Virginia State Law 18.2-46.1 defines a criminal street gang as an ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, (i) which has one of its primary objectives or activities the commission of one or more predicate criminal acts, (ii) which has an identifiable sign or symbol, and (iii) whose members individually or collectively engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity.
- Gangs can be organized around race, ethnic group, territory, and money making activities.
- Turf – area of town that the gang claims as theirs.
- Some gangs can be identified by a particular type of dress, (items they wear) such as brands, colors of clothing, bandanas of various colors or caps of specific teams.
- Some gangs are also identified by markings/tattoos of gang symbols or names.
- Some gangs have special handshakes or hand signs.
Why People Join Gangs
Most gang members are males ranging in age from 8-years-old to 22-years-old. The reason young people join gangs vary but the most common reasons are to belong to a group, receive protection, to be more popular, to be with friends, end boredom, earn money or even for excitement.
Risks of Joining
The risk that one encounters when joining a gang can hurt your health and future. Here are few of those risks:
- You may be killed
- You may be injured
- You could end up with a disease
- You are likely to be involved in crimes
- You could end up in prison
- You could become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol
- You could lessen your chance for an education, by receiving poor grades or even dropping out of school The lack of education limits your chances for higher education or finding a good job
- You may need to fight other gang members at the same time
- You may need to prove yourself by beating an innocent person, robbing a store, or shooting someone
- Once you are in a gang it is not easy to get out, you may even risk your own life to leave
- Changes in child's behavior
- Changes in style of dress
- Suspected drug use
- Phone threats to family (from rival gangs)
- Photographs of child displaying gang hand signs, weapons, cash drugs, gang graffiti
- Graffiti in or around residence, especially in child's room
- Physical signs of being in a fight
- New nickname
- Tattoos or branding