; both production and consumption are reciprocal in shaping people’s sense of culture. For the purpose of this analysis, the function of culture has been consolidated into five themes: social economics in shaping lens of perception; motives, production, and consumption; formation of gang identity; criteria for evaluation; and gang and communication. Social economics in shaping lens of perception The socioeconomic upbringing of the gang has major influences in shaping its perception of reality. It is perhaps not surprising to find that a majority of gang members come from an economically underprivileged community where poverty, crime, and social instability are rampant. While gang members come from diverse racial backgrounds, gang enticement is most likely to be prevalent for first and second generation immigrants, because these kids are more likely to be marginalized, feel ostracized from other mainstream kids, experience cultural isolation, feel alienated, and be rejected from the larger community. As such, many of these young immigrants see gang membership as a step up from their current living conditions (FCCSO, 2006; Peralta, 2008). Gang culture entices young adults because it promises protection from real or imaginary threats, a sense of family connection, escape from family problems, wealth, respect, expensive clothing, nice cars, money, and most of all power (Akiyama, 2011; FCCSO, 2006; US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau Intelligence, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, 2006). This is perpetuated by the media and entertainment industry, which glamorize the “gangsta” lifestyle by sensationalizing the thrill and excitement of engaging in law-breaking behaviors (US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau Intelligence, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, 2006). Individuals who join gangs are trapped in a double bind: they are damned if they do and damned if they do not. For instance, unstable environments breed fear and insecurity, leading would-be members to view gangs as the solution to their hostile environment. Yet, once initiated, new recruits must prove their prowess and worth by engaging in violent, law breaking behaviors. They seek gangs to protect themselves from violence, but end up perpetuating the cycles of violence themselves. Even though gangs claim to protect their members from enemies, the members must reciprocate this protection; failure to do so may cost them their lives (Nawojczyk, 1997). VOL. 6 NO. 2 2014 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jPAGE 83
  7. 7. Motives, production, and consumption Contrary to common perception, violent gangs want the same things that mainstream society desires: food, security, a sense of belonging, and material comforts (Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991; Akiyama, 2012; Lachman et al., 2013). However, these comforts are systematically denied to them due to their poverty-stricken environments and the corresponding absence of economic prospects or opportunities for social mobility. As a result, gangs have engaged in pathological behaviors in order to secure a foothold within an otherwise unstable environment (Marcuse, 1997; Becker, 1968; Sanchez-Jankowski, 2003; Crutchfield et al., 1982). For gang members, committing deviant acts such as selling narcotics, laundering money, committing armed robbery, perpetrating identity theft, or engaging in other antisocial behaviors often serve as a means to an end. These acts enable gang members to fulfill the end goal: to be rich, powerful, and protected (National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), 2009; US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau Intelligence, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, 2006). While gangs vary in their level and type of antisocial behaviors, the primary means by which gangs produce income is through selling narcotics. Conflict emerges when rivaling gangs fight over drug turf, debts owed between rivaling gang members, or dealings gone wrong (NGIC, 2009). The money earned from illegal activities is used to perpetuate status-based consumptions that support the gang’s lifestyle and showcase the gang’s success to potential members (Melde et al., 2012; Klein, 1995; Thornberry et al., 2003). Would-be gang members are often enticed by the perceived wealth and glamorous lifestyle the gangs appear to offer. Interestingly, gangs are a profit-generating organization; new recruits are expected to enhance the gang’s prestige throughout the community by generating profits by selling drugs, committing robberies, recruiting new members, or becoming hit men (Klein, 1995; Weisel, 2002). Formation of gang identity Like in many subcultures, gang identity is a source of group solidarity and individual strength for its members. To reinforce gang identity, members often wear similar clothing styles, use common colors to identify their gang, mark their territories with graffiti, use hand signs, or get particular tattoos (Know, 1991). Members also share a group mentality, which provides another sense of unity and shared meaning. Gang members also come to define their gang identity through various philosophical outlooks such as mi vida loca (my crazy life), live for your God, live for your mother, die for your gang; thug life, and smile now, cry later (US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau Intelligence, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, 2006). Challenges to a gang’s standing are similar to the challenges to its group identity. When an individual joins a group, he/she adopts the group’s values and norms as his/her own; transgressions of the group status