Tag Archives: gangs

Followup: Mafia and Children: The Camorra


Interesting, since I was just reading an article in the Economist about Naples’ mafia, the Camorra, using kids as hitmen: https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21723865-camorra-turns-teenagers-enforce-its-rule-organised-crime-naples-hit-men-are

Okay, this is worth quickly talking about, and yes it is interesting. The very short version is that, the Neapolitan Mafia (called the Camorra) has been pushed to the edge of extinction in recent years by police.

The senior leadership of the Camorra are in prison, and command has passed to their children, literally. This means that at present, segments of the Camorra are being run by teenagers. In turn, they employ other teens, and we get the headline up there.

There’s another wrinkle in that, In Italy, children under 14 cannot be held criminally liable for their actions. At the extreme end, that (apparently) means they cannot be charged with murder if they kill someone.

So, what we have is equal parts desperation by the Camorra, an unintended consequence of successful policing, and a lack of adult supervision (in the organization itself.)

Now, one thing that is happening here is a kind of Lost Boys effect, where you have kids leading younger kids. This has never been a factor in the American mafia, but it does appear with street gangs. I think Michi wanted to do a full post on that, so I’ll let this sit there. This is a good find, though, lirenel.


So. I have this character who is a leader of a big gang in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. What I want to know is typically how many members would a gang have to be consider big?

The biggest gangs in the USA tally in between 20,000 and 35,000 members. (Those are major gangs like the Bloods, the Crips, the 18th Street Gang, and others.) They are actual criminal enterprises with serious membership and, in some cases, run the gamut from interstate to international.

You’re more likely thinking of a lower level street gang with maybe 20-30 or up to 100 members. I would run with that because it’s much easier to manage than the massive “we can take over prisons” gangs. If not, then he’s probably a local leader or a chapter head working for a much bigger fish. Even a lot of smaller gangs work like this once they go into criminal enterprise where they have possession of a certain territory within a city, but keep that territory by owing someone else up the food chain who funnels in the drugs and other goods they traffick (if they traffick). They may keep their name while owing their allegiance to that other crime boss, who in turn leaves them alone so long as they flip a profit. This can run from smaller gangs to bigger gangs up to Colombian drug cartels.

If you’re going to put together a gang, it’s worth asking yourself what kind of gang he’s put together. If we assume that he’s into something more serious than a bunch of kids who spend their nights tagging the sides of buildings, then you’ve got to start asking the real questions about criminal enterprise that any kind of business has to answer.

How do they make their money?

Where is the money? Where does it go? Who does it go to? Who collects it? Are they running a protection racket? Are they into gambling? Are they smuggling? Are they trafficking in illegal goods (drugs, stolen cars, prostitution, etc)? How do they pay for their weapons? Do they counterfeit? Go into indentity theft? How do they buy their bullets? Gas costs money. Where does the money to pay for their activities come from?

There are street gangs that work on the level of organized crime like the Mafia or the Irish Mob and the line of what makes a gang and what doesn’t starts to blur.

It’s probably worth mentioning that the modern Hell’s Kitchen has been a victim of gentrification. You’re going to find high priced townhomes, apartments, condos in some very nice neighborhoods. It’s not the home of the uber rich, but it is a very nice place for the upper middle class to live. You’re more likely to see it targeted by white collar criminals than your average mugger and biker gang. This doesn’t mean that they’re immune from crime, after all your gang members could be targeting the lonely kids living there through sites like Facebook for recruiting and access to their parent’s credit cards/personal information.

Remember, just because the kids don’t live in impoverished neighborhoods doesn’t mean they are incapable of joining gangs. In the age of the internet, new avenues have opened that weren’t available before. The kids who come from rich families are often just as lonely and therefore just as vulnerable (if not more so due to the distance) to what a gang offers than a kid who grew up next door to it.

Some Resources:

Gangs in the US, Wikipedia in general should be looked at askance as a resource, but it’s a good jumping off point. Many of the links listed here as source material will link you to better and more reliable sources where you can begin your research in earnest. It’s a troubling subject, to say the least, but good luck.

Monster by Sanyika Shakur, aka Monster Kody Scott. This is the autobiography of Sanyika Shakur about his experiences growing up in South Central L.A. and joining the Crips. If you want to write about gangs, I suggest giving it a read.


I’ve seen plenty of posts on here about the disadvantages of braids or hoodies that give an opponent something to grab on to. However, the visual novel our group is currently working on has a gangland setting, so hoodies and baggy pants are part of the package. How does this change things when it comes to fights? Any other general advice about writing gang fights or things we might want to consider would be appreciated as well.

Well, first off, you should read Monster: The Autobiography of an LA Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur as it goes further in depth into the life in a gang than we ever could on this blog, including initiation, expectations, and perspective about life in a gang. It’s going to be uncomfortable to go through, but each member of your group should read it and discuss it together.

Most gang members are not professionally trained fighters (except in the cases when they are and with use of military service becoming a method to get a leg up on the competition as they join of their own accord, that number is growing, former convicts as cops is unlikely due to extensive background checks, former convicts or former and current gang members as military personnel does happen). They come in under the header of street fighter, so most of what we talk about on this blog isn’t really applicable. However, our street fighting tag may be helpful to bring it into perspective. I really suggest looking at the video of the thug versus the MMA fighter for a good example of the differences.

The thing about gang members is that they don’t really know how to fight, but doesn’t mean that they’re not dangerous. Gangs recruit their members young, often as young as ten or eleven. They usually do so from single parent families or kids whose parents spend most of their time working in order to support the family, but this can leave the child unsupervised and feeling neglected. The gang is insidious because it becomes a surrogate family for the child, with older members shaping how the child sees and responds to the world. This sense of brotherhood a gang provides is the strongest lure and any child the gang has access to can be at risk, this includes kids from wealthy families who the gang members may now access to through flourishing social media.

Gangs have been a part of American society from the beginning. Gangs always arise out of ethnic minorities groups that are given limited opportunities for societal advancement. When presented without the option to make money or provide through traditional routes, individuals will turn to crime. The oldest historical gangs in the U.S. were the Irish, then came the Italians (it should be noted that Italian Gangs and the Mafia are two separate things), etc. Gangs are not the same as Organized Crime, though they can move in that direction. They are still criminal enterprises. You should figure out what kind of gang it is that your characters belong to as the structure of a national gang may be different from a local gang. It should be remembered that the qualities needed to create a gang are not specific to any racial group or any more likely, gangs are part of the human condition and rely on sociological factors to form and function, not innate traits.

As for combat: knives and guns will be preferable to bare hands (though they’ll use those too). Brass knuckles, tire irons, crowbars, all may be part of the gang bangers arsenal.

Baggy pants are useful because they can hide the outline of a knife or gun tucked into the back. A hood may limit peripheral vision, but it also makes one appear more threatening. Baggy clothes widen the frame of the body and in the dark (sometimes even daylight), a person can seem larger, more imposing. This can be useful if they are looking to shake someone down or are trying to protect their turf. It’s important to not just think about what’s appropriate in a wide sense, but think about what will make sense from the perspective of the characters in the story. What do they know? What are they trying to accomplish? Why do they dress this way?

Once you get a beat on why they behave the way they do and what their goals are, the methods they’ll use to fight will start to make sense. A gang member is most likely to be influenced by two things:

1) What he learns from getting the crap beat out of him (which isn’t much).

2) What he sees on television.

Your gang member may be part of a local gym, in which case, if he practices any form of fighting at all, then it’ll be something that will provide some possible form of social advancement (traditionally boxing, MMA, etc).

I hope that helps.