Gangs in America


In this paper, there will be a summary of three movies; Crips and Blood: Made in America, Gran Torino, and A Better Life which showcases the issues that young minorities from three different ethnic backgrounds experience. Next, the youths’ experiences and difficulties will be compared and contrasted. Lastly, criminological theories will be used to explain the issues among juveniles and what support would be necessary in order for the juveniles to stay away from any further criminal involvement. Summary of Movies Crips and Blood: Made in America was a film that was shot in 2008 in the South of Los Angeles.

It sends us back in time as we head through the migration of the North and the West of the freed slaves, to the cotton fields of the South, and through industrialization in an attempt to educate viewers on the strain that African Americans went through that essentially created the gangs, Crips and Blood. In Los Angeles, the African American youth were unable to partake in the activities and groups of of White Americans, such as Boys Scouts. The racial discrimination and barriers drove them to form their own clubs, or as society calls them, gangs. This allowed African American teens to establish their own identity and sense of belonging.

Furthermore, It gave the African American men of Los Angeles a sense of empowerment, which is something outsiders tend to overlook when looking into why so many young teens joined gangs. There are many people like Scrap, a 32-year-old male who feels like they were born into gangs. Scrap grew up in a household where everyone was selling drugs. For he states that “If crack would’ve never came, we’d still probably have nice little homes and nice little families.” More often than not, these teens were born into families and environments like this or got pressured into it at such a young age, that finding a way out is easier said than done. Law enforcement viewed gangs negatively and made it seem like young African American teens were the center of all crimes.

From 1950 to 1966, the Police department in Los Angeles was commanded by Chief William Parker who instituted harsh policies against the African Americans. The department prevented African Americans from crossing the Alameda Street, or the White Curtain, which leads to white neighborhoods. This was very demoralizing but it, unfortunately, was a social barrier that was protected by the police department. The delinquents lacked direction and as mentioned earlier, it was all they ever knew. The youth were left on their own, and in the late 1960s was the first signs of the Crips, which was lead by Raymond Washington.

As a result, the gang formed an alliance and called themselves Blood. The Crips and the Blood are a product of the poor treatment of the disadvantaged. A Better Life also takes place in Los Angeles which shows Carlos, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, and his 15-year-old son, Luis. Carlos works as a gardener for another Hispanic Immigrant, Blasco Martinez, catering to Los Angeles residents. Luis’s mother is not in his life as she wanted more than what Carlos could offer her. As a result, this left a young man coming from a broken home all alone, which led him into delinquent acts and gangs.

Luis is a young juvenile that influenced by his girlfriend Ruthie Valdez and friend Ramon. The plot shows that Blasco finally has enough money to return to Mexico, so he offers Carlos his truck, tools, and everything to do with the business. Carlos can’t get a driver’s license and if he got stopped by the police, that could possibly mean deportation. Carlos employs another immigrant to help him with the business, however, the employee robs the truck. Carlos and Luis then go look for the man that robbed the truck. They eventually locate the thief. Instead of thanking Luis, Carlos beats Luis. Undoubtedly, Luis felt betrayed that his father attacked him and not the thief, so he runs away to Ramon’s home. Luis meets Carlos and enters the shop to get their truck. As a result of the excitement of not being shot while retrieving the truck, they forget to put their seatbelts on. A police pulls them over and discovers Carlos is an undocumented immigrant, so he is deported and Luis is placed with his aunt.

Carlos tells Luis that he wants him to succeed and achieve where he could not. Luis’ last moments with his father made him motivated into making this father proudof him. As a result. Luis cut his affiliations Ramon and Ruthie to pursue a positive lifestyle away from negative influences. Gran Torino is a film focused on Hmong American juveniles and it takes place in Kowalski’s neighborhood. Thao is confronted by a Latino gang member as he is walking through a less fortunate and underkept neighborhood. Thao’s cousin, Fong, who is known as Spider in the film, comes to help Thao by scaring the rival away with a weapon. In this sense, Spider is protecting him from other gangs and gives him the chance to feel safe and join his gang.

Although Thao is pressured to join but he has to prove that he is worthy to stay. In order to do this, Thao’s robbed Kowalski’s 1972 Gran Torino. Kowalski catches Thao attempting to rob the car. As a result, he fails at the robbery. Spider and his gang decide to give Thao another chance but Thao refuses. As a result, the gang becomes aggressive and attempts to take him by force. Thao’s neighbors try to save him and get him out of trouble, but are unsuccessful. However, Kowalski saves him and stops the gang by threatening to shoot them. Later on, Thao’s mother and sister talk with Kowalski so they can all agree on a way that Thao can repay him for trying to steal his car. Kowalski decides to be repaid by leading Thao in a positive direction through social capital.

Kowalski provides Thao with a construction job, which will give him the opportunity to provide for him and his family. Spider’s gang was humiliated that Thao did not join them, so they are planning on doing a drive-by shooting on his house and kill his sister, Sue. The people in the neighborhood were too scared to say who did the shooting, so as always, Kowalski has to take action. Kowalski is planning how to get revenge on the gang, but his plan excludes Thao completely by protecting him and locking him in a basement. Kowalski went unarmed into their home, which is very risky as he was shot dead.

He sacrificed himself so both Thao and Sue would be safe from the harm future gangs could cause them. Spider and his gang as they were arrested soon after for murder. Similarities and Differences The three movies took place in areas with high gang activity and little to no boundaries set by the communities as well as neighborhoods that were located in the less fortunate side of town. Poverty was also present in the movies as the culture of poverty was definitely a recurring theme as well as several culture clashes. In Crips in Bloods: Made In America (2008), the South Los Angeles community experienced the culture shock of trying to fit into the White people of LA, but that didn’t go so well, so that led to gangs being formed and it escalated from there. The White culture was not to keen on welcoming the African American culture of freedom and rights in the community.

In the film Gran Torino (2008), the main clash occurred between Kowalski and the Hmong community. The Hmong culture differed from Kowalski’s views. In A Better Life, the values of culture clash with the norm here so that led to a big divide and distance between immigrant families and society. The immigrant father Carlos struggled to provide for his only son Luis. Luis saw being in a gang as an opportunity for growth since he was living in poverty, but this all changed when his father Carlos promised to be able to provide a better life with the business. Other similarities the young delinquents experienced was peer pressure. African American juveniles were either born into it or expected to join a gang at a young age because if they did not join a gang, they had a higher chance of being victimized. The Hmong juveniles from Gran Torino peer pressured Thao into joining to increase their status and power. When the Hmong juveniles were no longer able to pressure Thao, they became aggressive. Ruthie from A Better Life pressured Luis that joining a gang is a good idea, so he doesn’t end up like his father.

When Carlos offered him a better life after the business was handed off to him, Luis was able to get out of going down the wrong path. Young juveniles are easily swayed and always under constant peer pressure from gangs by offering protection and financial stability when all it does is put them in danger. The differences between the three minority groups were that African American groups experienced a lot more discrimination from authorities, like cops, as opposed to all the other groups. African American delinquents underwent years of discrimination from not authorities but from the public. The development of gangs was the result of the White society that denied African Americans entry into their social group.

Kowalski from Gran Torino provided Thao with a father figure and a sense of direction while the people in Crips and Bloods had no sense of direction. Kowalski did a big favor for Thao by finding him work and powerful connections. Kowalski’s kindness gave Thao a sense of worth and belonging which in turn led to positive behavior from Thao. In A Better Life, Luis also experienced a turning point which led him in the right direction like Thao from Gran Torino. Luis got placed with his aunt where he got to partake in extracurricular activities and get involved in community events, which helped steer him away from trouble. Criminological theory A criminological theory that is relevant throughout the three movies is the choice theory. Choice theory states the view that crime is function of a decision-making process in which the potential offender weighs the potential costs and benefits of an illegal act. Which implies that the choices made by the youth are choices that they made after carefully evaluating their decison.

Life is about making decisions and each individual in the movies had made delinquent choices since their future was uncertain and they all wanted a sense of security, as anyone would. Bill McCarthy states that “…outcomes are uncertain; there is typically no guarantee that they will be realized. As a result, people’s attitudes toward risk and uncertainty…affect their preference” (McCarthy, 2002, p. 419). Young children want to know that they are safe and stable but if they do not feel this way, they will more than likely make delinquent choices. These choices are the cause of a future that seems empty to delinquents.

This is very relevant in Crips and Bloods because the view of life affected their choices and the way they were treated by authorities and people around them. Society can improve the situation of these through community gatherings so everyone feels like he or she has a safe space and a group of people they can go to. This will help the delinquents be exposed to people who care for them and their future, which will do nothing but good for them. The young juveniles need to be re-educated on how to not fall back into the same path.

A recurring issue in these films was the fact that there were a lot of broken homes and single parents. “…considerable emphasis has been placed upon the family both as a preventive agency and as a contributing factor in the development of delinquent tendencies among children” (Shaw & McKay, 1932, p.514). Shaw and McKay believe that a healthy home plays a major factor on if teens become delinquents or not. If the family has a stable home environment and both parents are in the child’s life, the less likely it is for the child to get into juvenile behavior. The same applies to broken homes that promote a negative and toxic environment.

Summary The three movies capture the lives of disadvantaged youths who are desperately searching for alternative means for survival in an environment where they find it hard to fit in. The gangs had a similar social and economic disadvantage. Delinquents joined gangs for protection, financial stability, and others were just born into it.

Changing the foundation of the disadvantaged youths through community involvement and reeducating can help. It is important to emphasize the importance of education in youth so they are less likely to avoid quick monetary gains because more often than not, it is also illegal. The children that come from broken homes should be provided with counseling as they have gone through emotional trauma and need to feel loved once more. Gangs are the byproduct of a failed system that resulted in a life of crime for the youth. Effective community planning which included organizing activities for the youth to engage in will keep them too busy to fall into trouble and will significantly improve their outlook on life. 

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Gangs In America. (2019, Apr 12). Retrieved August 4, 2021 , from

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