are a violation of self (Mitchell, 1989). For violent gangs, threats to the gang’s reputation are a challenge to each individual’s sense of self-worth and identity, and the challenge can be costly. When this occurs, the individual may go to any length to protect his gang prestige. In their basic form, gangs provide members with a mode of support, prestige, group identity, and power that may be impossible to attain anywhere else (Melde et al., 2012; FCCSO, 2006; Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Gang Intelligence Center, 2011). Gangs function as a second family because they give the youth love, affection, discipline, stability, and protection that they desperately need (FCCSO, 2006). The sense of unity and family connectedness that comes with gang membership is an effective tool gang leaders use to require their members to do things that may their personal beliefs. Newly recruited members often face this tough dilemma. Criteria for evaluation Gang cultures provide an outlet for individuals to redefine their morals and social values to fit to their antisocial behavior. For instance, the values of violence, revenge, respect, and gang solidarity are used to justify the devaluation of life. Gang members will go out in public and shoot a person in cold blood just to up the body count and earn rank and respect (Luckenbill, 1977). The devaluation of life works both ways: members are willing to both kill and die for their gang. PAGE 84 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014
  8. 8. Veterans, or successful gang members, must learn to suppress their conscience, even if the act entails turning against their biological family, best friend, or significant other (US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau Intelligence, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, 2006; Esbensen and Weerman, 2005; Bandura, 2002). Gang and communication Gangs have sophisticated systems of communication. The most obvious are their clothing styles, graffiti, body jewelry, sign language, tattoos, and gang colors, which provide a basis on which to define their allegiance and group affiliation. Each communication method serves a diverse function and has a distinct symbolic meaning. For instance, tattoos are not only used to show allegiance to a particular gang, but also to display the person’s autobiographic history by marking his acts of violence or body counts (Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 2007). Members use sign language to warn each other, coordinate attacks, show respect, and show disrespect through a process known as stacking (Arciaga et al., 2010). Graffiti also has many functions: it establishes the gang’s claim to a particular turf; challenges another group by visibly crossing the other group’s name, writing their symbols up-side-down, or depicting their figures broken in half; marks alliances between two groups; serves to mourn a fallen member; and notifies other members of meetings for drug sales (ESGJ, 2007; FCCSO, 2006; Florida Gang Investigators Association, 2009). Graffiti depicting gang logos or gang names can be highly symbolic and can encompass the group’s principle. For instance, FOLK Nation’s six-figure star represents understanding, love, life, wisdom, loyalty, and knowledge. The Vice Lords may depict many different symbols: a Top Hat to represent a magician hat; a Cane to symbolize strength; a Dice to represent gambling and hustling; and a Playboy Rabbit to represent quickness of thoughts, movements and speed (Knox, 2002). Worldviews and wordmaking Prussian philologists Wilhelm von Humboldlt first coined the term weltanschauung, which literally translates to view of the world (Underhill, 2009). Worldview refers to “the widest view which the mind can take of things in the effort to grasp them together as a whole from the standpoint of some particular philosophy or theory” (Orr, 2002, p. 3). Underhill (2009) divides worldviews into five distinct categories: world-perceiving, or how people come to recognize language); world-conceiving, or how people create worldviews through talks, writing, and transmitting their thoughts and emotions; cultural mindset, the dominating worldviews of institutions such as politics and religions; personal world, the individual’s sense of reality; and the perspective, or the dynamic shift between the world of conceiving and perceiving. Building upon previous notions of worldviews, Docherty (2001) refers to worldview not as a thing, but rather as a “concept that attempts to articulate the consequences of human activities that are personal as well as collective, psychological as well as social” (p. 50). As such, Docherty divides worldview into five vital components: ontology, logic, axiology, epistemology, and ethic. In other words, worldviews and world making individuals come to determine what is real or true, how reality is structured, what is worthy and essential, how people come to know what they know, and how people enforce codes of conduct. Docherty (2001) also distinguishes between worldviews and wordmaking. She argues that in the former, the actors interpret their surroundings, while in the latter, the actors actively negotiate, court, and challenge each other’s competing sense of reality. With regard to conflict management, the extent to which conflicts end constructively or destructively depends on one’s ability to manage worldview differences. According to Docherty, conflict persists and escalates because parties spend a vast amount of energy, time, and resources to negotiate their realities. Therefore, gang violence persists because parties are actively negotiating – albeit violently – their claims, merits, norms, and beliefs at each other’s (and society’s) expense (Docherty, 2001). Worldviews and worldmaking provide a critical understanding as to how gangs interpret, make sense of, and justify their realities in conflicts with the society at large. For example, gangs and law enforcements approach the gang problem from different and often competing VOL. 6 NO. 2 2014 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jPAGE 85
