A gang is considered to be an association of at least 3 individuals who adopt a group identity that includes a name, symbol, clothing, etc. Gangs participate in violent and criminal activity, have an initiation process, “rules” for maintaining membership, and have chosen certain locations as their territory or “turf”. They also form alliances and rivalries with other gangs based on race, location, resources, etc. Common initiation practices include: allowing members of the gang they want to join beat them up (“jump in”), gang rapes, shootings/ murder and theft. For gangs that have male and female members, female initiation can also include sleeping with the male members (“sleep in”).

Some reasons why kids join gangs:

  • A sense of identity/belonging
  • Attention/status/recognition
  • Rough family life/abuse or neglect
  • Lack of male role models
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse in the home
  • Peer pressure
  • Protection
  • Poverty
  • Racism
  • Media endorses drugs, violence, crime and sex
  • They see part of a gang as a way of having money and power
  • The false promise of a better life

The majority of gang members are teenagers and young adults, 13 – 21 years of age, although, some gang members are as young as 9 years old. Neighborhood or local gangs are the highest threat. These gangs are most likely made up of residents of rival neighborhoods who decided to form gangs. Criminal acts committed by local gangs include assault, selling drugs and robbery. Many higher level gangs are also involved in human trafficking, prostitution.

Gangs are usually identified by their clothing color and style. However, someone wearing gang-style clothing does not mean that they are in a gang. Many people have been killed for wearing gang-style clothing. Many gangs know that they are identified by their clothing, and have decided to stop wearing their respective style/color. This is to blend in with everyone else, as a way to avoid detection by law enforcement. Gangs are also identified by their signs/symbols. These symbols are used to make a gang’s presence known wherever they go. This is through the use of graffiti that is sprayed on buildings, cars, etc. Graffiti is also used to mark a gang’s territory and to communicate with other gangs (affiliate and rival).

Social media has become a popular method used by many gangs to recruit new members. It is also used to communicate with affiliate gangs, troll rival gangs, coordinate plans for criminal activity and prevent detection by law enforcement. Many gang members have gained access to the military and other government institutions. These gang members, who have received military training, use their new skills to make their gangs stronger against rival gangs, law enforcement and others.

Leaving a gang is NEVER an option, so it is better to not join in the first place. Members who attempt to leave the gang life behind, end up getting killed by the people they thought they could trust and considered to be their family.

If you are contacted by a gang member through social media or text, take screen shots, and tell an adult that you trust!



Federal Bureau of Investigations 2015 National Gang Report (NGR)

Goldsboro, North Carolina Police Department

National Institute of Justice

For more information:

Gang Awareness Guide: Recognize the Signs

Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T)

National Gang Center

The United States Department of Justice