Street Gang Culture: Continuum of Mentality and Activity
The following continuum provides some rough guidelines to assist in determining the level of street gang involvement and seriousness of the activities of an individual or “set.” Remember, however, there is nothing rigid or airtight about this, it is only a tool for general assessment.
- Emulating, experimenting with street gang image.
- Focus on socialization: belonging, identity.
- Infrequent, opportunistic property crime, tagging.
- Free to cease activity without serious consequences.
- No active rivalries (may, however, be victimized by other, more seriously involved street gangs).
A word of caution: The typical response at this phase is to minimize the importance of these early street gang-like behaviours and attitudes because “they’re only Wannabes”. Nothing could be more destructive and potentially dangerous! If an individual is involved or a group has formed at this level, address it now and address it aggressively! It’s the only significant opportunity you will have to be able to meaningfully address the needs, attitudes, and behaviours until much further down the road, by which time they will have caused themselves and others much distress and loss.
- Identity crystallizing around membership in the “set.”
- Greater frequency of drug/alcohol usage.
- More serious antisocial behaviour: intimidation, vandalism, etc.
- Heightened criminal activity: extortion, theft, burglary.
- Increased disruption at home and school.
- Leaving may result in threats and/or consequences.
- Fledgling rivalries: Posturing, making/defacing graffiti, assaults.
- Young people at this phase may express concern about going out with backup from other members of the “set” because of potential problems with rivals.
- They may also express concern about severing ties with the “set” because of concerns about physical harm being done to them by fellow members.
- Exclusive relationships with set: membership is core identity.
- Drug use may be at center of socialization.
- Established criminal orientation: Person and/or property crimes.
- May begin turf claiming (controlling territory).
- Likely to be out of school: expelled, dropped out.
- Criminal history likely, possible incarceration.
- Leaving brings serious consequences, may not be an option.
- Established, violent rivalries involving weapons.
- Departure from non-street gang society.
- Criminal identity: A “Gangster”
- Incarceration accepted as an aspect of street gang lifestyle.
- May want to leave street gang life.
- Leaving a street gang is not generally an option; attempts may result in death.
- “At War” mentality with rivals and police; injury to innocents acceptable.
This is the phase that people in cities with recently emerging street gangs associate with as a “street gang problem.” The reality is, however, that each of these phases represents a “street gang problem,” just of varying degree.
The simple truth, based on history over the past twenty years in the United States and emerging in Canada, is that if a community waits until level three and four activity is present, there is virtually nothing they will be able to do to bring the problem under control. Dealing with the problem while it is observable at the earliest possible stage is the only way to respond and to regain control of your neighbourhood.
You can get involved by simply reporting illegal activities you may see. Contact the Hamilton Police Service at 905-546-4925, Crime Stoppers at 905-522-TIPS or the graffiti hotline at 905-546-4723. Help give the message that street gangs will NOT be tolerated in your community.