SUMMARY. This paper examines the phenomenon of African American street gangs. It examines the scope of the gang problem, gives a historical review of gangs in America, and examines gang activity and membership for African American youth. Some of the causes for gang formation are delineated, and comprehensive programs for addressing the gang problem are proposed. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-3429678. E-mail address: getinfo@haworthpressinc.comJ

KEYWORDS. Gangs, identity, African American, crime

There is nothing romantic, glamorous, cute or "cool" about youth gangs, as they pose a dramatic threat to the health and welfare of society in general, and minority communities in particular. Joining a youth gang means full commitment to a life of perpetual criminal activity and engaging in behavior that is abhorrent to American society. But what is a gang? How many gangs are operative in the United States? Acker, Johns, and

Jerome L. Blakemore, MSW, PhD, is affiliated with Loyola University Chicago. Glenda M. Blakemore, MA, MSW, is affiliated with the Illinois Department of

© 1998 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. 203

Selkirk (1997) have noted that there is no standard definition of "gang" but they usually consist of a group of three or more persons gathered together on a continuing basis for the purpose of engaging in criminal acts and/or antisocial behavior. Spergel (1995, p. 26) also notes that the term "gang" is often referred to as a "delinquent group," "a criminal organization," and sometimes as a simple "aggregation of youth on a street corner." It is impossible to estimate with any degree of accuracy how gangs exist in the United States today. Some authorities contend that there are presently 200,000 gang members in the United States. Other reporters predict that by the year 2000 there will be more than 200,000 gangmembers in California alone. Acker, Johns, and Selkirk (1997) further note that youth gangs in have a presence in all fifty states, and in virtually every major city in the United States. They report that in 1965 youthful street gangs had been identified in at least 92 of the country's largest urban centers. Moreover, by 1993, police reported the presence of youth gangs in every area of our society-rural, urban, and suburban, and even on island nations such as Puerto Rico and Hawaii. In fact, nearly every nationality is represented in American gang history (Haskins, 1974). The literature on gangs reveals that one of the most notorious cities in terms of gang activity is Los Angeles, where 25-30% of homicides are gang-related. Chicago follows Los Angeles, reporting that 10% of its homicides involve gangs.