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Gangs And Gang Members Essay, Research Paper

Let’s say you’re by yourself on the subway in New York City. You get on and it’s not that crowded, there’s a bunch of open seats. As you look around, you notice that the car is filled with mainly high school aged kids, mostly boys. On one side there is a spot next to a bunch of African Americans, on the other side it’s a posse of Asians. Okay, so where are you going to sit? Next to the Asian’s I bet. What if it was Latino’s instead of Blacks, chances are you would still say you’d go towards the Asian’s and shy away from the more typical gang looking kids. When most people think of gangs, they don’t really think Asian, it’s a Black or Hispanic thing right? Well, Asian gangs have been becoming more and more prevalent. Especially among our nation’s largest cities. The majority of them are in China Town, in San Francisco. New York’s Asian population is continuously growing though, and with that comes the urban gangs. Where do they originate, and just how pervasive are they in our society? It’s a new area of study that seemed more interesting to me than the usual American gangs.

First let’s focus on the fact that gang related crime is one of the most dangerous challenges facing society and law enforcement today. They are younger, more brutal, unafraid of consequences and becoming increasingly more vicious. Gang members work together as cliques, they commit all sorts of violent crimes including murders, rapes, robberies and kidnappings. “They live in aimless and violent presents; have no sense of the past and no hope for the future; they commit unspeakably brutal crimes against other people often to gratify whatever urges of desires drive them at the moment and their utter lack of remorse is shocking” (Duin, 31). Gangs are a known problem in society; they are dangerous and hard to control. Asian gangs are a new phenomenon, yet are quickly becoming more and more common within the United States

Asian-Americans have often been stereotyped as the “model minority whose values are benign: strong work ethic, low profile, honor students, loyalty of family” (Sigmund, 1995, p.8). “Someone who is quiet, studious, and who plays the violin” (Lee, 1992, p.129) “preserving the sacred worth of human life, religious faith, community spirit and?.to be teachers of tolerance hard work, fiscal responsibility, cooperation and love” (Takaki, 1989, p. 474-475). Yet Asian crimes by teens, both individually and in gangs, “have been cropping up like weeds?.What has gone wrong?” (Sigmund, 1995, p.8). There seems to be a huge irony here, when one compares popular views of Asian Americans and their admirable work ethic to the increasing incidences of Asian related youth crimes. Upon a second examination, one may begin to question whether the phenomenon of Asian American crimes actually opposes the model minority work ethic, consider crime as an occupation: if the Asian American work ethic focuses on succeeding in the new world, then crime can not be ruled out as a means of attaining financial success. (Sigmund, 1995)

The history of Chinese gangs goes back to a mystical religious group formed over three hundred years ago in China. The group, “the Triad Society was made up of Buddhist and Taoist priests opposed the Manchu emperor K’ang His, who reigned from 1662 to 1723″ (Gardner, 1983,p.15). The members of the society devoted themselves to politically humanitarian causes. They escaped persecution of the emperor going to Hong Kong, where “More than three quarters of the population was said to be connected to the Triad” (Gardner, 1983, p.15) After Sun Yat Sen founded the Chinese Republic using the Triad organization politically, it’s members began fighting among themselves and turned to criminal activities. (Takaki, 1989) Other gangs originated in the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia, and the Golden Crescent in Southwest Asia. A number of these groups came about as a result of social and political upheaval in their countries of origin. Former members of the military created many of these crime groups. So, some have their roots in political unrest in their home countries. Most of these gangs immigrated to the West Coast in large numbers following the end of the Vietnam War. (Takaki, 1989)

Gangs have been a part of society in Asian countries for centuries. Gangs like the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Tong (formerly known as the Triads) has been around since feudal times. The origin of the Yakuza can be traced back to as early as 1612, when Kabuki mono “crazy ones” began to attract the attention of the local officials. The Kabuki monos were eccentric samurai who took outrageous names for their bands and spoke heavily in slang. They were also servants of the Shogun. The groups were compromised of nearly 500,000 samurai that were forced into unemployment during the time of peace, the Tokugawa era. This forced them to become ronin, or masterless samurai and many of them turned into bandits, looting towns and villages as they wandered through Japan. (Lee, 1992)

The Yakuza as they are known today did not surface until the middle to late 1700’s. They include the bakuto (traditional gamblers) and the tekiya (street peddlers). These terms are still used to describe yakuza members today, although a third group, gurentai (hoodlums) was added in the post World War Two era. “Everyone in those groups came from the same backround: poor, landless, delinquents and misfits. The groups stuck closely in the same small areas without problems, as the bakuto remained mostly along the highways and towns, and the tekiya operated in the markets and fairs” (Lee, 1992, p. 201).

“Asian criminal groups arrived to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (Yablonski, 1997). In the early days of Asian immigration, many of them served as legal and business advisors to their communities, helping the newly arrived Asians make their way among the strange customs of Western culture. But they often exacted a price from those they helped in the form of loyalty to the gang. (Yablonski, 1997)

In recent years, the presence of Asian gangs has become more and more apparent in the United States. The younger members of these gangs have become assimilated to American culture and customs. Modern gangs have a trend toward scarring of mutilation to create gang markings. Burns on hands or forearms are commonly associated with Southeast Asian gangs form the Philippines, Vietnam of Cambodia. Chinese gang members tend to have burns on their upper arms, with females sporting burns on their ankles and feet. All the gang members have different combinations of markings. The number and pattern of burns means different things to each individual gang. (Webb, 1995).

