Gangs (cont3)

John Hagedorn
The Enclyclopedia of Community
Sage Publications
Karen Christianson and David Levinson,
General Editors
pp 517-522

The Urban-Crisis Era of the 1960s

T he turbulence of the 1960s was evident in Suttles’s work, as civil-rights organizations influenced African-American gangs in Chicago’s Addams area where Suttles studied gangs. Suttles’s notion that gangs were functional for their communities was questioned by an upsurge in gang violence in major cities. Walter Miller’s more negative assessment of gangs’ place in society is evident in his definition of gangs as “a group of recurrently associating individuals with identifiable leadership and internal organization, identifying with or claiming control over territory in the community, and engaging either individually or collectively in violent or other forms of illegal behavior” (Miller 1975, 9).

Miller’s view was shared by other researchers, including Malcolm Klein, and by law enforcement professionals, and omitted any notion of the gang as a part of the moral order of the community. The sociological definition of gang was replaced by terms mainly useful to law enforcement. No longer was tolerance the preferred strategy; rather, war would be declared on gangs. This change in focus coincided with a change in the ethnicity of most gangs. As the Irish and other ethnic groups moved into the suburbs and middle class, African-American, Puerto Rican, and Mexican gangs began to predominate. Unlike their white ethnic predecessors, large sectors of the African-American community and other dark-skinned minorities were not upwardly mobile.

In New York City, Puerto Rican immigration added to the mix of immigrant groups and gangs. The film West Side Story (1961) brought Puerto Rican gang life national notoriety as attention focused anew on delinquency. The New York Youth Board followed in the footsteps of the earlier gang outreach work in Chicago (the Chicago Area Project) in working with community groups to “reach the fighting gang.” The main goal of their work was “the building of a bridge between the members of those groups and the community” (New York City Youth Board 1960, 6).


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Youth gangs also were deeply involved in various illicit activities, and in some cities, like Chicago, challenged organized crime for control of the local rackets. Jeff Fort’s Blackstone Rangers replaced the Italian Outfit and controlled drug distribution and gambling in parts of Chicago’s South Side. Rates of violence increased as ghetto conditions spawned hopelessness and despair. Studies like Kenneth B. Clark’s 1965 Dark Ghetto argued for redoubled efforts to strengthen ties between the community and their youth. During the civil-rights era, youth gangs were both politicized and looking for a way to survive.