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Gangster Crime and Organized Violence: A Global Perspective

Gangster Crime: An Overview

Gangster crime is a serious and widespread problem that affects many communities and countries around the world. Gangsters are members of organized groups of criminals who engage in various illegal activities such as gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking, extortion, robbery, murder, and more. Gangs use violence, intimidation, corruption, and coercion to control their territories, rivals, customers, and members. Gangster crime has significant negative impacts on individuals, families, neighborhoods, economies, and societies.

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This article will provide an overview of gangster crime, including its history, types, prevention, and intervention. It will also answer some frequently asked questions about this topic.

History of Gangster Crime

Gangster crime has a long and complex history that spans across different cultures and eras. Some scholars suggest that gangs have existed since ancient times, as evidenced by references to armed bands of young men in Roman history or violent street gangs in Georgian England. However, the modern concept of gangs emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in urban areas of the U.S. and Europe, where waves of immigration, industrialization, urbanization, poverty, and social disorganization created fertile grounds for the formation of gangs.

Some of the most famous gangs and gangsters in history include:

  • The Five Points Gang in New York City, which was led by Paul Kelly and included future mobsters such as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torrio, Frankie Yale, and Meyer Lansky.

  • The Chicago Outfit or the Capone Gang in Chicago, which was headed by Al Capone and dominated the city's underworld during the Prohibition era (1920-1933). Capone was responsible for many crimes such as bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, racketeering, bribery, murder, and the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

  • The American Mafia or La Cosa Nostra in the U.S., which was an offshoot of the Sicilian Mafia that emerged in the late 19th century. The American Mafia consisted of several families or clans that operated in different regions and cities. Some of the most powerful families were the Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno, Colombo in New York; the Chicago Outfit in Chicago; the Trafficante in Florida; and the Patriarca in New England.

  • The Yakuza in Japan, which was a term used to describe various groups of organized criminals that originated from feudal outcasts such as gamblers, peddlers, ronin (masterless samurai), or burakumin (untouchables). The Yakuza developed a complex hierarchy, code of conduct, rituals, tattoos, symbols, and alliances. Some of the largest Yakuza groups are the Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai, Inagawa-kai,

and the Rokudaime Kokusui-kai.

  • The Triads in China, which were secret societies that originated from anti-Qing rebels in the 17th century. The Triads evolved into criminal organizations that engaged in various illicit activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, gambling, prostitution, and more. Some of the major Triad groups are the 14K, Sun Yee On, Wo Shing Wo, and Big Circle Gang.

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  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the U.S., which was established in 1908 and expanded its role and power under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover. The FBI targeted gangsters such as Al Capone, John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and others during the 1920s and 1930s. The FBI also created the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1950 and launched the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act in 1970 to combat organized crime.

  • The Anti-Mafia Commission in Italy, which was a parliamentary committee that was formed in 1963 to investigate and fight the Mafia. The commission exposed the links between the Mafia and politics, business, and institutions. The commission also supported the efforts of judges and prosecutors such as Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were assassinated by the Mafia in 1992.

  • The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program in the U.S., which was a school-based prevention program that was developed in 1991 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and local law enforcement agencies. The program aimed to teach students about the dangers of gang involvement, violence, and crime. The program also promoted positive values, skills, and relationships among students.

Types of Gangster Crime

Gangster crime can be classified into different types based on the main activities and sources of income for gangs. Some of the common types of gangster crime are:


Drug traffickingThe production, distribution, and sale of illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, etc.The Medellin Cartel in Colombia, the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in Canada and the U.S., etc.

Human traffickingThe recruitment, transportation, and exploitation of people for purposes such as forced labor, sexual slavery, organ harvesting, etc.The Snakehead Gang in China, the Russian Mafia in Russia and Eastern Europe, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in Central America and the U.S., etc.

ExtortionThe use of threats or violence to obtain money or property from individuals or businesses.The Black Hand in Italy and the U.S., the Irish Mob in Ireland and the U.S., the Bandidos Motorcycle Club in Australia and Europe, etc.

RobberyThe theft of money or property by force or intimidation.The Pink Panthers in Europe and Asia, the Brink's-Mat Robbery in England, the Great Train Robbery in England, etc.

MurderThe unlawful killing of another person.The Murder Inc. in the U.S., the Zetas in Mexico, the Red Commando in Brazil, etc.

Gangster crime can also be categorized based on the common characteristics and symbols of gangs. Some of the typical features and signs of gangs are:

  • The name of the gang, which may reflect its origin, location, leader, ideology, or affiliation.

  • The colors of the gang, which may be worn as clothing, accessories, or graffiti to identify and distinguish the gang from others.

  • The tattoos of the gang, which may depict the name, logo, initials, numbers, or symbols of the gang or its members.

  • The hand signs of the gang, which may be used to communicate, greet, or challenge other gangs or individuals.

  • The slang of the gang, which may include words, phrases, codes, or acronyms that are unique to the gang or its subculture.

Prevention and Intervention of Gangster Crime

Gangster crime is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that requires comprehensive and coordinated approaches to prevent and intervene. Some of the factors that influence the likelihood of joining a gang are:

Risk factorsProtective factors

Individual factors such as low self-esteem, poor academic performance, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, etc.Individual factors such as high self-esteem, good academic performance, positive coping skills, prosocial behavior, etc.

Family factors such as family conflict, parental neglect, abuse, criminality, etc.Family factors such as family cohesion, parental support, supervision, involvement, etc.

Peer factors such as peer pressure, rejection, association with delinquent peers, etc.Peer factors such as peer acceptance, support, association with positive peers, etc.

School factors such as school failure, dropout, truancy, bullying, etc.School factors such as school success, attendance, engagement, safety, etc.

Community factors such as poverty, unemployment, crime, violence, lack of resources, etc.Community factors such as economic opportunity, employment, social services, recreation, etc.

Some of the effective and promising programs and strategies to prevent and reduce gang involvement and violence are:

Primary prevention programs, which target the general population or groups at risk of gang involvement, such as school-based curricula, after-school activities, me


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