Interesting Article on Los Angeles Gangs

Peter Landesman has written a fascinating article for L.A. Weekly on street gangs. The events he details are chilling.

I can’t say I agree with some of the broader claims of the piece, however.

Landesman argues that the gang problem is worse than it has ever been, and that gang violence hasn’t dropped the way other crimes have. A quick glance at the homicide rates among young black males over the last 15 years shows that this statement just can’t be accurate. The biggest declines in homicide have been among young black males, both in absolute and percentage terms.

Also, in the gangs that Sudhir Venkatesh studies, violence is sometimes random, but more often is used for some clear purpose: punishing misbehavior, establishing property rights, or trying to prove that the perpetrator is leadership material. My reading of the Landesman article was that most of the violence was completely senseless — done without real thought or purpose, just because it was fun, almost. That was the exact argument put forth about the Superpredator generation in the early 1990s — just before crime in that generation plunged like it never had before. I see no more reason to believe the current generation of young people is any worse than the last.

(Hat tip: Tim Groseclose)


Alex, you are correct, but it is also noteworthy that with deportation laws as they currently stand in the US, these Latino gangs have become international organizations which stretch from the US down to Central America. This pipeline is also paralleled in the prison system.


@ Pauli,
You wrote "Look at your local police web-sites and check out the “Wanted” posters. Note the place of birth on the poster."

This still does not support your argument that these gang-members are illegal immigrants. Just because they were born in another country doesn't mean they are here illegally; only that they are immigrants. By using their birthplace, you are profiling on the basis of national origin.


Also, remember that the author's generalizations come much from observations and testimony from the gang bangers themselves...which aren't always the most truthful source.

If some white reporter comes up to a 16 year old banger in Watts and starts asking him why he joins a gang to kill people, I doubt the 16 year old will deliver the most truthful answer...


To ex-pat from LA #22
If you find anything "anecdotal" about shooting infants or innocent bystanders, I'm wasting my breath on the wrong crowd.


Pauli you hit the nail on the head. To all of you "limosine liberals" out there, that are not affected by the gang problem because of your residential location, trust me, it's a whole different ball game when you are located in the middle of it. If you live in the San Fernando Valley of LA County, every time you stop at a red light, KNOW that probably one of the drivers next to you is UNlicensed, UNinsured, and here ILLegally. Ever wonder about all the "hit and run" stories in the daily papers and wonder why? Very easy to sound like all the Susan Sarandon's of the world when it does not affect YOUR daily life.

ex-pat from l.a.

having lived in los angeles i can say that black gangs are definitely on the outs...they are not as strong and numerous as the were years's mostly latino/hispanic gangs...and there have been studies done on the l.a. gangs...i don't remember the sources...but the studies showed that whenever the l.a. economy was doing well, there were less problems with gangs...when the economy wasn't so good, more gang jobs = lots of spare time = more gang activity...with gangs, at least in l.a., there are always "lifers"...then there are the people who have nothing better to do...because the economy is they drift towards the gangs...but as soon as the economy is better, they drift away from the gangs...i believe, as some of the other posters, that it boils down to economics...

to pauli #18...seems like anecdotal evidence you are giving...those are the cases that make the news because of the "sensationalism" involved...anecdotal evidence isn't really a good base for observations...



You have a point about other communities and gangs in the past, Alex. However, I am speaking about current gangs in Los Angeles. The trend now does appear to stem from illegal Hispanics. Look at your local police web-sites and check out the "Wanted" posters. Note the place of birth on the poster. Then tell me you do not see a common denominator.


Gangs are definitely a product of illegal immigration!! Who do you think the members are? If they are not the ILLEGAL immigrants, they are the "anchor babies" of them! Go ask ANY of the members where they or their parents were born!! Mind you, I said ILLEGAL....NOT immigrants, which we ALL are!


How do the economists always miss the $ point. It's not a race issue its an economic issue. The gap between rich and poor is growing. Urban youth have almost no chance of getting out of their dire econimic situation through legitamte means, as the ruling elite have lined their pockets with roadblocks preventing "upward" mobility. THIS IS THE PROBLEM. Give us hope; let us dream and we will work towards a positive future. Unfortuantaly the only hope that there is now, is to become rich or respected through thugery and illigal means. Eg. GANGS!!!

"Cash rules everyting around it... Bring it. lotta dolla bills yall."


