Research in Newark and in other cities around the country has found that traditional ideas about gangs and gang related violence are no longer accurate. Traditionally, gangs are portrayed as highly structured organizations whose members participate in criminal activities together to enhance the status of the gang. The reality is that most gangs are very loosely organized and while violence among gang members is common, the motivation behind violence is often not “gang related,” in that most violence does not seek to benefit the gang as a whole. Instead, much of the violence between gang members is due to personal conflicts, especially drug disputes, and have nothing to do with gang affiliation.
While a small proportion of violence in a city could be called “gang related”, a much larger percentage, could be called “gang member involved.” In Newark, gang members were found to be involved as a victim or a suspect in at least 60% of the murders or nonfatal shootings each year. In terms of prevention, it is important to recognize that the gang does not cause the violence, though an individual’s involvement in the gang implies a particular set of beliefs which can readily lead to violence as a response to perceived disrespect. This means that incidents such as accidentally stepping on a shoe or spilling a drink can escalate, especially when they occur in the presence of other gang members.