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Youth Gangs

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Category: Social Issues

Autor: anton 29 September 2010

Words: 3608 | Pages: 15

Youth gangs in North American society are nothing new. When we turn on the news we often hear stories of misguided youth contributing to yet another gang related crime. Even though it is known that youth crimes are overrepresented in the media today, the subject of youth gang activity is quite a predicament to our society. Over the last few years, there has been a moral panic created by constant exposure to the media which portrays a great amount of youth crimes and violence. In Canada there are large urban cities with high proportions of young people, many of which live in poverty, that now have the issue of dealing with youth gangs and youth crimes. Toronto, British Columbia, and Ottawa are examples of Canadian cities that have youth gang problems. The implementation of the new Youth Criminal Justice Act (2002) has changed the way youth crimes are dealt with legally in Canada. It is one step in the right direction for dealing with the issue of youth offending. Although the new act is not perfect, it will provide a better sense of justice to society because it calls for greater punishment for youths who re-offend. Youth Gangs in Canada are a potentially serious problem that needs to be addressed and tactically prevented. If preventative measures are not taken, these large populated urban areas in Canada will have problems similar to those of some major American cities. This essay will analyze the youth gang problem in Canada. It will cover topics such as types of youth gangs, the seriousness of the problem, and the cause for the creation of youth gangs from a Social Disorganization theory perspective. It will also examine the effect of the Youth Criminal Justice Act on gang crime.

Youth gangs are defined as any group of people who engage in socially disruptive or criminal behaviour, usually within a defined territory, and operate by creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in a community. Federally in Canada “…Bill C-95… says a gang must include five or more people involved in criminal activity.” Over the last ten or so years, youth gangs have become more violent and dangerous than ever before. They have more access to sophisticated knives and guns and use these weapons to gain power and fear. The problem of youth gangs is especially apparent in low-income neighbourhoods in Canadian cities. Low income neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area are a great example, boasting close to 200 known gangs. A few examples are the infamous Looney Toons, Boys in Blue, Punjab X-Ecution, Nubian Sisters, Trife Kids, Vice Lords, The Tuxedo Boys, Mother Nature’s Mistakes, and the very dangerous 18 Buddhas. These gangs participate in all kinds of activities such as extortion and intimidation, robbery, vandalism, assault, drug trafficking, stabbings, shootings, and sometimes even murder. They are becoming a major problem in these communities, especially within high schools.

There are three different types of gangs. “Not all are dangerous. Some youths just band together, think up a name and try to act tough. But they are learning the art and power of intimidation.” The first type of gang is the hedonistic gang, which consists of primarily social groups where the main focus is partying and getting high. Members may commit property crimes, but not usually as gang activity. If they fight at all, it’s more often for the right to party than for turf. The second type of gang is the instrumental gang. These gangs are more likely to commit crimes against property (car theft, burglary, etc.) than crimes of violence against people. They may do drugs and deal it individually, but their main motivation is money, not power. The third type of gang, and the most serious, is the predatory gang. These social predators commit the violent crimes (drive by shooting, carjacking, murder and organized drug dealing). They are most often affiliated with smaller street gangs. This type of gang often engages in serious drug use, such as crack and crystal meth, which can fuel a tendency towards violence. They feed on the fear they inspire, using it as a means of domination and control. Although most of these gangs are a product of a specific neighbourhood, in recent years a number of predatory gangs have gone national, establishing “Franchises” far from their bases. Examples are the Bloods and the Crips, which both originated in Los Angeles, California, but can now claim members in many U.S. metropolises.

