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Gang Mentality: Uncovering Americas Dark Past

Gangs In The 1900s & Today

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The Five Points Gang turned out infamous gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Al Capone. Members of the gang would later become absorbed by the Mafia families.

The Mafia changed the way criminal organizations operated and were perceived by society. They combined the ruthless cold blooded violence that gangs were synonymous for with the corporate business savvy capitalist structure to dominate and control the organized crime universe to this very day.


The word Mafia (M.A.F.I.A.) is really an acronym that is said to stand for Mothers And Fathers of Italian Ancestry. This is a testament to its Sicilian origins and membership. The original name for the Mafia is “La Cosa Nostra” meaning “this thing of ours”. This is a confederation of about a hundred families that claim sovereignty over a particular territory. Offshoots of this organization would migrate to Australia and the East Coast of The United States. Many people in Sicily would look upon the mob as gentlemen and role models. In America the whole of society would look upon them quite differently. In America the mob would seek to gain from criminal activity, by rivaling the authorities.

Officials were up in arms about the incline in crime, drunkenness, and drug abuse. This launched the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1915. This act was the first attempt by the government to regulate the drug trade. The Volstead Act would follow two years later. The Volstead Act made the production of alcoholic beverages illegal. This created a void that the mob was more than happy to fill. The world of organized crime found an opportunity to expand with the supplying the need for alcohol and drugs.


The span of the prohibition (1920-1933) provided the perfect pallet for the Mafia to paint an infamous portrait of terror and mayhem for profit and power.


Primarily Jewish and Italian gangsters were the beneficiaries of the prohibition period. With a hub in Ontario, Canada the mob was distributing 900,000 cases of liquor to border cities by the end of the first year of the prohibition. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota became homes for criminal organizations that would create a syndicate that redesigned the American Gang Mentality. Modern gang members often idolize the Al “Scarface” Capone gangster image.

The twentieth century gangster era bred organized criminal organizations of various ethnic backgrounds around the country.  In the early 1940’s second-class citizenship plagued Mexican Americans on the west coast, and this caused them to band together in groups just as underprivileged groups of the past. These clubs such as young men calling themselves “Pachucos” came under scrutiny from Los Angeles officials and also military officers. This launched the infamous “Zoot Suit Riots” named after the Pachucos choice of garb. While the primary targets of the riots were Mexican Americans, African Americans and Filipino Americans were beaten also.


The riots began during a time where military servicemen were stationed in a Chicano community. Sailors would have to walk through Chicano neighborhoods at night after they had been drinking, and eventually began to torment and assault and rob these young men during these drunken exchanges. While the press publicized this situation as criminal activity amongst the Mexican American community, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt came out a week later an characterized the riots as “race riots” and was accused by the Los Angeles Times of stirring up “race discord” the next day in an editorial.

During the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s the position of second-class citizenship amongst the residents of the Chicago slums coupled with racial oppression was a catalyst for the unification of poverty stricken youths. Most groups started out as social groups that taught unity and political advancement. Eventually turf wars with other groups became the back drop for the backdrop for gangs as we know them today.


Groups like the Vice Lords, Latin Kings, Bishops and the Black P. Stones created an alliance amongst their organizations. These predominantly African American and Puerto Rican American Gangs were part of the Peoples Nation. There primary rivals were the Folk Nation and white separatist groups. The Latin Kings became the most feared gang in the Illinois Prison System according to the IDOC. The Black P. Stone Rangers are actually said to be the foundation of the Bloods gang in L.A., because T. Rodgers the founder of the Bloods was originally a Black P. Stone in Chicago before he relocated to Los Angeles and encountered the Crips.

The Crips Gang of Los Angeles is one of the most infamous gangs in this day and time. This organization was founded by 16-year-old Raymond Washington and co-founder Stanley “Tookie” Williams. The Crips is said to stand for “Community Revolution In Progress” their doctrine was based on the principles of the civil rights movement and groups like the Black Panthers, a group that Washington was fascinated with. The gang was originally called the Avenue Cribs and the first mention of the name Crips was in the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper. It is rumored that it was a spelling mistake, however the name stuck.


Washington and Williams never got the chance to create an agenda for social change due to lack of political leadership, and became preoccupied with protecting the group from other community gangs. Their signature color blue is said to reflect the school color of Washington High School in South L.A. The gang was split into many sets and often feuded amongst each other. This caused some to defect. 

The set known as the Piru Street Crips in Compton formed in 1971. They were commonly called the Piru Street Boys. The Piru set enjoyed two years of peace before a feud ensued between the Piru set and the other Crip sets. The feud turned violent and escalated into full scale warfare between the former ally sets. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the Piru set decided to call a meeting to end the violence. They reached out to other gangs that were targeted by the Crips. Following a lengthy discussion the Piru set broke all ties with the Crips and started an organization that would be later known as the Bloods. T. Rodgers, originally a member of the Black P. Stones in Chicago, was instrumental in the structuring of this organization.


The desire to suppress the dominance of the Crip Gang was the sole purpose for the formation of the Bloods. While they really wanted to end the violence, the result was actually an increase in violence and criminal activity. In fact by the mid-1980s both the Crips and the Bloods were heavily involved in the drug trade.

Currently the membership of these gangs is ever-increasing and spreading throughout the urban poverty stricken areas of the United States. While there has been an overall drop in violent activity amongst these gangs, the past history of gang related murder and drive-by-shootings in the 1980s and 1990s will never be forgotten. The perils of second-class citizenship almost assure that groups of underprivileged youths will band together in hopes of making the odds for survival a little more favorable.


The same mantras of the immigrants of the 1700s, circa Ellis Island, seem to be the same identical mantras that reverberate from the mouths of the gangs that exist in the same second-class positions today. Those mantras are “There is strength in numbers” and “Survival at all cost”. While survival may be the initial issue, the fact still remains that the blood stained pages of America’s gang history make it ever clear that death and imprisonment are the wages that countless alumni from the criminal underworld have and continue to pay.

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