I've wondered for a while just who these gang members were and what evidence of gang activity we have. As a high school principal, I certainly have seen some tagging (graffiti), saggy pants and red or blue kerchiefs. I've seen kids copying the hand signals of their favorite rap stars. But gang activity at any of my high schools? Am I blind and just missing it?
The U.S. Department of Justice reported steady declines in gang activity in the 1990s but sharp increases after 2001, with gang activity increasing 20% from 2002 to 2009. What perplexes me though is that crime rates, particularly violent crime rates, during the 2000's were falling every year. If gang activity was increasing, why did crime decline?
In my community, any group of young Hispanic males hanging out raises gang concerns. If there were enough young black men in our community to actually hang out, that would likely raise the same concerns. I've been told many times by local police that any group of 3 or more youth engaged in criminal activity constitutes a gang. Given that definition, I've had some wayward (white) student athletes who should be labeled. But aren't. (See Lessons from Penn State)
Nationally, half of identified gang members are Hispanic and one third are Black. So gang membership is strongly ethnic according to this data. Following that thread, I looked at census data to identify how great a proportion of our minority youth are being labeled gang members. Here is some context with general population data from the 2010 Census:
Child Poverty Rate
Male Youths in Poverty
High School Grads
Employed Youth (16-24)
The gang statistics identify gang members as overwhelmingly male. Additionally though (and lacking hard data on the details) I made a few assumptions:
- Gang members tend to come from poor families.
- Gang members tend to not graduate from high school.
- Gang members are less likely to be employed.
Break those numbers down even more, by narrowing to high school dropouts and unemployed youth, and the statistics indicate that EVERY African American or Hispanic young man who meets those criteria has joined a gang.
2010, Gang Resistance Education and Training grants went to the following towns:
|City or Kerman||Town of Danvers||Socorro ISD|
|City of Indio||City of Everett|
|Suisun City Police Department||Virginia|
|City of Reedley||Kansas||Page County Sheriff's Office|
|City of Kingsburg||Prairie Band of Potawatomi Nation|
|City of Selma||Kentucky|
|City of Grass Valley||New York||City of Richmond|
|Lockport City School District|
See Also: Are Schools More Dangerous Now?