The term “Gang Mentality” is commonly used when discussing street gangs, but very little time has been spent describing exactly what that mentality consists of so that non-members can develop an understanding of its significance. 

Here, the mentality has been broken into components. Understand, however, that in the real world the mentality is seamless. Each component feeds into, and is reinforced, by the others, and becomes the basis for how street gang involved individuals interpret and respond to the events in their lives.

Also understand that it is not necessary to be a fully recognized member to be significantly influenced by the elements of this mentality: Non-members who associate with street gang involved individuals —— friends, siblings, even parents ——begin to embrace this mentality and incorporate it into their response to life situations.

The central theme in any street gang involved individual’s life is being “respected” by fellow street gang members, and non-members. Being “respected” is essentially being feared, and is based upon one’s reputation for being volatile and dangerous. A willingness to “do or die for the set” may also serve to develop this reputation. Many members, especially young, immature ones, will stop at nothing to establish or preserve their reputation.

One  way in which respect is gained is through demonstrating disrespect, disdain, and lack of fear of rivals. Making derogatory graffiti or defacing that of rivals, throwing hand signs at them, hard stare, cruising their neighbourhood, assaulting them, talking poorly about them, etc., are all ways of showing disrespect. The more an individual demonstrates this attitude, the more recognized he or she will be within their own “set.”

No act of disrespect, no matter how small, goes without respose.  The response, if not immediate, will stack up, fuel animosity, and eventually lead to an antagonistic or violenta ct toward an individual or "set" as a whole.

The combination of these first three elements of street gang mentality serve to set in motion the cycle of rival violence that accompanies street gang presence within a community.

Seasoned street gang members understand that street gang life involves grief and suffering. As a result, young members, while taken as part of the “set” and cared for, are often not fully recognized and given status as mature gangsters until they have suffered the contingencies of street gang life, e.g., physical harm, jail or prison, loss of loved ones through violence, etc.  The impact of this is significant: Newly initiated members or peripheral associates desiring fuller recognition may be inclined to engage in activities, understanding in advance the potential for painful consequences, as a way of attaining greater acceptance and increased status within the street gang.

Disputes or "Beefs," are generally handled without requesting, or even accepting, input or involvement from police or the legal system.  Rivals will often refuse to testify against each other, for participation in the legal system at any level is seen as undesirable.

Disregard for the Rights of Non-Members. This may seem self-evident; however, the important point is to understand that to show empathy for non-members or victims is ruinous to an individual member's reputation.  In private this may be different, but in public, expressions of empathy are considered weak and not tolerated.