  9. 9. perspectives. For gang members, the predominant mindset is often an “us against them” mentality. This dog-eat-dog outlook leads members to constantly be on guard and to constantly assess others as potential threats: whether the opponent is a “wolf” (predator) or “pork chop” (victim) (Peralta, 2008). For law enforcements, the dominant mentality is of law and order; their job is to protect and defend the community from fear, instability and threats to order. Thus, any transgression or antisocial acts that intimidate or cause fear in the community are legitimate grounds for intervention (Kessler, 2009; Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Gang Intelligence Center, 2011; US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1997). Not surprisingly, conflict is inevitable between gangs and law enforcements as both sides attempt to justify and negotiate their realities via destructive and violent means, which produces a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consequently, when parties engage in negative, destructive conflicts, they are more likely to waste resources in attempting to change each other’s beliefs and thereby inhibit the search for collaborative problem solving (Pruitt et al., 2004). Methods Study design A thematic analysis was conducted to determine first, the extent to which the various functions of culture, as outlined by Mazrui (1990), conflict with society at large; and second, how gangs, the community, and law enforcers externalize the gang problem. A thematic analysis approach is pertinent for this study because, as Braun and Clarke (2006) argue, thematic analysis enables the researcher to identify, analyze, and report the patterns within the data set. The patterns in this study include Mazrui’s (1990) five key functions of culture: social economic status in shaping lens of perception; motives, production, and consumption; formation of gang identity; criteria for evaluation; gang and communication. By identifying key themes emerging from newspaper articles, one may be better able to identify the frequency and pattern of gang culture in most conflict with society. Thematic analysis is a useful tool for analyzing the frequency of “‘what’ is said, rather than ‘how,’ ‘to whom,’ or ‘for what purpose’” (Riessman, 2008, p. 54). Simply put, the present research is less concerned with why gangs develop cultural components that enable them to adapt within the larger society; instead, it seeks evidence for how gang cultures conflict with the larger society. By identifying the specific cultural components, researchers, practitioners, and law agencies may be better able to craft a culturally related intervention strategy to effectively curtail gang violence. Externalizing the problem is a psychological schema used in mediation and by other conflict resolution practitioners to help the invested parties step outside of the problem, to analyze the problem from a holistic perspective, and to understand how the problem impacts the parties. It is a mental model by which the mediator separates the parties from the conflict in such a way as to change the language and discourse so that “speaking in externalizing way means speaking about the conflict as if it were separate from the two parties in mediation” (Winslade and Monk, 2001, p. 144). William Ury (1993) calls it “going to the balcony” (p. 31), because it allows the people in conflict to distance themselves from the situation, their natural impulses, and their emotions in order to detach from the conflict, the setting, and the dispute and asses the situation from an objective, non-biased point of view. While the researcher of this study is not necessarily asking the gangs, the community, and law enforcement to externalize the gang problem, the researcher is looking for evidence of externalization in newspapers. Recognizing how actors view themselves in relation to the conflict may provide a better understanding of the conflict behaviors, the parties’ perceptions of the conflicts, and their motives for engaging in the behavior. Data collection To determine the impact of gang culture, the researcher randomly sampled news articles from newspapers and journals throughout the US (n ¼ 181) within a one-year period (from February 2012 to February 2013) using the Lexis-Nexus Newsbank database. Articles were limited to PAGE 86 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014
  10. 10. local newspapers (as opposed to news feeds or local news stations), confined to the USA, and consisted of reports rather than opinions or op-eds. In cases where multiple newspapers reported the same the event, the researcher selected the article with the highest word count. Data were then coded using the NVivo 10, which is a data-managing tool that allows researchers to code, analyze, and asses qualitative data. Results The 181 newspaper samples examined in this study originated from both large urban cities (e.g. Houston, Texas; New York City, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Seattle, Washington) to smaller urban communities (Hartford, Connecticut; Boynton Beach, Florida; Ruidoso, New Mexico). Over 242 codes were generated from the sample, with a few incidents being coded multiple times. Coding was based on one simple premise, “What motivated the conflict?” For example, an incident