Watching the news in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, it’s not hard to see that gang violence accounts for a significant percentage of all the violent crime in America. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says that, “According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment report, gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions, and up to 90 percent in others.” (1) By gangs, the FBI means:
· street gangs
· prison gangs; and
· motorcycle gangs.
You don’t have to live in a big city for gangs of any kind to be a problem. In fact, here’s something to think about: the New York and the Chicago mobs in the early part of the 20th century maintained strong ties across the country, in a time when there was no online social media or cell phones. Advancements in technology mean it’s that much easier for gangs to maintain ties with members no matter where they live. Even the most remote places can be affected by gang culture. For the purposes of this article, we will address the street gangs in terms of youth gang violence.
Cold Hard Facts
The March 16, 2014 edition of The Boston Globe (2) ran a story called “Profit-driven, gangs move off the local street corners” by Steven A. Rosenberg that presents stark facts and stories from gang life through the eyes of two former gang members named Jerron Riddick and Francisco Paulino plus others. The story shows how much influence gangs like the Bloods, The Crips, and The Latin Kings wield in the Boston area.
The article also points out that gangs now prefer to operate more from the shadows rather than on street corners. Gangs realize that they are the subject of serious FBI task forces, but they also realize that staying in the shadows is better for business. They make more money when they can focus on selling illegal weapons, drugs, and other criminal activities. The fighting gets in the way of making money. However, if another gang moves into their turf, they don’t hesitate to use violence to protect that turf.
For example, last weekend’s July 4th holiday brought sixty shootings to Chicago (3) a city that has been devastated by gun violence, especially gun violence related to gang violence. Though each case in the July 4 holiday weekend has not been directly proven to be related to gangs, a large amount of them are suspected to be gang-related. At a news conference, Chicago Superintendent of Police Garry F. McCarthy said that it worse for the kids in gangs to lose rank within the gang than get caught with a gun and serve time for it. That’s one reason why gangs and violence go hand in hand: gang members fear the loss of gang respect more than prison.
That’s a terribly difficult mentality to change. It is also a dangerous mentality with which to deal and live.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a report using the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System data. The data compared gang and non-gang facts on homicide and violence. This data covers the years between 2003 and 2008 and large cities in seventeen states. The statistics of the report show that the worst areas for gang violence in the Unites States are:
That may not be surprising given the news we read from those cities.
But as previously mentioned, don’t think that you and your family are in the clear because you all live in the suburbs. The National Gang Center (4) provides the following direct quote facts:
Rome, Georgia, is a small city that on July 9, 2014, charged two young men with a gang related beating. So obviously, gangs go where the people are and people are everywhere from small towns to big cities. Small towns are especially enticing to a gang because they may the first to claim the town as their turf. That means they can establish a base of customers for drugs, guns, or whatever else they want to make money selling.
Also, a small town that hasn’t yet experienced gang problems means access to new recruits with no or little competition from other gangs.
Gangs like to recruit young people because young people lack life experience and biological maturity. It is hard for kids who “haven’t been around the block” to know when they are being taken for a ride. Therefore, it’s easy to coerce them into joining a gang simply because they are children and they don’t realize the true purpose of a gang.
This lack of experience also means young people serve as ideal customers for drugs and victims of gang-related violence. If a gang can’t make a child a member, a gang can certainly make a child a customer or a victim of violence.
This connection between gangs and youth is well established, with the FBI and the Department of Justice feeling the problem is overwhelming enough that it warrants special task forces. However, a task force is not going to serve as a barrier between your child and a gang except in rare circumstances. A task force is looking at gangs as a whole, and focusing on gang members they can turn into witnesses or that they can arrest. More than likely, your child doesn’t fit that bill—at least not yet.
That’s why you have to be the one to take a stand for your child.
Recruitment Tactics (5)
Recruiting for gangs is like working an untrustworthy sales job: the recruiter makes the gang lifestyle look fun, honorable, and even uses guilt to seal the deal. If people didn’t fall victim to the untrustworthy sales person, there would be no stereotype to compare gang recruiters to, but the fact is that people get taken in by such underhanded tactics all the time. That’s why you should never assume your child won’t fall prey to these tactics.
