It is estimated that over 1.5 million people are members of the roughly 35,000 different gangs operating in the United States. Among those gangs are street gangs, both on the national and local level, outlaw motorcycle gangs, prison gangs, gangs affiliated with organized crime, and gangs made up solely based on ethnicity. The majority of these gangs came to fruition in the major urban areas where they still thrive today. Even relatively safe cities crime wise such as New York or Los Angeles (relative to the most dangerous U.S. cities) have no shortage of gangs vying for territory while carving their own niche in illicit trade.
While gangs are by no means exclusive to America, far from it, when one hears of violence in a major city the typical reaction “it’s probably gang related” echoes across the populace. Compared to many other first world nations, America has a higher proliferation of gang members, and gang violence, and while social conditions that create gangs, and help recruit gang members, such as poverty, failing education systems, and systemic racism all play a major role in exacerbating gang culture, it’s also easy to forget that for a country with a population of over 307 million people, the amount of those members of society involved in gangs is a mere 0.004 percent.
While the culture of fear is actively prevalent in the media on a daily basis, creating a constant anxiety that anyone at any time may fall victim to gang crime, the fact is most gang related crime is aimed at rival gangs, not average civilians. But try telling that to the people who live in many of these cities whose borders contain the highest concentration of gang members in the nation. In the majority of these cities the threat of being targeted by a gang, either for recruitment, or as a victim, is all too real.
*(The cities on this list are, by and large, in no particular order as concluding the number of gang members per city is widely inaccurate and some more recent studies are incomplete. Furthermore, statistics are based upon municipal law enforcement agencies, the FBI and CDC gang information.)
6 East St. Louis, Illinois
5 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
4 Camden, New Jersey
3 Detroit, Michigan
Is it any surprise Detroit is on this list? One of the most dangerous cities in America, it's no wonder it’s also one of the most affected by gangs. A massive decline in industry leading to unemployment and poverty… all perfect breeding grounds for gang culture. What’s worse, with the city’s massive economic collapse on a governmental level as well, where once there were over 4,000 police officers, now there are around half that, in a city with a core population of over 700,000 people.
Another major issue facing what little law enforcement there is left in Detroit is the fact that unlike many other larger cities with gang problems, the gangs in Detroit are not typical in the fact that they don't have any affiliation with the more well know and established street gangs in most cities, or any real hierarchy. Street gangs in Detroit essentially spring up per neighborhood, with names most outside the city wouldn’t even be aware of. Not that it makes a difference.
2 Los Angeles, California
1 Chicago, Illinois
In recent years Chicago has made a dramatic leap to overcome Los Angeles as America’s gang capital with a staggering 150,000 gang members and become one of the most violent cities in the country. In fact, Chicago recorded 413 murders in 2013 alone, a shocking number, if it weren’t for the fact that it actually represented a decrease from the 532 murders in Chicago in 2012. What’s worse, according to city law enforcement agencies, 80 percent of all shootings and murders in Chicago are gang related.
Again, like most major cities in the United States, economic hardship on the municipality has led to budget cuts and less law enforcement patrolling the streets. There are barely 200 members of Chicago’s anti-gang task force. How can police possibly contend with hundreds of different gangs all operating within the city, primarily the west and south sides, with such little resources? Exacerbating the problem is that the historical hierarchy of the Chicago gangs has seemingly come undone, with various factions of former larger gangs all claiming territory, and clearly willing to shoot first at anyone unfamiliar who may be encroaching on said territory. Even a member of the street gang the Vice Lords himself told NBC news that "there is no one to control this, so it has become haywire.”
Chicago has become a massive and violent play for territory in a powder keg of gun violence, fuelled by the drug trade. Murders for the current year stand roughly similar to last year, at 206 thus far, but after the 84-hour outburst of violence over the 4th of July weekend in which 82 people were shot, and 14 killed, the situation in Chicago seems far from stable.
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