“Drinking, kicking back and gang banging”: Alcohol, violence and street gangs

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Geoffrey Hunt


Criminologists and sociologists have had a longstanding interest in gang violence, dating back to Thrasher's (1927) ethnographic observations of Chicago's gangs in the 1920's. Debates have focused on a range of issues such as whether violence is a defining property of gangs. This question has led to analyses of the frequency, variability, severity, and organization of violence in gang life (Moore, Garcia, Garcia, Cerda, Valencia 1978; Sanchez-Jankowski 1991; Sanders 1994; Taylor 1989). The etiology of gang violence also has been of central concern with a variety of reasons being advanced. Yablonsky (1970) advocated a psycho- social framework in which gang violence was tied to the pathology of the group's leadership. Other attempts to construct a causal model were connected by an interest in class issues. Miller (1958) advocated a culture of poverty argument in which gang life including violence merely reflected the focal concerns of the lower dasses. Cohen (1955) argued that gang members' hostility and aggression represents a reaction-formation to their inability to measure up to the middle class measuring rod. They reject their rejecters, and status is achieved through an alternative value system which emphasizes negativistic, malicious, and non-utilitarian behavior. Cloward and Ohlin (1960) took the notion of status deprivation further, suggesting that the variations in the legitimate and illegitimate opportunities in different lower class communities influences whether a gang is criminal, retreatist or violent.

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