The Good Life
Just like the stereotype of the used car salesperson who focuses only on the look of the car and not the fact that it keeps breaking down, it is common for a gang member to over glorify the prestige and feeling of power that belonging to a gang brings.
Some gang members might ask your child to join them when they are hanging out and doing things that appeal to your child because they are forbidden. That includes underage drinking, playing video games for as long as they want, or not having a bed time. Having access to other adult items like cigarettes and porn is another ploy. Once the child becomes hooked on the “good side” of gang life, the bad side is introduced. It’s sort of like fishing; the gang members put out the bait and wait for your child to bite.
After they get a bite, the gang reveals that from here on in it’s going to be struggle for air. In order to keep enjoying the good life, your child must prove him or herself as a valuable member by doing things like surviving a beat down (where other gang members join in a free- for-all beat down of the new recruit). Or, they may insist your child commit a crime such as a robbery or a shooting. By the time a child realizes the danger involved, the gang is relying on the child’s desire for acceptance and enjoyment to override any traces of common sense.
Threatening Loved Ones
If the child does reveal traces of common sense and demonstrates an unwillingness to go along with the gang’s demands, then the gang might threaten the child. The gang might also threaten the child’s family and friends. Gangs can gain a foothold with children that fear that harm will come to those they love. (6)
Another reason this is a successful tactic is because children don’t want to get in trouble for being in this position. Therefore, their desire to fix everything on their own without repercussions may be their downfall.
Misrepresentation of Purpose
Gangs not only glorify the social aspects of their lifestyle and their access to appealing material items, but they also misrepresent their mission. Instead of admitting outright that their goal is to get people hooked on the drug products they peddle or that they are looking for people to harm or rob, they might say:
The gang presents itself as reasonable and fair, sort of like a group of multiple Robin Hoods who are only involved in “us against them” interactions. The gang frames their over-the-top tactics of violence as a natural, primal reaction to an unjust situation. That’s all they care about at this stage of the game: making your child feel in touch with his or her real, wild side; the one “subjugated by society and unnecessary rules.”
Obligation and Guilt
Another way that gangs get their hooks into your child is by making your child feel obligated to them for all the good times they’ve enjoyed at the gang’s expense. They know your child lacks money so they will insist that your child pay them back by working off the items they’ve used. After all, that’s the “honorable” thing to do.
This is a particularly effective way to bend a child’s will because no child wants to be called out on the spot for being a user who gives nothing in return. Such an accusation beings shame and alienation from the group and possibly other people if the news spreads. If given the option, your child may think that one time of beating-up another person preferable to social ostracization.
What your child fails to realize is there is no one time with a gang
When Your Child Initiates Contact
It is possible that your child sought out a connection to a gang due to feelings of alienation, bullying, or troubles at home. As hard as this is to accept, your anger or disbelief about this does not mean that the child fully understands the repercussions of such an action. It doesn’t mean the child is evil or beyond help. So if your child made contact with a gang or took extraordinary measures to meet gang leaders and even pledged allegiance to the gang on his or her own, it still requires that you take action.
The fight to save a child who has joined a gang will more than likely be one that challenges the very core of your family. You will have to answer questions about why the child felt the needs to do this…Is he or she bullied and in need of protection? Is there another abuse situation that you don’t know about that needs to be addressed, one which made them seek the safety of a gang? Is there a mental issue that needs professional help? These are all things that must be addressed when fighting to get your child from the clutches of a gang.
No matter how hard it gets, just keep in mind that it’s not an impossible fight for you to win. It requires patience, professional help, and resolve.
Gang up on Gangs
If your child is being subject to a gang’s recruitment process, you need to act not only fast, but effectively. Here are some things you can do:
Also, this is a problem for your community, not just your family. You may not even be a parent, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t help fight gang violence.
The U.S. Department of Justice developed a gang prevention model to help combat gang activity (7) called “Best Practices to Address Community Gang Problems: OJJDP’s Comprehensive Gang Model”. Some of their suggestions include:
Enforce the above rules and make sure that your child understands that you want them to be honest with you no matter what they have done. Keeping a close eye and an open heart can help you save your child from gangs, plus combat gang violence in your community.