Gang violence is not a new problem for Chicago, Illinois, but recently it’s gained much more attention in education news. Since many schools in the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago have been closed down, many students must travel longer distances through unknown and gang-infested territory to get to their new school. The areas were deemed so dangerous that the city set up the Safe Passages initiative, which lines sidewalks with police and large “Safe Passage” signs to protect traveling students. Many news articles have criticized that the signs already have bullet holes in them, and on Sunday a man with gang connections had been shot near one Safe Passage route.
Texas is not exempt from gang violence. Even in small towns, gangs are a powerful force and, worse, they can be seductive to children. Gangs can offer children many things, including protection, security, a sense of belonging, camaraderie, entertainment, and an opportunity to build respect. In fact, recent research has suggested that gangs fulfill Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Gangs can recruit children as young as five to seven. Boys are more likely to be in gangs, although girls do join gangs.
Why Youth Join Gangs:
You have probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If not, it is fairly self-explanatory. Maslow claimed that human beings seek out specific needs in a specific order. That is, physiological needs, which include basic items like food and shelter, will be sought out first for survival. When that need is met, the individual will seek out security and protection, also for survival. Social needs include feelings of love, companionship and play, which are often met by friends and family. Esteem includes respect and the construction of a reputation. These four needs are considered the “deficiency needs.” Maslow believes that if these four needs are not met, then it could cause the individual anxiety or depression. Unfortunately, these are the needs that gangs fill the best.
The most basic need, physiological; gangs “take care of their own.” They have a strong sense of loyalty and companionship, and they may occasionally help out members’ families. The second need, safety, is a very common reason that youth join. If youth are surrounded by violence or feel neglected, they may seek out protection from a gang. Ironically, this often brings more violence to their lives from criminal activity and rival gangs. However, there is still the sense that a fellow gang member is watching their back. Gangs also fulfill social needs through their sense of loyalty and belonging. They also offer a sense of “play” by throwing parties or engaging in petty crime, such as graffiti tagging. Gangs can even fulfill the fifth and final need, self-actualization. Self-actualization includes creative pursuits and the creation of an identity. Gang members may feel a sense of empowerment and pride after completing a successful robbery or mugging. They may express themselves as artists through graffiti.