Gangs: From Early America to Now

History of Street Gangs in the United States

National Gang Center Bulletin

This report provides a historical summary of the many factors that influenced gang development in four regions of the country (Northeast, Midwest, South, and West) from as early as the end of the American Revolution to today.

Although gang allegiances are often determined by ethnic identity, the report explains that this wasn’t always the case. And the earliest American gangs were not focused on criminal activity; gang members instead viewed the group as a social organization. This “brotherhood” began to splinter along ethnic lines as immigration to America increased, adding to the squalid nature of urban areas and intensifying competition for resources and employment. But gangs have always attracted the young: members have historically been in their early teens to mid-twenties.

The report profiles gang development in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and throughout the South, noting that with new trends in immigration, transnational gang membership has become an important force. Scholars say that in order to meet this classification, gang activity must transcend borders and is frequently orchestrated by individuals who are not in the same country as those who are directly involved in the criminal activity. La Cosa Nostra (“the Mafia”) is perhaps the most widely-known transnational gang in the United States, but other groups – such as the L.A.-based 18th Street gang and Mara Salvatrucha – are gaining notoriety due to their involvement in Mexican and Central American drug trafficking.

Free, 25 pages.


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