Bastards of Warrior Sons: A Brief History of Gangs in the Ghetto

What’s the real difference between a gun and a father-figure to a boy who has never known either? When your only taste of power is the fear in someone else’s eyes, can you really risk being on the wrong side of a weapon? If there’s safety in numbers, and only the strong survive, why would anyone be caught roaming the streets alone? These are some of the questions we should ask before passing judgment on any youth who joins what have been termed, “street gangs.” Since the dawn of time, groups of young men have banded together to fend off threats in the territory they rest on. This threat may have resembled a pride of lions, or a neighboring tribe. Nowadays, we call these groups “armies,” or “police forces.” The assumption that a gang is something outside of the law is set forth by the gang who establishes that law. If a more powerful gang arises the old gang then becomes “outlaws.”

The point is, with the homicide rate in the inner cities from Chicago to Kingston being greatly attributed to gang violence, one must look not just at the gang, but the societal context in which they live. This will help establish a historical reference point for the volley of cause and effect leading to their emergence. For example, in America, street gangs are documented as far back as the late 1700’s. [1] They are as common to our way of life as war, conquest and domination are to the pages of history. I mean, can we really imagine society without them?

The issue then becomes, why does normal human behavior suddenly become criminal within a different societal context? The answer may lie in the research of the late Dr. Amos Wilson, who theorized that America was in fact a “crimogenic” society. [2] What the heck does that mean? It is a society that generates crime as a part of its functioning. In this context, the ol’ saying, “crime doesn’t pay” is completely false. The crime from gang activity pays the cops, the judge, the bail bondsman, the prison guards, the warden, and so forth. There simply must be bad guys to justify the good guys, and the gangs in these densely packed urban areas are at the receiving end of the crimogenic society’s wrath. But what makes the society generate crime in the first place?

Enter the term, “Artificial Lack.” Nature works in abundance -­‐ there is more than enough soil to grow all the food one could ever eat, more than enough rain falling from the sky, fruits that provide seeds for generation upon generation of crops to feed us. Then, we as a species found out that if one has enough force, one can limit this abundance for other people. This is what our financial system does. It puts itself in the way of our basic necessities, rationing our basic needs in insufficient quantities. In short, such poverty makes people violent. Now, apply this principle of artificial lack to the historical relationship between Europeans... and everybody else, but namely African peoples for the sake of time. In the early 1900’s during the great migration of Blacks from the American South to the factory towns up North and out West, these primarily rural people were propelled into the rat race of the American cities. These cities were rife with primarily European gang violence that battered the Irish, Polish, and Italian communities before Blacks even arrived in mass. That’s right, the first gang clashes were miniature race wars. Blacks were cultured into the gang formats that already existed there, and got brutally good at surviving. In fact, in the city of Los Angeles, Black gangs literally eradicated all known White street gang activity in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. [3] The very concept of a White street gang is almost laughable in this day and age.

Then, with the fall of the Black Panthers, and rise of crack cocaine, the American gang culture reached new dimensions from the late 1970’s through the 90’s, and the Black community has yet to recover from this wave of violence. Guess who profited from this bitter fight for survival? You guessed it...not the community! Under President Bill Clinton, the Black prison population nearly doubled because of harsher drug sentencing. The prison industrial complex has grown to preposterous proportions, and we have adopted a popular culture that feeds the beast. Now it is time for a new initiative to deconstruct this culture of violence. We have reached a new level of “normal” that makes it acceptable for a young Black man to go to prison, come out, and be recycled into the institution. We almost expect it. Until a massive cultural movement arises that provokes us to stop cooperating with our own destruction, you can expect more of the same. 


2. Wilson, Amos. (1991).

Black on Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation-Domination

.3. Bastards of the Party. Documentary: 2006.