Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Searching for a Gang in Nebraska

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I was in Las Vegas for a business meeting that finished on a Friday afternoon and needed to be in Lincoln, Nebraska for a Monday morning meeting.  Instead of heading all the way back to NY for an abbreviated weekend, I decided to spend the weekend in Lincoln. I was up early Sunday morning, and after reading a story in the New York Times about a reporter who went looking for gang members in Salisbury, North Carolina, and ended up getting arrested himself, I decided to head out and look for gang members in Nebraska.

I made myself a peanut butter sandwich to take with me for lunch, not being sure about the food that would be available to me in jail. I stopped at the front desk and told the clerk that I was researching information about gang activity in Nebraska and could she tell me where to find the nearest gang members I could talk to. She tilted her head at me and her jaw dropped a bit, clearly she was not going to spill the beans. These gangs must have had her so terrified that she wouldn’t talk to me about where to find them. I took off on my own in search of Nebraska’s gangs.

I wanted to learn more about the attributes of gang membership. Why do people join these organizations, what makes membership attractive, what do members get out of the organization and what do they put into it and importantly how can we get people out of gangs and into productive endeavors?

From my hotel, I turned right onto 70th Street and headed to the north side of town. Along the way I passed a VA medical center which looked like it had quite a crowd, perhaps a gang gathering place. Upon investigation the cars belonged to members of the medical staff, no gangs here. I then passed a large YMCA, which has a reputation as a gathering place, perhaps I could find gang members there, but as it was early Sunday morning its parking lots were empty. I continued on my way and then spotted two very large windmills, a logical meeting place on a rise as gang members would be able to spot trouble coming from a long way off. By the time I got there though the gangs had likely seen me coming and had melted away. I turned around, winding my way through town and headed south on Route 2, the Nebraska Highway, towards a town called Nebraska City, population 7,228, as it has been rumored to be troubled by gangs. About half way there I came across a burnt out pickup truck on the side of the road. Based on my experiences in the Bronx this definitely looked gang related, things were looking up.

Youth gangs and criminal gangs are an ongoing and terrible problem, not just in the USA but world-wide. We need to look carefully at the motivators of gang membership and do what we can to disrupt the cycle, the reasons that people, especially the young join gangs. A good number of gifted young adults have their potential lost to a life of entrapment in gang membership – a lifelong dead-end.  Interestingly, one of the attractors of gang membership is that the gang provides attributes and an environment that the person otherwise can not get. Some of the attributes are strikingly similar to what other kinds of organizations strive for. In other words people are once again similar and are looking for certain attributes in their lives and if they can’t get it from one source they will get it elsewhere, from where it is available. The National Gang Crime Research Center, in a massive study on gang behavior including data from North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, California, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa found these characteristics (an abbreviated and slightly edited list) of gangs and gang member in those areas:

  • Members were more likely to have close friends within the gang.
  • Over half utilize special codes (somewhat like acronyms).
  • Two thirds have written rules and procedures regarding behavior.
  • Four-fifths report leadership has long term tenure.
  • Half have taken action to create financial gain for their gang.
  • Half report regular weekly meetings in their gang.
  • A common reason they joined was to make money.
  • Another reason was to seek protection and security.
  • About half were recruited, and half applied to join the gang.
  • Many said they would quit given the right circumstances.
  • Most of the gangs have female members.
  • About half of the gangs have female members in a leadership capacity, but in a more supportive or middle-management role.
  • About two-thirds felt that the gang has kept its promises to them.
  • A third report they have never met the top leader.
  • A new twist on unrealistic expectations: Two-fifths felt they would someday be the top leader.
  • About half agreed that they feel protected and loved by their gang.
  • Most report wearing special articles of clothing or clothing of certain colors.

The list produces a somewhat eerie feeling, as it could be a list of any organization’s attributes and why people tend to join or leave them.