In Canada, the problem of youth gangs is now closer to home. Compared to ten years ago, the problem is severely worse because of the increasingly frequent use of guns and other sophisticated weapons. Youth in the past commonly settled disputes that escalated to violence the old fashioned way - with fists, but now things are done differently. “Anybody who thinks the kind of violent incidents that kids face today is the same as 20, 10, or even five years ago is so out of touch…You rarely see one-on-one fights…It’s gangs, it’s weapons, and it’s definitely more sophisticated in a brutal way.” Nowadays with guns more in the picture, every gang member is a potential threat regardless of their size or strength because guns are the ultimate equalizer. A small 14 year old youth can now potentially use a gun to settle a dispute with a bigger and stronger 18 year old. This constant use of guns to settle disputes is causing deep fear amongst high school students in areas plagued by gang violence. In some areas in Toronto, the fear is so deep that students who witness gang crimes do not report it to the authorities because they fear being harmed. “Gangs’ strongest weapons are fear and intimidation.” They use these to keep victims and witnesses silent, which allow them to continue their rampages without police gaining evidence to successfully prosecute them. This also creates a discrepancy within statistics due to the fact that there is an excess of unreported crimes. “Most gang-related crimes – extortion, intimidation, assaults – are never reported. Fear breads silence.” If a person was to look at crime rate statistics for youth gang crimes, they would not get an accurate number because the crime rate would be terribly underestimated. Statistics do not accurately show the extent of the problem because of the high percentage of unreported cases. “Police say those figures are misleading. Today’s violence is not reported. It’s no longer one-on-one. Teenagers are afraid to speak up. The gangs’ strongest weapons are fear and intimidation. And their shield is their victims’ frightened silence.” Since the severity and the extent to which youth crimes are being perpetrated is rising, but their traceability is decreasing, policy initiatives need to be taken that will address this growing problem. Fear is what allows gangs to persist within communities. The increase of coercive power amongst youths has created an urgent need for youth gangs to be addressed with more vigour in both preventative and punishing incentives. The trend change in the relative power of youth gangs has created a need for them to be taken more seriously.

There are numerous answers to why youth gangs are formed in society. Family, schools, and the media all play a key role as to why youth gangs are formed. “Families and/or peer groups/gangs are two primary sites of ideological influence…” The increase in youth gangs is related to the breakdown and disorder of society. According to the Social Disorganization theory, gangs form in lower-class urban areas characterized by low income families, and certain ecological conditions. “…Youth with few resources find excitement and adventure in violent crime, simultaneously finding an outlet to express their anger and rage. The less powerful can be controlled through physical and sexual violence.” The geographic areas that these youths live in are often characterized by hedonistic and lenient families with a lack of values, discipline, and civility. The family is the primary socialization agent responsible for instilling values and culture into a child, so it is only right that parents be blamed for their failure to fulfill their role as proper authority figures. Children that are neglected or abused by parents are much more likely to join gangs than children who are nurtured properly. Also, children that do not have their father around are also more likely to join gangs. Secondly, schools are another cause for the creation of youth gangs. “It is unlikely that patriarchal male peer groups whose members hold attitudes supportive of abusive behaviour are formed only in university/college settings. Instead, they are most likely formed in high school” Youth spend large amounts of time being socialized by their interactions with each other. The family units’ importance declines as a youth approached adulthood, and peer influence increases. “Peer groups represent an opportunity for youth moving from adolescence into adulthood to meet a number of needs not being met by family or school. These groups are also a key space for socializing, hanging out, and having fun.” Kids begin to define themselves more individually from their families and attach themselves more to groups and friends that they get a sense of belongingness from. Peers are not the only factor within schools that lead youth into gang related activity. The role of the school is also of increasing importance to the poor socialization of youths. There has been a decline in the once common traditions in schools in the last few decades. As schools have become more secular, many argue that traditional values and morals are not being taught to the modern school child. In the past, moral values and religion have always been an important aspect stressed in schools. Nowadays, schools fail to teach important values to their students. This leaves schools as a breeding place for youth gangs, since schools group so many youth together. Schools with gang problems have often failed to address their problem due to the fact that no school wants to get a bad reputation. They refuse to discuss and acknowledge that the problem exists until it is too late. Another reason why gangs form is caused by the media. The media portrays the lifestyles of certain deviants such as gamblers, pimps, and drug dealers to be glamorous. Kids grow up watching idols in popular culture waiving around their money and flashing their fancy watches and cars. “The new wave of organized youth gangs in Toronto appeared in the late 1980’s, against a backdrop of ‘Gangsta’ rap and the growing notoriety of drive-by shootings in south-central Los Angeles.” This definitely has an effect on youth because it makes the youth materialistic and makes them do whatever he or she can do to get the materials legitimately or illegitimately. Unfortunately, in most cases they get it through illegitimate means because they lack the resources to get it legitimately. Youth nowadays face a great amount of pressure from so many different angles. “…Young Canadians may know much more about the American counterculture and its political struggles than they do about those in their own country.” Youths then mimic problem cause by much greater social disorientation in the U.S. They face peer pressure daily: pressure to be cool, pressure to wear certain clothes, pressure to engage in certain acts, and pressure from the media to be a certain way. Their young minds are distorted and corrupted by the media, which persuades them to live a life where they are not truly even themselves. Although “the family is the primary agent of socialization for most children,” schools and the media are highly influential socialization agents and their effects on youths can be equally as detrimental as poor family socialization. They are all contributing factors as to why gangs are formed.

