THEY are, typically, young Hispanic or black males; but the victims of gang killings are no more likely to be involved in drugs or other crimes than their non-gang slain counterparts. According to a new study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which looked at five cities with high numbers of gang murders between the years 2003 and 2008, drug trading or usage and other criminal activity ranged from zero to 25% of all gang-related killings. Less than 1% of gang homicides were drug-related in two of the cities; Long Beach and Los Angeles, in California. And in three of the cities less than 3% of gang homicides took place during a crime.
That the great majority of gang homicides involve a firearm and took place in public suggests that inter-gang conflict and retaliation (perhaps territory disputes, personal beefs or just defending reputations) as the main causes of killings. Newark, New Jersey, however is an exception. The proportion of drug-related gang homicides there was significantly greater than with those not reckoned to be gang-related (20% compared with 5.5%). Newark’s police director, Samuel DeMaio, points out that in his city drug dealers do belong to gangs, and drug money is more important than gang affiliation. He has seen rival gangs work together to organise drug corridors.
America is estimated to have over 33,000 gangs, with approximately 1.4m members; the great bulk of these are in cities. The CDC report confirms previous findings that murders are (rather unsurprisingly) male-dominated, and gang-related ones even more so. In Los Angeles males account for 95% of gang murder victims. A significant proportion of gang killings are also of ethnic minorities, and of young; 60% of gang homicides were 15-24 years old, compared with less than 30% among non-gang victims. Deterring adolescents and young adults from joining gangs seems like the best way of keeping them alive.