Security Management: Understanding Violent Youth Gangs
Alcohol not only may negatively impact behaviour, it also harms neurology.
Groups of juveniles are up to 10 times as likely to be involved in criminal activity than individual youths. Understanding the impact of gang mentality is important for all security professionals seeking to understand youth crime.
Sociologists have identified 3 primary gang types including social gangs, delinquent gangs and violent gangs. It’s possible that through membership changes or other pressures, gangs can progress from one type to another. It’s also possible for sub groups within the gang to vary from the gang’s core elements.
Social gangs are defined as permanent groups based in a set location, schoolyard, shopping strip, sportsfield, skating rink with members known to each other and they may wear some sort of insignia. It’s possible this insignia could be defined as a particular manner of dress that varies from mainstream attire.
The activities of social gangs are usually constructive, built around some form of mutually satisfying sporting activity like surfing, rollerblading, martial arts, skateboarding, model car racing – any activity that’s not part of mainstream school curriculum.
A social gang’s admiration for the skills of its members are reflections of the attitudes of broader social groups and such a group may be envied or looked up to other kids at school or within the general community. Social gangs will often influence looser orbits of brothers, sisters, girlfriends or boyfriends.
According to sociologists Haskell and Yablonsky, “The delinquent gang is primarily organized to carry out various illegal activities with the social interaction of the group being a secondary factor. Prominent among the gang’s delinquent activities are burglary, petty thievery, mugging, assault for profit not entertainment, and other illegal acts.
The delinquent gang is generally a tight clique forming a small mobile gang that can steal and escape with minimum risk. It would lose its cohesive quality and the intimate co-operation required if it became too large. Membership is not easily achieved and generally must be approved by all members of the gang.
Such groups have tight structure and have developed reliance on each other. Each of the gang’s members will have a particular speciality for which he or she is respected. Leadership of delinquent gangs is based on the skill of the delinquent activity undertaken along with strengths in planning and organization. The membership of the delinquent gang is emotionally stable and violence is rare unless gang members are faced with the decision to either conduct a fighting retreat or be arrested. Profit is the primary motive of the gang.
Some gangs are formed or form for no other reason than the gratification of violent tendencies of all or a majority of the gang’s members. Violent gangs are territorial and their presence is increasingly common in Australia. Colour gangs are a classic example. The activities of these gangs will centre around a specific geographic area and they will defend their activities against other gangs. Most violent clashes between gangs reported in the media are the result of territorial struggles.
Battles between gangs are usually based on motivations that seem irrelevant or meaningless to non-members. Part of the security problem of violent gangs is that the gang’s authority supplants the authority of residents and local authorities. Gangs do seem to create alliances and counter alliance in their warfare but when the crunch comes and a fight occurs, there will be little organization with general assault being the only specific aim. Gang membership is especially complicated where violent gangs are concerned.
According to Haskell and Yablonsky, membership characteristics are unclear in a violent gang’s structure, with leaders characterized by megalomania, a strong need to control and an emotionally distorted picture of the gangs’ organization. Violent gangs are fluid. The tensions that exist within and around them mean membership and leadership are constantly changing. Both internal and external allegiance is also unstable.
Interrelated circumstances influencing gang violence include varied negative socioculture dislocations that exist in disorganized rapidly changing urban areas. Such dislocations produce dysfunctional gaps in the socialization process that would ordinarily train the child for normal social roles. Deprive of adequate socialistion, children develop asocial or psychopathic personalities.
The resulting psychopathic personalities will be characterized by a lack of social conscience, a limited ability to relate, identify or empathise with others except for egocentric objectives and impulsive, aggressive and socially destructive behaviour when impulsive immediate needs are not met.
There is community in all groups whether they be schools, workplaces or social clubs.
“Such normal groups can be seen indirectly as projected models for behaviour toward the accomplishment of the mutually agreed goals of its members,” say Haskell and Yablonsky.
“A dominant characteristic of such a group is the fact most members are in consensual agreement about the important norms and reciprocal expectations that regulate and determine each group member’s behaviour.”
According to Norman Cameron’s The Paranoid Pseudo Community, a group makes certain demands on the individual and in the normative pattern, the individual gives themself to group demands. But under different circumstances, people with poor social development can’t maintain appropriate levels of social expectation. As a result “they become socially disarticulated and very often have to be set aside from the rest of their community to live under artificially simplified conditions.”
The violent gang, however, gives the psychopathic youth a refuge from the demands of the general community. Individuals forming the violent gang are essentially unable to put themselves in other people’s shoes – they are without social conscience. The process of self-delusion faced by the psychopath is initially manifested through thought, but then is projected onto the broader community through an individual’s actions.
According to Cameron: “The paranoid person, because of poorly developed role-taking ability, which may have been derived from defective social learning in earlier life, faces their real or fancied slights and discriminations without adequate give and take in communication with others and without competence in the social interpretation of motives and intentions.”
