In Los Angeles and other urban areas in the United States, the creation of street gangs increased at a shocking pace throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The most well-known gangs of Los Angeles, the Bloods and the Crips, are mostly African American. In addition to the growing number of African American gangs, there are approximately 600 Latino gangs in Los Angeles County with a growing Asian gang population numbering around 20,000 members.

From interviews with different people living in gang infested neighborhoods, there seems to be three important periods relevant to the development of the present-day black gangs. The first period is when the major black clubs formed. After the Watts rebellion of 1965, the second period gave way to the civil rights era of Los Angeles where blacks, including those who were former club members, became politically active for the remainder of the 1960s.

By the early 1970s black street gangs began to reemerge. While black gangs do not make up the largest or most active gang population in Los Angeles, today their influence on street gang culture nationally has been profound.

The 18th Street gang was formed in the 1960s. The 18th Street gang was the first Latino gang to break the racial membership barrier. When asked why they gang bang, some members say, “A gang offered me security when I joined.” The 18th Street gang members frequently put tattoos on their body. The most common tattoo is XVIII. Many of these members have access to automatic weapons. The 18th Street gang is often referred to as the “Children’s Army” due to its recruitment of elementary and middle school age kids.

Racism between black and Latino gangs has sparked many fights and shootings. For example, it was reported that a Latino gang, Florence, was responsible for the killing of a middle-aged African American man. Another example of this racial tension was when a fight broke out between two students at a high school and exploded into a large scale fight between blacks and Latinos. Yet another example is that of a Latino man who was reportedly shot and killed by a black gang.

Competition also adds to the racial conflict between blacks and Latinos. The struggle between blacks and Latinos to secure the same jobs, housing, and” turf” is competition that leads to tension and conflict.

There are many reasons why people join gangs. They join gangs for protection and because of friends, family, temptation, and the influence of drugs. It is really sad that so many young people fall for the language and promises of gang members. This, surprisingly, can be what convinces them to join.

Gangs usually start in a smaller form that are called “cliques.” Cliques are basically a group of people identified by a specific name. There are many gangs and cliques in South L.A., such as Bps, Jungles, 42nd Street and Florence.

In talks with some gang associated people, 90 percent of them said things such as, “It’s all about protecting our turf.” The other 10 percent of them said they joined for protection. While it is true that the public education system alone will not be able to save them all, it would certainly be able to help many.

Gangs hurt us in many ways. Their activity influences children. Some kids are in gangs because they think it’s cool. Like 13 year old Joel who was shot by a Latino gang member. A kid gets shot just because he doesn’t correctly answer the question about what set he claims. The poor kid died so early he didn’t even get to live a full life and it’s a sad thing.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s L.A. gang reduction strategy program offers some very hopeful things. But, he lacks one most important element. What we need to do is bring them together and find the good kids in those gangs so they can have a place to come together, find their purpose, and seek former gang members to mentor them. Teach them that they can do more. Encourage them to hang out with families and their friends. The message: keep your friends close and your families closer.

Gangs are a terrible thing to have in our community. They should be stopped.

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