Racial Stereotyping of Youth Gangs
Whether it’s through films, or TV shows, the media’s fascination with gangs is extremely apparent. Specifically, the focus on juvenile gangs is most prevalent. Undeniably, gang members are stereotyped to almost always be Black or Hispanic. Even within media, black actors are disproportionally cast as gang members and related roles in both films and movies. Though empirical evidence outlines that minorities comprise the majority of gangs members, this is due to the fact that minority neighborhoods are specifically targeted since they are assumed to have high populations of gang members.
A youth gang is defined as a self-formed group of peers which all share similar characteristics. These characteristics include a gang name, symbols, matching tattoos, a leader, a common region or territory, regular meetings, and also collective efforts to carry out different activities, many of those being illegal.
Current recorded data shows that most gang members are minorities. Current statistics state that 48% of gang members are African American meanwhile 43% of gang members are Hispanic. Yet, much of this can be attributed to data collection errors and inability to adequately study gang demographics.
Researchers who study gang membership depend on ethnographic observation, data from law enforcement, and self-report surveys. Yet, there are flaws inherent to all of these data collection types which lead to over policing of Black and Hispanic communities, rather than evaluating the total population.
Though statistics may indicate a certain percentage of a racial or ethnic group is in a gang, such statistics do not specifically examine 1) areas in which gang cultures exist, but are not studied or 2) take into account that certain arrests may be unjustified. Delinquency within gangs is understudied. Due to this, it is possible to study which gangs had the highest arrest rates, but not the deviance acts committed by each gang. The law enforcement approach is flawed since reports show that police tend to organize their patrols by race and class.
A previous study which evaluated police behaviors in identifying and arresting gang members focused on juvenile gangs within both Seattle and Chicago in the late 1980s. However, police tended to overlook the white populated areas in Seattle and instead targeted the minority populated areas in Chicago. As a result of police practices that target minority neighborhoods, black youth are arrested at a much higher rate than that of white youth, and black youth are arrested for index offenses four times the rate as whites.
When it comes to gang arrests , the Hispanic community is also over policed. A statistical analysis showed that a Hispanic ethnicity drastically moderates the relationship of gang membership status to the number of arrests. In short, Hispanics in gangs get arrested at a statistically significantly higher rate than Whites in gangs. Empirically, statistical studies point to the fact that stereotyping is evident within arrests among gang members. Additionally, gang membership increased the likelihood of arrests by 45% for Hispanic youth, yet there is a decrease in likelihood of arrests by 38% in White youth who are also gang members. The study identified a probability value of .01, which is statistically significant. Even though data on whites in gangs is understudied; the data collected shows that whites are arrested at a low rate compared to both Blacks and Hispanics when controlling for miscellaneous variables; which points to the fact that stereotyping is prevalent among those who arrest gang members.