The implementation of the Young Offenders Act in 1984 put more emphasis on youth responsibility than its predecessor, the Juvenile Delinquent Act (1908), which concentrated more on child welfare. The YOA recognized the extent to which the criminal activity of youths harmed society. “The new act promised to protect the public while providing fair legal process for young offenders in which they would be held accountable” It also recognizes that young offenders have many different needs than adults. Nonetheless, the Young Offenders Act was not effective at controlling youth crimes, and more specifically youth gangs. When this Act was in place it faced a lot of public scrutiny because of the increase of violent youth crime rates which made people feel that the YOA was ineffective. They thought that criminal youth’s rights were taken too much into consideration. What about the rights of society not to be harmed? The Act did not stress rehabilitation methods for preventing youth gang activity. All it did was call for more punishment, which is not effective at deterring youth criminal gang members. Many people in Canada believed that “the Young Offenders Act is a joke. It only makes kids who’ve done wrong into more hardened criminals. It teaches them they can do no wrong and if they do, the system will slap them on the wrists and put them back on the streets.” Youth have no sense that re-offending will get them further punished. They were likely not punished in a way that would create a sense of fear in ever being punished again. If troubled youth are not effectively punished and rehabilitated, then youth crime and the youth gang problem will continue to exist in our society.

The call for youth crime to be addresses more seriously was responded to in 2002 with The Youth Criminal Justice Act. These changes now encompass and address the existence of youth gangs as a persistent problem in Canada. The YCJA has maintained portions of the Juvenile Delinquent Act and the Young Offenders Act that were effectively responding to deterring youth crime, and thus youth peer-group criminal activity. The YCJA acknowledges the protection of youth balanced with the punishment of youth criminal behaviour. However, it goes further than both of its predecessors by emphasizing rehabilitation. Deterrence is central to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Youth crime is recognized by the act as being a major societal problem. Child protection lobbies are not taken into account as much as they were in the JDA and the YOA. Instead, the well-being of society takes precedence over the right of the youth in criminal justice. The key to the YCJA is its emphasis on the rehabilitation of youth. It does this by using extra judicial measures that will reduce the number of unnecessary court hearings, especially for first time offenders. Police officers have been given more discretionary powers. For example, they can choose to refer a youth offender who has committed a first, non-violent offence to a social program within his/her community. These community programs are more effective at deterring youth criminals than the threat of punishment through court systems because rehabilitation, not punishment is the focus. Punishment for first time, minor offenders is not as harsh as that of adult offenders because it is recognized that their cognitive decision making ability is not as developed as adults. However, the balance between over punishment of youths and rehabilitation was not address by the previous acts. They allowed for re-offending because punishment of youth was light. The YCJA’s extra judicial measures addresses not over punishing youths, by always focusing on rehabilitating them. For youth that do re-offend, punishment is more severe. Tolerance for re-offenders is low with the YCJA.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act was not implemented specifically because of the emergence of youth gangs, but its new measures address their existence. Rehabilitation is central to breaking the structures that allow criminal gang-related activity to persist. Since punishment has also been readdressed, the increasingly serious nature of youth gangs is also being treated with more vigour. Hedonistic, instrumental, and predatory youth gangs all benefit from rehabilitation programs. Extra judicial measures are of particularly great relevance to hedonistic and instrumental gangs. These gangs are associated with less serious crime. The effort to deter them from re-offending by addressing them with social orientated programs is more affective than minor punishments that do not serve as deterrents. They are more likely to be successfully reintegrated into society. Increased