New York City Gangs and Their History Research Paper

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Introduction and Background Information

The City of New York is one of the oldest and the biggest metropolitans in the world. Apparently, the city has faced many social evils, especially city gangs and related violence throughout history (Hortis and Jacobs 3). The problem of city gangs in New York has a considerably long history going back to the early 19th century. It is imperative to note that many factors, especially support from political elites, have influenced and facilitated the growth of the city gangs.

Ostensibly, people from almost all races and backgrounds in the city of New York have a history of participating in street gangs. Initially, a majority of gang members came from European descendants. Later, the compositions of many street gangs were members of the Hispanic and African American descents.

This paper discusses the gangs of New York City throughout history. Some of the key areas of discussion include history, key gangs, challenges faced in dealing with gangs in the city, and possible solutions to the problem.

History and Development of Gangs of New York City

The culmination of the American Revolution in the late 18th century saw the emergence of social problems and the emergence of gangs in the US. However, the gangs were relatively not serious and were made up of young people fighting for territory. The early 19th century saw the emergence of dangerous and more serious and organized gangs that were formed in various cities (Howell and Moore 1).

Early Gangs in the Northeast

The Northeast region of the US, especially the Ellis Island in the City of New York was a key immigration route. As such, many immigrants from Europe settled in New York and the Lower East Side where factors such as overcrowding, and political/economic/social disorganizations facilitated the emergence and development of street gangs (Howell and Moore 2).

The development of the gangs happened in three distinctive stages where the initial stage was composed of relatively young members, more structured gangs characterized the second phase, and membership from black and Latinos predominately characterized the third phase (Howell and Moore 2).

The First Wave of Gangs in New York City

During the late 1700s, gangs that were composed of teenagers and the youth thrived in the city of New York. Key gangs during this time included The Smiths’ Vly gang, the Bowery Boys, and the Broadway Boys, the Fly Boys, and the Long Bridge Boys. Although a majority of the gangs were of European origin, especially Irish, blacks formed some. It is worth noting that multi-ethnic gangs were common in areas where ethnic segregation was not extreme (Howell and Moore 2).

Most of the gangs in the late 18th century had minimal or no criminal tendencies. They majorly worked in saloons and dance halls, as well as dockworkers and other informal enterprises. Nevertheless, the oftentimes would be engaged in violent activities, especially during territorial warfare (Howell and Moore 2).

In 1820, there was an emergence of extremely dangerous gangs because of the lack of order and poor urban planning. The gangs created chaos and caused violence in the slums, saloons, and entertainment joints. An outstanding gang during this period was the Forty Thieves, which like other gangs involved itself in criminal enterprises and territorial clashes. The gangs grew and became more violent and dangerous. The growth and development of the gangs were facilitated by the formation of territorial alliances, which were formed to control trade and for job acquisition. In addition, ethnicity played vital roles in internal cohesion among members of gangs (Howell and Moore 2).

The most infamous alliance was the Five Point gangs, which was formed in social centers where small businesses such as the sale of cheap liquor thrived. The Five-Point gang had a considerably firm structure that facilitated its dominance and strength. Common activities carried out by the members of the gang included bar fighting, private boxing, prostitution, and robbery (Howell and Moore 2).

The Five-Point Gang was the most popular among young street gangsters and was critical in the development of the Sicilian Mafia. Moreover, the gang received massive support from rogue political leaders who used it to prevent the participation of unsympathetic voters during elections (Howell and Moore 3).

Second Period of Gang Growth in New York City

Immigrants from Italy, Poland, and Israel between the late 19th century and the early 20th century resulted in overcrowding and development of slums and, therefore, facilitated the second wave of gangs in New York (Howell and Moore 3).

The most infamous and the most powerful gang during the late 19th century was the Whyos, which is said to have developed from the Chichester. Other notable gangs that terrorized the city included the Five Pointers, the Monk Eastman, the Gophers, and the Hudson Dusters. Other terrorizing the city, the gangs were involved in frequent fights among themselves, especially over turf. It is also worth noting that the gangs could time to time reorganize and restructure.

For a considerable period, the gangs faced opposition and hostility from the Chinese tongs, especially in the control of drug trafficking and gambling. The tongs liaised with political leaders, local police, and other financiers. Nevertheless, the Mafia overpowered the Chinese tongs in the early 20th century. Subsequently, there were fewer inter-gang fights and degeneration of gangs. Most of the gangs disintegrated into smaller groups and juvenile criminal groups reemerged (Howell and Moore 3).

Third Era of Gang Development in New York City

Notable progress in dealing with street gangs in New York was evident by the 1950s. In fact, there were some reports that suggested that gangs had virtually disappeared from the streets of New York. Nevertheless, researchers and pundits asserted that the reporting was inaccurate (Howell and Moore 4).

