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A gang is a group of associates, friends or members of a family with a defined leadership and internal organization that identifies with or claims control over territory in a community and engages, either individually or collectively, in illegal, and possibly violent, behavior.
suggests that gangsterism as a "form of self-help which victimizes others" may appear in societies which lack strong "forces of law and order"; he characterizes European feudalism as "mainly gangsterism that had become society itself and acquired respectability through the notions of chivalry".
A wide variety of gangs, such as the Order of Assassins, the Damned Crew, Adam the Leper's gang, Penny Mobs, Indian Thugs, Chinese Triads, Snakehead, Japanese Yakuza, Irish mob, Pancho Villa's Villistas, Dead Rabbits, American Old West outlaw gangs, Bowery Boys, Chasers, the Italian Mafia, Jewish mafia, and Russian mafia crime families have existed for centuries.
An individual's age, physical structure, ability to fight, willingness to commit violence, and arrest record are often principal factors in determining where an individual stands in the gang hierarchy; now money derived from criminal activity and ability to provide for the gang also impacts the individual's status within the gang.
The structure of gangs varies depending primarily on size, which can range from five or ten to thousands.
A member of a gang may be called a "gangster", a "gang banger", or, less specifically, a "thug".
The first street-gang in the United States, the 40 Thieves, began around the late 1820s in New York City. In 2011, the National Gang Intelligence Center of the Federal Bureau of Investigation asserted that "There are approximately 1.4 million active street, prison, and outlaw gang members comprising more than 33,500 gangs in the United States." In December 13, 2009, The New York Times published an article about growing gang violence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and estimated that there were 39 gangs with 5,000 members on that reservation alone.
The Russian, Chechen, Azerbaijani, Ukrainian, Georgian, Armenian, and other former Soviet organized crime groups or "Bratvas" have many members and associates affiliated with their various sorts of organized crime, but no statistics are available.
In some areas, joining a gang is an integrated part of the growing-up process.
Gang membership is generally maintained by gangs as a lifetime commitment, reinforced through identification such as tattoos, and ensured through intimidation and coercion.
Such individuals are often experiencing low levels of these various factors in their own lives, feeling ostracized from their community and lacking social support.