Joining Gangs for Love, or Fear?

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A few summers ago, I had the opportunity to intern in Denver, Colorado at an organization called TASC.  TASC is a diversionary program for juvenile delinquents.  Here, I came into contact with numerous individuals - the majority of whom were involved in gangs.  This is also when I became more interested in gang involvement, especially among adolescents.

According to the Violence Prevention Institute (http://www.violencepreventioninstitute.org/youngpeople.html), there are several reasons that an individual joins a gang.
1. To gain an identity
2. For protection
3. For fellowship
4. Intimidation

As we have learned in class, humans have a need for affiliation.  We also know that we have a need for support and love.  Reeve (2005) states that "the need for affiliation is rooted in a fear of interpersonal rejection" (p. 185).  According to the website, research has demonstrated that gang members' families lack structure.  This deficiency causes them to reach out to others to gain their sense of family, or the closeness that families are supposed to have.  The gang culture allows them to achieve this intimacy and bonds that others receive from their family members - the understanding of unconditional love, having each others' backs, etc.
Another reason, according to the site, that individuals join gangs is for protection (#s 2 and 4).  In "seedy" neighborhoods, some individuals fall victim to threats from other gangs.  This causes them to join for protection from the rival gang or to join the gang threatening them to stop the harassment.  Reeve (2005) discusses fear and anxiety as motivators to achieve our need for affiliation as well: "When afraid, people desire to affiliate for emotional support" (p. 186).  For most of us, this is hard to understand, because whenever we were afraid or being bullied, our parents protected and comforted us.  However, for individuals who eventually join gangs, their parents generally don't provide that support.  Therefore, they join these gangs because they fear the repercussions of not joining and having protection.  As many of us would do in a fear-producing situation, we do whatever we can to survive - joining a gang (whether to gain protection from a rival gang or because they know joining the gang will result in the threats ceasing) is their way to survive.

Overall, however, I believe that people join gangs to satisfy their need for affiliation.  These individuals need for affiliation is higher because they lack social interaction.  They feel lonely and/or rejected, and desire true interpersonal relationships.  Whether they join out of fear, anxiety, etc., the underlying cause is for affiliation.

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I lived on a side of town that was considered to be under privileged and gangs were heavily rooted in our area. I fortunately choose a better life for myself, but did hang around and have close friends that were involved in gangs and have family involved in gangs. Also, my nieces would really hate me right now, but two are involved in a local gang and as I like to describe them as by living that culture. When looking at all my friends and my nieces, I feel that you are correct in saying a need is involved, or really a need is lacking on the home front.
In looking at the website I really think that these are valid reasons and for the most part in majority of my friends and my nieces, it is a form of acceptance and comfort. Affiliation does play a crucial part in many of the reasons gangs are around, but I don’t think that all persons join because of their lack for interpersonal relationships. Yet, many do and their parents are not home and don’t provide enough structure like mentioned. This reason is a top one I feel on why people that are usually involved in a gang because they usually have a form of rules and respect. My nieces though also found that they were able to do whatever they wanted to do in their gang with the expectation that these people generally care for them, their mother works extra hard to keep food on the table, and she provides little to no structure. They enjoy staying out all hours of the night and parting. They really “enjoy” me picking them up when their new family deserts them, and their mother is so tired that she can’t hear them calling. So you can imagine that coming to see me really bothers them even though they enjoy me. I feel for them, because I know they in part might be looking for attention that they don’t get at home, but their mother just doesn’t know how to handle them now, and I think she even might be afraid of them.
A lot of my friends while growing up did join a lot of gangs and from what I took from it was Fellowship and Identity. When I read these two I was like auhh, this makes sense. The gang gave them a sense of companionship and a name for themselves; they were known around school and our neighborhood and depending on the gang, were sometimes afraid of. I don’t really know why I never joined, because I did have a lot of friends who did, and I had all the right reasons. My family life was very; let’s put it this way no one would ever want to walk a mile in my shoes. Affiliation was something that I could of used as a reason, but I was forced as a way of keeping me out of a gang, to do sports and be really active. But I also saw what they could do and lost a lot of friends in the process due to misunderstandings and turf wars and this could have played a heavy part in my reasons not to. I didn’t see them as a reward for my punishments at home, but saw my future and set personal goals. But, I think that my motivation to get out of the lifestyle that I lived in and hoped for a better life, set my mentality apart and kept myself away from joining.

This post definitely caught my attention. Although I admittedly have very little experience with gangs, I think it is very important to investigate what might be going on in the minds of those who join gangs. I actually did a little research online before I prepared my comments for this article.

According to what I read, a gang may be defined as "a group of three or more people who, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity... In current usage it typically denotes a criminal organization or else a criminal affiliation."

