Racialized Identities and the Formation of Black Street Gangs in Los Angeles

Alejandro Alonso, University of Southern California

ABSTRACT
This paper traces the history of black gangs in Los Angeles, California and identifies the major factors that were most significant in the formation of these gangs during two waves of gang formation in the post WWII period. Beginning in the late 1940s when the first major black gangs formed, an empirical investigation will examine how and why black gangs initially took form and what was the social setting that allowed gangs to flourish. Although black gangs began to fade in the late 1960s, by the beginning of the 1970s black gangs were established again by a new generation of youths. The results of this analysis suggest that the racialization of black youths played a major factor in both waves of gang formation. Intense racial conflict and prejudice were the precursors that caused youths to band together and to form gangs. The more popular explanations based on economic and community deficiencies are considered in this analysis a by-product of racialization, and are more relevant to understanding gang maintenance and proliferation than to gang formation. [Key words: gangs, Los Angeles, race.]

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Updated 05/20/2006