Fiction: Only boys join gangs
Fact: Girls are increasingly involved in gangs, violence, and drug trafficking. They carry weapons and drugs, participate in drive-by shootings, instigate violence, and participate in fights. They are also raising their children in a gang environment.
Fiction: Gangs are an inner city problem.
Fact: Youth gangs are found in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Urban drug-dealing gangs migrate to smaller cities as well as to rural and suburban areas in search of untapped drug markets, less competition, and higher profit margins. With increased media attention to gangs, adolescents throughout the country are adopting gang dress, lifestyles, and activities.
Fiction: Gangs are made up of only Black and Hispanic youth.
Fact: Gang membership cuts across all racial and ethnic lines. There are growing numbers of white adolescent gangs throughout the country. In addition, Caucasian adolescents also are joining minority gangs.
Fiction: Kids join gangs because their parents don't care what they do.
Fact: Most parents of gang-involved youth care about their children. Many of these parents, however, come from multi-problem, dysfunctional families. They frequently are poor, hold many jobs, have little education, and lack family support systems, may not speak English, and lack familiarity with American customs and culture. As a result, many lack effective parenting skills and may be unable to resolve problems with their children before they become crises. Single parents often feel frustrated because they have little emotional and psychological support.
Fiction: Kids become involved in gangs to get money because they don't want to get a job.
Fact: Not all kids join gangs for money. For some, gang membership is a matter of survival in their neighborhood; others are following in the footsteps of older siblings and relatives. Some join because they are looking for a strong support system, which neither their family nor community provides. Those who do join for income often do so because jobs are not accessible to them or because they lack the skills necessary to apply for a job.
Fiction: All gangs are tightly knit and have a single leader.
Fact: Most gangs are loosely-knit groups with several members who fill leadership roles. The leadership may change daily, since most active gang members are in and out of the juvenile justice system; the high mortality rate is also a factor.
Fiction: One way to cure the gang problem is to lock gang members away.
Fact: Incarceration of hard-core gang members has not proven effective. Prisons often serve as "command centers" or "institutions of higher learning" for ongoing gang-related crime. Prisoners are often forced to take sides with one group or another simply for protection and survival. Research suggests the most effective response to gang problems includes prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies.