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What is a Gangster?

A Gangster is a member of gang and would usually be associated with violence, murder, drugs.

Where did the word Gangster come from?

Groups of people who work or hang out together have been with us since the dawn of humanity, and gang or something like it (ging) has been an honorable word used to refer to them since the dawn of the English language. Around the time when English speakers were beginning to settle in North America, gang also acquired the specific meaning of "a group up to no good," as in a gang of housebreakers or thieves. It was apparently an American idea, though, to use the negative connotations of gang in reference to politicians. John Quincy Adams wrote bitterly of "the united gang of Calhoun and Jackson conspirators against me" in 1833.

But the great American invention related to gang was gangster. We find it in an editorial in the Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch in 1896: "The gangster may play all sorts of pranks with the ballot box, but in its own good time the latter will get even by kicking the gangster into the gutter.

The prohibition of alcoholic beverages enacted in 1919 as the Eighteenth Amendment offered expanded opportunities for gangsters to make money and come to the attention of the public. In Chicago, Al Capone wielded such ruthless power that to this day, throughout the world, the city is associated with gangsters. Gangster stories and movies became a favorite genre. The most recent development of the word identifies the genre of rap music known as gangster rap (1989) or gangsta rap (1990)

American Street Gang History 

The United States attempted to fight both the Vietnam War and the war on poverty at home. Limited funding, incoherent local and national plans to combat inner-city poverty, and escalated police and military violence against blacks and immigrants all aided towards the conditions which would eventually give birth to gangs across the United States, including the infamous Bloods and Crips of Los AngelesCalifornia.

Crip handsign

The Crips were formed out of the poor socio-economic and repressive conditions which African-Americans living in Los Angeles were subject to in the late 1960s. As police continued to jail black youths in seeking to destroy the Black Panther Party. The Crips were formed in 1969 by Raymond Washington, loosely acting as a community organization which aimed to help disenfranchised African-American communities of L.A. The Bloods quickly followed, with a mandate to protect the community from external violence. As job cuts continued to rise and employers began to hire from the cheaper labour pool of the expanding Latino immigrant community, unemployment rates of African-American men reached as high as 50% in several areas of South Central Los Angeles, opening up large recruitment markets for the burgeoning gangs. The increasing social isolation felt by African-American communities across the nation continued unabated in the 1980s and 90s, leading to higher rates of social pathologies, including violence.

As gang members and factions continued to grow, (they imitated London gangs/yardies) the introduction of crack cocaine (cheap and highly addictive) to American cities would prove fatal. Crack money now could be used to purchase unprecedented amounts of weaponry, and as newly armed gang members began to fight over 'turf', or the territory in which gangs would run their lucrative drug-trades, violence soared, as the FBI's national data of gang-related homicides show: from 288 in 1985 up to 1362 in 1993. As gang-violence accelerated, so too did police violence against African-American communities, which culminated in the arrest of Rodney King which sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. In the aftermath of the riots, leaders of the Bloods and the Crips announced a truce (spearheaded by Compton's then mayor Walter R. Tucker, Jr.), and in May 1992, 1600 rival gang members converged on Imperial Courts, a main housing project of Watts, Los Angeles, California to demonstrate their new-found companionship. But after only a few months of relative harmony, tensions between Los Angeles County's more than 100,000 gang members (in February 1993) began to raise the murder rates, rising to resemble previous levels.

Although various institutions and initiatives were introduced during the 1990s, including the Grant Research Evaluation and Tracking (GREAT) inter-state computer tracking system, which tracks the movements of 2,000 known gang members, and the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention act of 1998, gangs continue to plague American inner-cities. Oakland,California saw 113 drug- and/or gang-related homicides in 2002 alone, and 2003 sported similar figures. Many cities across America are still experiencing the effects of gangs on their streets, such as BaltimoreMaryland, whose gang problem is a major theme of HBO's critically acclaimed series The Wire.

In 1994, Mary "Beth" Pelz, a criminologist at University of Houston–Downtown, said that Texas lacked "a rich history of street gangs" compared to other parts of the United States. She said Houston area gangs began to branch out to newer developments in the 1980s.

The 1995 murder of Stephanie Kuhen in Los Angeles, California lead to condemnation from Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, and a crackdown on Los Angeles-area gangs. According to a 2006 Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth, many street gangs in Texas have no organized command structures. Individual "cliques" of gangs, defined by streets, parts of streets, apartment complexes, or parts of apartment complexes, act as individual groups. Texas "Cliques" tend to be headed by leaders called "OG"s (short for "original gangster"s) and each "clique" performs a specific activity or set of activities, such as controlling trafficking of recreational drugs and managing prostitution in a given area.