Most gang members prefer imported cars like Hondas, Mazdas or Toyotas as their means of transportation. Many of them will spruce then up by adding fender flares, spoilers, tinted windows or pinstripes. These cars are used as means of reflecting status and wealth to other gang members. (Gardner, 1992) These same members will generally be armed with and use the best weapons available. They prefer “high capacity handguns and semi automatic weapons” with “9mm semi automatic handguns” as their weapon of choice (Sigmund, 1995, p.11).

Modern gang members are generally twelve to eighteen years of age. They share a growing trend toward adopting colors and terms associated with the Crips and the Bloods. They dress well and are usually well groomed and clean. Their hairstyles vary; many of them have “new wave” haircuts. When gang members are engaged in criminal activity, many of them color their hair. After the crime has been committed, they will often wash the color out. They may even cut their hair to avoid being recognized by police. (Sigmund, 1995, p. 10)

Asian gangs engage in a wide range of criminal activities including “extortion, home invasion, prostitution, gambling, and drug trafficking however, robbery is still their crime of choice” (Lam, 1994, p.3). A common method of robbery is for gang members to break into homes of Asian immigrants or business owners, tie up their victims and beat them until they produce valuable items or money. (Lam 1994) Several factors have made fellow Asians their primary targets. First Asians, especially the recent immigrants and business owners do not put money in banks. For many of these immigrants, banking is a completely new experience. This is because they come from countries have limited banking services established. Because of this, many of them keep their money at home, or invest in jewelry. From their point of view, buying gold is not only the safest way to protect their money, but also the best form of investment since the price of gold rarely falls. Secondly, Asian gangs also recognize that they are not likely to get prosecuted for their crimes against other Asians. Many of the victims are unlikely to call or report crimes to the police.

Many Asian’s try to avoid dealing with law enforcement officials or agencies for as long as possible. This problem is not the result of police actions or practices, but rather an ill-conceived notion about the role of law enforcement officials in the community. To many Asians, the law represents an extreme source of terror rather than a source of help or service. This misconception grew because of the social and political conditions from which they came. (Webb, 1995). “For years, many Asian governments (e.g., China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Taiwan, North and South Korea, Indonesia, and Burma) have used the police as a political weapon to suppress political discontents and to protect their powers rather than as an instrument to protect justice” (Lee, 1992, p.205). Unlike the legal system of the United States where and individual cannot be arrested without a warrant or sent to prison without receiving a fair trial, many of the legal systems in the Asia rarely provide these protections even if they are written into law. (Lee, 1992)

Many of them are also unwilling to report the crimes inflicted on them by Asian gangs for other reasons. To many, talking about the criminal activities committed by Asians against their own people in public (e.g. reporting the crimes to the police or mass media) in an admission of failure not only of the ones who committed the crimes, but also of the entire Asian community. “This notion of collective shame is deeply rooted in the teachings of Confucianism, in which the entire community must share the blame for individual failures, since individuals are part of the community” (Takaki, 1989, p. 451). Moreover, many Asians have attempted to present a positive image of themselves to the American public. Consequently, they downplay their shortcomings in their struggle for respectability and acceptance by American people. (Sigmund, 1995).

Asian gangs have become increasingly more wide spread in the United States in recent years. Many of them originated centuries ago and played important roles in society. As Asian immigration to the United States increased, gang members followed. Gangs and other forms of organized crime have become a part of life for Asian Americans, who must deal with them on a daily basis. These youth gangs engage in criminal behavior that often goes unreported because of the communities’ fear of law enforcement officials. The fact that these crimes go unreported leads the average American to believe that crime among the Asian American community is non existent. As the years progress, Asian gangs, as well as gangs in general will become increasingly more common. In order to prevent this, we must stop this violence before it occurs. Law enforcement as well as the community in general needs to take more of an interest in the functions of Asians as criminals do in our society.

I didn’t single out Asians because I hold a prejudice over only them. I detest gangs in general; Asian ones are just of interest to me. It is believed that if we employ more members of the Asian community into police work, they’ll feel more represented and there will be limited cultural and language barriers. On the other hand, members of the Asian community need to come forward and report crimes when they occur. No one should have to live in fear of these gangs. They mainly peg out Asians, but the entire community is at risk, therefor it is everyone’s problem. Gangs will only be stopped when forces join together for the benefit of everyone. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen that we feel comfortable on that subway ride, and I know now that I wouldn’t feel any safer next to the Asian kids any more than the Blacks or Hispanics.

Duin, Julia. Alarm Over Crime puts Focus on Nation’s Moral Crisis. Washington

Times, 11/17/1996, p31.

Gardner, S. Street Gangs. Franklin Watts, New York: 1983.

Gardner, S. Street Gangs in America. Franklin Watts, New York: 1992.

Lam, M. “Gun Prevalence finds it’s way to Asian Youth: You don’t have to be in

A Gang to Band” Asian weekly. 1994, 16.

Lee, J. Asian Americans. New York Press, New York: 1992.

Sigmund, S. Documentary Film Explores Asian Youth Crime. Asian Pages,

1995, 5.

Tataki, R. Strangers from a Distant Shore. Penguin Books, New York: 1989.

Webb, M. Drugs and Gangs. Rosen Publishing Group, New York: 1995.

Yablonski, L. Gangsters: Fifty Years of Madness, Drugs and Death on the Streets

of America. New York University Press: 1996.

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