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Martin Sanchez Jankowski’s Theory To Understand Gangs

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Understanding gangs has been especially difficult in the U.S because of the constructed social programs and law enforcement efforts to control gangs. It has also been extremely difficult to depict if theories about gangs are direct specifically towards gangs, or simply theories of crime. According to Jankowski in his chapter one reading A Theory of Gang Behavior and Persistence, “…in the theory I am proposing, gangs emerge not as a result of disorganization and/or the desire to find order and safety, but as a consequence of a particular type of social order associated with low-income neighborhoods in American society.” Jankowski’s theory consists of a previous researcher by the name of Frederic Thrasher who independently researched gangs imbedded himself in gang environment to complete his research. After his research he claimed five specifics of most gangs, that most gangs emerge from poor and disorganized neighborhoods, that young men join them due to lack of opportunities in other activities, that participants lack skills and motivation for other jobs, that gangs are differentiated by age, and that gangs assistant delinquency. I believe that Jankowski’s theory makes perfect sense, that young adults in low income neighborhoods turn to the social structure of gangs, the feeling of importance they provide , and an overall formations of being part of something greater.

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Gangs persist in our society for many reasons, in a more generalized way I would categorize the persistence of gangs due to the socioeconomic challenges of leaving it. General strain theory seems to be the start and the best explanation of why people continue to commit crime. According to Robert Agnew the strains that are most likely to cause criminal activity and are relevant to The Wire are “parent rejections, supervision/discipling that is erratic, child abuse and neglect, negative secondary school experiences, abusive peer relations, failure to achieve selected goals, resident in economically deprived communities, and discrimination based on characteristic such as race/ethnicity and gender.”(Angew, p.206). All these strains can be easily seen in The Wire, these gang members live in economically unstable communities, their parents are very often not present, and supervision is lacking throughout the show. The adolescents search for belonging within the communities they live, they seek role models in older kids who engage in similar gang activities.

Another argument of the persistence of gangs is the market economy we live in directly contributes to the attitude or self perseverance and motivation towards financial stability. Market societies are “…societies which by definition offer few cushions against the impact of disabilities or misfortunes in labor market and minimal public provision of social services.” I strongly believe that no matter what programs constructed by law enforcement that the whole societal attitude needs to change in order to decrease gang activity in urban areas. This society creates large masses of inequality throughout its population and continues to drive competition between social classes. Economic competitiveness in fact also exists within gangs, according to Jankowski’s article titled Gang Business his research proved that members of gangs developed entrepreneurial attitudes and competitiveness. They often perform crude economic activities which is “…acts of delinquency that most people associate with gangs:muggings, purse snatchings, hold ups or various sorts, and small burglaries.” An example of this is seen in The Wire season two, in which Stringer uses his past knowledge and applies it to his business within the bank. He uses his entrepreneur skills by considering changing the name of a product to make it seem as though it’s brand new. Gangs are not fair entities and are based around competition, they take advantages of all situations to benefit themselves. This attitude can be to blame for the market economy established in the U.S with hopes of reaching the American Dream.

Gangs remain in certain communities because of social factors, such as competition for resources and attention, social mobility. This is a macro level of force. When individuals of a certain community compare themselves to other wealthy communities then that is another macro force. The living conditions such as low income housing, large families, and poverty all play a large factor in the continuous flow of gangs within Urban America, and is a macro force.

In the 1970’s a lot of pressure was put upon the criminal justice system from politicians to decrease the crime rates around the U.S. The crime statistics “create pressure to have the statistics show certain things.” The truth is that eliminating gang’s is not an easy task, it is difficult. The main approaches to gangs are “…to counteract gangs:physical force, in the form of quasi-military action; and “social worker” indoctrination, where the police officers attempt to win the hearts and minds of gang members in effort to persuade them to quite participating in gang-associated activities.” In full circle, I think that is inevitable that gangs continue to exist within our culture because of the overall attitude towards self improvement embedded in our ideology. The constant thirst for social mobility is extremely visible within our culture and low income individuals have very similar goals, just larger obstacles to reach them.

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