The Evolution and Ecology of Black Street Gangs: The Case of the Gangster Disciples

Andrew V. Papachristos, National Gang Crime Research Center

Since the earliest research on the subject, gangs have been wed to the "interstitial" areas of urban life, both geographically and demogaphically. Neighborhood characteristics and organization have been the subject of venerable ethnographies that have described many facets of the complex gang-community relationship. Yet in recent years, studies of the gang-community relationship en totol have been sidestepped in favor of snap-shot studies of a particular aspect of gang life, and perhaps dangerously so. Just as many of the larger social forces in the Post-War era were responsible for the etiology of the gangs of that period, so are the larger social and economic force of the current period responsible for the shape and function of modern street gangs. Using ethnographic data taken from one Chicago neighborhood, this paper will examine a pattern of evolution that has developed among black street gangs and how this evolution unfolds in the larger ecological context. In short, the evolution of "corporate" street gangs is influenced by both internal neighborhood and gang dynamics, as well as, exogenous social forces. In this brief case study, certain patterns of gang evolution and ecology emerge that not only address the form and function of modern street gangs but also highlight some of the complexity of the gang-community relationship.

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Updated 05/20/2006