Gangs in the Midwestern United States

In 1983, Rosenbaum and Grant identified three Evanston, IL, gangs as "satellites" of major Chicago gangs, but proceeded to emphasize that they "are composed largely of Evanston residents, and in a very real sense, are Evanston gangs" (p. 15). They also found that two indigenous gangs, with no outside connection, contributed disproportionately to levels of violence and were, therefore, "almost totally responsible for increasing fear of crime in the community and forcing current reactions to the problem" (Rosenbaum and Grant, 1983:21). In contrast, the Chicago-connected gangs maintained a lower profile and were more profit oriented in their illegal activities, aspiring "to be more like organized crime" (Rosenbaum and Grant, 1983:21). In other words, the gangs indigenous to Evanston seemed to be more of a threat to the community than the Chicago-based gangs. The conclusion can be drawn that in this particular study, the migration of gangs into Evanston only minimally affected the proliferation of gang activities.

In an extensive study of Milwaukee gangs in 1988, 18 groups were found to use the names and symbols of major Chicago gangs, including identification with such gang confederations as People versus Folk (Hagedorn, 1988). In questioning gang founders on the origins of the gangs, it was determined that only 4 of the 18 were formed directly by gang members who had moved from Chicago to Milwaukee. Further, these members maintained only slight ties to their original Chicago gangs. Despite law enforcement claims to the contrary, no existence of a super-gang (i.e., Chicago) coalition was found in Milwaukee. Founding gang members strongly resented the idea that their gang was in any way tied to the original Chicago gangs (Hagedorn, 1988). In this study, Hagedorn concludes that gang formation in Milwaukee was only minimally affected by the migration of Chicago gangs. If anything, the influence was more cultural than structural, because gangs in smaller cities tend to follow big-city gang traditions and borrow cultural aspects from these gang images.

Further supporting the notion that gang migration only minimally affects proliferation is a 1989 study that determined that gangs in Columbus and Cleveland, OH, originated from streetcorner groups and breakdancing/rapping groups and also from migrating street-gang leaders from Chicago or Los Angeles (Huff, 1989). The study found no evidence that Ohio gangs were directly affiliated with gangs from other cities, particularly Chicago, Detroit, or Los Angeles.

In 1992, researchers examined the role that Chicago gangs played in the emergence of youth gangs in Kenosha, WI (Zevitz and Takata, 1992). Based on interviews with gang members, police analyses, and social service and school records, the study concluded that "the regional gangs in this study were products of local development even though they had a cultural affinity with their metropolitan counterparts. . . . We found no convincing evidence that metropolitan gangs had branched out to the outlying community where our study took place" (Zevitz and Takata, 1992:102). Regular contact between some Chicago and Kenosha gang members reflected kinship or old neighborhood ties rather than the organizational expansion of Chicago gangs.

These findings are echoed in a 1996 study of 99 gang members in St. Louis (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996). A minority (16 percent) of those interviewed suggested that gangs reemerged in St. Louis, MO, through the efforts of gang members from Los Angeles. Several of these migrants had relocated for social reasons, such as visiting relatives. The study also found that St. Louis gangs were more likely to originate as a result of neighborhood conflicts influenced by popular culture rather than from big-city connections.

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The powerful images of Los Angeles gangs, conveyed through movies, clothes, and music, provided a symbolic reference point for these antagonisms. In this way, popular culture provided the symbols and rhetoric of gang affiliation and activities that galvanized neighborhood rivalries (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996:88).

Another study on gang migration in 1996 surveyed 752 jurisdictions in Illinois (Knox et al., 1996). (Because only 38 percent of the law enforcement agencies responded, these findings should be interpreted cautiously.) The majority of respondents (88 percent) reported that gangs from outside their area had established an influence, that one-fifth or more of their local gang population was attributable to recent arrivals (49 percent), that parental relocation of gang members served to transplant the gang problem to the area (65 percent), and that some of their gang problem was due to gang migration (69 percent). The study concluded that, while the impact of migration varies, "it is still of considerable interest to the law enforcement community" (Knox et al., 1996:78).

Gang Members on the Move Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  October 1998