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How Does Leadership Work In Different Gangs?

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Orthodox leadership styles (used in government bodies) usually cannot be applied to gang leadership styles. Gang leaders rely predominantly on honor systems to ensure some level of organization and social hierarchy in the gang. In everyday society, calm is enforced by law enforcement. For a gang leader, someone operating and leading his/her gang, the law enforcement cannot be relied on to ensure order. They instead resort to fear tactics or an honor system to maintain some semblance of order.

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It can be seen that in order to recruit followers, soon-to-be American gang leaders usually migrate to crisis-heavy places – poverty ridden, drug-ridden, inner city ghettos. These two notable gangs are mostly made up of Africa-Americans – the same African-Americans who populate the majority of America’s ghettos. In Japan, the country with the highest standard of living in the world, such crises that would attract young adults and children to the yakuza (a term that refers to Japanese gangs and its members) are absent, which might explain why yakuza are on the decline in Japan. In the US, these ghettos are full of children and adolescents who grow up in poor areas and realize that they live in these ghettos. Through social media or through the news, they can see the luxurious life of celebrities that they believe they’ll never be able to attain because of their environment and identity. Or, perhaps the areas that they live in are zones that the law enforcement has decided are too dangerous to enter. Whatever the reason, the younger generation of certain areas are more easily recruited than others areas because of their environment. The gang offers an – illegal – way out of these gang members’ impoverished environments. Whether it’s for protection because of the police’s absence, or for the seemingly unattainable luxurious life, gangs seem to be their best option, which is why adolescents and children turn to gang leaders for a means of obtaining luxuries that would otherwise be difficult to attain.

The Crips were formed by Stanley Tookie Williams and Raymond Lee Washington in Los Angeles. These two decided to unite their own respective gangs to fight against neighboring gangs that threatened their safety – the Bloods gang formed because of this reason as well. The majority of gang members were 17 years old. After a few years, recruitment in both these gangs rose because of the profits that the gang made from the distribution of crack cocaine – we see how gang leaders use the lure of money, even illegally obtained money, to motivate outsiders to join their gang. In terms of leadership style for the Bloods, we see a split inside the gang.

In contrast to the Bloods gangs centered in LA, The Bloods on the East Coast are more commonly referred to as the UBN: United Blood Nation. This sect formed as a response to attacks from Latino prison gangs. Protection in numbers – we can see another method that gang leaders use to attract members and ensure their loyalty. These two sects – the UBN and the LA-based Bloods – share colors, tattoos, clothing styles, but their leadership styles and criminal activity differ. UBN is the more organized sect, tends to have more of a mix of ethnicities, and follows a more understandable and concrete belief system. Although united under the common gang known as the Bloods, members do not follow a national leader; instead, they affiliate themselves with local sets. Within these sets, there usually is an organized hierarchy. Where a member falls on this hierarchy is primarily determined by his or her’s criminal background, violent tendencies, and charisma.

The Crips are similarly organized. The Crips was also formed for protection purposes against other gangs in the area, but one could see the Crips as more of an affiliation than an actual gang; smaller sects affiliate themselves with the Crips’ colors, clothing styles, name, but they are not commonly unified together as a gang under the name Crips. They act independently of each other, usually following different belief systems from each other. If anything, affiliation with ‘Crips’ and its corresponding blue is more used to determine which gangs to call friends and which to foes; this system is important in areas where big gangs are confined to small areas and it’s important to identify which gang one belongs to. Another method of identifying gang affiliation is through the use of gang hand sign or tattoos, although color affiliation seems to be the easiest method of identifying gang membership; tattoos aren’t always visible, and there has to be direct face to face contact between people for hand gestures to be made.

Turning to Japanese gangs, we have the infamous Japanese yakuza, which refers to itself as a ‘chivalrous organization’. To understand a distinction between yakuza families and the yakuza itself, an analogy: the Japanese yakuza are to the American gangster as the separate Japanese yakuza families, like the Yamaguchi-Gumi, are to the Crips, or the Bloods. Unlike the more unorganized American culture, Japanese culture – and history – has long strictly organized into hierarchies, coded ways of life, honor systems. This is reflected in its gang culture as well. Yakuza families rarely use fear tactics to get their followers to obey the family’s orders. Instead, they rely on an honor system, formally referred to as a father/son relationship. Everyone has a chance to be either the father or the son (except for the topmost and lowermost levels in the hierarchy); one is a ‘father’ to ones subordinates and a ‘son’ to those above him. This system is to the advantage of the yakuza family leader, as this ensures a feeling of loyalty and trust in the gang.

Similar to the Bloods and the Crips, the yakuza also invests in tattoos; however, these tattoos, known as irezumi, are done by hand, expensive, take a long period of time, and painful. They are used less as identification than as a permanent decoration of gang membership. Constant rituals and customs peculiar to only the yakuza families instigates a sense of ‘together-ness’; a sense of family. One of the yakuza’s most notable rituals is the cutting off of the tip of the pinkie. Should the yakuza leader be displeased at something that one of his/her followers did, there are no words exchanged; simply, a knife and a bandage are handed to the follower, who then cuts off of the tip of his/her own pinkie. (Dismembered pinkies can now be replaced with prosthetics to avoid attention from the police.) The pinkie tip is then handed over, wrapped in the bandage, to the yakuza leader. If no words are exchanged, the leader has forgiven his subordinate. Enforcing the father/son system, there is the possibility that a bond be strengthened by one of the ‘fathers’ if he decides to cut off his own pinkie in place of his ‘son’s’.

For further example of the loyalty and trust that the yakuza family’s leader brings to his/her gang, one has only to look to the yakuza leadership customs themselves. Very rarely do they die from the hand of one of their followers (if any cases should exist at all); in the case of their death, they would have pre-selected a successor from among his/her seniors (those ranked immediately below him). This, again, places an importance on the hierarchy and deters anyone from killing the gang leader; because of the hierarchy, there is already a pre-arranged line of succession. There is no line-cutting here. Should there be no successor chosen, the seniors will fight for the position of ‘boss’ after their original boss’s death until an agreement can be made on the successor.

Yakuza gang membership has been on the decline recently. Gang leadership hasn’t changed; rather, it’s the gang environment that has changed. Crisis: Japan suffers very little from it. Compared to the impoverished and disadvantaged millions in the United States, Japanese simply lack the immense numbers from which a gang leader can amass followers. However, when there are crises (as few as they are), the yakuza family gang leaders make sure to take advantage of them to increase the gang family’s publicity and attract members – during the crises that Japan does suffer, the yakuza are usually the first-responders. For example: immediately after the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and its corresponding tsunami, it was the yakuza family Yamaguchi-Gumi that organized supplies to be helicoptered in before the police began to respond to the crisis. Because Japan lacks any prevalent outstanding crisis, yakuza membership has significantly dropped this century – it appears that it is the yakuza family leader’s power that attracts followers.

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