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Criminal Gangs
Founded 1800s
Years active 1850-present
Territory Worldwide
Membership 800,000 in the United States [1] (estimated)
Criminal activities Drug smuggling and sales, arms trafficking, auto theft, robbery, human trafficking, assault, extortion, illegal immigration, kidnapping, murder, money laundering,pandering

A gang is a group of three or more people who, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity. In current usage it typically denotes a criminal organization or else a criminal affiliation. In early usage, the word gang referred to a group of workmen. In the United Kingdom the word is still often used in this sense, but it later underwent pejoration. The word gang often carries a negative connotation; however, within a gang which defines itself in opposition to mainstream norms, members may adopt the phrase as a statement of identity or defiance. Reports of gang-related homicides are concentrated mostly in the largest cities in the United States, where there are long-standing and persistent gang problems and a greater number of documented gang members—most of whom are identified by law enforcement. [2]

The United Nations estimates that gangs make most of their money through the drugs trade, they are thought to be worth £352bn in total.[3] The United States Department of Justice estimates there are approximately 30,000 gangs, with 800,000 members, impacting 2,500 communities across the United States.[4]

The word "gang" derives from the past participle of Old English gan "to go". It is cognate with Old Norse gangr "a group of men", and it is in this sense that the word is used today, rather than the older meaning.[5]



The term gangster (or mobster) refers to a criminal who is a member of a crime organization, such as a gang. The terms are widely used in reference to members of gangs associated with American prohibition and the American offshoot of the Mafia, such as the Chicago Outfit or the Five Families.


Bonnie and Clyde were notorious bank robbers who, with their gang, traveled the Central United States during the Great Depression.

A wide variety of historic gangs, such as the The Order of Assassins, Adam the Leper's gang, Indian Thugs, Chinese Triads, Snakehead, Japanese Yakuza, Irish mafia, American Old West outlaw gangs, Russian mafia and Italian Mafia crime families have existed for centuries. For example during the 1200s the members belonging to Sardinian Camorra, best known as Gamurra, consisting of mercenaries, before going to Naples worked in Cagliari town as private policemen and bodyguards.

Many poor children and orphans in London survived by joining pick pocketing gangs controlled by adult criminals. At the beginning of the 19th century, child criminals in Britain were punished in the same way as adults. They were sent to adult prisons, transported to the various Australian penal colonies, whipped or even sentenced to death for petty theft.[6][7][8]

In 1850 (around the same time Los Angeles was incorporated), New York City recorded more than 200 gang wars fought largely by youth gangs.[9] All the major cities of Victorian England in the late 19th century had gangs.[10][11] Chicago had over 1,000 gangs in the 1920s.[12] These early gangs were known for many criminal activities, but in most countries could not profit from drug trafficking prior to drugs being made illegal by laws such as the 1912 International Opium Convention and the 1919 Volstead Act. Gang involvement in drug trafficking increased during the 1970s and 1980s, but some gangs continue to have minimal involvement in the trade.[13]


Spelling out the word Blood.

Gangs often establish distinctive, characteristic identifiers including graffiti tags[14] colors, hand-signals, clothing, jewelry, hair styles, fingernails, slogans[15], signs such as the swastika, the noose, the cross, five-pointed and six-pointed stars, crowns and tridents [16], flags[17] for example the Confederate flag, secret greetings, slurs, or code words and other group-specific symbols associated with the gang's common beliefs, rituals, and mythologies to define and differentiate themselves from rival groups and gangs.[18] As an alternative language, hand-signals, symbols, and slurs in speech, graffiti, print, music, or other mediums communicate specific informational cues used to threaten, disparage, taunt, harass, intimidate, alarm, influence[19], or exact specific responses including obedience, submission, fear, or terror. One study focused on terrorism and symbols states: "… Symbolism is important because it plays a part in impelling the terrorist to act and then in defining the targets of their actions."[20] Displaying a gang sign, such as the noose, as a symbolic act can be construed as "… a threat to commit violence communicated with the intent to terrorize another, to cause evacuation of a building, or to cause serious public inconvenience, in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience…an offense against property or involving danger to another person that may include but is not limited to recklessly endangering another person, harassment, stalking, ethnic intimidation, and criminal mischief."[21]


Mara Salvatrucha suspect bearing gang tattoos is handcuffed. In 2004, the FBI created the MS-13 National Gang Task Force to combat gang activity in the United States. A year later, the FBI helped create National Gang Intelligence Center.

Los Angeles is the Gang capital of America with an estimated 120,000 gang members.[22] There were at least 30,000 gangs and 800,000 gang members active across the USA in 2007.[23][24] About 900,000 gang members lived "within local communities across the country," and about 147,000 were in U.S. prisons or jails in 2009.[25] By 1999, Hispanics accounted for 47% of all gang members, Blacks 31%, Whites 13%, and Asians 6%.[26]

There are between 25,000 and 50,000 gang members in Central America’s El Salvador.[27] The Mexican drug cartels have as many as 100,000 foot soldiers.[28] The Yakuza are among one the largest organized crime organizations in the world. In Japan, as of 2005, there are some 86,300 known members.[29] Hong Kong's Triads include up to 160,000 members in the 21 century.[30] It was estimated that in the 1950s, there were 300,000 Triad members in Hong Kong.[31] The Chinese government claims that police have eliminated 1,221 triad-style gangs across China since a crackdown was launched in 2006. More than 87,300 suspects have been arrested.[32] The FBI estimates the size of the four Italian organized crime groups to be approximately 25,000 members and 250,000 affiliates worldwide.[33]


Gang violence refers to mostly those illegal and non-political acts of violence perpetrated by gangs against innocent people, property, or other gangs.[34] Throughout history, such acts have been committed by gangs at all levels of organization.[35] Nearly every major city was ravaged by gang violence at some point in its history.[36] Modern gangs introduced new acts of violence, which may also function as a rite of passage for new gang members.[37]


Most gang members have identifying characteristics unique to their specific clique or gang.[38] The Bloods, for instance, wear red bandanas and the Crips blue, allowing the two sides to "represent" their affiliation. Any disrespect of a gang member's color by an unaffiliated individual is grounds for violent retaliation, often by multiple members of the offended gang. Tattoos are also common identifiers,[39] such as an '18' above the eyebrow to identify an 18th Street (gang) member. Tattoos help a gang member gain respect within their group, and mark them as members for life. They can be burned on as well as inked. Some gangs make use of more than one identifier, like the Sureños, who wear blue bandanas and have '13,' 'Xlll,' 'x3,' and 'southside' tattoos,[40] and the Norteños, who wear red bandanas and have tattoos such as '14,' 'xiv,' 'x4,' and 'northside.'


Many types of gangs make up the general structure of an organized group.[41] There are street gangs, which are people with similar backgrounds and motivations.[42] These usually involve criminal activity. Prison gangs are groups in a prison or correctional institution [43] for mutual protection and advancement.

Typical activities

Gangs are involved in all areas of street-crime activities like extortion, drug trafficking[44], and murder, both in and outside the prison system, victimize businesses through extortion or theft activities like hijacking and theft. Gangs also victimize individuals by car theft, robbery, burglary, Kidnapping.[45]

Street gangs' take over territory or "turf" in a particular city and are often involved in "providing protection", often a thin cover for extortion, as the "protection" is usually from the gang itself, or in other criminal activity. Most members retain their gang affiliations when sent to prison (see prison gang). Many gangs use fronts to demonstrate influence and gain revenue in a particular area.[46]

In the United States in 2006, there were approximately 785,000 active street gang members, according to the National Youth Gang Center.[47]

Notable examples

A Mara Salvatrucha gang member with a tattoo showing his gang membership

Perhaps the best known criminal gangs are the Italian Cosa Nostra, most commonly known as the Mafia.[48] The Neopolitan Camorra, the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, Abruzzian Rancitelli (mafia), the Sardinian kidnappers or Anonima Sarda and the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita are similar Italian organized gangs. Other criminal gangs include the Russian Mafia, the Serbian mafia, the Malaysian Mafia Castello, the Israeli Mafia, the Albanian Mafia, Mexican[49] and Colombian Drug Cartels, the Indian Mafia, the Chinese Triads, Irish Mob, the Corsican Mafia, the Japanese Yakuza, the Jamaican-British Yardies, the Turkish Mafia and other crime syndicates.[50] On a lower level in the criminal gang food chain are many street gangs, such as the Sureños, Norteños, Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings, 18th Street, Mara Salvatrucha, Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples.Criminal gangs may function both inside and outside of prison, such as the Mexican Mafia, Folk Nation, and the Brazilian[49] PCC. Aryan Brotherhood and Biker gangs such as the Hells Angels are also involved in organized crime.


