Crack Sales, Gangs and Violence

Principal Investigator: Dan Waldorf
Co-Principal Investigator: Geoffrey Hunt
Co-Principal Investigator: Sheigla Murphy
Supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA 06487)

The advent of widespread street crack sales in the late 1980s gave rise to growing concerns that crack sales were becoming more and more associated with gangs, that gangs were using violent means to control drug markets, and that gang violence was spreading to non-gang communities. This three-year study was an attempt to gather much-needed empirical data on the relationships between gangs, drug sales, and violence. The project identified 94 gangs in San Francisco and conducted interviews with 633 members (568 males, 65 females) from 88 gangs (87 male gangs, 1 female gang). Of the gangs located by project staff, 44 were African-American, 18 Latino, 15 Asian, 5 Samoan, 5 Filipino, and four mixed ethnicity containing African-American, Latino, and White members.

In general, while noting variations in drug sales and other illicit activities among ethnic gangs, the study found that drug sales among San Francisco gangs were not highly organized and most gang members who sold drugs were freelance entrepreneurs. Contrary to popular media images, San Francisco gangs as a rule did not have: (1) vertical organization with “weight” dealers at the top of the hierarchy, (2) elaborate roles such as “street bosses,” “lookouts,” or “bodyguards,” or (3) a system by which proceeds from drug sales were pooled into a central fund. Furthermore, while local gangs often had affiliations and rivalries with other gangs in their communities, few had connections with prison gangs, gangs from other areas (such as Los Angeles), or organized crime networks.

Ultimately, the project found that most gang violence had nothing to do with illicit drug sales, but was usually related to personal or group animosities. Furthermore, gang violence was more often fueled by heavy alcohol use than by drug use.

Papers from the Crack Sales, Gangs and Violence Project:

  • Lauderback, D., Hansen, J., and Waldorf, D. (1992). “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves: A black female gang in San Francisco.” The Gang Journal, 1 (1): 57-71.
  • Waldorf, D. (1993). “Don’t be your own best customer: Drug use of San Francisco gang drug sellers.” Crime, Law and Social Change, 19 (1): 1-15.
  • Waldorf, D. (1993). “When the Crips invaded San Francisco – Gang migration.” The Gang Journal, 1 (4): 11-16.
    Hunt, G., Reigel, S., Morales, T., and Waldorf, D. (1993). “Changes in prison culture: Prison gangs and the case of the ‘Pepsi Generation.’” Social Problems, 40 (3): 398-409.
  • Brotherton, D. (1994). “Who do you claim? Gang formations and rivalry in an inner city public high school.” Perspectives on Social Problems, 5: 147-171.
  • Joe, K., and Chesney-Lind, M. (1995). “Just every mother’s angel: An analysis of ethnic and gender variation in youth gang membership.” Gender & Society, 9 (4): 408-431.
  • Brotherton, D. (1996). “The contradictions of suppression: Notes from a study of approaches to gangs in three public high schools.” The Urban Review, 28 (2): 95-117.
  • Brotherton, D. (1996). “Smartness, toughness, and autonomy: Drug use in the context of gang female delinquency.” Journal of Drug Issues, 26 (1): 261-277.