Asian and Latino Gangs and Their Impact on Their Communities and the Criminal Justice System

Asian and Latino Gangs: Affecting the Community and Criminal Justice System

Gang violence today is a problem that no American community can fully escape. The crime associated with gang activity is so vast and differed that many within law enforcement find it very difficult to curb successfully. Part of the differing nature of gang activity is the different racial groups which cling to their own racial identity through gang life. Sons, daughters, and grand children of immigrants, many within the Asian and Latino communities are lured into their own unique versions of gang life on American streets. Asian and Latino gangs are different in nature, but do share similarities in how they affect both the community around them and the criminal system in this country which attempts to curb the rising tide of gang violence in the United Stats today.

Minority gangs are strongly linked to patterns and waves of immigrations within specific urban hubs for particular ethnic groups. The most recent influx of immigrants into the United States stems from Asian and Latin American countries, leading to more and more Asian and Latino gang activity in certain cities. Fear of crime related to waves of immigration has been around for generations, "Rising immigration into the United States coincided with an increase fear of crime in many areas -- a presumed connection dating back to at least the early 1900s," (Martinez & Valenzuela 2996:7). As more and more of one culture move into an area, they begin to consider it theirs. Now gang activity itself, and the crime which stems from it, have a part in the larger conversation regarding current immigration policies and practices, "discussion of social problems stereotypically associated with racial minorities […] have now become important themes in the public immigration debate," (Martinez & Valenzuela 2996:1). When the larger American economic and political system fails them, many turn to gang violence as a way to survive such a harsh modern world. In fact, many of these ethnic and cultural groups are subjugated to a lesser position in society than many natives. This leads to further prejudice as well as disenfranchisement. It is this disenfranchisement which then forces many youths into gang culture as a way to escape the horrors of their own poverty stricken lives, "Yet victimization among this group is an important social problem to explore, since it both contributes to crime in the United States and helps form immigrants' perception of the criminal justice system," (Martinez & Valenzuela 2996:2). Although there are numerous gangs within the United States that revolve around "native" individuals, the Asian and Latino gangs have strong ties in recent immigration waves and disenfranchisement within the modern economy.

One of the largest group of culturally associated gang members can be found within the modern Asian-American population of large urban areas. As seen previously, they fit the bill for the minority group trying to make it in a modern American world, "Many Asians struggle to adapt to a new country and social environment and challenges of making a living, whether they are immigrants themselves, U.S.-born children of immigrants, or whose families have been in the U.S. For several generations," (Le 2009:1). And so many Asian individuals turn to gang lifestyle to help provide for themselves and their families when they cannot adapt quickly enough to fit the fast pace American way of life. This means the protection and care for their families, but not through conventional means. Many Asian gangsters turn towards more illicit methods of generating income, "Unfortunately, many of these groups are based on the belief that the only way for them to achieve 'success' in American society is to accomplish those goals through "unconventional' methods -- i.e., crime," (Le 2009:1). Thus, many Asian-American gangs roam the streets of big cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They have their own unique traditions and codes within gang life, that stretch back towards their ancient traditions in their cultural heritage. Yet, these gangs negatively affect their world around them.

Many Asian gangs have detrimental affects on the local community Asian-American community in which they were born and reside within. It is a character of Asian gangs to fight fiercely over territory which they consider to be there's or that of their community. However, this disrupts community life in several ways. It places average citizens in danger for crossing over turf lines and endangers local businesses by placing their storefronts and customer base in jeopardy of being victimized by gang violence. Yet, the worst impact they have within their own community is the damage they do to private citizens of their very own community through robberies, "But their specialty, for which they've received lot of media and law enforcement attention, is a type of robbery called a 'home invasion,'" (Le 2009:1). This type of robbery is very intimate; the robber enters into the confines of the home -- a sacred place for the home owner and the family which lives there. Another factor of such crimes as they are seen committed by Asian gang members, they are directed specifically at members of their own community. Their neighbors, friends, and local business owners are all targets. This is further fueled by the Asian community's tendency to not involve police in such crimes caused mainly by the failure of police both here in the U.S. And abroad in Asian nations, "Asian youth gangs almost always target Asian families for home invasions because these families are less likely to report such crimes to the police," (Le 2009:1). By knowing the traditions of their own community, many Asian gang members take full advantage of it.

This greatly complicates law enforcement's pursuit of Asian gang members and the effort to curb such crimes from continuing. Enforcing laws and hunting down criminals associated with Asian-American gangs can prove very tedious and difficult on behalf of American law enforcement. To help curb the rising tide of gang violence coming from Asian-American communities, many law enforcement agencies were forced to take much more drastic measures, including specialized Gang Task Units deployed in urban areas such as Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. These tasks units had the authority to stop and harass Asian-Americans who looked suspicious of partaking in gang activity. Individuals within the community saw this move as a new low for law enforcement, "Many saw these tactics as blatant racial profiling and completely dehumanizing and humiliating for the young Asian-Americans who were being harassed," (Le 2009:1). Thus, the workings of Asian-American gangs had forced American law enforcement, and the democratic criminal justice system we all have faith in, in jeopardy of actually taking rights away from true American citizens -- a detrimental blow to the face of American justice.

Another prominent ethnic group which has been hit hard by the affect and toll placed on communities by gang violence is that of the Latino community. Many would make the misconception of the recent waves of Latino immigration into the United States as a cause for increased crime in specified areas where specific cultures are allowed to flourish. It has been a common misconception for generations within the United States, stemming back from racist governmental policies in the twentieth century. However, "patterns of criminal involvement were shaped by social factors, including neighborhood poverty and the age and sex distributions of the immigrant population, not the inherent criminality of immigrant Latinos," (Martinez & Valenzuela 2996:8). Many of the gang affiliates who turn to a gang lifestyle are forced to do so-based necessity for survival. This concept is then expressed in other tradition of the Latino gang lifestyle and activity. For instance, many Latino gangs will use graffiti to mark turf boundaries and serve as warning signs for opposing gang members wandering into enemy territory (Brown 2003:10). This is taken further with other gang traditions which portray the Latino gang member as the true protector of the people within Latino-American communities around the United States. With this protective quality of Latino gang life comes great energy within that fight, "As makeshift guardians of their barrio, Hispanic gang members are expected to defend it against any type of intrusion," (Brown 2003:10). This quality specifically makes Latino gangs difficult to control and deal with within the community.

Without control, the community ultimately suffers from its plague of gang violence. Interviews with Latino youth revealed acknowledged disadvantages of a community faced with a gang activity problem. One such issue facing innocent members of the community, their relationship with other gang members; "One's own gang involvement would endanger family and friends," (HACER 2005:34). The violence of gang life produces a great fear within the surrounding community. It is fear of one's own home, which can be extremely hard to deal with. This affects both adults and especially children, who are the true victims of unnecessary violence, "gang violence creates an atmosphere of fear, constraining children's feelings of safety…