It was reported in 2008 that 1-2% of the U.S. military belongs to gangs, according to FBI gang investigator Jennifer Simon in a published article, 50-100 times the rate in the general population. In 2009, David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, said that a lot of violence in inner cities in the United States is mislabeled as "gang violence" when in fact it involves small, informal cliques of people.

Latino Gangs

The Latin Kings are said to be the largest and most organized Hispanic street gang in the United States of America.[26] The group has roots dating back to the 1940s in Chicago, Illinois. The Latin Kings first emerged in Chicago in the 1940s after several young Puerto Rican males on the north side—and later, Mexican males on the south side—organized into a self-defense group to protect their communities. The initial intention was to unite "all Latinos" into a collective struggle against "oppression" and to help each other overcome the problems of racism and prejudice that newly arriving Latino immigrants were experiencing. Hence, the name "Latin Kings and Queens", which as it denotes, is a reference to members of all Latino heritages. They organized themselves as a vanguard for their communities.

Like the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and many other groups perceiving social injustices directed at their kind, the Latin Kings were broken as a movement. They lost touch with their roots and grew into one of the largest and most infamous criminal gangs in America. The group's members became involved in crimes including murder, drug trafficking, robberies and other organized criminal activities.

An MS-13 suspect bearing gang tattoos is handcuffed. In 2004, the FBI created the MS-13 National Gang Task Force. A year later, the FBI helped create the National Gang Intelligence Center.
Member of Mara Salvatrucha.

Mara Salvatrucha (commonly abbreviated as "MS", "Mara", or "MS-13") is a criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles and has spread to Central America, other parts of the United States, and Canada. MS-13 is one of the most dangerous gangs in the United States. The majority of the gang is ethnically composed of Salvadorans,HonduransGuatemalans, and Nicaraguans.

Their activities have caught the eye of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who in September 2005 initiated wide-scale raids against suspected gang members, netting 660 arrests across United States. ICE efforts were at first directed towards MS-13, in its Operation Community Shield. In May 2005, ICE expanded Operation Community Shield to include all transnational organized crime andprison gangs. ICE's Operation Community Shield has since arrested 7,655 street gang members. In the United States, the gang's strongholds have historically been in the American Southwest and West Coast states. Membership in the U.S was believed to be as many as about 50,000 as of 2005. MS-13 criminal activities includedrug smuggling and salesarms traffickingauto theftcarjackinghome invasionassaultaggravated assault, assault on law enforcement officials, drive-by shootingscontract killing and murder.

Prison Gangs

Prison gangs, like most street gangs formed for protection against other gangs. The goal of many street gang members is to gain the respect that comes from being in a prison gang. Prison gangs use street gangs members as their power base for which they recruit new members. For many members reaching prison gang status shows the ultimate commitment to the gang. A prison gang is a gang that is started in a prison. Some prison gangs are transplanted from the street, and in some occasions, prison gangs "outgrow" the penitentiary and engage in criminal activities on the outside. Many prison gangs are racially oriented. Gang umbrella organizations like the Folk Nation and People Nation have originated in prisons.

One prominent example of a prison gang is the Aryan Brotherhood, an organization known for its violence and calls for white supremacy. On July 28, 2006, after a six year federal investigation, four leaders of the gang were convicted of racketeering, murder, and conspiracy charges. Founded in the mid 1960s, the gang, known as the 'Brand' or the 'Rock' in the federal and state prison systems, is famous for being affiliated with the white supremacist paramilitary hate group the Aryan Nations, with the Nazi Low Riders prison gang acting as the Aryan Brotherhood's foot soldiers. Besides fostering pseudo-theological hate, racism, sexism, violence, and intimidation, the Aryan Brotherhood is involved in drug traffickingextortion,illegal gamblingprotection rackets, and murder inside and outside of prisons.

In the mid-1980s, the Aryan League, an alliance between the Aryan Brotherhood and Public Enemy No.1, formed. The sub-gangs (in collaboration with their wives and girlfriends who take jobs at banks, mortgage companies, and motor vehicle departments) work together in identity theft schemes. Money from the identity theft operations is used to fund the gangs' methamphetamine business. A gang hit list discovered in the Buena Park investigation has police worried that the gangs are using stolen credit information to learn the addresses of police and their families. Once out of prison, gang members tend to regroup on the outside and often cross gang lines to further their criminal careers. One example of this is David Lind, an Aryan Brotherhood member, who joined the Wonderland Gang with several non-AB fellow prison inmates in 1981. Post prison gang activities can be brutal, as evidenced by the ruthless quadruple murder of the Wonderland gang (see "Wonderland Murders") which Lind narrowly escaped.

