Today, the problem of gang violence is one of the major threats to the existing social order and the public safety. In fact, gang violence grows more and more dangerous as gangs enroll a larger number of people, while efforts of law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system prove to be inefficient to stop the growing gang violence and recidivism. In such a situation, the understanding of causes and effects of gang violence can help to tackle this problem successfully. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that roots of gang violence are social by their nature and gang violence affects the entire society, even though its long-run effects may be unseen for the majority.
Social isolation of individuals and their strife for acceptance is one of the major causes of gang violence. Individuals attempt to be accepted by a social group and they slip to gangs, where they are accepted, if they are capable to commit violent acts. Gangs need to maintain their reputation and attract new members that makes violence an integral part of their operations. At the same time, gang members need to feel belongingness to their social group. As they are expelled by the community, they stick to the gang, while the violent behavior becomes a perfect tool to gain respect and higher standing within the gang.
Hence, the competition between gangs is also one of the main reasons for gang violence. As individual gang members compete with each other within the gang, so do gangs but at the larger scale. The competition between gangs includes the struggle for the territory, sources of income, reputation and other issues (Barak, 1998). However, the competition is the root of gang violence and affects consistently the relationships between gangs because violence is the main tool used by gangs to solve problems that emerge between them.
Psychological peculiarities and traits of character of gang members can increase the risk of their violent behavior. As a rule, people joining gangs are marginalized and they have to perform their functions within gangs respectively to the gang’s structure and goals. However, often gang members are sociopaths, who are extremely aggressive and violent. They may have significant psychological problems that may provoke their violent and aggressive behavior.
Substance abuse is another cause of the violent behavior of gang members and gang violence at large. In fact, the substance abuse makes the behavior of individuals unpredictable and unstable (Bohm, 2001). The aggression of individuals practicing substance abuse increases. The high aggression level may lead to the violent behavior under the impact of drugs or alcohol.
The marginalization of large groups of people, which form gangs is probably the main cause of the gang violence. Gang members feel being outsiders, who have their aspirations but who cannot reach their goals and make their dreams come true in the legal way because of the persisting social inequality and unsurpassable barriers between the rich and the poor (Dworkin, 2005). As a result, marginalized people create gangs with the help of which they believe they can reach their goals fast, while violence is just an efficient tool with the help of which they expect to reach their goals.
Effects of gang violence may be viewed at individual and community level but still it is possible to distinguish such general effects of gang violence, which affect both individuals and communities, as growing crime rates. The high crime rates mean that individuals will face the risk of offenses, while communities can slow down their socioeconomic development because of high crime rates.
Gang violence breaks up social links within the community leading to the marginalization of gang members, who are perceived by the community as outcasts and criminals. Gang members remain outsiders. If they become more violent, their chances to return to the community decreases, while the support of gang member from the part of community members decreases too (Dworkin, 2005). As a result, gang members lose their last chance to return to the normal social life because of their violent behavior.
Individuals become victimized as they confront the gang violence. For instance, the owner of the car set in fire by a gang is apparently the victim, who suffers financial losses and psychological problems. Community members cannot always resist to gang violence. If law enforcement agencies turn out to be unable to prevent or to stop gang violence, communities may be just terrorized by gangs that will lead to the gang but not the law rule in communities.
Furthermore, the effect of gang violence is the widening gap between the mainstream culture and gangs. The wide gap between them lays the foundation to the profound social conflict, which may include riots and violence caused by the attempts of gangs to gain a better position in the society and the unwillingness of the society to accept gangs.
Thus, gang violence has social roots and its effects may be destructive for the entire society.
Bohm, R. (2001). A Primer on Crime and Delinquency Theory. London: Wardsworth.
Barak, G. (ed.). (1998). Integrative Criminology. Aldershot: Ashgate/Dartmouth.
Dworkin, R. (2005). Taking Rights Seriously. Harvard University Press.