involving the kidnapping of a rival gang member that resulted in torture, beatings, multiple stabbings, and execution style murder would be coded as both criteria for evaluation/values and group formation/gang identity. This is the case because the kidnapping might be a response to a turf wars (and hence the kidnapping served to solidify the group identity) while the beating, stabbing, and execution may be a way for gangs to establish respect (and perpetuate their status as someone to fear and respected). Finally, the coding is also based on the context of the news article rather than the interpretation of the researcher. Three main themes developed from the thematic analysis: gang identity as the basis for violence (which accounted 34 percent of the coding); individual’s criteria for evaluation (which accounted for 32 percent of the coding); and motives for behaviors, consumptions, and productions (which accounted for 24 percent of the coding) (see Figure 1). Interestingly, direct violence (e.g. shootings and killings) was related to issues of identity, criteria for identity, and group formation either between or within gangs; while indirect violence (e.g. drug trafficking, possession of drugs) was related to motives for behaviors, consumptions, and production. Rarely did gangs target the community directly when the conflicts were over values, identities, or group formation, though society became indirectly affected by the shootings, murders, and destruction of property. With regard to worldview and worldmaking, gang members Figure 1 Thematic analysis of gang violence Violence Manliness Revenge Depreciation of life Drug trafficking Prostitution Exploitation of female body Rivalry/Turf Wars Revenge Initiation/Gain Status Snitching Group Formation, Gang identity 34% Criteria for Evaluation/Values 32% Motives for Behaviours, Production, & Consumption 24% Notes: Criteria for evaluation/values, group formation, gang identity, and motives for behaviors (consumption and production) constituted major themes for gang violence. Within the three dominant themes are sub themes. For example, in criteria for evaluation, the sub themes include violence, manliness, revenge, and depreciation VOL. 6 NO. 2 2014 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jPAGE 87
  11. 11. were more likely to adopt a rigid interpretation of the gang problem; community members and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were more likely to be responsive; and local agencies exhibited a mix of reactive and responsive characteristics, with a preponderant tendency toward reactiveness. Function of culture Theme 1: formation of gang identity. The formation of gang identity accounted for 34 percent of the total code involving direct conflicts with society, which was actualized in the form of shootings, murders, and violence. Group violence can be divided into four subthemes, which included violence associated with rivalry/turf, revenge/retaliation, rights of initiation/gaining status, and violence toward a gang member for snitching. Rivalry/turf. Inter-gang violence was a common theme in the data. Gang members engaged in violence in order to protect, control, and define their territory. Gangs will instigate violence toward a rival gang for the sake of maintaining their jurisdiction and control. This was typified by the following newspaper clip, which described an incident in which two innocent civilians were targeted and shot eight times because one of the victims was wearing a red cap, the symbol belonging to a rival gang: Why, oh why did the defendant kill Marco? Because Marco was wearing this hat, “Deputy District Attorney Tim Wellman said during opening statements of the trial as he displayed the hat to the jury.” That is all it took for the defendant to blast shot after shot after shot (Rosynsky, 2012). Retaliation/revenge. Retaliation and revenge are strong motivators for gang violence, and have been the source of violence escalation. Retaliation can easily occur over issues of gang prowess or to avenge the death of a fellow gang member. This is exemplified in the following news article, which describes an accidental meeting between two rival gang members that resulted in retaliation and a brutal stabbing: Police said the victims, all gang members, were gunned down by four rivals who drove up behind them on Eighth Lane and let loose more than a dozen shots [y] Gang members or associates agreed to commit a minimum number of violent acts and plotted killings or regular attacks on rivals. Prosecutors say the group opened fire on four people in Daly City four days before the Eighth Lane killing (Melvin, 2012). Initiation/gain status. While most gang violence targets fellow or rivaling gang members, violence can also be initiated toward innocent bystanders for the sake of gaining a member or elevating an existing member’s status within the gang. This is typified by the following description of a conflict in which gang members knowingly killed an innocent civilian on the basis of gang status and membership: A member of the MS-13 street gang admitted in court yesterday that he killed a bouncer in a Hempstead bar to gain the respect of other gang members and not because he had any sort of personal beef with the victim. [y] Vidal Espinal, 24, said that he fatally shot security guard David Nestor Moreno in the head in March 2010 “in order to maintain and increase my position in the MS-13 and afterward I was given more respect from other MS-13 members because I ‘put in work’ for the gang” (Kessler, 2013, p. A24). In another incidents, gang members commit violence or murder in front of other gang members in order to test the loyalty. The following excerpts demonstrate a typical gang related violence required as loyalty to the gang: They had taken the victim to a party earlier and were drinking with him. They were to kill him and test the loyalty of another MS-13 member [y] “The party was a ruse, the drinking was a ruse, and the plan to go commit a burglary was a ruse,” said Creighton. [y] When they arrived at Terminal Avenue, Molina remained in the car as the two other gang members stepped outside with the victim and began assaulting the man, who was stabbed 14 or 15 times before he was able to escape (Green, 2012). Snitching. The act – or, in some cases, the perception – of turning against fellow gang members can be the basis for unimaginable acts of violence against fellow gang members, as PAGE 88 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014
