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Culture and gangs

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Culture is collectively created in communities. When people are excluded from mainstream organizations, they may form alternative organizations in their place. This clip explores how the first African American gang formed in Los Angeles after boys weren’t allowed to join the Boy Scouts because their local troop only accepted white children.

  1. What theory of crime can explain the formation of this gang?

Response: Personally I believe the Social interactions theory of crime, specifically Lemert’s labeling theory closely relates to the formation of this gang. Lemert’s labeling theory states that “the act of labeling a person as a deviant/criminal increases the likelihood that the individual will continue to engage in deviant/criminal behaving in the future”, which very much holds true in this case. The initial members of the “gang” referred to their group as more of a club where people of similar values and interests could interact freely, especially after being turned away by other more socially established groups such as the boy scouts. However they were labeled as a “gang” by the media, primarily due racial biases. This inaccurate labeling would only lead to other people’s misunderstanding of the group. Similarly, many of the members of the group were targeted by authority figures such as the police due to their race. As mentioned in Lemert’s theory, constantly being labeled as a threat or a deviant is likely to instigate or perpetuate that sort of behavior, which is what eventually happened. Through the constant targeting of these individuals without an true reasoning, trust in the authority figures of society was heavily damaged. This constant mistreatment was also detrimental to the self image of these individuals as society constantly labeled them as deviants for seemingly arbitrary reasons. The strong ties of the “gang” only grew stronger as the outside society condemned these individuals, making the importance of their social circles all that more important, and the importance of maintaining their territory where they could freely do as they please equally important. In parallel to the gangs of LA, in the 1950s there were gangs in New York that shared many same characteristics with this gang in LA. The “gangs” were mostly comprised of teenagers and young adults and “most gang wars were fought over ‘turf’”, which is similar to what was mentioned in the documentary, where fist fights were used to settle disputes. Similarly these gangs were primarily comprised of individuals of minority ethnic groups that would have been heavily discriminated against and labeled as deviants for their race at this time period. This occurrence of a very similar gang development on the other side of the country only further supports the fact that Lemert’s labeling theory can be used to explain much of the reasoning behind the formation of these gangs.


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