Gangs in New York City were rampant in the '70s and included groups like the Savage Skulls, the Dirty Ones, the Savage Nomads, and the Tomahawks. 1970s New York gangs ruled the streets, sold drugs, engaged in turf wars, and threatened those around them as they struggled to survive in an era of economic decline. Divided by race and ethnicity, they protected their neighborhoods while tormenting outsiders.
A New York City police officer told Life magazine in the early '70s that the gangs, while criminals, also looked out for their own:
Gangs like the Reapers are good and bad. One night they’ll spend two hours helping us look for a rapist, the next they’re out to beat up some civilians.
Photos of gangs from that decade show how they took their cues from the Hells Angels. They wore vests with their club's colors and names emblazoned across the back. They created a hierarchy within the club that included officers and enforcers. Other images of gangsters show them brandishing weapons, setting fire to the streets, and causing mayhem all around them.
The 2015 documentary Rubble Kings centered on '70s gang violence in the Bronx and the peace treaty that several clubs agreed to in order to curb the violence. The truce held until the '80s when crack cocaine took hold of the city.
Scroll through some 1970s gang images, and then check out these photos from Times Square during the same period of time for context.