Gang Activities in Omaha


Eunice Wintona. Juan Simon. Michala Beatie. Jude Ivwionrume. Jacob Rau.

Abstract: This research covers gang activities in the US but more precisely in Omaha, how they develop, interact within and between each other, the police involvement, and their relation to social class. 

Introduction: Gang activity has been a rising aspect in many cities in the United States due to aspects such as social stratification, disadvantages in resources, education, and the development of healthy communities. While gang activity in Omaha may not contribute heavily to the percentage of total crime rate in the United States such as bigger populated cities like Los Angeles or New York, one shouldn’t dismay the observation of an intricate gang system in a city as here. Gangs function in many ways and develop in different factors that can be observed and analyzed. With the progression of this essay, social class, gang development, gang interaction, police involvement, and street programs will be taking into consideration and observed. Gangs have many factors that make up its form, from coast to coast, gangs differentiate, but how do Omaha’s gangs run in this city?



The process of gathering and researching the needed sources for our paper initiated with the help and aid from UNO’s Library database. As a group we were given the responsibility to observe and analyze a social concept in crime. Crime was the main premise of our paper, but to better observe the field, we delved into the concept of gang activity within the city of Omaha. Establishing that crime was our foundation and that gang activity was our concern, we explored and broke apart how gangs function and maintain their presence.

The UNO database launched our research to better expose gang activity in Omaha. The database gave us our primary sources, which were mainly sources having keywords as violence, gang, and youth at a broader and general area. These primary sources developed into what would be our secondary sources. These secondary sources we obtained were more informed to the specifics of the city of Omaha. These sources guided us to better form our themes of our paper. With the sources at hand, we implemented the idea of a data table to better organize and analyze the data we’ve researched. We inserted both the primary and secondary sources into our table

and each came about our own understanding of the data researched. Piecing our own data tables together and taking consideration of what the data has presented itself, we achieved the phase of knowing what our themes would be of concern. As a group, we found that applying our ideas and thoughts of our topic onto a whiteboard provided more insight and better analytical perspectives. These steps led to the final themes we’ve transcribed to this paper, which were social class, gang development, gang interaction, police involvement, and street programs. As a group we each respectively researched and wrote our own analytical perspectives to the observation and consideration of gang activity.

One of the many factors that influence an individual’s likelihood of getting involved in gang activities is poverty, social class. Social class is a controversial issue, with social scientists disagreeing over models, definitions, and even the basic question of whether or not distinct classes exist.

Social class pertains to society’s stratification of people into rankings of socioeconomic tiers based on factors like wealth, income, race, education, and power. Many Americans believe in a simple three-class model that includes the rich or upper class, the middle class, and the poor or working class. Based on Raths’ post on Modern Education Service titled “Student status and social class”, there are three main divisions of social classes informally recognized in many societies such as the above the common man, the common man, and the below the common man.

The first one being, the capitalist group, only constitutes 1% of the U.S. population and is comprised of the ones who attend prestigious schools/universities with more than a million dollars as income. Mostly, they are investors, heirs and few top executives. The second class which is the upper middle class is comprised of professionals and upper managers who attend colleges or universities and often with postgraduate study. They are only 15% of the population and have an income of more than $125,000. The lower middle class which is the largest group (about 34% of the U.S. population) regroups the semiprofessionals and lower managers, craftspeople and foremen. Very few of the individuals in this group attend college, most stop in high school or go into apprenticeship and have an annual income of about $60,000. Next is the working class, which is the second largest group of about 30% of the population with an annual income of $36,000. They only attend high school and are the factory workers, low-paid retail sales, craftspeople, and clerical workers. Then, the working poor class which represents about the same (15) percentage as the upper middle class and is consist of laborers, service workers, and low-paid salespeople with a total annual income of about $19,000. People in this category barely finish high school. The last group is mostly made of people on welfare. They represent 5% of the population and have an income of $12,000. These are the people who never made it to college; in fact, they never were able to finish high school. They are the heavy laborers, domestics, odd-job men scrub women, newsboys, migrant workers, and the unemployed with an unstable family unit.

Studies have shown that African Americans and Latinos are almost 3 times more likely to be poor than whites. 1 in 10 persons 65 and older is poor, 41% of all female heads of household (no husband present) live in poverty (37.2% for whites, 49.8%, for Blacks, and 47.0% for Hispanics). Society often times makes it seem like it is their choice(s) to not succeed in life and deny the fact that social positions shape perceptions, access to resources, and options and thus once behavior. The ones at the top benefit more of their social position than those at the bottom; in other words, social inequality benefits capitalists and leaves the underclass with lots of repercussions such as high risk of crimes.

