By Lou Savelli
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Guest Blog: Behavior and Group Dynamics In Gangs
April 29, 2012
By Lou Savelli
By Lou Savelli
Gang members form powerful social connections that multiply the violence. Outlaw motorcycle gangs, organized crime, drug cartels and ethnic gangs come together for a common purpose that may start as a social thing but can evolve into something anti-social or criminal when the members who make up the gang are antisocial or criminals themselves.
Sociologists believe that a gang will take on the morals, or lack of morals, of the worst members and often exceed that lack of morals. This behavior often manifests itself in most or all of the gang's members, especially when they are together. This behavior can be explained as 'group dynamics,' which is essentially the way individuals behave when they are part of a group.
The behavior can become extreme. Such behavior is often displayed around the world during rioting. The riots that occur during or after sporting events or protests can lead individuals who may not be inclined to act in a violent manner to act in such a manner and exceed their own planned actions or expectations.
In the case of college students who usually display disciplined behavior and conformity, attendance at a post celebratory rally for their college's team can cause them to get 'caught up' in the more severe behavior of their fellow rally-goers. This can result in the usually behaved student becoming violent, undisciplined and uncontrollable.
This group dynamic that leads to bad behavior is also evident in so many of the "Girls Gone Wild" videos advertised on television networks after midnight. Individual behavior becomes elevated to the worse behavior being displayed by friends, as the crowds cheer them on with the presence of the camera and the brief opportunity for fame.
Many of these individuals, college students, girls going wild or gang members may later be shocked by their own behavior.
Several gang members have told me that they were dabbling in minor crimes such as graffiti and petty larceny before their membership in the gang but committed more serious and more violent crimes far beyond their nature and expectations as a member of the gang.
One long-time gang member admitted to me that he never thought he could kill someone even if his life had depended on it but was involved in several gang-related murders as a member of his New York City gang. He freely told me he became physically ill during the first murder and, as he stated, 'puked his brains out' immediately afterward. Such stories were typical of the many gang members that I have interviewed during my law enforcement career and subsequent contacts.
I'm not making excuses for those individuals who typically, and as I have learned, join gangs, many members are merely followers. The hard-core members, overall, number a few in most of the gangs across the U.S. Nevertheless, the members of the gangs I'm going to highlight would easily kill someone or have already killed some or many. These gangs have shown a level of violence that may have led to their members, who were initially unwilling to reach such a violence level, become a savagely violent and callous person.
There is no excuse for someone who consciously makes the change from a person who is non-violent to someone who is violent and eventually kills with or for his gang. All are equally guilty.
Many gang members I have met, when isolated from their gang, show their true personalities. They often show signs of low self-esteem, being frightened by the thought of being alone in the streets or other traits quite opposite of the traits they show when with the other members of their gang.
These gang members can be merely frightened children who grow up into frightened adults who learn to victimize others as a way of making them feel better or committing crimes, because it seems easier than working at making an honest living. These frightened individuals lack discipline and social skills. Many have dyslexia or another form of learning disability, while others are bipolar or have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Some gang members fit the typical profile for what we would expect from a street thug. They come from dysfunctional families and lower socioeconomic and high-crime neighborhoods. There are also those members who come from solid backgrounds and middle-class neighborhoods who gravitate to gangs for popularity, street credibility, money-making or protection.
While many gang members have different personalities and traits and come from a variety of broken homes, most seem to be looking for an identity of their own or a chance to belong to something. These reasons satisfy powerful needs to an individual, especially a teenager. These needs include, but are not limited to, self-preservation, protection, love, discipline, identity, camaraderie, power, money, popularity or a chance to stand out or to get respect.
After the gang forms, it creates its own subculture that develops social standing and mores. Sociologically speaking, the gang becomes its own society for its members, while those members lose the connection to normal society and their biological or legal families.
Their goal is to maintain the function of the gang and the individual's social standing within the gang. Members may naturally fall into comfortable roles within the group. Leaders develop from those members who are usually more violent than the others or those members that are more charismatic or who have the desire to lead. Members with proven track records as risk-takers will socially end up near the top of the hierarchy of the gang. Those members who are less motivated and lack the guts of the others will take on less important roles.
Mores—moral rules and customs of a social group—develop as the gang develops. Acceptable behavior for the gang such as drug selling, drug use, shootings, stabbings, sexual deviance and other behavior become the norm for the gang.
Gang members find it increasingly difficult to interact in mainstream society. They make excuses for their behavior and blame everyone else for their failure. The more disconnected they get from society, as outlaws, the closer their connection to the gang and its mores.
This helps keep the gang's control over its members stronger. The members become more disconnected from society, old friends and real family. The activities of the gang become their normal functions. Others are viewed as outsiders and, at times, enemies. There is a lack of empathy toward others.
The gang's limited social conscience causes the individual member to find it difficult to interact with others who aren't members of the same gang. The gang becomes a job and a social function at the same time.
This article was republished with permission by Police Magazine. Sgt. Lou Savelli is the co-founder and vice president of the East Coast Gang Investigator's Association, a 23-year NYPD veteran, a former correctional officer with the Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff's and Hollywood (Fla.) PD. His Gangs Blog can be found at: http://www.policemag.com/Blog/Gangs.aspx