Joining a gang or crew can give you a sense of belonging and acceptance, but often being associated with one can lead to dangerous consequences. Here are some ways to explore alternatives to gang membership and how to safely “leave” a gang if you’re already involved. Some of these steps can take time, but with dedication and the support of your family, you can change your life.

What is a Gang or Crew?

A Gang is a group of individuals that band together for a common cause and are involved in criminal activity. Many gangs are highly organized and operate across state lines. A crew is a more loosely-knit group, often based  on a neighborhood. These are usually individuals who grew up in or who have family roots in that neighborhood. Regardless of Gang or Crew affiliation, both groups are often associated with a variety of crimes, including narcotics trafficking, gun violations, assaults, and even homicides. Female gangs or crews are growing in DC as well. Gang violence is “a community problem.” Think about it!

Who Joins Gangs/Crews and Why?

  • Young people who feel they are not respected by their peers, families or communities turn to gangs for the identity and respect that families normally provide. Youth who see themselves as “weak” or “powerless” may join gangs to become “stronger” and “protected.”  Often these individuals suffer from a lack of support from their family and therefore seek support within the gangs.
  • Young people who crave excitement because gang members and the media often glamorize the gang life style.
  • Young people who cannot resist peer pressure may join because their friends are in gangs. They may feel pressured to join to be part of the “in” crowd.
  • Young people who are fearful often feel that being a gang member will keep them safe. If they are challenged by others, their gang/crew will help them retaliate because in the gang culture, no challenge goes unanswered. Perversely, this idea of “safety” leads to increased violence.
  • Youth who do not understand the consequences do not fully understand the risks of being in a gang. Risks include arrest, physical assault and in some cases, death.
  • Young people are often recruited by older gang members to commit their criminal acts, because the adults feel that laws are more lenient on juveniles. This, however, is a misconception.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Talk to your children openly and honestly. Tell them you do not approve of gangs. Explain what might happen if they join a gang. Tell them that they could be physically harmed or pressured into committing criminal acts that could result in their arrest. Tell them that they could lose their lives.
  • Make sure your children are involved in healthy, supervised activities, especially after school.
  • Find out where your children go in their free time. Get to know your children’s friends and their parents.
  • Get involved with your children’s education and their schools. Encourage them to study and stay in school.
  • Set limits for you children and enforce them. Tell your children they are special and you are concerned about their safety.
  • Get information about the gangs and crews in your neighborhood. Find out what gang members wear and what gang signs and symbols (such as tattoos, colors, hair and dress styles, etc.) mean. Ask about gang graffiti on walls and other places.
  • If you see your children wearing gang-style clothing or using gang symbols, tell them you do not approve. If you suspect your child is getting involved with a gang, take action fast. A list of places to call is on the back of this brochure.
  • Make sure your children know you will help them with their problems and not judge them unfairly. Encourage them to talk to you. If they won’t talk to you, ask them to talk to a relative, an older friend, their school counselor, a youth leader, your clergyman or any adult they trust.