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CHAPTER THREE Findings

In document Youth gang membership: (Page 57-95)

After conducting a comprehensive thematic analysis, it was apparent that five primary themes emerged from the data set as shown in figure 2. These themes seemed consistent across all seven transcripts and were determined to best describe why these young people chose to participate in gangs and why they chose to maintain their membership. The five core themes that were identified are as follows: Influence of Friends, Antisocial Behaviour, Access to Money, Neighbourhood Surroundings, and Negative Evaluation from Others.

Within these core themes, subthemes were also identified to better explain specific aspects of each concept. Evidence for these themes in the above order will be provided in greater detail within this chapter. Following this will be a summary of the findings and overall themes. It must be noted that these themes were not always mutually exclusive, but have been separated to better extend on the variety of reasons that youth participate in gangs.

Figure 2: Summary of the core themes of this data set Influence of Friends

Antisocial Behaviour

Access to Money

Negative Evaluation from Others Neighbourhood Surroundings Reasons for

youth gang membership

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Influence of Friends

Participants spoke extensively about the influence of friends on the desire to become affiliated with a youth gang. Figure 3 highlights the subthemes relevant to the ‘influence of friends’. Initially, participants described the gang as being the "cool group" to be associated with, whether this was within their school environment or within their neighbourhood. They also explained that once in the gang, members became more than simply a group of friends, but instead a brotherhood or family group. Participants also explained that their friends or brothers in the gang provided them with the resources and safety that was not available in other facets of their life. Each of these subthemes will be extended in the following section and reference will be made to specific dialogue given by the participants.

Figure 3: An outline of the subthemes relevant to 'Influence of Friends"

Cool Group

When participants were asked to reflect on the initial reasons for joining a youth gang, they described the gang as being the desirable or cool group to be associated with. Some of the advantages of being affiliated with this group included increased notoriety amongst both the wider school body and

Influence of Friends

Cool Group

Substitute Family

Providers

Brotherhood Support

Safe Structure

Respect

Resources

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community. Below are some of the explanations participants gave about the importance of being a part of the cool group:

Maui: Ya no.. like the cool group. Yea… if you choose them you would be cool, or yea… scary. Cool groups would turn into gangs… getting like a different name and then it would all start from there. And then it was like whoever was the better… in fighting or whatever like that…

yea…or who had the most numbers, something like that.

Taonga: Thought it looked cool being a gangster so you just get into it.

Hemi: All my cousins were in gangs and I just thought that they were cool. Oh I just thought that [the gang] was cool… because of my cousins and all my uncles and all them, they were all in gangs.

While these participants felt that the gang initially appeared cool, their

rationale of why the gang was cool differed slightly. Hemi described the gang as being cool because it was a lifestyle in which older male family members were involved. While Hemi did not chose to affiliate with the gangs that his family were members of, he saw that lifestyle as being cool. Alternatively, Maui and Taonga described their gangs as being cool because of the

increase in social status that was associated with membership. Despite these differences in rationale, it would appear that these participants wanted to identify with a group that served to enhance the perception others had of them within their different environments.

Substitute Family

As well as being accepted into a cool group of friends, participants spoke about their desire for a brotherhood or family unit separate from their biological relatives. For many participants, this desire for belonging was

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instigated by the perceived lack of support and love they had from their biological families as children. When reflecting on their childhoods, some participants explained that their fathers, uncles and cousins were often absent due to the commitments they had to other gangs. For other

participants, male family members were absent due to incarceration. Despite this absence, participants explained how their male relatives were influential role models for the gang lifestyle.

Henare: When you live around, pretty much at like a pad1. Cos [the gang] were there every day, pretty much drinking yea…you just wanna be that. Yea, following [my father]… yea… role model. It makes you wanna be in a gang… to be his family I suppose, to be a gangsta… or else he wouldn’t really count you as his family…even though you are his son…he would still show more love to the gang than yourself. It was more my older cousins that got me into it though. Yea…older family members. Of course you wanna be like your cousins, fuck knows why…but you fell into it somehow.

Toanga: Yea…[my cousins] made it look like there was just a phase that you go through…like when you grow up you get to a certain age and you just jump into a gang.

Rua: My dad was all good [with joining a gang] cos he used to be patched up for the Mongrel Mob2.

The respect that these participants had for their family members meant that they were interested in pursuing the gang lifestyle. Participants had also been exposed to the family unit that the gang had provided for their older family members, and were searching for a similar sense of belonging. Participants

1 Slang term describing a gang house or headquarters whereby gang members congregate

2 Well established adult gang in New Zealand

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therefore described the gang as a proxy family unit, with older members taking on fatherly roles and younger members of a similar age taking the roles of brothers. The ability of the gang to imitate a family unit often meant that the friends in the gang became more significant to participants than their

biological relatives. This is exemplified by the following statements made by participants:

Hemi: Yea, like the top, the up there people were the oldest but yea…

there were people around my age. Like when I first joined the gang I was like 11 and there were people that were around my age group, but then like the older people were way older than us... and they used to tell us what to do. And like yea, they were like our fathers. And all the people that were around our age group are like our brothers. Never disrespected our brothers, never stole from them or anything, they never stole from us. Just always there for us.