In other words, a gang does not necessarily have to be involved in illegal activities, but it is common for them to be. When I think of gangs, I immediately think of inner city homicides, the drug trade, and other forms of theft. I also think of gangs as having many younger members in their teens. It is a well known fact that young people are more impressionable, and it is commonly thought that as a society we should try especially hard to prevent children from falling in this type of lifestyle. Especially as the drug trade has grown and economic times have grown even more tough, we should make a greater effort to understand how to help discourage children from joining gangs. Admittedly, in certain areas, this is probably a very difficult challenge. According to the National Youth Gang Center, the U.S. has "approximately 785,000 active street gang members." When we talk about gangs, we may also be talking about criminal gangs, such as the Italian Cosa Nostra, most commonly known as the Mafia. I believe that the finding of the study mentioned in the original blog do make sense, and I would like to briefly address my thoughts on each one...

For Fellowship - I very much agree that a gang membership may be sought out to help fulfill one's needs for affiliation. This is especially true in areas where gangs are rampant. It is probably unreasonable to expect that a child can easily resist overwhelming pressure to join a gang. Children in such situations do need help. Especially for children who live in foster homes or do not have either a father or mother, the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program may be especially helpful because it would help fulfill needs of affiliation and social interaction.

For protection - I think that children may join for this reason, because gangs may pressure people to "take a side", but I believe kids would obviously be much more protected and better off if there were no gangs. In order to deal with this aspect of gang formation, I would say that perhaps the police force in gang-prone areas needs to be built up to make the community safer. By enforcing punishments (jail time) on those who break the law, we would be able to provide negative punishment for such criminal behaviors. Once again, however, I would like to stress that I believe punitive measures are only one component of an effective solution. A meaningful approach has to also provide a way for affiliation needs to be met, otherwise a void will be left within the individual.

To gain an identity, Intimidation - I believe these motivations may fit into the need for competence, relatedness, achievement, and power. Most of us want to set ourselves apart from others, forge a new path in life, and develop feelings of competence and self-worth. By joining a gang, many people may feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, part of a group, and hold a certain amount of power and status.
I believe that one way to deal with this may actually involve improving the education system, working harder to provide for the needs of those in impoverished areas, and showing the less fortunate that we very much care for them. Although most of us hold positive views towards those around us (feelings of altruism), I think those living in impoverished areas sometimes justify their criminal activity towards others by believing that they are neglected and overlooked in society, that they are not cared for, and that they sometimes cannot resist breaking the law to ensure their survival.

I am in no way condoning criminal behavior, but I would simply like to say that I believe what we have learned in Motivation and Emotion class can be applicable to dealing with gangs. It may be important to target the root causes for gang membership, such as appealing to one's needs for affiliation through mentorship programs, providing extra security resources to impoverished areas, and working hard to create opportunities for children to succeed in the education system, so they can pursue their needs for achievement and identity through academic endeavors rather than criminal ones.

As a closing comment, I would also like to say that I believe joining a gang for affiliation purposes may be a leading reason, but I do not believe gang membership even fulfills that need in its entirety. As a gang member, one is not loved near unconditionally, as in a family. If you do something wrong, you may even be killed by your own "family" and you would likely be aware of this throughout the duration of your gang membership. I do not believe there is any real sense of security for most gang members. There may be a certain amount of loyalty, but there is likely much more distrust.


This post definitely caught my attention. Although I admittedly have very little experience with gangs, I think it is very important to investigate what might be going on in the minds of those who join gangs. I actually did a little research online before I prepared my comments for this article.

According to what I read, a gang may be defined as "a group of three or more people who, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity... In current usage it typically denotes a criminal organization or else a criminal affiliation."

In other words, a gang does not necessarily have to be involved in illegal activities, but it is common for them to be. When I think of gangs, I immediately think of inner city homicides, the drug trade, and other forms of theft. I also think of gangs as having many younger members in their teens. It is a well known fact that young people are more impressionable, and it is commonly thought that as a society we should try especially hard to prevent children from falling in this type of lifestyle. Especially as the drug trade has grown and economic times have grown even more tough, we should make a greater effort to understand how to help discourage children from joining gangs. Admittedly, in certain areas, this is probably a very difficult challenge. According to the National Youth Gang Center, the U.S. has "approximately 785,000 active street gang members." When we talk about gangs, we may also be talking about criminal gangs, such as the Italian Cosa Nostra, most commonly known as the Mafia. I believe that the finding of the study mentioned in the original blog do make sense, and I would like to briefly address my thoughts on each one...

For Fellowship - I very much agree that a gang membership may be sought out to help fulfill one's needs for affiliation. This is especially true in areas where gangs are rampant. It is probably unreasonable to expect that a child can easily resist overwhelming pressure to join a gang. Children in such situations do need help. Especially for children who live in foster homes or do not have either a father or mother, the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program may be especially helpful because it would help fulfill needs of affiliation and social interaction.

