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Transformation of Playgroups to Street Gangs

NCJ Number
Journal of Gang Research Volume: 21 Issue: 4 Dated: Summer 2014 Pages: 23-43
Tim Delaney
Date Published
21 pages
This is a sociological analysis of six urban local street gangs in Syracuse, NY, as examples of how youths who once played together in "play-groups" in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods evolved into brutal street gangs that committed violent crimes as a criminal drug enterprise that eventually led to the incarceration of gang members under Federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) provisions.
The study first reviews the sociological characteristics of "play-groups," which are formed when two or more children or youth who generally live in the same neighborhood engage in interactions and activities that are interesting, challenging, adventurous, or fun. The level of cohesiveness in the group is generally high, since play is an activity that requires cooperation and mutual interests. Forming play-groups is a natural expression of the need to bond with and share activities and experiences with others, particularly one's peers. A number of gangs in Syracuse followed the pattern of so many street gangs; members first composed a play-group before they transformed themselves into a violent criminal enterprise. The documentation of this transformation process shows that ties of friendship link gang members to one another before creating the structure and pursuing the objectives of a criminal gang. A specific example of this transformation of play-group to gang is noted for the Boot Camp gang. Gang identities and activities are typically forged by a persuasive leader who prioritizes deviant and criminal objectives for the gang to pursue. Other street gangs in the Southside of Syracuse attempted to duplicate the financial success of Boot Camp by committing crimes, notably drug trafficking. This transformation from play-group into a gang structure with criminal objectives occurs across the United States in numerous law enforcement jurisdictions. A 31-item bibliography