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The world is faced with many security challenges that not only threaten the economy but also the lives of innocent, hardworking individuals. According to Killebrew and Bernal (2010), criminal networks, including gangs, cartels, and terrorist organizations, are spread across the planet and they are no longer a criminal menace but a societal threat, which is metastasizing into dangerous, widespread networked insurgencies. J?tersonke, Muggah, and Rodgers (2009) reiterate that urban violence is an emerging preoccupation to planners, policymakers, and development practitioners in municipalities and cities around the globe, which indicates that these criminal groups are a threat to the global community. Unfortunately, gangs, cartels, and terrorist groups lack a concise definition that can help address their differences despite all three implying illegal activities, some of which result in the loss of property and life. Therefore, it is critical to understand their meaning, existence, similarities, and variations; as a result, responsible stakeholders can formulate ways of securing the society from these groups that perpetuate criminal activities.

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In most cases, gangs are located in larger, metropolitan areas across the United States and other countries of the world, which are densely populated, to perpetuate criminal activities. Alleyne and Wood (2010) reiterate that the existence of gangs is an urban occurrence in the United Kingdom, affecting metropolitan cities, such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, which have reported gang-like activity. Such gangs mostly form in transitional communities or areas that are economically depressed with high levels of unemployment compared to the national average rates. As such, areas with these criminal gangs experience inadequate housing, drug and substance abuse, high rates of mortality and morbidity, and so forth. These groups are sometimes associated with the lack of social identity in their densely populated areas with the heavy presence of police due to disorganized social structures (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). Therefore, gangs are mostly the outcome of poor living and socioeconomic conditions in urbanized societies with dense populations.

Similarly, social factors have been the primary area of concern for gang members in urban areas, which are believed to be the risk factors for individuals joining different groups of gangs. Since low socioeconomic status is associated with high criminal activities due to the high prevalence rates of gang members in society, poor neighborhoods in the United Kingdom and other countries across the world have high rates of juvenile and youth delinquency (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). Family factors that include poor parental management and guidance of children and the history of family involvement in criminal activities are some of the social risks for joining gangs in youths due to the family environment that reinforces delinquent behaviors. However, the high likelihood of joining a gang cannot be attributed to a single social factor, which indicates that a combination of these factors is responsible for criminality (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). Therefore, gangs are characterized by individual members who live in harmful social environments resulting in delinquency from their homes and the neighborhoods.

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Additionally, gang membership has specific characteristic features, some of which are similar to cartels and terrorist groups. Most people join gangs at the age of 12-18 years, indicating that the youths are the at-risk group for criminal behaviors; it has been found that people continue to join even in their 20’s and older (Alleyne & Wood, 2010). White (2007) reiterates that in the United States, some of the youths join gangs between the ages of 12 and 24 years with most of them being male. Furthermore, gangs are often formed along racial and ethnic lines. For example, the United States may have several types of gangs, some of which are comprised of Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, and whites despite some being multiethnic. According to Alleyne and Wood (2010), one may notice that American gangs strictly follow racial-ethnic lines with only a few of them being blended or mixed. That notwithstanding, just like many other criminal groups, gangs have their territories, which are defended from rival groups; also, they display hierarchical leadership through a chain of command that constitutes top leadership.

Reasons for joining gangs for most youths vary from one individual to another with money, peer pressure, search for security and protection, and the sense of belonging being among the primary factors. Alleyne and Wood (2010) explain that since most gangs are formed in poor neighborhoods, the main aim of these groups is to cause violence, steal, and rob people of their belongings for financial gain to meet their needs, such as the purchasing essential commodities and drugs. White (2007) adds that in most cases, gangs entail the coming together of youths who are disadvantaged in the society due to illiteracy, unemployment, and other socioeconomic aspects to form semi-structured organizations whose primary aim is to engage in planning profitable criminal behaviors or organized violent activities against rival street gangs. Essentially, gangs are formed due to the presence of risk factors related to the socioeconomic environment of metropolitan areas as a way of survival.

Terrorist Groups

Terrorist groups are somewhat different from gangs since they are driven by different motives in addition to bearing hatred against established norms or official functions on societal matters. DeAngelis (2009) explains that for many years researchers have agreed that the behavior of joining terrorist groups is not pathological since it is based on proven issues and propaganda with culprits indicating some form of hatred against official endeavors or stands and the subsequent sympathy of groups that seem oppressed by societal orders. Milos?evic? and Rekawek (2014) reiterate that many terrorist group founders have displayed dissatisfaction and feeling of anger or alienation towards formal authorities in addition to believing that current political and other formal structures oppress some members of the society. Furthermore, some terrorists identify with the perceived victims of societal injustices as well as feeling the need to take appropriate action rather than keep quiet as sympathizers (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine, 2007). As such, individuals who buy this idea opt to take actions such as engaging government in war, killing innocent people, and destroying property with the aim of warning the perceived oppressors or culprits of social injustices; this motive is different from that of gangs, which are driven by the desire to gain financial benefits.