Psychopathic violent gang members attribute to others the attitudes they have towards themselves, unintentionally organising others into a mythical functional community, a group supposedly unified in its attitudes with respect to them. But this is a pseudo-community, it’s the result of psychopathic attempts at interpretation, anticipation and validation of behaviour. It has no bearing or relevance to the real community – yet the psychopath’s actions and responses to the real community are based on feelings towards this pseudo-community.
Such a false community can grow “till it constitutes so grave a threat to the individuals integrity or life that, after clumsy attempts to get to the root of things indirectly, the psychopath bursts into directly defensive or vengeful activity. This brings out into the open a whole system or organised responses to a supposed functional community of detractors or persecuters. The real community, which cannot share such attitudes and reactions counters such actions with forcible restraint or retaliation – actions that serve to strengthen the individual’s suspicions and distorted interpretations.”
Development of such false communities directly effects the development of violent gangs and follows a pattern that can be identified and followed by criminal psychologists. Firstly there’s defective socialisation. This is where disorganised slums or outlying suburbs that operate as pools of inconsistency, allowing psychopathic youths to grow up with limited or no social conscience.
Then there’s alienation and dissociation. Psychopathic personalities are alienated from the community by their nature. Negative feelings of difference, social ineffectiveness and rejection are reinforced by what they perceive as a callous world.
Two paranoid reactions can develop – those of grandeur and those of persecution. Such patterns allow an individual to move the blame for asocial actions to the community. Violence and gang participation gives such individuals illusionary ego strength.
Haskell and Yablonsky point out that: “Indications of persecution – in fact these events are disciplinary action – are seized upon and enable the psychopath to shift responsibility. The psychopath’s prejudice against the community and the outside world’s behaviour is selectively perceived to suit emotional needs.
Violent gangs become another pseudo-community for psychopathic youth – the “structure of the violent gang, with its flexibility of size, power roles and delusionary responsibilities makes it a most convenient and socially acceptable escape hatch for the psychopathic youth…”
There are 2 groups at either end of the social scale which can be used to describe a collection of people. At one end is the mob or crowd, a loose collection of individuals – anonymous, led by spontaneity and driven by emotion. At the other end of the scale is the group – organised, controlled and driven by mutual goals.
Directly in the middle of these 2 collectives is the near group. It has a degree of permanence, while being partially disorganised at times – it’s in a state or partial disorganisation. Emperical research indicates near groups have the following structures. Participants are generally psychopathic, with the high-level psychopaths making up the group’s core and leadership. For the group’s core, the gang is a compensatory paranoid pseudo-community that acts as their favoured adjustment pattern.
Gang members have specific roles designed to suit the personalities of gang members and membership has a varied definition and limited responsibility. There are broad, unlikely boundaries surrounding emotion-based behaviour and group cohesiveness can be seen to loosen away from the core. Additional characteristics include limited consensus among participants as to the gang’s goals, stratification within the group and a constantly changing membership. Nor is the there much agreement over what constitutes normal behaviour within the gang. And interaction both within the group and without is hostile, with spontaneous outbursts of violence to achieve goals.
“In a technological society that values machines over people, there are large pockets of deprived people who become egocentric, hedonistic, frustrated and consequently, violent,” say Haskell and Yablonsky. “Violent gangs become a standard cultural form when there are thousands of young people with limited compassion. In a machine system, people are dehumanised and unable to experience the pain of the violence they may inflict on others since they have limited ability to identify or empathise with others. They are capable of committing spontaneous acts of senseless violence without feeling concern or guilt.”
Violence is an easily achieved power and in a violent gang is has a magical way of bringing prestige.
“In a single act of unpremeditated intensity, the violent gang member establishes their own sense of identity and impresses this existence on others. An aspect of senseless violence is related to the concept we would term existential validation, the validation of one’s existence.”
Most people have a sense of identity and existence in their every day activities. They don’t require intense emotional excitement to know they are alive, that they exist. In contrast, psychopaths need such arousal. Their sense of being ahuman and unfeeling requires increasingly heavier doses of bizarre and extreme behaviour to validate who and what they are.”
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
A feature of violent gang members seldom explored is the impact of FASD (foetal alcohol spectrum disorder) brain injuries caused by prenatal exposure to high concentrations of alcohol. FASD in its various forms, including ARND, which comes with no distinguishing features as FAS can, causes low impulse control, lack of attention, low empathy, poor sense of consequences, baseline resentment, frustration and over reaction to small slights, among other issues. FASD kids are also far more likely to be exposed to violence during childhood.
In at risk communities, the prevalence of FASD brain injuries may impact on 15 per cent of young people and it’s thought FASD brain injuries may be present in up to 40 per cent of the prison population. These findings need to be taken into account when dealing with youth gangs, as well as when seeking to modify delinquent behaviour. Due consideration must be given to the fact such young people were born with incurable brain damage and in many cases may be unable to adjust behaviour without long term strategies of community intervention.