Gangs: Guide to Understanding Street Gangs / Edition 5 available in Paperback
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American society seems to have an almost an unlimited amount of groups and sub-groups. Some groups have been known to assist today's youth by pushing them to their true potential in academics. Others band together to promote awareness for issues like human rights, harm done to the environment, and for collective political beliefs. Gangs, however, have formed to create unity among people. At least, that is one way to view it. Their unity is based on violence, coercion, and spreading fear in the neighborhoods that they reside in (Valdez, 2009). Al Valdez, professor at the University of California in Irvine and author of the book, Gangs, attempts to describe the destructive behavior of these groups in America. Those that want an introductory and in-depth view about the many gangs in America are highly encouraged to read this book. Scholars and students with an interest in Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement will find this book of great interest. Others that would find the book useful are individuals involved in social work and urban related studies. Valdez does not just discuss the gangs that are making headlines or causing havoc in the streets today. He is also goes back in time to discuss the origins of gangs in the United States. Starting with Valdez's overview, he paints a picture of the early 19th century. In this view, he gives readers a glimpse at some of the early conflicts among street gangs. Individuals that found themselves participating in these groups were often new immigrants to America (Valdez, 2009). Unfortunately, new immigrants, just like today, are faced with some harsh realities in making adjustments to new cultures, customs, and a different set of economics. Those that wanted to fight back against discrimination and violence using force in numbers, formed gangs for protection. Valdez drives this point home and draws some interesting correlations between gangs of yesterday and modern day street gangs of today. The book aims to make readers knowledgeable about groups that are formed based on ethnicity, gender, and activity. Descriptions of gang membership indicators, clothing styles, and behaviors prove to be useful for people that want a more than general idea of how to identify certain gangs. Valdez allows himself to get even deeper in description with things like the types of piercings, hair cuts, and tattoo art that they wear. A huge distinction that the author makes is the difference between some West Coast and East Coast gangs (Valdez, 2009). One can see just after the first hundred pages, that Valdez has done an inordinate amount of work to categorize and classify these groups with care. A discussion about these groups would be incomplete if the author left out how some of these gangs formed. Some have been started over racist beliefs fueled by angry music, while others were started by the failure of individuals to properly mitigate proper, humane conflict-resolution techniques. Valdez's intentions are not to scare the public. However, he tries to be informative and truthful about the issues affecting many of the nation's cities as well as rural areas and some suburbs. Including figures for the number of members in gangs, and frightening crime, drug and murder statistics help to give the book even more significance to those that want to know what they are faced against when approaching individuals that are part of this population (Valdez, 2009). A notable side-effect of Gangs is that one gets an appreciation for what law enforcement and correctional officers have to deal with on a daily basis. The problem of increasing gang membership that Valdez describes is presented in a serious enough manner, that no one can ignore. Those that attempt to look away, denying that a problem exists, are very much in denial about what the country is plagued with, which is a seemingly unending drug trafficking concern and brutal violence in extreme proportions. In my opinion, Gangs, is an impressive work. It serves as the perfect guide about the many street gangs that have and still populate the United States. Academics as well as students that wish to gain some understanding about these destructive groups will find the book frightening, but also very educational. In words, Valdez does what documentarians aspire to do with important sociological subject matter. Once done with this text, one will easily be able to see how different gangs are from groups with positive goals and affirmations that look to elevate humanity rather than destroy it. References Valdez, A. (2009). Gangs: A Guide to Understanding Street Gangs (5th ed.). San Clemente, California: LawTech Publishing.