Gangs: An International Approach

By Sean Grennan, Marjie T. Britz, Jeffrey Rush, and Thomas Barker; (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000); 479 pages; $9.91. Barnes & Noble

Reviewed by Hai H. Do

The international orientation of Gangs provides for a unique addition to a body of literature more commonly focused on the United States.  The groups covered include Italian, Jamaican, Korean, Vietnamese, and Israeli gangs, among others.  The authors explore the formation of these gangs, the history of their criminal activities, and their future in society.  The motivations of founding gang members, initiation rites, ethnic, racial, and religious makeup, and mechanisms of member mobility within the organizational hierarchy are also addressed.  The book attempts to provide a pragmatic in-depth look into all types of gangs, advancing our understanding of their history, structure, and philosophy.

In Chapter 2, the authors offer their definition of a gang, noting that researchers have come up with at least 14 different definitions in the past.  They concede that ambiguous definitions can be beneficial due to gangs displaying considerable variation in interests and methods around the world.  Nonetheless, according to the authors, all gangs exhibit six general characteristics: being organized; having identifiable leadership; identifying with a territory; continual association; having a specific purpose; and engaging in illegal activities. One crucial aspect has evolved over time, however—the use of violence.  Violence in the name of the gang promotes solidarity and secures territory.  Thus, the authors utilize the following definition of a gang:

A gang is any transpersonal group of individuals that shows a willingness to use deadly violence to claim and defend territory, and [sic] attack rival gangs, extort or rob money, or engage in other criminal behavior as an activity associated with its group, and is recognized by itself and its immediate community as a distinct dangerous entity.  The basic structure of gangs is one of gender and leadership differentiation unique to its particular location and history.

In their conclusion, the authors advocate a zero-tolerance policy to quash the plague of gangs in society.  While this strategy may work in some countries, heavy-handed policies have exacerbated the problem in others, particularly in Latin America.  As the authors themselves acknowledge, understanding the nature of gangs is a crucial step towards devising specific countermeasures to address violent groups.  This book, though, offers only one way to accomplish that goal.