The article “Social Capital, Type of crime, and Social Control” confirms this by conducting researches and coming to the conclusion that community with a high level of social capital is not only healthy (both mentally and physically) but also presents little to no criminal behavior. There are more identified crimes in rural areas than urbans. Studies had shown that environment of the youth was a determining factor of what they get involve. Hawdon and Ryan (2009) explained that “as social capital theorists predict, neighborhoods with high levels of social capital have lower crime rates.”

Omaha (largest city of Nebraska, to be more specific) is socially, economically, and racially separated into its four cardinal points: the north, the west, the south, and the east. Because of its [troubles], many residents of Omaha view the North Omaha community as violent, poor, and drug-riddled, where only low-income African American people live. The south and north are respectively attributed to Hispanics/ Latinos and African Americans while the west and the east are occupied by wealthy and/or white Americans.

The article “Who are the gangsters? An Examination of the Age, Race/Ethnicity, Sex, and Immigration Status of Self-Reported Gang Members in a Seven-City Study of American Youth” confirms this theory of minorities being the major group involved in crimes or gang activities. The article focuses on the characteristics of the members of gangs.

Studies from Esbensen & Winfree have shown that Age, Sex, and Race/Ethnicity affect an individual likelihood of belonging to a gang group. It has been proven that teens of age as early as 14-15 old tend to identify themselves as gang members. While it is more appealing that most gang members would be of masculine sex, studies have shown that females/girls also constitute as large as half of all gang members. On the other hand, immigrants and/or minorities are said to be more likely to identify as gang members. In fact, in the mid-ninety fifth century (1950s), gang members were identified as African American, Puerto Rican, and/or Hispanic to the point that by the 21st century, gang problem was seen as a racial/ethnic issue.

However, questions of whether the minority gang members were more violent/ delinquent than the non-minorities, whether gang youth were more delinquent than the non-gang youth, whether gang boys were more delinquent than gang girls, or whether age influences the level of delinquency of gang members, were the motives for further researches to compare Esbensen & Winfree findings.

After conducting multiple surveys on drug use and property or person offenses, it was conclude that gang girls were more involved in delinquency than non-gang boys (an estimate ratio of 5 to 1): gang girls commit from 4 to 20 times more offenses than non-gang boys. While the difference might not be significant between gang boys and gang girls, it disappears as they age: gang girls commit as much offenses as gang boys. Compared to minorities in gang groups, white youth commit little to almost no offense; however, involvement in a gang group is a huge factor for gang white youth compared to non-gang white youth. Nevertheless, immigrants were not excluded in these studies. They were found to have very little impact in the youth gang problem; but still, they were more likely than non-immigrants to be gang-involved by the time they reach high school. Beside gender, sex, and racial profiling, there are other reasons why kids tend to get involved in gang activities such as respect seeking due to inferiority complex, attention seeking due to the feeling of being left out, poor education due to lack of resources, feeling of having no other choice due to unequal opportunities, and sometimes just for the money they get out of robberies. But how do these gangs keep growing, how do they develop?

The article “Man with ‘one foot in, one foot out’ of gang life couldn’t outrun a family legacy of crime” explains this as being an inevitable process for a kid/young man, as gang membership is sometimes just a family ritual which favors the development of gangs.

The development of gangs is based on many theories. Most being personal reasons for why one would decide to join one of these fearful groups. Also, a gang can develop with as little as two people, or even as many as 50-100+. This variety of numbers of people affiliated with gang related behavior is based on the fact that gang behavior is simply just criminal behavior involving more than one person in an ongoing relationship. The pair or groups of people, support each other as one and even individually, committing violations of minor to major infractions.

One theory is based off the realization that especially in Omaha; gangs usually develop in areas that are filled with poverty. These low income places tend to have some people who will do whatever they feel necessary to achieve materialistic, financial, and vengeful goals. Whether it’s by robbing someone, selling drugs, murdering people, and other violations. In Omaha, most gang affiliation occurs in north Omaha.

Another theory is that gang development can occur due to the interest that gang members have in recruiting young members. Teens are easy targets because there are numerous ways to persuade a young person to join a gang. For example, teenagers have been bribed with things they desire such as money, acceptance, and others. They can also be threatened to join. By fearing for their lives or the lives of loved ones, not only will they join, they will obey every order. Related to this reason, people, especially young people may also join a gang so they can feel protected.

Someone may also join a gang because another family member may already be a member. This can make someone feel accepted already and give them the desire to want to join to impress that family member. The process of recruiting young family members is also a more simple way to recruit as well.

Because gang affiliation is unknowingly very complex, most people only think about street gangs, when they are mentioned. Gangs can be as simply developed as a small street gang to a highly organized mafia that commits highly illegal infractions. Gangs are also characterized by different characteristics. These characteristics can include the gang’s “colors” (like red for the bloods, and blue for the crisps), or from where they are from, and even their ethnicities.

