"This Ain't the Nineties": Chicago's Black Street Gangs in the Twenty-First Century
Aspholm, Roberto R.
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Despite widespread national media coverage of Chicago’s deeply entrenched gang culture and persistently high levels of violence, little empirical research has been conducted exploring the current dynamics within the city’s street gangs or the nature of the violence in which gang members are involved. Based on the author’s years of community work and in-depth interviews with gang members from some of the most violent communities on Chicago’s South Side, this study sheds timely light on these critical issues. The findings from this study reveal that the corporate-style African American street gangs on Chicago’s South Side have been shattered by a series of internal rebellions waged by young gang soldiers against exploitive and coercive gang leaders. In the wake of these rebellions, youthful gang members reconstructed today’s gangs in radically new ways, rejecting traditional gang ideologies in favor of personal relationships and embracing principles of egalitarianism and autonomy. These remarkable shifts in gang organization and culture, in turn, have fundamentally transformed the nature of gang violence across much of the city’s South Side, as the cross-neighborhood drug wars of the 1990s have been replaced with local, vendetta-style conflicts typically rooted in interpersonal animosities. These findings demonstrate the historically contingent nature of street gangs and gang violence and have important implications for addressing these issues as they exist in Chicago today and beyond.