The main entrance to the Utah State Prison.

Many prison gangs require members to have gang tattoos to recognize other member of the organization.[51] Most prison gangs follow the policy of "blood in - blood out." It generally means that to get into a prison gang, one has to spill someone else's blood. Most often this requires a murder.

It should be noted that prison gangs often have several "affiliates" or "chapters" in different state prison systems that branch out due to the movement or transfer of their members. [52]

Most prison facilities have policies prohibiting the formation of gangs. However, many prison gangs continue to operate with impunity. Many members are serving life imprisonment (a few are on death row) for various crimes, thus they have no incentive to leave a gang or to integrate with the general prison population.


Gang members in uniform use their military knowledge, skills and weapons to commit and facilitate various crimes.

The FBI’s 2007 report on gang membership in the military states that the military's recruit screening process is ineffective, allows gang members/extremists to enter the military, and lists at least eight instances in the last three years in which gang members have obtained military weapons for their illegal enterprises.[53] "Gang Activity in the U.S. Armed Forces Increasing", dated January 12, 2007, states that street gangs including the Bloods, Crips, Black Disciples, Gangster Disciples, Hells Angels, Latin Kings, The 18th Street Gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Mexican Mafia, Nortenos, Surenos, and Vice Lords have been documented on military installations both domestic and international although recruiting gang members violates military regulations.[54]

A January 2007 article in the Chicago Sun-Times reports that gang members in the military are involved in the theft and sale of military weapons, ammunition, and equipment, including body armor. According to a conversation recorded by an undercover FBI agent, one U.S. soldier may have stolen military body armor with intentions to supply Chicago gangs with the stolen equipment.[citation needed] The Sun-Times began investigating the gang activity in the military after receiving photos of gang graffiti showing up in Iraq. A 2006 Sun-Times article reports that gangs encourage members to enter the military to learn urban warfare techniques to teach other gang members.[55]

In 2006, Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator, said there is an online network of gangs and extremists, and that: "They're communicating with each other about weapons, about recruiting, about keeping their identities secret, about organizing within the military."[56]

See also

Further reading

  • Frederick Thrasher, The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1927 ASIN: B000IZWOBA
  • Varrio Warfare: Violence in the Latino Community, Gabriel C. Morales, 1998 ASIN: B0018HRNHM
  • Roberson, Cliff. "Exploring Juvenile Justice", California: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, 2000 ISBN 978-1928916093
  • Daniels, Peggy. ed. "Gangs", Michigan: The Gale Group, 2008