  12. 12. demonstrated from the excerpts below, which describe how gang members punish those whom they suspect of snitching: The charges are a laundry list of brutality: burning a tattoo off an ousted member’s body; hacking the finger off the corpse of another ousted member – who’d been blasted repeatedly with a shotgun – as a trophy; ordering that an informant’s death be “as messy as possible” (Schiller, 2012b, p. A1). Theme 2: criteria for evaluation. The criteria for evaluation and values account for 32 percent of the thematic coding and, much like the previous theme, motivates other forms of violence such as shootings, murders, and violence. Criteria for evaluation could be further divided into subcategories including violence as a currency for respect, mark of manliness, revenge, and the depreciation of life. The coding of the data were based upon the origin or root cause of the violence. In this case, the violence was motivated to preserve, bolster, or protect the identity of the self when confronted with conflicts with others. Violence as a currency for respect. Violence in the forms of beatings, stabbings, and shootings are not acts of random pathological symptoms, but rather an exchange of prowess individuals and gangs display to command respect from rival gangs, the community, and one another. Gang members are often encouraged and forced to display their violence by abusing or killing even their own friends, as illustrated in the following clip: One general near Lufkin had a gangster blast his own best friend in the head with a shotgun or he’d be killed for not obeying. Another in Dallas had a gang tattoo burned off a guy’s torso with a blowtorch (Schiller, 2012a, p. A1). The following excerpt describes a gang member who killed his gang leader because he was disrespected: After Cochran responded, Wright added, “I’ll burn him. I’ll creep up there and net him [y] I will control his destiny, fool – trust me.” Four days later, Jackson was shot four times on First Street in West Hill. Later that day, Cochran told a woman over the phone, “Yeah you know that [y] Busy just got touched right?” (Gavin, 2012, p. A1). The following excerpt illustrates that even when a gang member decides to the leave the violent environment, he still has to prove his violent nature in order to get out of it: Shortly before the murder, fellow MS-13 gang member Miguel “Blacky” Guevara had announced he wanted out of MS-13 because it was too violent, a close friend of his had just been killed and he was getting married, Jones said. But before Guevara could “calm down” – or leave the gang – it was decreed that he had to earn it by killing a rival gang member (Rankin, 2012, p. 1B). Mark of manliness. Gang members have a strong desire to protect their sense of manliness, and when this is challenged, they are not afraid to use violence, even when it is against a fellow gang member, as shown in the following excerpt: Seven men who grew up together gathered in an alley near a notorious Camden drug corner. The month before, at least two of them had celebrated a birthday with a barbecue and champagne. But this day, a squabble over drug turf erupted into an argument. The men came from at least three sets of the Bloods street gang. They were packing guns Eventually – perhaps inevitably – bullets flew near Sixth and Royden Streets in the Lanning Square neighborhood (Simon, 2012, p. B01). Revenge. Revenge also plays a large part in contributing to the culture of violence, though there is a distinction between revenge that is associated with the formation of gang identity and revenge associated with criteria for evaluation. In the former, revenge is motivated by a desire to protect the group identity; in the latter it is used to gain status, protect the self, or to save face. Similar to the mark of manliness, gang members will not hesitate to respond with violence, even toward their own. This is depicted in the following excerpt: “We’ve had four homicides since Saturday,” Suhr said. “This is not a rival gang situation. These guys used to be friends. Everybody knows everybody.” Suhr said it was too early to tell what motivated Sandoval’s killer, but he said most of the recent slayings have involved gang members shooting members of their own factions. He did not say what caused the groups to fight among themselves. Gang experts have stressed that even small slights can trigger a revenge cycle both inside and between gangs (Nevius, 2012, p. C1). VOL. 6 NO. 2 2014 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jPAGE 89
