Newswise — A University of Illinois at Chicago researcher predicts gangs around the world will grow and adapt to changes caused by globalization as cities grow and become poorer.

More people now live in urban areas than elsewhere, half of the world's population is under age 25, and half will live in poverty by 2020, according to United Nations forecasts.

"More than a billion people live in what the United Nations defines as slums. Slums plus poverty plus discrimination plus youth equals gangs," says John Hagedorn, author of "A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture" (University of Minnesota Press, May 2008).

"Rather than hopelessly and dangerously trying to eliminate gangs, we need to find better ways to reduce violence and include alienated youth in urban life."

Globalization creates socioeconomic vacuums that are filled by a bewildering mix of gangs, said Hagedorn, UIC associate professor of criminal justice and a Great Cities Institute fellow. A gang can become an ethnic militia, a religious police force, a workforce for a drug cartel, or a death squad hired by the state, and some members become politicians or community organizers. Conversely, former child soldiers sometimes become gang members to survive, he said.

"In Belfast, some of the Protestant militias left the sectarian struggle and became drug gangs," Hagedorn said. "The Latin Kings in New York in the 1990s became a community organization. Many groups, like MQM in Pakistan, operate on both sides of legitimacy."

In Chicago and other cities, some gangs have survived for 50 years, gaining status as institutions and presenting "an ever-present, local alternative to a conventional life for youth," Hagedorn said.

Hagedorn argues that hip-hop should be returned to its origins as a cultural alternative to gang violence, as recording companies have co-opted, debased and diffused it as "gangsta" culture.

"We need to join the struggle by supporting the positive messages in the music of Public Enemy, KRS-One, and others. You can't reach young people unless you speak their language, and a major language of the streets and of youth everywhere is hip-hop," he said.

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A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture