Street Gangs

How Powerful are America’s Street Gangs

Gang Statistics

  • Gang violence costs more than $100 billion a year
  • 24,500 gangs in US 1,000,000 gang members in the US since 2009
  •  40% of gang members are juveniles (~400,000 teenagers)
  • 90-94% of gang members are male
  • Gang member ethnicity:
    • 47% Hispanic
    • 31% African American
    • 13% White
    • 7% Asian
  • Risk factors for girls who join gangs:
    • School failure
    • Sexual abuse and victimization
    • Family dysfunction
    • Low income
    • Emotional disorders
    • Early drug use


A gang is an organized group with a recognized leader whose activities are either criminal or, at the very least, threatening to the community. Although gang members are part of these organizations, they rarely acknowledge their own roles as contributing to the problems in that community.

Street gangs in Los Angeles are described as a group of individuals who may or may not claim control over a certain territory in the community and engage, either individually or collectively, in violent or other forms of illegal behavior. However, one of the simplest and most functional definitions is that a gang is a group of people who form an allegiance for a common purpose and engage in violent, unlawful, or criminal activity.

Modern Street Gangs

While modern street gangs do have history to race and region specific recruitment, the current trends that are being identified are that RACE, ETHNICITY, SOCIOECONOMICS, and GENDER are NO LONGER A FACTOR

Facts About Gangs

  • A gang is a group of people who claim a territory and use it to make money through illegal activities (i.e., drug trafficking). Community organizations can reduce gang activity, so host a basketball tournament at your local Boys & Girls Club.
  • Gangs can be organized based upon race, ethnicity, territory, or money-making activities, and are generally made up of members ages 8 to 22.
  • Members of gangs wear specific articles of clothing to be recognized as part of the group such as bandanas, hats, scarves of certain colors, or gang-related tattoos or symbols.
  • Gangs are one of the leading factors for growth of violent crimes both on and off school property.
  • When joining a gang, often times there is an initiation that needs to be passed. This initiation is usually a violent crime that could include theft, murder, gang-rape, or drive-by shootings
  • Gang members are more likely to be arrested or involved with drugs and alcohol than non-gang members.
  • 86% of US cities with a population of 100,000 or more report gang activity.
  • According to the FBI in 2011, there were 33,000 violent street, motorcycle, and prison gangs active in the U.S., with more than 1.4 million members (a 40% increase from 2009).
  • In recent years, gangs are participating in more non-traditional crimes such as prostitution, alien smuggling, and human trafficking, identity theft, and mortgage fraud. These new, non-traditional crimes create higher profitability and lower visibility.
  • According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Newark, Oakland and Oklahoma City – are the U.S. capitals of gang homicide.

Why Young Adults Join Street Gangs

  • Street gangs promise to provide a sense of camaraderie, friendship and family, as members establish a strong loyalty to its alliances.
  • Members experience false senses of success and confidence within the gang, as street gangs promote power and wealth.
  • Security and protection becomes a factor, as respect, fear, and recognition are gained by joining.
  • Members are sometimes born into families and neighborhoods that identify with the gangster lifestyle.
  • Members are influenced through false role models, as they look up to gang leaders and elders to provide missing life values
  • Threat of bodily injury or death to individuals and/or their immediate friends or family for refusing to join a gang.

Parents of MS-13 Victims Speak Out

Universal Street Gang Identifiers & Warning Signs

  • Self-admission
  • Gang specific body markings: tattoos, burns, and brandings
  • Possession of gang specific paraphernalia that is solely identified within gang specific groups through display of colors, reading material, graffiti, clothing, and/or symbiology
  • Association to identified and active street gangs and/or associated members
  • Observation of unexpected new friends, money, and expensive clothing and/or electronics
  • Signs of physical altercations and/or possession of weapons
  • Unexpected trouble with law enforcement, school attendance and activities, distancing from family and friends and/or disregard of family rules and curfews

Gang Violence Statistics

  • Gang-related homicides account for approximately 13% of all homicides annually
  • Highly populated areas accounted for the vast majority of gang homicides:
    • Nearly 67% occurred in cities with populations over 100,000
    • And 17% occurred in suburban counties in 2012
  • In a typical year in the so-called “gang-capitals” of Chicago and Los Angeles, around half of all homicides are gang-related;
  • These two cities alone accounted for approximately 1 in 4 gang homicides recorded in 2011-2012
  • Among agencies serving rural counties and smaller cities that reported gang activity, around 75% reported zero gang-related homicides
  • Overall, these results demonstrate conclusively that gang violence is greatly concentrated in the largest cities in the US