Street gangs are usually a group of young people who develop into a group that commit small to larger crimes. These gangs are common in not only Omaha, Nebraska, but the United states as a whole.

Mafias are an international organization of criminals that have a ruthless behavioral code. Mafias are structured secret organizations that allegedly engage in smuggling, racketeering, trafficking in narcotics, and other criminal activities. These types of gangs have been known to have been active in Mexico, the United States, and Italy.

Now that we have displayed our gathered data relating to the development of gangs, we shift our focus onto how the gangs have affected the environment surrounding them. After collecting data from various sources it has been revealed the different sectors of the city of Omaha are being negatively affected by the relationship between the gangs and their communities. There was a lot of information provided by our sources regarding gang interactions with their surroundings; however, a few major ideas stuck out. The two major themes that can be seen are that the communities are typically handed a bad reputation when there are gangs present in the area, and that of all the gang crime patterns, violence seems to be the most damaging to the community.

In the city of Omaha there are approximately 30 gangs and an estimated 29 of those have been active in North Omaha according to the article titled Omaha is Home to 30 Gangs; Territory Spreads Into West Omaha. The community of North Omaha has suffered immensely as a result. Many factors have been attributed to the prevalent interactions of these local gangs with the community. The violent activity and the inter-gang relationships within the small population of 40,000 has resulted in a ruined reputation and tainted history. A specific example was named in the article Group’s Desire to be ‘Most Feared Street Gang in Omaha’ Helped Officials Indict ‘Who’s Who of Gun Violence. The author tells of how two separate gangs, the 44th and 40th Avenue Crips, joined forces to take down a common enemy. This unsettling story is unfortunately just one of many that have occurred in North Omaha.

This goes to show the potential of how dangerous gangs can be to the public. Especially in North Omaha, where gang activity is extremely prevalent. Dealing with single gangs alone has proved a very tall task for law enforcement, so one can imagine that when local gangs are interacting with one another and joining forces it can become a catastrophic problem. Or even worse, when rival gangs in an area cause damage to the community with their negative interactions with one another. Gangs often compete with one another in power struggles to assert their dominance as the “top dog” gang in the area. Many of the innocent suffer and it isn’t fair that the communities be labeled as dangerous areas when in reality the law enforcement is lacking and the gang violence rates are rising.

According to Duschenes, Piper, and Esbensen, “Over 90 percent of all gang members surveyed had participated in violent activity.” This goes to show that of all gang activities, violence is the most widespread problem. While other common gang attributes including drug smuggling and sex trafficking are major issues, neither come close to that outrageous number of 90% being involved with some form of violence. And even worse, it was reported in the Omaha Gang Assessment that in the city of Omaha gangs have accounted for over half of the gun related crime.

Now most people believe that North Omaha is the only area where this violence occurs. Of course this is not true, but the bad reputation the gangs put on the area is what leads the public to believe such absurd statements. Gang interactions with one another are almost always negative interactions and only result in someone getting hurt. While this is a major concern, and law enforcement has seemingly looked the other way, major steps are being made in effort to stop gangs from interacting with one another and ultimately put an end to the tragedies they bring forth.

Law enforcement is a system by which some members of society act in an organized manner to enforce the law by discovering, deterring, rehabilitating, or punishing people who violate the rules and norms governing a society. The police force is a huge aspect of the Law enforcement organization in the United States and has a huge obligation as to serve the people making sure, the country is a safe place for everyone and it is a big task for them in controlling every situation and gang activities is the main issue in the Omaha community.

As we know, gang activities have been a major problem in different section of Omaha community; and the police are playing a major and most important role in making the community a peaceful place by carrying out operations/investigations, educating officers on gang activities and behaviors and establishing good relationship with people of local communities. It is not as easy as it sounds but the police have done quit a good job in making sure gang activities is in control here in Omaha.

On Feb 1, 2016 the Omaha police spearheaded an investigation that made it possible for some gang members to be federally charged under an organized crime statute called RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). On Sep 13, 2016, they also set up OTB “Operation Triple Beam” which targeted drugs, guns and gang members over a three-month period according to the Omaha Police Department, 268 people were taken into custody. The operation ran from June 1 to September 1. This operation was a success as it helped to get about 286 gang members off the street. The Omaha police department also took a huge step in educating people by answering some important questions like what is a Gang, Why do some youngsters join a gang; does Omaha have a high number of gang members?

As an adolescent, we strive to feel a part of something, having a sense of a home or a family. For an individual to feel like they have meaning, one would seek refuge to a group of some sort. That becomes more prominent when an adolescent isn’t given the equal opportunities when growing up, especially in a community that has minimal resources and or education available to them. Growing up in poor or unequal neighborhoods affects one’s opportunities that they can grasp. Being limited to resources restricts growth. But where cities and communities don’t offer much help for a youth to become a part of a growing society, gangs come into play. When a youth isn’t given the equal opportunities another youth in a prospering community has, they turn to a place they feel home at. Teenagers that grow up in a rough part of town, such as North and Northeast Omaha, oftentimes turn to other alternatives when their own home cannot provide for them. Many teenagers change their behavior when they lack a structured family, equal opportunities, and education. This is where gangs can hold a prospering ideology for many youth and where they catch their attention and pull them in.