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The recruitment of members, who are mostly youths, same as in the case of gangs, targets the sympathizers of the perceived oppressed groups of the society through propaganda, which results in radicalization. According to Alarid (2016), the standard denominator for being radicalized and recruited into different groups that perpetuate terrorism is one feeling sympathetic towards groups or communities in addition to experiencing feelings of “something missing” from their personal lives. Such findings reveal that the risk factors for gang membership are entirely different from those of joining or creating terrorist groups. However, some similarities are present. For instance, it is known that radicalization, which motivates youths to perpetrate terrorist activities, is widespread in societies with political frustrations and socioeconomic inequalities (Alarid, 2016). As a result, affected members start thinking of ways to fight the status quo or help the oppressed through solidarity due to the feelings of sympathy. Both men and women feel humiliated, desperate, and outraged over prevailing injustices and oppression in addition to perceiving only a few or no options for influencing change (Milos?evic? & Rekawek, 2014). Therefore, the reasons for joining gangs and terrorist organizations are similar, but terrorists fight official authorities through their criminal actions that are perpetuated by feelings of oppression and contempt for official endeavors.

Lastly, the impact and membership of terrorist groups go beyond national boundaries as compared to gang membership, which is limited to urbanized metropolitan areas; also, terrorism is associated with high levels of brutality. For instance, ISIS was called nihilistic by President Barack Obama for the brutal killing of James Foley, an American journalist, before the media while kneeling in a barren desert (Penman & Vedantam, 2015). Unlike gangs, terrorists are not motivated by monetary gains. This institution also traverses both Syria and Iraq, with members spread across the planet in addition to having affiliations with other groups that have the same ideologies. In most cases, terrorist criminal actions have a larger magnitude than those of gangs. For example, ISIS lined up 670 Shia prisoners before shooting them in Mosul, killed 21 Egyptian Christians, and orchestrated mass shootings including the one in Paris, which left hundreds dead with many victims sustaining injuries (Penman & Vedantam, 2015). In addition, terrorists have been accused of threatening entire villages and communities by killing and raping innocent people in an attempt to show their dissatisfaction with official orders. To sum up, actions of terrorist groups are lethal, not motivated by monetary gains, traverse countries, and affect many people across the planet.


Just like terrorists, cartel groups are equally massive, but their main intention is to acquire and distribute illegal substances or perform human trafficking actions with the aim of gaining monetary benefits. According to Huffpost (2011), cartels in Mexico take advantage of vulnerable youths who experience socioeconomic challenges including poverty and unemployment to facilitate illegal trade; for instance, children used by Mexican drug cartels can earn significant amounts of money that can reach $400 per trip of smuggling drugs and humans across the border. As such, youths and children are recruited by human traffickers from different countries to escort undocumented immigrants to safe places, especially in countries with strict anti-trafficking policies. Just like terrorists but unlike gangs, cartels undertake actions that traverse national boundaries and cities. Huffpost (2011) adds that cartels recruit even the youths involved in street gangs that commit different crimes, including pillage, by offering them alternative sources of money. These groups thrive due to the financial might of the cartels themselves, lack of sufficient law enforcement against smuggling activities, and the monetary benefits associated with illegal activities. Therefore, cartels intend to gain financial benefits through illicit trade, unlike terrorists whose intention is to oppose societal orders perpetuated by official activities.

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Gangs, terrorists, and cartels are all associated with killing people across the planet in addition to injuring and kidnapping others; however, cartels perform these lethal activities as a way of protecting their illegal trade, unlike gangs and terrorists. For instance, drug trafficking alone generates US$35-US$45 billion for Mexican cartels every year with a profit margin of more than 80% (Duff & Rygler, 2011). However, the government deployed troops to destroy crops that are used in manufacturing different types of illicit drugs, interrogate suspects, and collect intelligence in addition to confiscating contraband. As a result, these cartels started wars that killed more than 7,000 people in addition to kidnapping another 1,200 in 2009 (Duff & Rygler, 2011). Unlike gangs that target innocent people to gain money, cartels and terrorists target official authorities. Therefore, cartels and terrorists operate both nationally and internationally, unlike gangs that operate in towns and cities.

Gangs, cartels, and terrorist groups are different in the way they operate and recruit individuals who are mostly male; however, gangs operate in small areas compared to terrorists and cartels who affect the country and the world as a whole. The killing associated with cartels surrounds the wars attributed to the protection of illegal business, which is different from terrorists who kill to warn governments and other official agencies of their sympathy and opposition against perceived oppression, and gangs that kill or injure innocent people to gain money. However, vulnerable people who are recruited by all of these groups suffer from various societal challenges including poverty. Therefore, it is difficult to differentiate these groups by definition since they all perpetuate criminal activities; however, the intention of these crimes differ.

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