We have for years debated the growth of gangs. From interviewing hard-core gang members in and out of prison, there seems to be a pattern that emerges.
Gangs grow because the gang provides kids with basic human needs. These include the need for security, love, friendship, acceptance, food, shelter, discipline, belonging, status, respect, identification, power and money.
Once the gang has a kid interested, it begins to build within that kid a deep respect for the gang's society. The folklore of the gang society and its characteristics and culture are quickly and deeply absorbed. It's a two-way sort of thing. The culture reinforces the new recruit's criminal activities and the new recruit, in turn, reinforces the culture.
As the new recruit begins, he starts selling dope, fighting with enemies and engaging in family-type gang activities, getting ever deeper into the culture of the gang. The gang member's life becomes irresponsible, wild, sour and negative. Life becomes an effoI1 to survive.
Negativity makes gang members imagine enemies everywhere. This was once described to me as being "like we were being attacked by packs of hounds coming at us from every side."
They become paranoid and strike out without logical reason or provocation.
As these gang members mature, they rely not only on reputation but also on their tongues and their wit, especially when dealing with others within their own gang. They are constantly telling stories and reliving the dangers of the past and describing feats yet to be accomplished. They consistently talk about crimes, power and wealth. Their lives are filled with anger and revenge.
They are excited by physically dangerous activities. They take drugs, sell drugs, and cruise slowly through enemy territory. They enjoy the danger; it gives them a high. Their life becomes totally consumed by all aspects of gang life. Their clothing, walk, talk, friends and attitude reflect their allegiance to the gang.
Lawlessness becomes all-consuming.
The deeper they get into gang activity, the more importance they place on themselves and the gang. It is all-consuming raw power. This becomes so consuming that it provides everything the youth are looking for in life.
Bantering becomes a part of their everyday life. Just as soldiers in the past "bantered," or attempted to intimidate the enemy before going into battle, or boxers "trash talk" their opponents before the match, hoping to gain some psychological advantage, gang members attempt to intimidate not only their enemies, but all with whom they come into contact. Weaker members are drawn in and retained through the bantering process. It's referred to as the herd instinct.
I have interviewed dozens of gang members drawn into criminal activities they never expected or anticipated being involved in. They were drawn in through this bantering, trash talk and their instinct to "go along to get along."
In a gang, each member must continue the trash talk. Each person's reputation and standing depend upon it. However, when isolated, gang members can and often do provide useful and positive information that will help officers in their investigations. They provide good information one-an-one.
James D. Rowell is the executive director of Shield International. Based in Orem, Utah, Shield International is a training and consulting company, which provides gang and other training for law enforcement.