One long-time gang member admitted to me that he never thought he could kill someone even if his life had depended on it but was involved in several gang-related murders as a member of his New York City gang. He freely told me he became physically ill during the first murder and, as he stated, 'puked his brains out' immediately afterward. Such stories were typical of the many gang members that I have interviewed during my law enforcement career and subsequent contacts.
I'm not making excuses for those individuals who typically, and as I have learned, join gangs, many members are merely followers. The hard-core members, overall, number a few in most of the gangs across the U.S. Nevertheless, the members of the gangs I'm going to highlight would easily kill someone or have already killed some or many. These gangs have shown a level of violence that may have led to their members, who were initially unwilling to reach such a violence level, become a savagely violent and callous person.
There is no excuse for someone who consciously makes the change from a person who is non-violent to someone who is violent and eventually kills with or for his gang. All are equally guilty.
Many gang members I have met, when isolated from their gang, show their true personalities. They often show signs of low self-esteem, being frightened by the thought of being alone in the streets or other traits quite opposite of the traits they show when with the other members of their gang.
These gang members can be merely frightened children who grow up into frightened adults who learn to victimize others as a way of making them feel better or committing crimes, because it seems easier than working at making an honest living. These frightened individuals lack discipline and social skills. Many have dyslexia or another form of learning disability, while others are bipolar or have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Some gang members fit the typical profile for what we would expect from a street thug. They come from dysfunctional families and lower socioeconomic and high-crime neighborhoods. There are also those members who come from solid backgrounds and middle-class neighborhoods who gravitate to gangs for popularity, street credibility, money-making or protection.