A. The person on the front cover of the magazine is black, not Latino.
B. None of the gang members mentioned have Hispanic names.
C. The principal gangs mentioned are Bloods and Crips.
D. "[B]lack gangs were seen as more dangerous, their violence more anarchic and lethal to innocent civilians; their communities were seen as being at greater risk than Latino neighborhoods."

1. "Gang crime in South Los Angeles spiked 24 percent in 2006" -- "273 gang-related homicides in Los Angeles last year." -- "Gang-related killings have dropped to 187 so far this year."

2. "Nationwide, juvenile gang homicides have spiked 23 percent since 2000."

3. "Last January, a report on gang violence commissioned by the Los Angeles City Council found that the gang epidemic is largely immune to general declines in crime nationwide. In other words, gang crime is surging just as other violent crime is decreasing."

Ho Yun

Atul Gawande's book "Better" makes the same point as Carrie, that while murder rates have gone down, assault rates are up, so the decrease in murders may be due to more people's lives being saved after being attacked.


Im grateful for the first poster: Susanna, who brought up the point i was going to make. AS an extension: Why is it that when you see the word "gang" we automatically associate it to "black males." I work in Trenton, NJ and live close to Camden, NJ: two epicenters for gang activity and its not just young black males... its females and Latinos at an alarmingly high rate. I imagine CA, being closer to Mexico and having a statistically large population of Latinos would have a high rate of such activity as well.

Rich Wilson

I have to agree with Susanna. It sounds pretty sloppy to equate homicide rates in young black males nation wide with gang violence in LA.

Homicide is not the same as 'gang violence' (maybe fewer deaths but more injuries?)

LA is not the nation. duh!

The homicide stats break down race into 'Black' and 'White'. Frankly, that's a pretty 'White' way of looking at it.


A slight correction to Susanna's post: while the latinos who make them up may be [mostly] imported from mexico, the gangs are largely native.

Susanna K.

"the homicide rates among young black males over the last 15 years shows that this statement just can't be accurate"

What about the homicide rate among young Hispanic males (and females)? Remember, this is Los Angeles we're talking about. I hear people up and down the state of CA complaining about how bad the gang problem is even in cities that used to be immune, and a lot of these gangs are imported from Mexico.

Kathleen McNellis

Am I wrong? Last time I looked, the gangs in LA were predominately Latino. Has anyone looked at their numbers?

Carrie B.

Only looking at homicide rates over the last 15 years doesn't take in account improvements in medicine. Doctors can now save the lives of many more victims of gang violence, making homicide a biased measure when looking over time. (Fun summary of "A Decade of Advances")


Dan, yes, I do not deny that. I was trying to point out that the "gang problem" is not an "immigration problem."

What is the going rate for an apartment in LA? I wonder whether the cost savings of having these concentrated ghettos compares in the slightest to the cost of razing them and starting anew, if the whole support system were looked at.

In other words what if you took everyone who qualified ofr a $175/month apartment and gave them a voucher for $2000/month in housing? I realize that many of these people might have difficulty finding housing, esp. at first, but I'm interested in the theoretical view.


The thing is, the article focuses on African-American gangs, not Latino gangs. Despite this, looking at only the statistics related to the former ignores the (increasing?) rate of the latter and the overall rate (let us not forget that there are white gangs as well). While it may be true that the homicide statistics represent a decline in black gang activity, this data definitely does not speak for all gang violence.

In this vein, I agree with AbleFable, that this is mostly an economic issue based on class, adding that in the places where gangs tend to operate, joining a gang may be a life or death decision and may have extra cultural implications.


"Although much lower than the rates experienced in the late 1980's and early 1990's, rates for black males ages 18-24 remain higher in 2005 than in earlier periods"
1. The late 80's and 90's was the peak of the crack cocaine problem, and the period (according to the article) when LAPD began the fight (and the focus) against black gangs.
2. The gang problem is as worse as it's ever been, in part, because
a."Code of Conduct" rules no longer apply in black gangs: they will kill within their own gang, and they lack organization due to their leaders being imprisoned, which results in the "random" violence seen in the black gang atmosphere.
b. Hispanic gangs have gained strength and organization to the point where the police have a more difficult time fighting them, and the gangs themselves are more effcient, resulting in less casualties. They also seem to have a more stringent rule of conduct.