Toanga: It’s kind of like a family basically, when you are in a gang.

That’s a lot of the reason why some people join. Like… some people don’t really like their own family… and they see these gangs and they think these bros are mean and they treat them good and everything like that… better than their own family so they kind of adopt them as a new family.

Henare: Yea yup…yea like family. I thought of [the gang] more as my family than my own family.

Teine: I am the only boy, the youngest so I had to look after my family and um…ya know, you never find any comfort…from your family, the

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comfort that you need cos they all… well back in those days everyone had their raruraru3…so you were just trying to find a brotherhood.

For many of these participants, the lack of perceived support within their home environments meant that they left home at a young age. Henare described the friendships that he had established within the gang as being pivotal during this time, especially because he left home when he was 13 years of age.

Henare: Oh I was put in family homes… and sort of youth

prisons…and ran away from those. Until they put me on um…an island…went to that one…couldn’t run away from there (laughs)…had to swim. Yea, but I got out of those… good behaviour and stuff… but then, fell straight back… that was only to get back into the community I suppose… just for the same reasons…mates!

Henare agreed that his primary motivation was to do what was required of him in order to return to his friends as they could provide him with the drugs, money and support that he desired. Similarly, other participants found

themselves leaving home during early adolescence to move closer to their friends in the gang. It would appear that this process strengthened the bond between friends as they moved further away from their biological family and closer to their brotherhood in the gang.

Teina: Yea, oh in my place, I didn’t really give a fuck, shit wasn’t going good at home. Ya no, ran away from home ya know, the street was home. That was my family, I felt safe, I didn’t really care.

3 Māori term translated to mean problems or troubles.

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Hemi: I joined a gang cos I just…there was just heaps of negativity in my house and I just didn’t like it. Just used to make me angry.

It would appear from these statements that participants were disillusioned with their home environment. Despite participants saying that they respected their fathers, uncles and male cousins who were affiliated with different gangs, they felt it necessary to leave this environment and seek membership with a gang. For many of these participants, the gang was able to provide them with a choice between remaining at home and moving to a different gang environment which better satisfied their needs.

Providers

In conjunction with being ‘cool’ and finding comfort in the family that was created within the gang, participants would often acknowledge that their friends in the gang could provide them with access to their desired resources and possessions. The tangible possessions that were most frequently

referred to were drugs or money. The gang was also described as providing individuals with increased status and power. Many participants explained that there were few other avenues whereby you could access these assets

without being affiliated to the gang. Participants were therefore aware of the possessions and respect that friends in the gang could provide new members with. When asked why these participants were initially attracted to youth gang membership, they responded accordingly:

Henare: Probably drugs, alcohol…they had it all… they had all the drugs.

Hemi: To me in my head it was just all free money, so I would just start going with that and I just stuck with them cos I just liked having

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money in my pocket every day, liked having weed whenever I could get it, and um yea… just liked having everything, for free.

Maui: As we got older it changed from little things like that… to wanting more money, more power, more of everything. Just wanting more of it all. Yea.

Toanga: Chicks, money, weed, drugs, power… respect! That kind of stuff, just from their people.

Rua: Yea I was already like that when I was by myself, but when I joined the gang it made me feel more hearty…

These quotes demonstrate that many participants had been pre-exposed to drugs, power and money before entering the gang, but not to the degree that they desired. In becoming familiar with the goals and values of their friends in the gang, they saw an opportunity to increase the availability of such

possessions to a greater degree than could be achieved elsewhere.

Similarly, participants described their friends in the gang as providing the support network that they needed to survive in their schools and

communities. This support was multifaceted, but was often described as being important in the instance of physical altercations. Many participants felt that fellow gang members could support them when they were at threat from bullies or other gangs that existed in their neighbourhoods.

Hemi: Like yea, if you are walking around and you get a hiding, and then you know that your brothers are going to be there to help you.

Yea I just stuck to the same people, never really affiliated with anyone else. Cos I felt safe with all the bros.

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Teine: Yea, they would drop anything, anything they are doing. Even if they are looking after their baby, they will drop that… as soon as they get the call, they are gone, they leave their wife or their missus or whatever and just go, just come and help the bros ya no.

Rapata: Just they were there for me…they looked after me.

Like…bullies and stuff, like sort them out…and asking for stuff, they used to give it…yea.

Like many children and adolescents, participants identified their desire to have support from those around them. For these participants, the gang was described as being the best way to have these needs met. When asked whether there were other options to choose from, these participants said:

Hemi: Oh there would have been…but I just didn’t see it. All I saw was [the gang]. How they always had money and stuff and just wanted to be like them.

Toanga: There was definitely other options, but like joining a gang would just be easy, the easiest way to do it… and you would just get heaps more than any other strategies you would have to get money or whatever.

