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American Deviance: Functions of Gangs

by Ace Magnolia about a year ago in fact or fiction

Do they serve a purpose?

Al Capone, one of America's most notorious gangsters.

The history of American Gangs goes all the way back to the orphans of the first immigrants and settlers as a means of survival. Gangs have not disappeared, and the reason for their existence has not either. Most people who join gangs do so in order to survive and/or feel a sense of belonging. This puts children and minorities most at risk for recruitment. Gangs are a perfect example of deviance from the norms of mainstream society and clearly show example of all five functions of deviance: Clarifying norms, unifying the group, diffusing tension, providing jobs, and promoting social change.

The distinctly deviant culture of gangs helps to clarify the norms of mainstream society. Certain behaviors are deemed more or less deviant than others while all not being within society’s norms. Gangs have a knack for showing everyone else which deviant acts will be punished and which ones will not. Crimes frequently committed by gangs, such as theft and drug dealing, also serve as a reminder that though there is no physical harm, these offenses will still be punished. Police activity, especially arrests, serve as a warning to the public that they will be punished for their wrongdoings.

Gangs unify both the ingroup and outgroup. For gangs the ingroup is anyone who is in that gang and the outgroup is everyone else. They respect and are loyal to fellow gang members and only fellow gang members. Rival gangs seek to take each other out, while mainstream society seeks to disperse and diffuse gangs and have the members transition back into society. Gangs create some of the clearest lines between groups, with their “Us against the world” mentality.

Being in a gang can allow members to diffuse tension, though not always in a positive way. They have people they feel comfortable with to vent, but may also diffuse by committing petty crimes, and sometimes more serious ones. Graffiti is a nonviolent way to relieve stress and would be encouraged by many gang members. Gang members also have the luxury of being more direct about their problems with people and may use a fight to settle the argument and be just as close and loyal afterwards.

The existence of gangs provides legitimate jobs for anyone involved in the justice system. Police officers in big cities are often confronted with gang activity and must put their lives on the line to protect innocent civilians. From there they inadvertently employ lawyers and attorneys, judges, crime reporters, criminologists, and prison guards to name a few professions. These positions would most likely exist without gangs, but gangs help provide more work for these professions, allowing many people to become part of these groups.

Gangs have frequently promoted social change by clearly identifying problem areas in mainstream society such as racism and xenophobia, as well as poverty and inequality in opportunity. Some gangs such as the Vice Lords, after realizing the error in their violent ways, sought to make a positive impact in their community, though it was cut short because of the long time prejudice of the police against them. They have also influenced change through no desire of their own, in cases like Prohibition when organized crime became rich off of illegal alcohol sales. The government eventually decided to overturn the 18th amendment in order to take the money away from criminals and instead put it into the pocket of the country.

Gangs highlight all five functions of deviance. Though deviant behavior is frowned upon, it serves a useful role in society. Gangs help clarify norms, unify groups, diffuse tension, provide jobs, and promote social change. Deviancy has shaped America from the very beginning, and will continue to do so for generations to come.

fact or fiction

Ace Magnolia

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