Gangs have become the way of life in Chicago, causing fear in the city. Chicago has been recognized as one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Due to solid gang culture, murder rates and street violence continue to increase every day in Chicago. Gangs even recruit students in fourth grade in some public schools in Chicago. Such school children are promised protection and the feeling of belonging to a family. The increase of Chicago gangs leads to aggravated violent behavior. Consequently, the challenges Chicago gangs pose to the order in society are huge, and therefore, worthy of considerable attention. Several theories attempt to explain why people join criminal groups and the reasons gang recruitments continue to increase in Chicago (Diamond, 2017). Criminological theories guide empirical work and provide the rationale for joining gangs. The policies and leadership of elected officials in Chicago are ineffective in reducing gang violence.
Theory of Social Disorganization
Leading criminological theories concentrate on social environments, such as the school, peer groups, and family, to explain why some people are highly likely to participate in crime than other persons. The social disorganization theory argues that youth who lack social connectedness in their community and personal institutions opt for gang involvement (Krohn et al., 2019). Lack of social connectedness occurs in disadvantaged Chicago neighborhoods rather than rich communities, where people lack the resources to own permanent homes. Such impoverished communities are always in a constant transition state and experience residential mobility at high rates. When adolescents continually move to new residences in Chicago, they experience a sense of not being cared for, limiting their social connectedness (Diamond, 2017). As a result, such youth experience challenges such as depression while adjusting to new environments and they become involved in gangs due to a lack of care from their family and limited social connections.
The social organization theory argues that economic destabilization contributes to social disorganization, leading to the failure of formal social institutions like schools, churches, and families. Such institutions fail to hold a child’s interest, which causes neglect, and eventually, the youth are forced into the streets (Krohn et al., 2019). The gradual erosion of standard establishments means the institutions could not meet people’s needs, making them unable to control their behavior. Social institutions fail to satisfy the populace’s needs because multiple immigrants live in disorganized places. Immigrant parents cannot assist their children due to their low socioeconomic status (Diamond, 2017). Additionally, lack of support from social establishments like schools fails to compensate for the being disadvantaged.
The policies and leadership of Chicago have failed to alleviate economic destabilization by supporting policies that oppress communities of color. For example, Chicago city leaders have supported segregation over the years, which has denied poor communities of color access to equal economic opportunities in Chicago town. They have channeled more money into affluent downtown communities and away from underprivileged neighborhoods. Children who grow up in poor neighborhoods are surrounded by low-income families with role models who are jobless and struggling (Diamond, 2017). As a result, their social connections and networks are weak, making them unstable and susceptible to joining gangs.
The wealth gap between the whites and communities of color has widened because the city offers more opportunities to white people than poor and racially segregated minorities. For instance, communities of color have jobs that pay the lowest wages in Chicago. Additionally, people of color form the highest percentage of those unemployed in Chicago, making it easy for them to join gangs and earn a livelihood (Diamond, 2017). Addressing the issue of economic destabilization will eradicate a significant reason people join gangs, leading to the reduction of Chicago gangs.
The Strain Theory
Strain theory argues that when people engage in criminal activities, which is the equivalent of joining street gangs, they encounter stress or strain. As a result, people can become upset and participate in criminal acts. Universal goals are set by the society for the population, and a limited number of people are offered the capability to achieve the goals according to strain theory. The resulting opportunity inequality leads to a strain on goals that relate to culture. Stress causes a breakdown of cultural structures due to the inability of society members to act within the accepted cultural norms or anomie. The effect of anomie is that persons adapt by assimilating specific forms of behavior. Gang members are often working-class youth with strain caused by status or financial frustration (Krohn et al., 2019). Financial frustration may be resolved by having more opportunities to make money, whereas status can be achieved through developing more associations with similar people to appeal to middle-class ideals.
