U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

African-American Gang Members and Their Families in a Segregated Society

NCJ Number
Juvenile and Family Court Journal Volume: 49 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 1998 Pages: 1-14
W B Brown
Date Published
14 pages
Interviews, discussions, and observations of 79 black gang members and 68 of their parents/guardians in Detroit during 1992-96 were used to examine the extent to which parents influence their children's decisions to join and stay in gangs, why many African-American children join gangs, and the structural and racial barriers they regularly encounter.
Most participants lived in apartments (77 percent) and houses (18 percent) that would be targets for condemnation in many of Detroit's surrounding suburbs. In addition, only 29 percent of the gang members lived in households where both parents were present. Parents and guardians had low incomes or were unemployed. The 72 male and 7 female gang members ranged from 13 to 17 years. About 40 percent had dropped out of school; 57 percent were in school. Two had completed high school. Fifty-three percent reported becoming involved with gangs through introductions by friends and peers. Twenty-six participants reported companionship as the most favorable aspect of gangs, while 9 mentioned status and 8 mentioned survival as the most important characteristic. Thirty-five percent said that they had no life chances outside the gang. All the gang members, parents, and guardians reported experiencing racism to varying degrees. Parents and guardians did not want their children to join gangs and often actively tried to discourage gang involvement, but they realized that their children's life chances outside the gangs and outside the inner city are limited. Findings indicated that any analysis of inner-city youth gangs must recognize the structural institutions, social conditions, and lack of opportunities that are part of the social reality for many inner-city residents and thus must address the class and racial discrimination that they experience. Notes and 31 references