Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hispanic gang membership

In his American Conservative article "His-Panic" (the same title used in Geraldo Rivera's recent book), Ron Unz suggests that criminal justice officials have invented the Hispanic gang problem in order to secure federal anti-gang dollars.

As was shown in the last post, the best approach to such questions is to seek out the best data. I found two studies in which researchers surveyed adolescents about membership in a gang. Descriptions of each are found here. In the Esbensen and Winfree study (1998) of a large sample of eighth graders in 41 schools in 11 cities, the percent in gangs was as follows:

Percent in a gang

Blacks 12.3
Hispanics 12.3
Whites 6.4

Results are similar in the main study (2001) of 15,292 teens (from 313 secondary schools across the country).  The following lists the percentages who admitted they were in a gang:

Percent in a gang

Blacks 13.4
Hispanics, 10.4 
Whites 5.7
Asians 4.7 

Blacks 6.8
Hispanics 7.2
Whites 2.2 
Asians 1.2

Gang membership prevalence among Hispanic males approaches that of blacks, and is roughly double that of whites. Compared to white females, Latino girls are more than three times as likely to belong to a gang.

Affiliation with a gang ranges all the way from a wannabe to a hardcore thug, and these surveys certainly include plenty of the former. But they are consistent with media and criminal justice depictions of violent gangs--both on the streets and in the prisons--being dominated by blacks and Hispanics. It is not imaginary.

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