The attempt to appeal to similar people forms a delinquent subculture that favors destructive behavior, fighting, and instant gratification. The rebellion that gang members love or advocate for is wrong according to the social behaviors of the larger culture. When the youth experience tension and frustration due to the inequalities in opportunities that the meritocratic society offers. A strain happens when individuals who have inadequate socialization fail to take the legitimate means of achieving their goals. Insufficient socialization may include unplanned leisure time, failure of the educational system to make available enough resources, and misunderstandings of what school entails. Additionally, meager resources in the community may also be termed inadequate socialization (Krohn et al., 2019). Chicago youth or people who experience such social inadequacy, deprivation, and fin gradually find themselves at the bottom of the education hierarchy, resulting in self-hatred, anxiety, self-recrimination, and low self-esteem (Diamond, 2017). People then blame themselves for failure and cope by seeking alternative ways of earning money or status quickly.
Strain theory argues that people may join gangs due to inequalities in societies that lead to limited opportunities. Chicago town has failed to address equality in opportunities and status (Krohn et al., 2019). People from poor neighborhoods are discriminated against while Chicago watches without doing anything. For example, the banks in Chicago have always favored white people and discriminated against persons of color. Although progress has been made to address inequalities, most Chicago banks still discriminate against persons of color. The leadership of Chicago has allowed modern-day redlining to continue despite efforts by the federal government to stop discriminatory banking practices. There are multiple disparities in lending practices between white and black neighborhoods. A pattern that restricts black residents from owning homes and deprives them of capital investment could lead to poor quality lives and exacerbate the inequality problems, causing a financial strain on the people of Chicago and making more people opt to join gangs (Diamond, 2017). Tackling the inequality problem in Chicago can help address the problem of gangs.
Theory of Cultural Transmission
Cultural transmission theory develops from social disorganization as it argues that socially disorganized communities transmit criminal traditions culturally. Low-income families in Chicago have low functional authority over their children and adopt delinquent behavior once exposed to criminal traditions. Chicago has delinquent gang culture to which people are constantly exposed (Triplett, 2018). If families and schools fail to provide sufficiency and social support, gangs can offer support, making it easy for people to join gangs.
One of the primary reasons gang membership in Chicago has increased criminality culture, and group formation originates from being surrounded by a climate of gang culture passed down between persons through socialization and motivation. The environment determines crime involvement; therefore, there are more gangs in Chicago, where people are constantly exposed to criminal traditions. Chicago leadership has failed to end gang tradition, which has led to more people joining street criminal groups. For instance, the leadership cannot find any crimes tied to the street gangs to arrest the members (Diamond, 2017). Failing to address inequality and low socioeconomic class increases gang membership, reinforcing criminal tradition, and leading to more people joining Chicago gangs.
While the three theories explain why people are likely to commit crimes or join gangs, some opponents argue that cultural transmission fails to indicate how criminal traditions are passed down between people (Triplett, 2018). Whereas the claim is valid, it fails to consider that when people are exposed to certain behaviors more often, they adopt what they see frequently into their daily lives. When people witness gang dealings every day, they can become fascinated and want to join the gangs. Adopting a multidisciplinary approach to explain the reasons for joining gangs will enable researchers to develop correct and multiple factors contributing to crime engagement.
In conclusion, the policies and leadership of the elected officials in Chicago are not effective in minimizing gang violence. In order to understand why Chicago officials have failed to end gang violence, it is critical to examine crime and gangs using the social disorganization, strain, and cultural transmission theories. People in Chicago join gangs due to low social status, economic destabilization, and inequalities in the community. Using a multidisciplinary approach to comprehend why individuals join gangs will help develop solutions to violence in the city.
Diamond, A. J. (2017). Chicago on the make: Power and inequality in a modern city. University of California Press.
Krohn, M. D., Hendrix, N., Hall, G. P., & Lizotte, A. J. (Eds.). (2019). Handbook on crime and deviance (2nd ed.). Springer.
Triplett, R. A. (Ed.). (2018). The handbook of the history and philosophy of criminology. John Wiley & Sons.