punishment applies directly to increased youth violence, which is often linked to gangs. Instrumental and predatory gangs present a greater threat to civil society. Increased punishment will serve as a greater deterrent to serious crime and violent offending. When individuals who participate with these types of youth gangs are caught, they are also less likely to re-offend because of the harsher penalties they may have faced than in the past. There is also the possibility of being treated like an adult within the youth justice system. It will no longer be as easy for older youth to escape penalties associated with heinous crimes, like murder. Youths are more likely to be better reintegrated into society, because rehabilitation is central to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. No offender will escape some form of directed rehabilitation. The coupling of harsher punishment and rehabilitation efforts will serve as a deterrent prior to committing a first offence. When that does not work, deterrence from re-offending will be seen following the prosecution of a serious offence or through extra judicial measures. The YCJA is better able to deal with the crimes and activities of youth gangs because their activities and their natures are more adequately addressed. The act meets the societal need to deal with growing youth crime rates in a manner that is appropriate to group-activity, re-offending, and more serious crime.

The problem of youth gangs in present day Canada has escalated to the point where better policies and initiatives are required to tactically control them. Socialization agents need to be studied. This century has seen many new trends and changes in morality. The moral values in society have shifted. People have more freedom of moral choice, and face little backlash from actions that have traditionally been wrong or controversial. Society has experienced the rapid decline in religiosity. Since religion was such a prevalent moral backdrop, its decline has left gaps in the spreading of moral values. Human rights have also become increasingly important since World War I and WWII. Human rights include the right to choose your own morality and still live peacefully, as long as you are not infringing on the right of others. New personal rights and the overall moral decline of society have caused new problems for the rearing of children. Primary socializing agents have assumed changed roles that have left youths more susceptible to vices. Families and schools provide less moral and structural backgrounds for children then ever before. This leaves them more vulnerable to media influences and peer pressure. Youth gangs become a viable option for children, because poor family conditions, low socio-economic backgrounds, and changed schooling, (both together and separately), feed psyches in youth that are more apt to need a group that they can derive belongingness from. The media and its influence on youths has grown, not only with the increased amount of media outlets, but because families and school are not providing strong enough alternatives to glorified lives seen in the media, that are outside of civil society. The combined problems with the current status of these agents of socialization need to be addressed. Children will continue to be allured by youth gangs as long as their perception deems them to be morally acceptable and glamorous. Governments must be stringent when addressing youth crime and should adopt policies that compliment better socialization of youths. The seriousness of youth crime trends must be addressed with punishments that pay retribution to society. It is equally important that youths are not excluded from society by a legal system that does not recognize their special needs. Rehabilitation measures must address the socialization problems that children are facing with their families, schools, and media pressures. Children will be given alternatives to their delinquent behaviours that may not have been obvious or initially appealing. These changes will result in the prevention and decline of youth gang related crime. Youth gangs are not inevitable. Some social reorganization backed by government policies will eliminate the youth perception that youth gangs are socially acceptable. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (2002) adopts socially focused policies that will better address the social disorientation of youth that lead them into youth gangs. Its implementation is a positive step towards effectively dealing with the changed social forces affecting Canadian youths. Better socialization of youths is paramount to eliminating youth gangs in Canada.

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