The United States is not the only nation that has seen the proliferation of street gangs in recent decades. However, the explosion of street gang activity in other nations can, at least partially, be traced back to the U.S., where many of these foreign gang members receive their training and internship. Individuals who make their living through criminal activity cycle in and out of the United States and take back to their own country, or another country altogether, more criminal skills and network contacts than they left with.
Although there are many reasons why gangs have gone global, one of the main sources of their education comes from time spent in the U.S. Individuals enter the country either with some criminal skills already present or with the predilection toward criminal activity, and through their initiation into the U.S. crime world, they increase their skills and criminal contacts. If the individual is arrested for such activity, he or she may be deported back to his country of origin, taking everything he has learned with him, including the many contacts he has made, which, in many cases, are drug related. The United States deports thousands of individuals each year for participating in criminal activity making this a major source of the global gang member pool.
Another reason for the global spread of street gangs can be traced to the media representation and glamorization of the gang member stereotype. As far back as the many Hollywood pictures of James Dean as the romantic and misunderstood hoodlum, American culture has inadvertently idolized the gang member. What was once present only in the movies and American novels has spread to the internet and into popular music further widening the reach of the gang mystique. Interestingly, the gang members that are created by such methods probably wouldn’t even be familiar with the terms globalization or transnational, nor would they likely care. Even more interesting is the fact that these romanticized images in no way reflect the realities of gang life, which is another fact that up and coming gang members don’t know about, but probably wouldn’t care to know either since the goal is not to become one of the criminal element that lives in squalor and deals with the day to day avoidance of arrest. The idealized image of the successful criminal as having a garage full of flashy cars and a stable full of women is the image that these individuals strive for.
It is also likely that the majority of the globalization of gangs is due simply to the move toward an increasingly globalized world. As world travel became easier, and the spread of national cultures became more prevalent, it was inevitable that the movement of individuals would signal the spread of the good and the bad, including gang mentality, culture, and activity. Some of these gangs operate as a part of criminal networks and others operate independently using what they have learned in the states as a basis for their activities.
Gangs were once formed by a group of individuals who were generally short-term, temporary members. The average gang member was usually a young man who joined the gang as a sort of rite of passage. Most of these members would eventually outgrow the gang. However, in recent decades, gang activity has taken on a whole new meaning with individuals becoming more permanent members of a gang and more entrenched in gang life and gang activities. Women are becoming more involved in gangs. And the gang has become more of an organization unto itself with members as employees and the spread into the whole of the U.S. and numerous foreign countries.
Still, for the most part, it is not the gangs themselves that have gone international but the gang persona or mentality. The phenomena of the globalization of gangs has occurred because the gang culture has spread via the media, and, most importantly, the migration of individual gang members. As previously mentioned, the individual gang members takes what he has learned and incorporates it into gang activities in another country. Gang activity in the United States has increased more than four hundred percent since the 1970’s, and gang activity has been reported in such countries as France, Germany, Canada, Japan, England, Mexico and South Africa, to name only a few. It used to be said that gangs migrated in order to find new members and to acquire additional territory. However, although this does still happen occasionally, it is now thought that the international spread of gangs did not result from any intentional plan, but rather as an unintended result of the migration of individual gang members.
The international trend of gang migration has followed a similar pattern as that which has heralded the spread of gangs in the United States itself. Gangs were once a localized phenomenon. However, as the members of the gang migrated, ironically sometimes in order to get away from the gang itself, the gang member formed a new gang in the new location. At first, these new gangs were not offshoots of the former gang, but were new outfits altogether. Once gangs realized the benefits of forming actual networks of gangs and gang members, gangs went national, and then, inevitably, international. There is little difference between the international spread of gangs and the phenomenon of the spread of gangs within the United States. The majority of this type of international spread has occurred mainly among the Hispanic and Asian migrants. These former U.S. gang members then act as a connection between the new gang and the old gang back in the U.S.
Many countries report that it is these deported gang members who are linking up with other deported gang members that are responsible for the dramatic increase of gang related crime. Many of these countries are not equipped to deal with gang activity and have found that there has been a significant increase of violent crime in their nations. Some of these gang members continue to move illegally back and forth between countries transporting people and goods. This is especially prevalent between the United States and South America. It is interesting how, in an effort to decrease gang related crime in its own country, the United States has been largely responsible for the spread of gang activity into other nations. Unlike the media, such as movies and music, the U.S. policy of deporting those immigrants that have been found to be involved in gang-related crimes has spread the gangs themselves from a once relatively segregated phenomenon into a global problem. Gangs now have initiated internationally available websites that are complete with gang mottos, symbols, bylaws, and pictures. This new form of gang communication has become as complex as the internet technology that supports it. However, such communication is reserved for the privileged few gangs that can afford it. For the most part, gangs are a non-technical network of criminal activity; some far more profitable than others, but almost all of them violent. For most gangs, the best technology they can access is the cellular phone, but this method of communication has been sufficient enough to spread crime, including murder and drugs, across the nation.
Globalization has resulted in a number of modern phenomena, both positive and negative. As gang-related activity is known to occur as a result of the disenfranchisement of a particular group of individuals, the global disenfranchisement of particular groups of individuals is likely to result in the proliferation of international gang activity. Such activity can be evidenced in the spread of terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda. Some of the international members of Al Qaeda have been solicited and others have joined the organization without any group invitation. The spread of gangs on a global scale can be seen in the same way and may, eventually, operate on the same scale.
I don’t have all the answers either.
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