There has been a long running racial tension between African American and Mexican American prison gangs and significant race riots in California prisons where Mexican inmates and African Americans have targeted each other particularly, based on racial reasons.

U.K Gang History

Gang-related organised crime in the United Kingdom according to the Serious Organised Crime Agency is concentrated around the cities of LondonManchester and Liverpool and regionally across the West Midlands region, south coast and northern England. With regards to street gangs the cities identified as having the most serious gang problems, which also accounted for 65% of firearm homicides in England and Wales, were LondonBirminghamManchester and LiverpoolGlasgow in Scotland also has a historical gang culture with the city having 6 times as many teenage gangs as London, which has ten times the population, per capita.

A group of children imitating black gangster culture.

In the early part of the millennium the cities of LeedsBristolBradford including Keighley and Nottingham all commanded headlines pertaining to street gangs and suffered their share of high profile firearms murders. Sheffield, which has a long history of gangs traced back to the 1920s in the book "The Sheffield Gang Wars", along with Leicester is one of numerous urban centres seen to have an emerging or re-emerging gang problem.

On 28 November 2007, a major offensive against gun crime by gangs in Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Manchester led to 118 arrests. More than 1,000 police officers were involved in the raids. Not all of the 118 arrests were gun related; others were linked to drugs, prostitution and other crimes. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said it showed the police could "fight back against gangs".

Increasingly, Britain's street gangs in certain inner city areas such as London and Manchester are becoming more of a cultural transmission of America's Crips and Bloods. This is evidenced by identification with colours, hand signs, graffiti tags and in some cases gang names, for example Old Trafford Cripz and Moss Side Bloods or 031 (O-Tray-One) Bloods gang and ABM (All Bout Money) Crips.

UK Urban Center Gangs 


The history of Glasgow gangs can be traced back to the 18th century, although the first media recollection of Glasgow gangs was not until the 1870s with the acknowledgement of thePenny Mobs. It has been suggested that the rise in Glasgow gangs from the 1850s was a result of an influx in Irish immigration which included those from traditional Irish fighting gangs such as the Caravats and Shanavests. By the 1920s many Glasgow gangs were widely viewed as fighting gangs rather than criminal gangs although there were widespread reports of extortion and protection rackets particularly in the cities East End and South Side. By the 1930s Glasgow had acquired a reputation throughout Britain as a hotbed of gang violence and was regarded at the time as Britain's answer to Chicago, the Scottish Chicago. The gangs at this time were also referred to as Glasgow razor gangs, named after their weapon of choice.

One of Glasgow's most notorious gangs were the Billy Boys, a sectarian anti-Catholic gang, who were formed in 1924 by William Fullerton after he was attacked by a group of Catholic youths. Many gangs in the East End of Glasgow were both sectarian and territorial whereas in other districts they were primarily territorial.

More recently an Evening Times report in 2008 stated that there were 170 gangs in Glasgow whilst an earlier report in 2006 included a map showing the location and a list of Glasgow gangs. Gangs in Glasgow mark their territory with gang tags or graffiti.


Street gangs in Liverpool have been in existence since the mid-19th century. There were also various sectarian 'political' gangs based in and around Liverpool during this period. Dr Michael Macilwee of Liverpool John Moores University and author of The Gangs of Liverpool states, "You can learn lessons from the past and it's fascinating to compare the newspaper headlines of today with those from the late 1800s. The issues are exactly the same. People were worried about rising youth crime and the influence of 'penny dreadfuls' on people's behaviour. Like today, some commentators demanded longer prison sentences and even flogging while others called for better education and more youth clubs."

In the early 1980s Liverpool was tagged by the media as 'Smack City' or 'Skag City' after it experienced an explosion in organised gang crime and heroin abuse, especially within the city's more deprived areas. At the same time several criminal gangs began developing into drug dealing cartels in the city, including the Liverpool Mafia, which was the first such cartel to develop in the UK. As drugs became increasingly valuable, large distribution networks were developed with cocaine producers in South America, including the Cali cartel.Over time, several Liverpool gangsters became increasingly wealthy, including Colin 'Smigger' Smith, who had an estimated fortune of £200m and Curtis 'Cocky' Warren, whose estimated wealth once saw him listed on the Sunday Times Rich List.[26]

It has also been suggested that distribution networks for illicit drugs within the UK and the Republic of Ireland, even allegedly some Mediterranean holiday resorts are today controlled by various Liverpool gangs.