  13. 13. Depreciation of life. The devaluation of life is not the intention for gang membership, but it quickly becomes a means to an end as gang members actively try to reconstruct their identity as gangsters. As a result, social morals such as honoring one’s family or valuing life are suppressed, enabling gangsters to kill for the sake of killing. The following excerpt exemplifies how one teenage gang member did not hesitate to shoot a grandmother in the face when she tried to stop his fellow gangster from spray-painting her garage: A judge sentenced a Pico Rivera gang member Wednesday to 50 years to life in prison for fatally shooting a grandmother in the head when she tried to stop his companion from tagging a wall four years ago (Gonzales, 2012). In another incident, a gang member shot a group of bystanders for retaliation, even though none of the people were the intended victim: Amarion was standing outside a house with family members in the 2000 block of West 14th Street on June 13, 2010, when several people in a car approached. Someone in the vehicle opened fire on the crowd, striking the child and four other people. Police have said the shooting was a retaliation for an earlier confrontation between rival gangs, but none of the victims were the intended targets (Pinion-Whitt, 2012). Theme 3: motives for behaviors, production, and consumption. Motives for behaviors, production, and consumption constituted 24 percent of the thematic analysis. Within this theme, violence and conflict were associated with consumption and production – in other words, how gangs support their way of life. The researcher identified three main subthemes within this theme: drug trafficking, prostitution, and exploitation of the female body. Similar to other themes, violence is not just committed for violence’s sake; it is related to economic factors. Drug trafficking. Drug trafficking represents a substantial component of illegal gang activities, which can be a source of conflict with rivaling gangs and also with the community at large. Gang members often join gangs because of economic hardship but end up perpetuating illegal activities such as the selling of drugs. The following excerpt shows this relationship: August to October with members of 11 law enforcement agencies, also resulted in the recovery of 29 firearms, $20,000 in cash, and $22,300 in cocaine, marijuana and PCP, authorities said (Marshall, 2012, p. A1). Here is another example of the relationship between crimes and drugs dealing: “We only had a month to do the project, but there are certainly gangs in Niagara Falls. There’s a huge crack cocaine market in the city, which creates a competitive underground economy. There are gangs, and a lot of them are dealing drugs,” Lauger said (Fischer, 2012, p. NC6). Prostitution. Gangs have increasingly taken advantage of their fellow female gang members or non-gang members to profit from their bodies. This is best exemplified when a young 17-year old girl refused to serve as a prostitute in the presence of a gang leader. The gang leader responded with brute force as a way of showering his ownership of her and challenging anyone who crossed his path: The affidavit also said Mr Strom threatened a 17-year-old girl with a knife, cutting her on the arm when she refused to use cocaine, and forced her to have sex with him. It said she was then taken to an apartment where she was forced to have intercourse with “fourteen unknown males,” from whom Mr Strom collected $1,000. Two other UGC members drove to her home, telling her she “got what she had coming” and, according to the affidavit, if she spoke of the events that they would “come back and kill her” (Seper, 2012, p. A01). Exploitation of the female body. While men primarily dominate the gang membership, there has been an increased in women membership as well. Unfortunately, the gang system is highly patriarchal and thus more likely to exploit the female body. This is exemplified from the following excerpts about girl’s experience in gangs: There is no good life for women in gangs, both women said. Women are abused as drug mules, fall gals and sex objects. “They are also disposable,” Perez said. If a woman refuses an order, “they will take you out” (Noguchi, 2013). PAGE 90 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014
  14. 14. In another excerpt, gangs recruit young girls and force them into prostitution and force the girls into working for the gang: The Crips, one of the largest and most violent street gangs in the United States, spread its network of crime into high schools in Virginia, where gang leaders recruited girls as prostitutes with promises of “lots of money” and then maintained their allegiance through beatings, threats, assaults and an endless supply of drugs (Seper, 2012, p. A01). Worldview and worldmaking Gang worldview: what I had to do. Thematic analysis was conducted to determine the extent to which gangs frame their experience from the context of the gang problem. The results indicate that gangs are more likely to adopt a rigid interpretation. In other words, gang members often frame their experience from a reactionary and/or conditional responsive, with a common theme of “this is what I had to do.” Gang members tend to describe their worldviews as inflexible, rigid, and based on a win-lose perspective, in the sense that they are the product of the environment and must respond to the environment, albeit, in a violent manner. There is a sense of helplessness regarding both joining and perpetuating gang life. This theme is typified in the following excerpt from a former female gang member, who describes the reason for her initial membership into the gang life: “I used to just run away from the house, from my dad and all that. I was just trying to get away from things,” said Iris. “So I was doing negative things. Like I was trying to change, but I couldn’t” (Pinkerson, 2012, p. B1). In the following excerpt, another former gang member speaks of death, body count, and bullets as a way of life. He states that a gangster must earn his respect via bullet counts, suggesting