I got to Nebraska City and found a cabin on the side of the road dating back to the mid 1800’s. An historical placard indicated that it had been a stop on the Underground Railroad, a place were slaves fleeing for their freedom found welcoming refuge. The sign next to it indicated that John Browne, the abolitionist, had been there about a half a dozen times.  It lifted my spirits as clearly this was a spot where people were used to secret signals and hidden gatherings. I was on my way to finding gang members.

I continued onward into Nebraska City and followed the signs to Lied Lodge and Convention Center and Arbor Farm, an organization devoted to planting trees. Upon parking and entering their building, I was struck by how beautiful it was. The building was graceful and well designed with soaring ceilings, massive stone fireplaces surrounded by massive tree-trunk sized supporting beams holding up wood beamed ceilings. Large leather overstuffed couches and chairs filled a reception area and a piano player was stroking the keys of a grand piano in the corner. I sank into one of the chairs to listen for a while to the soothing music. This was nice. I looked up and saw a sign draped high over the reception desk saying “sign up, become a member”. A gang of tree lovers, I could definitely get into this! I immediately went over to the desk and began to ask questions about the requirements to join this group. I then went for a walk through the trails munching on my peanut butter sandwich, as I had yet to see a police officer during my searching.

On my way back to Lincoln, I pulled into Eagle, Nebraska population 1,105. I passed a dirt track raceway where people gather to see races, I suspect gang members among them. In town I saw a older guy standing on the corner next to the post office, cane in hand. I flashed him the secret hand signal indicating that I wanted to talk to him about his gang. He gave me a blank stare. Boy the gangs here are tough, not willing to recognize the secret signal for having a conversation.

In general, people want to belong, they want to feel they are part of something and it is very compelling when that something makes them feel valued, makes them feel that are doing something special, it can make them feel proud. One reason that gangs have been so hard to break up is because many times gang members feel like they have no alternatives, they are driven into the gang by a sense of helplessness with their life as it existed. The gang, however awful, provides an alternative. The same parallels could be drawn for many terrorist organizations as well.

In Philadelphia the Chief of Police is calling for 10,000 men to help police patrol the city to reduce the crime wave that is drowning that city, presumably a portion gang related. However, while it is a start, it is generally recognized that putting people on the street will not solve the issue completely.  “Amid the weed-strewn lots and boarded-up buildings of North Philadelphia, one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods, the six men who gathered to talk, drink and play cards say the young people who pull guns and deal drugs need jobs, recreation centers, after-school programs and, most of all, parents who care for them.” (New York Times, September 29, 2007).

On Monday morning, I headed to my business meeting. It was just a gang of us getting together to do some sales planning – of course I can’t tell you what we discussed, it was a confidential, secret meeting.

“Bloom where you are planted”

Anonymous sign at the edge of a corn field on Route 34

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 16, 2010 at 6:51 am

10 Responses

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  1. Jeffrey,

    You are spot on with your analysis of gang life. Sorry you couldn’t find more of in Nebraska. But next time your travels bring you this way, you have only to venture toward the upper Midwest, here in Minnesota. We not only have gangs, we have gang followers. As a student of gang followership I have a few observations to share:

    • All gang followers think they are special and want to be treated as such by the gangs they follow.

    • Sadly some gang members think that gang followers are but an intrusion into an otherwise pleasant day. Research has shown that without cultivating followership, most gangs cease to exist over time.

    • Many gang followers report they are dismayed by the apparent absence of training offered to new gang members. One gang set up an information desk for the long line of those with questions, but when the follower asked a basic question, the gang member simply said, “I don’t know. They don’t really tell me anything about how to help you. But I hope you have a nice day. Next…”

    • As you no doubt have noticed, there is ample opportunity to improve the quality of gang leadership. After all research has shown that people join gangs, but leave gang leaders. I’m glad to see you are available to work this issue, Jeffrey.

    • Some gang followers are indeed loyal, but many will flip to another gang if they feel they are not treated well or if an alternative gang provides a more compelling proposition. One innovative gang recently used a television commercial offering deep discounts to gang followers who would come to their side and bring others with them. Imagine, you and your five closest friends all being connected as a family following this gang!