The early 1950s was characterized by mass immigration of blacks who were looking for jobs. Racial interactions and intolerance in their new settlements resulted in the formation of white gangs and black gangs. The situation was further aggravated by the immigration of the Latinos. The Latinos and the blacks became the predominant populations with street gangs where at least sixty percent of New York gangs were from the two races. The gangs operated in the city until the mid-1990s (Howell and Moore 4).

Modern Day Gangs in New York City

In the late 20th century, New York City underwent renewal and substantial slum clearance. Nevertheless, inter-gang clashes for territory and honor continued. In addition, more gangs emerged, especially in correctional facilities. The gangs continued to operate in the city even in the 21st century.

One of the most violent gangs formed in the late 20th century is the Trinitarios. Trinitarios was formed in correctional facilities and its member reunited upon release. The gang is known for extreme violence and is predominantly involved in drug handling, robberies, and homicide (Howell and Moore 4).

East Coast Bloods and Dead Man Inc. are other dangerous gangs formed in correctional facilities in New York. While the East Coast Blood is made of blacks, the Dead Man Inc. has a white membership. Other gangs include Ñetas, Latin Kings, and The Black Guerilla Family among others (Howell and Moore 5).

Challenges Faced in Dealing with Gangs of New York

The involvement of politicians and the police

Although politicians and law enforcers are supposed to be vital aspects of the fight against city gangs in the city of New York, they are considerably involved in the activities of the gangs. They have symbiotic relationships as it was evident in the case where politicians used gangs to influence voting patterns (Howell and Moore 4).

Social-economic factors

As a metropolitan, the city of New York is faced with numerous social-economic issues. First, many family structures are affected by the way of city life where absent parents and single-parenthood are common phenomena (Taylor 340). Second, issues such as drug abuse, drug trafficking, and prostitution have facilitated the development of city gangs. Third, racism, ethnicity, and social injustice continue to be critical issues facing the city of New York.

How Gangs and Related Violence Have Been Dealt within the Past

Proper Housing and Urban Planning

Congestion, overcrowding, and the emergence of slums were major causes of the development of city gangs in the early phases. Therefore, policymakers addressed the issue of urban planning and considerably reduced the activities and development of city gangs, especially in the 1990s (Howell and Moore 4).

Arrest and Prosecuting of Leaders

Since many gangs depended on their administrative structures, authorities reduced their strength through arresting key leaders and members (Howell and Moore 11).

Promoting anti-violence in some gangs

Considerable calm was experienced in the city of New York in the mid-1990s because of some gangs refraining from violent activities (Costanza and Helms 297).


Polices, anti-gang ordinances, and legislation have been enacted to deal with street gangs in the past (Costanza and Helms 296).

Some Possible Solutions for the Problem of Gangs in New York City

Promoting Social Equity and Social Justice

Racism and social inequality are some of the fueling factors that facilitate the growth and development of city gangs in New York. Therefore, policymakers and other pertinent stakeholders should ensure there is equity in city dwellers.

Change of Mindsets among Youths

The youth and children are prone to recruitment into the city gangs because of many reasons (Taylor 339). As such, parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other stakeholders should ensure that young people are brought upright.

Checking and Proper Management of Correctional Facilities

It is evident that modern city gangs are formed and developed within correctional facilities (Howell and Moore 4). Therefore, it is imperative that all correctional facilities are managed and checked properly.


The city of New York has been home and operating ground for street gangs for more than two centuries. The history of the gangs could be traced to the late 18th century when there was mass immigration from Europe to America. New York was a major entry point and, therefore, facilitated the emergence and development of city gangs. Moreover, other sociopolitical and economic factors made it possible and easy for city gangs to flourish.

Although fighting city gangs was difficult, authorities and other stakeholders put in place mechanisms to reduce their activities. Some of the frameworks employed included legislation, arrests, and urban planning.

Currently, solutions such as embracing social equity and tolerance, counseling/educating the youth, and checking prisons among others could be used to address the menace of the city gangs in New York.

Works Cited

Costanza, S. E., and Ronald Helms. “Street Gangs and Aggregate Homicides: An Analysis of Effects During the 1990s Violent Crime Peak.” Homicide Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, 2012, pp. 280-307.

Hortis, C. Alexander, and James B. Jacobs. The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York. Prometheus Books, 2014.

Howell, James C., and John P Moore. “History of Gangs in the United States.” May 2010. National Gang Centre Bulletin.

Taylor, Stanely S. “Why American Boys Join Street Gangs.” International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, vol. 5, no. 8, 2013, pp. 339-349.

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