that the only way to survive in the gang world is to follow its rules: “Everything is about death, not life,” Marshall said. “Those T-shirts with the guy’s name on it just feeds into it. It used to be you were celebrated for how many guys you put down. Now it is how many bullet holes you’ve got” (Nevius, 2012, p. C1). Gang members often feel trapped in the system, even within their own gang family, as shown in the following excerpts in which Perez, a female gang member, recounts how she must accept consequences and orders – such as being raped by her male counterparts – as a way of life: “It happens all the time, and it’s not talked about. It’s part of the territory, part of the lifestyle,” Perez said, “You can’t say no to someone who has a lot of power” (Noguchi, 2013). Community worldview: what we needed to do. Unlike gangs, the community – including local neighborhoods, non-governmental agencies, and religious institutions – is more likely to approach the gang problem from a holistic perspective. Unlike the gang members’ response of “this is what I had to do,” the community is more likely to approach the problem with the mindset of “what do we need to do?” In response to the gang problem, the community is more likely to emphasize the need for education about the problem, host a rally, or provide incentives to steer kids away from gang life, as shown in the following excerpt: In response to recent increased gang violence in Pasadena, community and religious leaders plan to host a rally promoting peace Sunday (Day, 2012b). The next excerpt also illustrates the community’s response to the gang problem: The founders of a nonprofit teen training center realized their dreams Wednesday alongside five students who accepted athletic college scholarships. The nonprofit foundation – dedicated to giving young people positive alternatives to drugs, gangs and violence – was founded in the wake of the Nov. 10, 2007 (Day, 2012a). The following example is a unique case in which the community interferes with the gang violence directly by appealing to the gang member to understand the consequences of gang violence on their family, friends, and community: Violence interrupters are outreach workers who will work with gang members, their leaders, friends and families to stop the back-and-forth violence that often erupts after a shooting or other crisis, Haag said at Salinas City Hall (Reynolds, 2012a, p. A1). VOL. 6 NO. 2 2014 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jPAGE 91
  15. 15. Law enforcement worldview: what we did. Law enforcement, for the most part, straddles between the reactive and responsive perspective, with the majority of law enforcement personnel holding the former and a selective few the latter. For the most part, law enforcement approaches the gang problem from a “this is what we had to do” perspective, as seen in the following excerpt describing a chief of police’s public threat to gangs following a major sting operation: “For the bad guys that might be listening, don’t think we’re not going to do something,” he said, looking into TV cameras. “This is just a start” (Bowsher, 2012, p. 1B). In the following description of another traditional operation, a police offer speaks of unleashing unrelenting pressure on gangs each time they violate the law: Bynum told Jordan that he wanted “these guys in the gangs to feel constant, crushing, unrelenting pressure.” Jordan assured him that the pressure is indeed unrelenting. “I think if you ask the gang members, they will tell you they are getting that,” Jordan said. “They know every one of his (Larkin’s) officers by first name; they know every one of their cars; they know when they’re in the area” (Canfield, 2012, p. A1). Some law enforcement personnel employ both the responsive and reactive approach toward mitigating gang violence, as depicted in the following description of a local police agency that decided to educate the community about the gang problem plaguing its community: “Seaside police held a meeting Wednesday to teach residents more about that city’s estimated 250 gang members” (Reynolds, 2012b, p. A1). Conclusion Mazrui’s (1990) functions of culture and Docherty’s (2001) concepts of worldviews and worldmaking provided the basis for analyzing gang violence from a culture and conflict perspective. Results indicated that the formation of gang identity and the criteria of evaluation constituted 66 percent of the violent conflicts. It was interesting to note that those directly engaged in the conflicts (law enforcements and gang members) were more likely to prescribe to a rigid, inflexible interpretation of the problem while those indirectly affected (such as the community, NGO, and religious institutions) were more likely to adopt a holistic and flexible perspective. Examining gang behavior through a cultural lens allows for a better understanding of how gangs actively shape and change their environment. From the outsider’s perspective, these behaviors appear antisocial and deviant, but gangs view it differently; for them, these behaviors provide a sense of meaning, honor, connectedness, and power. Through social interactions with other gang members and conflicts with law officials, gangs create a new understanding of their realities, truths, and perspectives on life. As a result, gangs pervert the mainstream culture’s moral values and codes of ethics and are able to carry out antisocial behaviors that they might not otherwise do as a non-gang member. One must consider some limitations to this study. While culture may indeed shape the degree of violence, examining culture by itself is not sufficient enough to explain the gang problem as a totality. It may be the case that the