  1. ^ "Gangs membership". source. Retrieved in 2009. 
  2. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions About Gangs". National Gang Center. Retrieved 2009. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "11 Facts about Gangs". source. Retrieved in 2009. 
  5. ^ Douglas Harper. "gang". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  6. ^ Artful Dodgers: Youth and Crime in Early Nineteenth Century London. Heather Shore. Boydell Press, London, 1999, pp. 193; ISBN 0861932420
  7. ^ London's children in the 19th century. Museum of London.
  8. ^ National Affairs: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: A FADING PRACTICE. Time. March 21, 1960.
  9. ^ 19th century AD. Adolescence , Summer, 1995 by Ruskin Teeter.
  10. ^ Angels with Manky Faces at Liverpool Unity Theatre.
  11. ^ The first hoodies: Warring yobs and utterly powerless police. No, not 2009, but a Victorian England terrorised by teenage gangs. Mail Online. January 17, 2009.
  12. ^ Gang (crime). Encyclopædia Britannica.
  13. ^ "The Growth of Youth Gang Problems in the United States: 1970-98". 2001. 
  14. ^ Author: Ferrell, J., Title: "Crimes of style: Urban graffiti and the politics of criminality", Publisher: New York: Garland. (235pp),Year: 1993
  15. ^ "Gang Identifiers and Terminology", Cantrell, Mary Lynn, Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Problems, v1 n1 p13-14 Spr 1992
  16. ^ "Noose: ‘Shameful' sign makes ominous return", by Darryl Fears, Washington Post, Published: October 21, 2007 6:00 a.m.
  17. ^ "Symbols and the world system: National anthems and flags", KA Cerulo - Sociological Forum, 1993 - Springer
  18. ^ "The Seven-Stage Hate Model", United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  19. ^ RICO
  20. ^ "Symbolism and Sacrifice in Terrorism", Authors: J. Dingley; M. Kirk-Smith, Source: Small Wars & Insurgencies, Volume 13, Number 1, Spring 2002 , pp. 102-128(27, Publisher: Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
  21. ^ Terroristic Threat Law & Legal Definition
  22. ^ Gang mayhem grips LA, The Observer, March 18, 2007
  23. ^ COPS Office: Gangs
  24. ^ L.A. Gangs: Nine Miles and Spreading. December 13, 2007.
  25. ^ Report: Gang membership on the rise across U.S., by Kevin Johnson, USA Today, January 30, 2009
  26. ^ Into the Abyss: The Racial and Ethnic Composition of Gangs
  27. ^ El Salvador's teenage beauty queens live and die by gang law, The Observer, November 10, 2002
  28. ^ 100,000 foot soldiers in Mexican cartels, Washington Times, March 3, 2009.
  29. ^ Criminal Investigation: Fight Against Organized Crime (1), Overview of Japanese Police, National Police Agency (June 2007).
  30. ^ Asian Triads
  31. ^ Hong Kong's T-Shirt Contest. TIME. November 28, 2007.
  32. ^ Police chief and businessmen arrested in triad crackdown. Times Online. August 14, 2009.
  33. ^ Italian Organized Crime—Overview.
  34. ^ "ICE and Local Law Enforcement Target Immigrant Gangs". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  35. ^ [,%20Activities%20and%20Measures%20to%20Decrease%20Violence.pdf "U.S. Gangs: Their Changing History"]. data.,%20Activities%20and%20Measures%20to%20Decrease%20Violence.pdf. Retrieved 2009. 
  36. ^ "Gang Terror in our streets". 
  37. ^ "VIOLENCE AND STREET GANGS". Retrieved 2009. 
  38. ^ "Gang Awareness". Everett Police Department. Retrieved 2009. 
  39. ^ "Gang Identifiers". Winston-Salem Police Department web site. Retrieved 2009. 
  40. ^ "Graffiti and Other Gang Identifiers". © 2002 Michael K. Carlie. Retrieved 2009. 
  41. ^ "Street Gang Dynamics". The Nawojczyk Group, Inc.. Retrieved 2009. 
  42. ^ "general structure". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  43. ^ "Societal and Correctional Context of Prison Gangs". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  44. ^
  45. ^ "Organized_crime". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  46. ^ "Gang influence and gain revenue". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  47. ^
  48. ^ "Introduction to the Mafia". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  49. ^ a b Evade, Corrupt, or Confront? Organized Crime and the State in Brazil and Mexico
  50. ^ "ORGANISED CRIME AROUND THE WORLD". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  51. ^ "Gangs and Prison Tattoos". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  52. ^ "About Prison Gangs". source. Retrieved 2009. 
  53. ^ Stars and Stripes - Army defends recruit screening process
  54. ^ Intelligence Assesment - Gang-Related Activity in the US Armed Forces Increasing
  55. ^ CBS2Chicago - Chicago Gang Graffiti Showing Up In Iraq
  56. ^ New York Times - Hate Groups Are Infiltrating the Military, Group Asserts

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also gang, and gång



Proper noun


  1. Ganges (river)


Proper noun


  1. Ganges (river)



Old High German ganc


Gang m. (genitive Gangs or Ganges, plural Gänge)

  1. walking
  2. motion, movement
  3. gear
  4. hallway
  5. (of a meal) course

See also


Proper noun


  1. Ganges (river)

Cyrillic spelling

Simple English

Bonnie and Clyde were bank robbers who, with their gang, traveled the United States during the Great Depression.

A gang is a group of people who do things together. The word "gang" comes from the Old English gan, which means "to go". It is also related to Old Norse gangr "a group of men".[1] The word gang is usually used to refer to a group of people who commit crimes together.

Criminal gangs

There are several reasons why people join gangs. Lots of people who join gangs are young people. One reason that people join gangs is a chance to make money through doing things like selling illegal drugs or stealing. Another reason, especially for younger people, is a chance to have a place where they belong. A third reason is boredom.[2]

Gang identification

Gang members often use graffiti to tell other gangs that an area is part of their "territory" and that other gangs should stay away. Graffiti is also used to send other messages. Members of a gang often dress similarly or have the same tattoos.[3]


  1. Douglas Harper. "gang". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  2. "HowStuffWorks "How Street Gangs Work"". Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  3. [ "San Antonio Police Department Youth Crime Service Unit "Gang Awareness""]. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 

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