According to Julia Dunn, a gang “is an interstitial group, original formed spontaneously, and then integrated through conflict.” The term ‘interstitial’ refers to a culturally isolated or marginalized group of individuals, who, because of external circumstances (racism, lack of education, unemployment), have been left behind. These individuals adopt a ‘strength through numbers’ attitude, assume collective standards of behavior, develop ad hoc structures of hierarchy and esprit de corps. They identify with others of similar circumstances and exhibit territorial tendencies.
After World War I, African-American enclaves sprouted up in the urban areas of major cities with the United States. In the 1920s, Los Angeles encompassed large black conclaves, where unemployment was prevalent and poverty was the norm. Within these enclaves, family members and friends banded together into loose, unorganized associations that were, for the most part, non-violent. For lack of a better term, these associations came to be known as gangs. The gangs of this historical time were non-territorial. The primary function of such gangs was to present a ‘tough guy’ image and facilitate the accumulation of easy money by means of prostitution, forgery and theft.
Well-known gangs of this period – the 1920s and 1930s – included the Goodlows, the Kelleys, the Magnificents, the Driver Brothers, the Boozies and the Bloodgetts. During the following decade, the 1940s, black gangs increased their numbers, along with their activities, which now included extortion and gambling, in addition to the usual prostitution, forgery and theft. They provided ‘protection’ for local merchants, which was nothing more than simple coercion. Merchants paid for the privilege of not having their places of business torched by their so-called protectors.