pathological conditions produce and perpetuate gang violence. As suggested by past research, gangs come from an economically improvised community, have low social mobilization, are ostracized by their peers, and feels trap by the environment. Second, gang members may not perceive themselves as members of the disenfranchised group or subgroup and labeling the gangs as members of a subculture group may be inaccurate. Finally, gangs may not all share the same cultural values of violence, revenge, and group formation. Thus, the culturally oriented intervention programs cannot be a one-size-fits-all model but need to be adaptive and flexible to the specific gangs and circumstances. The purpose of this paper is to examine the formation of gang culture as it pertains to the dominant culture. At first, it would appear that gang violence poses a danger to society and threatens social stability with its illicit activities and law breaking behaviors. In many cases, it would seem easier to resolve the problem with stiffer penalties and increased police crackdowns. However, dissecting each layer and going deeper into the source of the problem reveals that the gangs themselves are not the problem; rather, it is the larger social context – in particular, the poor social and economic conditions, poverty, and the conflict cultural realities. PAGE 92 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014
  16. 16. Gangs have adapted to the violent condition and produced a culture of violence in the process. Therefore, claiming that the problem is specifically gang-related ignores the larger social conditions that influence, perpetuate, and exacerbate the issue of gang violence. Accordingly, the objective of the present study was to look beyond the problem and analyze the situation from a new vantage point. Treating the gang problem ultimately requires society to step out of the traditional understanding of law and order, right and wrong, justice and lawlessness; instead, those in the position of power and have the ability to change the gang problem should look at the issue through a humanized perspective and acknowledge that all members of society contribute to the problem. As Klein (2011), Melde and Esbensen (2013), and Klein and Maxson (2006) have suggested, intervention strategies may only temporarily fix the problem, and violence and delinquent behaviors may still persist even after intervention. Governmental intervention may not be enough in deterring gang membership and subsequent violence. The traditional approach toward gang research and intervention is not working. Therefore, an alternative model toward assessing and preventing gang conflict is needed. The aim of the research is to provide an alternative perspective toward gang violence by analyzing the functions of culture in shaping the seemingly senseless acts of violence. References Akiyama, C. (2011), “Youth gangs and hate crimes”, in Lynch, V.A. and Duval, J.B.(Eds), Forensic Nursing Science, Elsevier, New York, NY, pp. 426-39. Akiyama, C. (2012), “Understanding youth street gangs”, Journal of Emergency Nursing, Vol. 38 No. 6, pp. 568-70. Aldridge, A. (2003), Consumption, Polity Press, Cambridge, MA. Augsburger, D. (1992), Conflict Mediation Across Cultures, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY. Avruch, K. (1998), Culture & Conflict Resolution, United States Institute of Peace Press, Washington, DC. Bowsher, K. (2012), “65 arrested in ‘Operation Wild West;’ guns and drugs seized”, The Sun Sentinel, July 27, p. 1B. Bradshaw, C.P., Waasdorp, T.E., Goldweber, A. and Johnson, S.L. (2013), “Bullies, gangs, drugs, and school: understanding the overlap and the role of ethnicity and urban city”, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 220-34. Brantingham, P.J., Tita, G.E., Short, M.B. and Reid, S.E. (2012), “The ecology of gang territorial boundaries”, Criminology, Vol. 50 No. 3, pp. 851-85. Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006), “Using thematic analysis in psychology”, Qualitative Research in Psychology, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 77-101. Canfield, K. (2012), “Police chief reports progress on gangs”, Tulsa World, July 20, p. A1. The implications for this study are as followed ’ Gang violence is as much about issues of identities, values, and cultural differences as it is about the pathological environment affecting youth delinquency, as previous studies have suggested. ’ By identifying the various cultural components that are in conflict with the larger society, one may be better able to draft an effective intervention program that emphasis culture and conflict rather than crime and punishment. ’ Gang members and law enforcement personals surprising share the same perspective on the gang problem, which suggests that part of the solution is to change their perspective on the conflict. ’ Results of this study could be used to assess the success of previous or current gang intervention programs. ’ Future intervention policies need to address the worldviews of both gangs and law enforcements in order for the actors to “buy” into the intervention. VOL. 6 NO. 2 2014 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jPAGE 93
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  21. 21. US Office of the Surgeon General (2001), “Youth violence: a report by the surgeon general”, available at: (accessed 7 August 2012). Wilmot, W. and Hocker, J. (2007), Interpersonal Conflict, Mc-Graw-Hill, Madison, WI. Corresponding author Kacey Shap can be contacted at: To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: Or visit our web site for further details: PAGE 98 jJOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH jVOL. 6 NO. 2 2014