A report in the Observer newspaper written by journalist Peter Beaumont entitled Gangsters put Liverpool top of gun league (28 May 1995), observed that turf wars had erupted withinLiverpool. The high levels of violence in the city came to a head in 1996 when, following the shooting of gangster David Ungi, six shootings occurred in seven days, prompting Merseyside Police to become one of the first police forces in the country to openly carry weapons in the fight against gun crime. Official Home Office statistics revealed a total of 3,387 offences involving firearms had occurred in the Merseyside region during a four year period between 1997 and 2001. It was revealed that Liverpool was the main centre for organised crime in the North of England.

In August 2007 the ongoing war between two rival gangs caused nation-wide outrage, when innocent 11 year old Rhys Jones was shot in the neck and died in his mother's arms in the car park of the Fir Tree pub in Croxteth Liverpool. On 16 December 2008, Sean Mercer was convicted of the murder and ordered to serve a minimum tariff of 22 years by trial judge Mr Justice Irwin.


London was the first city documented as the worlds gang capital, followed thereafter by American cities such as New York CityChicago and Los Angeles. A number of street gangs were present in London during the 20th century many in the East End, often referred to as Mobs, including The YiddishersHoxton MobWatney Streeters, Aldgate Mob, Whitechapel Mob, Bethnal Green Mob and the organised Italian Mob headed by Charles Sabini. The history of these gangs is well documented in "London's Underworld: Three centuries of vice and crime" 

On 21 February 2007, the BBC reported on an unpublished Metropolitan Police report on London's gang culture, identifying 169 separate groups (see Ghetto BoysTottenham Mandem,Peckham BoysHawkubitesYardie, and The Yiddishers), with more than a quarter said to have been involved in murders. The report's accuracy has been questioned by some London Borough's for being inaccuarte in places and the existence of certain gangs on the list could not always be substantiated. The Centre for Social Justice identifies the Gangs in London website as a useful tool in creating an overall picture of London gangs as highlighted in the report "Dying to Belong: An in depth review of street gangs in Britain" which was led by Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith in 2009.

In February 2007, criminologist Dr John Pitts, from the University of Bedfordshire, said: "There are probably no more than 1,500 to 2,000 young people in gangs in all of London, but their impact is enormous". There is no methodology to suggest where this number came from and how it was obtained. Furthermore, in December 2007 in a report written by Pitts on Lambeth gangs, he claims that the dominant gang (PDC from Angell Town) "boasts 2,500 members". Probably a more accurate estimation for gang membership, although dated, can be found in the 2004 Home Office document "Delinquent Youth Groups and Offending Behaviour". The report, using a methodology developed by American gang experts and practitioners, estimated that 6% of young people aged 10–19 were classified as belonging to a delinquent youth group, although based on the most stringent criteria this was 4%.

There is a modern history of London gangs dating from the 1970s although many of them developed from what Britain labelled as a sub-culture, which included punks, Rastas and football hooligans. Two well known subcultures that had violent clashes during the Notting Hill riots in the 1950s, Teddy Boys and Rudeboys, could well be labelled gangs in today's media. Amongst the current London gangs whose history does go back to the 1970s, there are the Ghetto BoysPeckham Boys and Tottenham Mandem all of which are predominantly or entirely black. There are a number of historical Asian gangs in London too, many that were initially formed to protect their local communities in response to racist attacks from the indigenous white population, gangs such as the Brick Lane Massive. In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the majority of the gangs are Bangladeshi, it is estimated that there are alone there are 2,500 Bengali youths affiliated to one of the many local gangs, and that 26 out of the 27 gangs in the area are Bangladeshi.

London gangs are increasingly marking their territory with gang graffiti, usually a gang name and the Post Code area or Housing Estate they identify with. In some cases they may tag the street road signs in their area with an identified gang colour, as can be seen in Edmonton. This is not a new phenomenon and has been practised by many London gangs in the past although today it is a more integral part of the gang culture. Many gangs have a strong sense of belonging to their local areas and often take their names from the housing estates, districts and postal code areas where they are located. In some areas the post codes act as rival gang boundaries, although this is not a general rule as there can be rival gangs present within the same postal area as well as gangs that occupy multiple postal areas. Gangs in London also use handsigns and gang tattoo's to denote gang membership.


The first recorded gangs in Manchester were "Scuttlers", which were youth gangs that recruited boys and girls between 14 and 21 years of age. They became prominent amongst theslums during the second half of the 19th Century, but had mostly disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century. In the mid 1980s, a growth in violence amongst Black Britishyouths from the west side of the Alexandra Park Estate in South Manchester and their rivals, West Indians living to the north of the city, in Cheetham Hill began to gain media attention. The city has sometimes been dubbed in the media as 'Gangchester' and 'Gunchester'.