Gangs offer many resources that these teenagers find appealing and don’t have in their own personal homes or communities. Gangs offer a sense of home, money, drugs, and the ability to be the most bad gang member, and fuel their lack of groupness. This is what attracts many teenagers to join a gang; they’re left with little to live off of and gangs turn that around for an individual who wants out of being street stuck. The feeling of having a group to fall back on is what keeps these teenagers attached. And it’s also what makes it difficult for one to remove themselves from those gang groups, since they have this sense of a home and a purpose. Without a gang, where will they turn to?

The struggle to break out of a gang and remove oneself entirely is challenging. Street programs change that, or so they try to. As stated, teenagers long for a sense of a group when they aren’t giving equal opportunities and street programs offer help and aid to youth. Street Programs offer a great alternative to youth as a place to resort to other than in the streets. Programs such as Project Harmony, Boys & Girls Club, and Urban League of Nebraska offer a place where these troubled youth can find rectitude. These organizations aim to mold the youth to better themselves and do offer different methods of aid to different youth. As much as these programs are honest in their work and excel the lives of teenagers, there is a drawback to the way these programs function.

When programs offer help to communities and the youth living in them they’re intentions are valuable and just and people honor them for doing good to communities. But while reading through the work of Joan McCord and Anthony Barga, street programs don’t offer a guarantee for some adolescents and in some cases it heightens gang activity in an individual. Reason this occurs is because teenagers that come into these programs already have a sense of co offending and most have some strong gang behavior prior to joining. Also, if they didn’t have a premature sense of a group, these programs definitely extend the feeling, which then helps build this gang membership with others, a form of cohesion occurs.

Street programs offer much help, but the sad fact is that some of these programs unconsciously build gang membership to youth. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t condemn these street programs as they really do lend helpful aid and offer opportunities to adolescents. A method of change is needed to programs that lead adolescents astray is needed. Changing the conditions on how these programs are held can make a world of a difference. A group setting is major in gang membership, as it builds a bond with others and one can experience cohesion as well. Street programs are crucial and can be a great conduit for adolescents to run to, but it’s also important to be weary of the methods of teaching and instructing adolescents, especially if they have previous gang activity and behavior in their lives.

With the information that we have spent this whole semester researching, studying, and collecting, we have found information regarding the city of Omaha and the methods and functions gangs in the region work and run. With our findings, we discovered that gang membership doesn’t necessarily stem from social wealth; social classes have many variations on why an individual turns to gangs. Social class does affect an individual’s likelihood of getting involved into gang groups but shouldn’t justify one’s criminal behavior and/or activity. Gangs develop in communities due to those reasons, lack of a home or negative stigmas on “bad neighborhoods” leave a nasty taste in people’s mouth for certain regions in the city. Gang’s behavior and activity constantly evolve. The process of gangs joining forces is something to be wary about when viewing gangs. When gangs join together, they are benefiting only themselves and cause communities to fall short of being gang free. Gang interactions need to be monitored closely and one way police officers are beating down on gangs is to build close relationships with communities. Communities such as the North Omaha part of the city hold bad representations on police authority. Police are usually seen as the enemy in these gang-filled neighborhoods and want nothing to do with police figures. With our findings we came to the understanding that to build better ties with communities, police involvement is necessary to destroy negative stigmas and enhance relations. When police involvement isn’t quite useful and the methods aren’t fulfilling to the communities, street programs come into play and offer a different route than police can provide. Street programs offer resources to help and support individuals who seek refuge. From the findings, street programs can have two different affects. Street programs offer a way to break away from the gang lifestyle. It helps an individual to disconnect from gang membership and rid of the gang behavior they have. Street programs aim to build better lives for these members, but a fallback on these programs leads others to believe different. These programs are established in a way the gang members are familiar to. The feeling of being a part of a group is a concept that these programs apply, unknowingly though, this is also causing members to expand on their gang activity as to them being put with other individuals who have gang backgrounds, spreading the feeling of being in a group lets members feel comfortable. To rid of the issue the methods and layout of these programs must be changed to reduce the chance of gang membership increase within the program itself. There are different factors in gangs that need to be taken into consideration when viewing them. And through researching data on those factors, we were then able to address through this paper. Gangs are interesting groups that can be examined in my fields and should be taken into consideration on how they are approached. Through vigorous researching, we as a group were able to better observe the presence of gangs in Omaha.

Work Cited

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