How to Deal with Gangs

Law enforcement detains a suspected gang member.
Law enforcement officials inspect an arrested individual’s tattoos for signs of gang affiliation. (Courtesy photo of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

I'm currently working in a high-crime area where I frequently come upon gangs of older teens and young twenty-somethings hanging out in a crowd on the street corner, having a good time.

Sometimes that good time involves one of them stroking their own ego by hassling someone walking by who doesn't belong there. Someone like me.

This can be a pretty scary situation when you're in an unfamiliar area and are faced with the very real possibility of becoming an easy target for street crime.

The best advice is always to be smarter than me and don't walk around in high-crime areas. But the time may come, no matter where you are, that you find yourself in a situation where you're going to be walking past a gang, whether real or "wannabe," and need to know how to react.

While dealing with how to defend yourself in a multiple attacker situation is too large of a topic to deal with in the same article, here are some tips to dealing with your best defense -- avoiding the conflict altogether.

Do a quick "recon"

As soon as you notice a gang from a distance, don't look away immediately in an attempt to avoid being noticed. Just as you would conduct a reconnaissance of a military target, you want to size the group up to know who and what you're dealing with.

For example, are there any stores nearby that you can duck into, if needed? What environmental weapons are around them that could be used as weapons or obstacles? Can you safely turn around, walk the other way or cross the street to avoid them?

And if there's no other alternative but to walk past them, the most important thing I look for is whether any of them have noticed me and is motioning the others to check me out. That immediately changes the scenario.

Are you a target?

If a gang is preoccupied with each other and doesn't notice you, act preoccupied with something as well: dialing on your cell phone, fumbling through your pockets or just look straight ahead without looking like a victim. Keep your chin up, shoulders back and stand tall without looking like you're auditioning for the next Superman movie.

Your goal is to exude confidence without being confrontational. Regardless of how big a gang may be, it always will be one individual who has to make the first move. That person must first decide whether you're worth the risk of them being embarrassed in front of their friends, and if you look like someone who may be a problem, they'll most likely leave you alone.

But when you've been noticed and it looks like they may have sized you up as a target, this is your time to establish your ground game quick.

Eye contact

Contrary to popular belief, it's actually OK to make eye contact with a gang if it's done the right way. Looking briefly to show you recognize their presence and even giving a quick nod to one of the members -- should they make eye contact with you -- shows you're not some "easy target" who's so afraid of them that you're just hoping they'll leave you alone.

The main thing is to understand that the last thing a gang will put up with is disrespect. If you look at them in any way that communicates contempt, disgust, conflict or that you're "better than them," then you've practically put them in a "must-act" position.

Many gangs have members who've been arrested at one point and have spent time in jail or prison. In lockup, they've been programmed that the very last thing they'll stand for being taken from them is their respect.


If the gang feels you're disrespecting them in any way, then it's most likely to feel that there's no other option than to gain it back. And for you, that typically means the hard way. 

Even if confronted, you want to make sure you convey respect for their status by telling them so with something like, "Hey, I mean no disrespect at all. I'm just on my way to work and was looking your way. No problems here." And then keep walking.

This shows them that you recognize their superiority and gives them a graceful exit that they can brag about later. Walking away after making such a definitive statement also forces them to make the next move. 

Ninety-nine percent of the time, they'll take the out and feel good about themselves that they got the best of you. But if they don't and continue to walk after you or take the confrontation to the next level, then you at least know that the danger has increased and can plan your next steps.

Beware your own ego

Remember your goal is simply to get past a gang without confrontation, even when they're seeking it.

If you're walking past a gang and they start to taunt you by making fun of you or even making sexual comments toward you or someone you're with, ignore it.

For example, if you're a guy, you may feel the need to "defend your woman's honor" and turn back to speak up. Don't. You only risk your own life and the safety of your companion by taking on perhaps insurmountable odds of going up against a larger number of attackers who could be armed.

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Jeff Anderson is a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Army, master instructor of close quarters combat self-defense and president of the International Society of Close Quarter Combatants. A full-time, self-defense author and instructor, Anderson has trained military, law enforcement and civilians in advanced close quarter combat tactics for "real-life" self-defense.

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