GANGS AND GANGSTERISM
As a social phenomenon, gangsterism is not confined merely to the lower rungs of modern society. Indeed, it occupies much of the ‘high moral ground’ and has political dimensions that reach well beyond the local neighbourhood. This article aims to examine some aspects of the causes and creation of gangsterism as well as some of the responses of communities and governments to it.
Gangs have existed since earliest times in one form or another. We usually associate negative connotations with the word ‘gang’ and tend to think of troublesome and difficult young men as their members. Yet not all gangs are bad. Gangs of workers are used to construct railway lines and the ‘Guardian Angels’ gang in New York functions to help reduce crime on the Big Apple’s subways. Let’s try to make a distinction between gangs and gangsterism. Gangs are not necessarily bad but gangsterism invariably is. Depending on your politics or which newspapers you read, Robin Hood and his merry men were either gangsters or do-gooders stealing from the rich to give to the poor. We need to move beyond such simple concepts of gangs but before doing that we must examine their basic characteristics.
Sociologists portray modern gangs as the outcome of certain social circumstances such as unemployment, poverty and lack of self-esteem. They operate as mini-communities with their own hierarchies and create a sense of belonging amongst youth in particular. To solve the problem of gangs, they say, you must find solutions to the socio-economic problems of our society. If people have jobs they will not steal and they will not sell drugs. However, this argument does not explain why youth from middle and upper-class homes join gangs and commit crime. It does not explain the esteem and status given to gangs by young people who are materially well-off.
One reason given to explain this is the influence of popular ‘heroes’ within our entertainment industries. The mass media have their own...