A gang is a group of people, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity. In current usage it typically denotes a criminal organization or else a criminal affiliation. In early usage, the word gang referred to a group of workmen. In the United Kingdom the word is still often used in this sense, but it later underwent pejoration. The word gang often carries a negative connotation; however, within a gang which defines itself in opposition to mainstream norms, members may adopt the phrase as a statement of identity or defiance.
The word gang derives from the past participle of Old English gan, meaning "to go". It is cognate with Old Norse gangr, meaning "journey."
HistoryA wide variety of gangs, such as The Order of Assassins, Adam the Leper's gang, Penny Mobs, Indian Thugs, Chinese Triads, Snakehead, Japanese Yakuza, Irish mob, Pancho Villa's Villistas, Dead Rabbits, American Old West outlaw gangs, Bowery Boys, Jewish mafia, Russian mafia, and Italian Mafia crime families have existed for centuries. For example during the 13th century the members belonging to Sardinian Camorra, best known as Gamurra, consisting of mercenaries, before going to Naples worked in Cagliari town as private policemen and bodyguards.
For hundreds of years gangs of Thugs, usually numbering between 20 and 50 men, roamed the roads of India looking for victims for Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction. According to some estimates the Thuggees murdered 1 million people between 1740 and 1840.
Many poor orphans in Victorian London survived by joining pick pocketing gangs controlled by adult criminals. At the beginning of the 19th century, child criminals in Britain were punished in the same way as adults. They were sent to adult prisons, transported to the various Australian penal colonies, flogged, and sentenced to death for crimes such as petty theft.
The first street gang in the United States, the 40 Thieves, began around the late 1820s in New York City. In 1850, New York City recorded more than 200 gang wars fought largely by youth gangs. All the major cities of Victorian England in the late 19th century had gangs. Chicago had over 1,000 gangs in the 1920s. These early gangs were known for many criminal activities, but in most countries could not profit from drug trafficking prior to drugs being made illegal by laws such as the 1912 International Opium Convention and the 1919 Volstead Act. Gang involvement in drug trafficking increased during the 1970s and 1980s, but some gangs continue to have minimal involvement in the trade.
Current numbersIn the United States in 2006 there were approximately 785,000 active street gang members, according to the National Youth Gang Center.
Los Angeles County is considered the Gang Capital of America, with an estimated 120,000 (41,000 in the City) gang members although Chicago actually has a higher rate of gang membership per capita than Los Angeles. Also, the state of Illinois has a higher rate of gang membership (8-11 gang members per 1,000 population) than California (5-7 gang members per 1,000 population). There were at least 30,000 gangs and 800,000 gang members active across the USA in 2007. About 900,000 gang members lived "within local communities across the country," and about 147,000 were in U.S. prisons or jails in 2009. By 1999, Hispanics accounted for 47% of all gang members, Blacks 31%, Whites 13%, and Asians 6%.
Tribal leaders say Native American communities are being overwhelmed by gang violence and drug trafficking. A Dec. 13, 2009 New York Times article about growing gang violence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation estimated that there were 39 gangs with 5,000 members on that reservation alone. Navajo country recently reported 225 gangs in its territory.
There are between 25,000 and 50,000 gang members in Central America’s El Salvador.
The Mexican drug cartels have as many as 100,000 foot soldiers.
More than 1,000 gangs were known to be operating in the UK in 2009.
The FBI estimates the size of the four Italian organized crime groups to be approximately 25,000 members and 250,000 affiliates worldwide.
The Russian, Chechen, Ukrainian, Georgian, Armenian, and other former Soviet organized crime groups or "Bratvas" have approximately 300,000 people affiliated with them.
The Yakuza are among one of the largest crime organizations in the world. In Japan, as of 2005, there are some 102,400 known members.
Hong Kong's Triads include up to 160,000 members in the 21st century. It was estimated that in the 1950s, there were 300,000 Triad members in Hong Kong.
Notable examplePerhaps the best known criminal gangs are the Italian Cosa Nostra, most commonly known as the Mafia. The Napolitan Camorra, the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, the Sardinian kidnappers or Anonima Sarda and the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita are similar Italian organized gangs.
Other criminal gangs include the Russian Mafia, the Serbian mafia, the Israeli Mafia, the Albanian Mafia, Mexican and Colombian Drug Cartels, the Indian Mafia, the Chinese Triads, Irish Mob, the Corsican mafia, the Japanese Yakuza, the Jamaican-British Yardies, the Malaysian Mamak Gang, the Turkish Mafia and other crime syndicates.
On a lower level in the criminal gang food chain are many street gangs, such as the Sureños, Norteños, Crips, Bloods, Nazi Lowriders, Latin Kings, Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples in the USA. Biker (such as the Hell's Angels) and White Power Skinhead gangs in the USA are also notable