The gang wars in Manchester first gained national media attention in the Guardian newspaper on 7 June 1988. In the article, Clive Atkinson, deputy head of Greater Manchester PoliceCID said, "We are dealing with a black mafia which is a threat to the whole community"

The gang culture spread into many deprived areas in South Manchester. A gang-related crime occurred on 9 September 2006, in Moss Side, where Jessie James, a 15-year old schoolboy was shot dead in the early hours of the morning. His shooting is said to have been the result of a mistaken identity for a rival gang member. Up to this day his murderer has not been found.

In April 2009, eleven members of the Gooch Gang were found guilty of a number of charges ranging from murder to drugs offenses. The Gooch Gang had a long-standing rivalry with the equally well known Doddington gang. The Gooch gang operated with a tiered structure. On the top were the gang's leaders, Colin Joyce and Lee Amos, and below them were members controlling the supply and distribution of drugs to the street dealers at the bottom. The gang was earning an estimated £2,000 a day, with street dealers allowed to keep £100 a day for themselves. After 2001 when Joyce and Amos were sent to prison on firearms charges, there followed a 92% drop in gun crime in central Manchester. Official gun enabled crime figures show a 17% reduction in Manchester when comparing 2005/06 (1,200 offences) and 2006/07 (993 offences). However, this was followed by an increase of 17% in 2007/08 (1,160 offences) compared to 2006/07.[53] In 2009 shootings were reported as falling by 82% compared with the previous year.

Drug gangs

A number of the criminal gangs in the United Kingdom specialize in the importation, production and sale of illicit drugs. Of the 2,800 gangs identified within the United Kingdom it is estimated that 60% are involved in drugs. Amongst them are the Yardie's, also known as Posse's in America, who are generally associated with crack-cocaine. In 2003, it was reported that Yardie drug gangs were present in 36 of the 43 police force areas in England and Wales. One of the more prominent were the Aggi Crew in Bristol.

In 1998, six members of the Aggi Crew were imprisoned after being found in possession of over £1 million worth of crack-cocaine.

There were raids across the city which was the latest phase of Operation Atrium, launched in 2001 to clamp down on drug-related crime in Bristol by disrupting organised gangs. More than 960 people have been arrested in the past 18 months. In 2009 Olympian and judo expert James Waithe was convicted of drugs offences, having been an enforcer for drug ring that made £50 million annually.

Asian drug gangs, usually of Pakistani descent, are also present in the United Kingdom and are often associated with the importation and distribution of Heroin. Drug squad officers in 2003 claimed that Asian gangs were actively seeking to corner the heroin market. Examples of Pakistani drug gangs in the United Kingdom outside of the major urban centers can be found in Bedford and LutonMiddlesbrough and Oldham.

One of the bloodiest drug gang rivalries involving Pakistani gangs occurred in the Bradford district (including Keighley). A bloody turf war between two local drug gangs resulted in the murder of four young Asian men from Keighley in a five-and-a-half month period, from September 2001 to February 2002. Those killed in this period were Yasser Hussain Nazir, Yasser Khan, Zaber Hussain and Qadir Ahmed. The last of these four, Qadir, was stabbed and beaten to death near Victoria Park after being ambushed and chased by rival gang members. The killings sparked a major police investigation and a number of men — including criminals from nearby Bradford — were convicted and given long prison sentences.

In other reports it has been suggested that Turkey replaced Pakistan as the most important transit point for heroin, and it is estimated that 80% of heroin intercepted by British authorities belongs to Turkish gangs. A recent spate of murders in London in 2009 have been linked to a heroin drugs war involving rival Turkish and Turkish-Kurdish gangs in north London. It is believed that the feud is between two organised drug gangs, the Turkish 'Tottenham Boys' and the 'Bombarcilar' or 'Bombers' from Hackney. The Bombers were led by Abdullah Babysin who was said to be Britain's largest importer of heroin, he was convicted in 2006.

Organised crime groups

Britain has a number of traditional organised crime firms or local British crime families. Some of the most well known include the Kray twinsThe Richardson Gang and Terry AdamsClerkenwell crime syndicate in London. Outside the capital there are the Noonan's in Manchester, Thomas McGraw from Glasgow and Curtis Warren from Liverpool who are amongst some of the most infamous.

In more recent times the emergence of organised crime groups from outside the United Kingdom has increasingly been documented in British media. Some organised crime syndicates that are known to operate in the United Kingdom include the TriadsRussian Mafia and the Albanian Mafia.


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