For protection - I think that children may join for this reason, because gangs may pressure people to "take a side", but I believe kids would obviously be much more protected and better off if there were no gangs. In order to deal with this aspect of gang formation, I would say that perhaps the police force in gang-prone areas needs to be built up to make the community safer. By enforcing punishments (jail time) on those who break the law, we would be able to provide negative punishment for such criminal behaviors. Once again, however, I would like to stress that I believe punitive measures are only one component of an effective solution. A meaningful approach has to also provide a way for affiliation needs to be met, otherwise a void will be left within the individual.

To gain an identity, Intimidation - I believe these motivations may fit into the need for competence, relatedness, achievement, and power. Most of us want to set ourselves apart from others, forge a new path in life, and develop feelings of competence and self-worth. By joining a gang, many people may feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, part of a group, and hold a certain amount of power and status.
I believe that one way to deal with this may actually involve improving the education system, working harder to provide for the needs of those in impoverished areas, and showing the less fortunate that we very much care for them. Although most of us hold positive views towards those around us (feelings of altruism), I think those living in impoverished areas sometimes justify their criminal activity towards others by believing that they are neglected and overlooked in society, that they are not cared for, and that they sometimes cannot resist breaking the law to ensure their survival.

I am in no way condoning criminal behavior, but I would simply like to say that I believe what we have learned in Motivation and Emotion class can be applicable to dealing with gangs. It may be important to target the root causes for gang membership, such as appealing to one's needs for affiliation through mentorship programs, providing extra security resources to impoverished areas, and working hard to create opportunities for children to succeed in the education system, so they can pursue their needs for achievement and identity through academic endeavors rather than criminal ones.

As a closing comment, I would also like to say that I believe joining a gang for affiliation purposes may be a leading reason, but I do not believe gang membership even fulfills that need in its entirety. As a gang member, one is not loved near unconditionally, as in a family. If you do something wrong, you may even be killed by your own "family" and you would likely be aware of this throughout the duration of your gang membership. I do not believe there is any real sense of security for most gang members. There may be a certain amount of loyalty, but there is likely much more distrust.


I personally have never had any experience with gangs, but recently in my Minority Group Relations class, we had a panel of pervious gang members come and talk to us. It was very interesting to hear their stories about the gang life. These men stated some of the same reasons for joining gangs that the blog post had. A lot of these men had broken homes, parents who were never around or parents who were involved in criminal activities. These men said being part of a gang gave them an identity and a sense of family. They stated that their brothers, this is what they called other gang members, would die for them and they were die for their brothers. They had each other’s backs no matter what. Gangs gave these men a feeling of love and support, something they couldn’t get at home with their own families. These three men all started they joined for the love and support aspect that the gang provided them, but they said that the protection and intimation that the gang provided them was a plus. These men grew up in rough neighborhoods, were shoot outs and death was a common thing. Being a part of a gang provided them with protection and told people not to mess with them. All these men were carrying guns by the age of 15.

Some things I learned from this panel are that the colors of a gang mean everything. Gangs choose colors to represent their gangs. If they see a person wearing a color from a rival gang, whether that person has done something to them or not, there is a good chance there will be a shoot out and at least one if not both gang members will die. I also learned that once you join a gang they become your family, which to these men was a good thing. They spent all their time with their “brothers” and protecting their gang and reputation. For these men a lot of the time drugs are part of the gang scene. All of these men were from the Texas area, were they said crime bosses and drugs were a common things for them. After joining a gang these men’s lives became about drugs, guns, fighting, dying and family.

This gang panel also talked about how they got out and what made them want to leave. One man said that he saw so many friends die because of the gang and when his best friend and gang member was shot and killed that was enough for him. He knew that he didn’t want this life anymore and he wanted better for himself. Seeing his best friend die in front of him motivated him to leave the gang life. He had to ask permission from the gang leaders to leave and he was granted permission to leave without bad will. After he left the gang he needed to find something to do. He didn’t have any skills or work experience. He had gone to school though and had gotten a high school diploma. He was inspired by a few young men is his neighborhood who were applying for college. He took a chance and applied to UNI, among other schools and was accepted in to each one. He said the first step to turning his life around was to get out of the gang life. The other two men followed a similar path to their leaving the gang life too.

Motivation played a big part of these men’s lives. They were motivated for a few reasons to join the gang and then different things came into play that motivated them to leave the gang life. Their social environment and back ground played a part in why they joined and left the gang life.

This is an interesting topic. I had done a lot of reading on bullying and it seems to be related. I could see younger kids joining gangs to be protected from bullying or joining gangs to be with others who also liked to bully. For many kids though, bullying is a way for them to establish an identity and gain some kind of closeness and brotherhood that they aren't getting. It is interesting how they can still be motivated to be in a gang after doing their initiations. It is also interesting to see how and why people leave gangs, I can only imagine how hard it would be.

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