How Gangs are Organized

I’m in Mauro Corvasce and Joseph Paglino’s book, Murder one: A Writer’s Guide to Homicide, and chapter five it deals with gang murders. Today I want to discuss the organization of gangs so you can create a believable gang for your work of fiction. 

The authors say that “street gangs are formed to give the members a sense of belonging. As they expand… their ideology shifts from a sense of brotherhood to a focus on obtaining power, control, and money.” You’ve probably seen this on TV a time or two. On one street, you have a small group of boys (and girls) from  a minority race. Could be a couple of Hispanic kids in a predominately Italian neighborhood. Could be a group of black kids in a predominately Asian neighborhood. Mix and match to suit your purposes. (Side note: I am in no way a racist person, but it’s a fact of life that most of the time, gang members are of the same race. Not always, but most of the time.) Anyway, this small group of kids bands together to protect each other from the threats, perceived or otherwise, they face in their neighborhood. They turn to criminal enterprise to fund their “protection” and attract more members. Soon they’ve expanded from their home street to city blocks. Their criminal enterprises turn from petty theft and burglary to drug-dealing, prostitution, money laundering, and gun sales. They’ve grown so big, the original members don’t know everyone in the organization anymore.

And like any organization, there has to be, well, organization. Someone has to be in charge. There’s a chain of command and defined roles for member. The guys at the top are more insulated from the crimes that occur in the lower levels because, should anyone get caught, the higher-ups can’t go to prison. They need to run the organization. They also get a bigger percent of the profits. Smaller guns, smaller wads of cash, and prison sentences are for the lower guys who don’t have as much influence and power as the guys at the top.

The role and position of women in gangs is an entirely different topic for another time. Suffice to say, gangs are rarely ever “equal opportunity/equal pay” entities. Every gang member faces an initiation, and females are usually required to perform sexual acts on any of the male members who request it. Children are targeted for gang membership because they’re less likely to be suspected by police, children work for much lower pay than adults, and if caught, children rarely face jail time. Women and children are all extremely low on the org chart.

Corvasce/Paglino say, “Recruiters in street gangs look for adolescents with minimal social and academic skills, knowing these will be the easiest to attract to membership. Most street gang members are high school dropouts.” Sometimes, membership is achieved through intimidation. Sometimes kids are born into gangs–their entire family belongs. On the org chart, recruiters are necessary, so they’re closer to the top than the bottom.

That wraps up everything the authors said about gang organization. My next post is all about gang kills: motivation and method.


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