    But back to Minneapolis and the positive side of gang followership. We have noticed that when gangs perform well, they build loyal followers who can become absolutely fanatic about the gang and it’s actions. Much of our fair city have become followers of a local gang that, week after week, seeks to inflict pain on rival gangs. It’s true! And then we replay the pain all week in the news. We even go so far as to don the colors of the gang – purple in this case, and take pride in showing our public support. You can see them in action this Sunday, as they rumble with some gang of Cowboys who have come to town just for this contest.

    Wishing you well on your continued research into effective gang culture!

    Marc Sokol

    Marc Sokol

    January 16, 2010 at 11:22 am

  2. Very interesting read. I think you could’ve watched the HBO series “The Wire” and come to the same conclusions.


    Sunil Bhide

    January 20, 2010 at 8:26 am

  3. theres alot of gangs in omaha


    March 31, 2010 at 1:43 am

  4. I am fairly disappoint in reading this entry. You have done nothing helpful for a state that you describe as being so picturesque. You have encouraged people to think that places like Nebraska have no social problems. The problem is you drove out of Lincoln instead of heading toward where all the people were. You did not go to Omaha, Lexington, or Grand Island. Instead, you stuck your head in the sand and made Nebraska sound gang free.

    As a Nebraskan I am thoroughly disappointed. I stumbled upon this page because I am trying to find useful information about the gang problem. So I leave a note for people seriously looking for information on gangs:
    Nebraska has its fair share of gangs. For the most part they can be found in the large cities and in the lower income neighborhoods. Omaha’s gang problem in North Omaha is bordering on out of control and it is a very unsafe area to go visit (if you were looking for gang members you should have gone to Lake st. and 10th st.), Anyone who tries to make it sound like just because we do have strong values and a strong economy we do not have gangs and other social problems is living in a dangerous fairy tale.


    October 22, 2011 at 11:43 pm

  5. Hahahaha. Sounds like you couldn’t find your ass if it was sitting on your lap.


    December 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm

  6. As Sarah said, this article is a complete waste. I’m not sure what your purpose was in writing this but you obviously did not intend to accomplish anything. If you wanted to find gang activity you wouldn’t start in any city but Omaha, you will find plenty here.


    March 20, 2013 at 11:11 pm

  7. How you come to nebraska looking for gangs and didn’t stop in omaha


    January 22, 2014 at 4:00 pm

  8. As far as gangs in Nebraska are concerned Star Trek is more realistic than this. Yes inner city gangs are notorious for hanging out in cities between 500-10,000 people. When you are finished in fantasyland take a look at any map of Nebraska and look on the far right side and in the center and you will find OMAHA. 500,000 + people. Here you may just find some current and a long history of gangs and the violence ever present here. Nice light hearted look at a huge problem with some stats thrown in for good measure. You said you were on 70th st. in Lincoln well awesome you were in one of the newest areas in the city. Change the blog to


    March 26, 2014 at 12:24 am

  9. dude north omaha got atlead 30 hoods


    September 16, 2014 at 12:35 am

  10. Lol this article is hilarious!!! Your first mistake is you stayed in Lincoln. Omaha is where the most gang activity happens. We have bloods and crips in north o and Hispanic gangs in south o. Your second problem is you were actively looking for them. Gangs here in Omaha know people look for them. They hang out in disclosed places not thought of by an average citizen (most often a house). You talked about doing secret gang signals with your hands. What signal did you use exactly because you can’t just look at someone and do any old signal. If I were to go to blood territory and throw up a crips sign they would have my ass. That’s how you get yourself killed in Omaha. It’s obvious you’re white because you have no idea how gangs really work. It’s not a club that they have meetings for and cool hand signals. Gangs are dangerous groups of people who serve a purpose in a community. They take their history and colors and signs as life or death. This is all coming from a girl who grew up around gangs. You obviously have no real knowledge about how real big boy gangs work.


    March 2, 2016 at 8:44 pm

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