Summary

It would appear that friendships within the gang served a number of functions for these participants. Firstly, participants experienced a greater degree of notoriety when accepted into the ‘cool’ group or gang. These participants also explained that upon being accepted into the gang, they became a part of a family unit that supported them to a greater degree than their biological

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relatives. This support was multifaceted, but included the provision of financial, physical and emotional care in times of need.

Antisocial Behaviour

The second theme that was identified from the data set involves the antisocial behaviour that participants frequently described when both joining the gang and once in the gang. This antisocial behaviour that was described by

participants varied and served different functions for different individuals and their gang. The main subthemes or functions of antisocial behaviour that emerged are outlined in Figure 4 and can be summarised as Respect, Violence and Drugs. For some participants and their gang, antisocial behaviour served to increase the respect gained from both the gang and others in their social environments. This respect was described as increasing ones power to make decisions, while also increasing ones notoriety and fame amongst like-minded peers. The second function of antisocial behaviour in the gang included violence and often was described as fighting both

individually and as a gang. Participants in this group often felt that violence was either part of their personality, was fun, or that such activities provided an adrenaline rush. Finally, the third function of antisocial behaviour was drug related. For these participants, drug-related behaviours were often a means to source money. Evidence for each of these three subthemes will be

provided below to illustrate the degree of influence antisocial behaviour had in both the facilitation and maintenance of youth gang membership for these participants.

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Figure 4: An outline of the subthemes relevant to 'Antisocial Behaviour'.

Respect

Being respected both within the gang and within the community was often acknowledged to be of significant importance to participants’. As discussed previously, respect protected individuals from bullies and ensured acceptance into a brotherhood or gang. When asked why participants joined gangs

initially, they would frequently describe the availability of respect within the gang as being a key motivator for membership:

Maui: Power! Yea…like other people being scared of the numbers…and yea…just power and respect.

Henare: umm…for family and for respect really. Drugs is a bonus.

It is, however, important to understand how this respect developed for these participants. For many, they described a willingness to participate in antisocial behavior as being fundamental to the respect they received. This respect increased with every successful drug deal, fight or robbery that took place.

Young youth gang members could therefore experience respect as it was not Antisocial Behaviour Violence

Personality Fun Adrenaline

Drugs Money

Respect Power

Fame

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just contingent on age, but on the variety of different criminal activities that they had orchestrated. As each of these participants had been influential in a variety of different antisocial behaviours, they expressed resentment towards those who merely spoke about their involvement in offending behaviours. It became apparent that these participants felt that respect could only be gained by following through with antisocial behaviours and not merely talking about them.

Rapata: You have to make sure you know what you are doing. You can’t just say you are going to do something and not do it… you just get yourself a bad name. It’s not so much about saying big things…you know…it’s all about doing it…business. You have to do it. Once you do it you are the man…it’s not really like oh yea…I’m doing this… I’m selling drugs…when you are not doing that…not doing drugs and not selling drugs…ya know.

Hemi: Oh yea to young people who I thought were wannabes, I used to boss them around. Like people who used to brag about what they do…I hate braggers. People that I used to see that used to try and come kick it with us…bragging about doing this and doing that…I used to treat them like shit.

Henare: Yea you would have to be good at something for them to accept you to be there. If you are good for nothing then (laughs) you’d just…you were just cuppa tea boy. I used to make them heaps of money…just for knowing people on both sides even…selling [stolen goods] to people…like…ya know…straight people…all sorts of crowds.

Teine: I went to school cos every time I woke up, I was yea…not in a very good mood. But I actually went to school to um…try step out the big fullas. To become the top man. Ya no…at such a young age, I

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wanted to be THE man. Ya no…cos you walk around and they go, chur, that fullas tough. Like I would have got a hiding like 300 times.

Each time I stepped to the 12 year old, ya know, and I was only about 10…at primary school. And I would always try to step to them, and I always got a hiding, but I never stopped. I always stood back up and got another hiding. And just kept standing up, just to show them that I aint going to back down. Mmm. I would think, one day I am going to crack all of you’s. And it ended up happening…at high school. I became top dog. And then I started making my name around town.

These participants highlighted that once you were established within a gang it was expected that you were motivated to participate in antisocial behaviours that served a function for that gang. Once you showed this commitment, those in the gang and like-minded peers in the community respected you for this. Once respected within the gang, participants would speak of the different privileges that were available to them.

Toanga: It’s like you are having your time of being the low fulla and then like…the small fish, and after a while of doing all the stuff that they ask you it’s like you will be up there…one of the big fish kind of thing…so it’s just promising you.

Teine: Well when I was a young fulla I used to run older people. That was the respect that I gained from them. Respect gets you a long way in life.

Rapata: Ya no…he could be older than me, he could be an old man…he could be littler than me, he could be a dad…and I could sit there and tell him to go and do something for me.

In document Youth gang membership: (Page 57-95)