Gangs have been a part of popular culture ever since the dawn of time. However, lately gangsters turned from outcasts to role models. Thanks to the modern portrayal of gangs as groups of cool, rebellious youths defying authority, teens fantasized and idolized becoming on the margins of society. Parents, scholars and religious people wonder: Why do people join gangs? In this article, you will learn the different social, cultural and economic forces behind people becoming gangsters and identifying themselves as gang members.
Lack of satisfying jobs for youths, combined with poverty and social isolation, are all factors that precipitate to young people joining gangs. Not only would gangs provide youths with secure employment and hefty payment, but also with a way to kill time. The danger behind unemployment is not just the lack of money and social security. Increase in the number of unemployed men and women raises suicide rates, facilitates substance abuse and addiction as well as worsens cases of pre-existing mental illnesses.
2) Gangs Provide a Sense of Fellowship and Brotherhood
Gangs demand loyalty from their members, sometimes by force and sometimes through love. Members of the same gang call each other “brother” or “sister”. They provide each other with unconditional support on the basis of solidarity and companionship. One of the main attractive factors of gangs is their sense of familial closeness.
Teens who lack support at home, who suffer from low parental attachment, who have unstable home environments, who come from distressed families or lack a father figure, are the first to join gangs. It’s not just poverty-related issues. Many teens who join gangs come from suburban areas and wealthy families.
3) Looking for Basic Human Needs (Survival Mechanism)
Gangs are mainly comprised of youths coming from heavily impoverished neighborhoods. Gangs promise them food and money, sometimes in unimaginable amounts. Gangs don’t have a regular moral code. They supply themselves with money by accepting offers of terrorizing other people, auto theft or vandalism of personal property. Gangsters participate in larceny, mayhem, battery, street wars and even murder.
Involvement in various criminal activities generates “easy money”. Newbie “gang” members discover they can provide for themselves without worrying about shortage of income as long as they remain part of the gang.
4) Desire for Protection and Safety
Tough neighborhoods that suffer from a high level of criminal activity often see teens and youths joining gangs to gain protection. Young people who also grow up in neighborhoods where drugs are readily available are more likely to join gangs, sometimes before they even reach puberty. It’s either gaining a sense of power and support from the gang or being left out in the open, vulnerable and unprotected.
Teens and kids are in a constant pressure to fit in and belong to a certain clan, whether in school or in the hierarchical social life of their youth community. This is called “peer pressure“. Gangs recruit new members through stimulating teens’ sense of belonging. Lack of parental supervision and support could lead the teen joining the gang, sometimes even unwillingly. Peer pressure comes in many forms:
- Friendly persuasion.
- Threatening and coercion.
6) Identity and Self-expression
When “Rebel Without a Cause” hit movie theatres worldwide in 1955, instead of asking, “Why do people join gangs?” people wondered, “Why not?”
Gangs offered a whole new perspective for troubled teenagers worldwide. Popular culture played a great role in glamorizing the gangster lifestyle and depicting it as an endless parade of booze, sex, freedom and rebellion. Teens sometimes join gangs to make a statement and prove to the world they are more than they are thought of.
Gangs also enlist many members from marginalized groups in the society. By joining gangs they gain a sense of freedom and self-expression that they have never experienced before.
Some movies in the recent era have depicted the other, dark side of the gangster lifestyle. Those include “Boyz’n the Hood” (John Singleton, 1991), “Menace II Society” (Allen and Albert Hughes, 1993), “My Crazy Life” (Allison Anders, 1994) and “City of God” (Fernando Meirelles, 2002). Some of these movies used actual gang members to play their parts, reflecting the true, brazen side of being born into this kind of lifestyle and how to survive it.
7) Seeking Prestige and Social Status
Gangsters have got it all. According to most of gangsta-rap songs, the gangster lifestyle is to die for. Hip hop stars like 50 Cent, Ice T, Snoop Dogg and N.W.A glamorize violence, drug use, and the abuse of women. In their songs, gangs drive the coolest cars, hang out in the most prestigious bars and date the hottest women. Teens and kids look up to these stars and strive to imitate them.
These are only few of the reasons that answer the question, “Why do people join gangs?” Long-term research into the issue has proved that overcoming the glamorization of gang culture starts from the family and extends to schools and other similar communities.
Learn more about how to protect your kid from joining a gang: Here