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I'd join one too

The work I've started to do with the kids in the nearby city led me to this video on gangs from the National Gang Center. Although it's got some drawbacks (the overall analysis strikes me as... obvious? But what do I know; it may be that these are points that bear stressing), one VERY strong thing it's got going for it is the comments from actual former gang members: powerful and heartbreaking, not to mention enraging on the young people's behalf.

Raul, for instance, describes being in fifth grade and having a teacher catch him rolling a blunt and telling him he had to leave the classroom.

We started exchanging words, and then she's like, "You're not gonna do nothing 'cause you're a little kid; you're not that type of kid." I told her, "You want to go there?" and she's like, "You want to try me?" So that's when I decided to get a book, and I threw it at her. And then she called the cops, and then the cop came and put me in handcuffs.

That's right. He was in fifth grade and he ended up in handcuffs. A ten-year-old child.

Marion describes how important a father's love is to a young man.

Not having my father around was a very hurtful thing because, you know, you want to have your dad and your ma around, but especially dad, because that's your biggest role model, your biggest idol as a child. That's the one you look to to teach you how to do different things as a man to become a man. So, me not having that around kinda like pushed me out to get the love from guys in the street. Not to say that it was necessarily that positive love that you look for, you know, that you want, but I was talking to a man, and any time a man can teach you something, a child something or a young man something, he's going to pay attention.

Karlo describes having to take care of his little sister.

It was just me and my little sister. I would just try to provide for my sister 'cause my mom was never home. So I'd cook for my sister, I'd clean for my sister, you know, wash her clothes, I washed my clothes, and just stuff like that. You know, we just started growing up together. And I mean, it was hard for us because sometimes we didn't have food in the refrigerator, and that's why I started selling drugs and doing what I did.

Iris talked about losing her love for school. (You can't see this in the still, but she has the most expressive face. There are her words, but then her face says even more.)

Elementary school? I used to love school. I used to always wanted to go because I didn't experience it while I was little, while my mom was locked up. So when I used to go to school every day I liked it. And then, in middle school, that's when I didn't like school, like, I don't know, me and school don't get along. I didn't like school, I didn't like the teachers, I didn't like nobody, you know? Like I always wanted to be by myself. The teachers didn't care about me neither. They used to tell me I wasn't gonna be nobody. They said like, "You're just gonna be nobody. You're gonna be pregnant, you're gonna have kids." I'd just be like, "Okay."

Karlo describes the guy--a gang leader--who took him in when his mother kicked him out:

There was this one time when me and my mom--she was just fed up with me. It was during Hurricane Ike, and my mom kicked me out the house, you know, and I ain't have nowhere to go. I just had a backpack on my back and a duffel bag, and I seen the leader out on the corner street, and he was smoking a blunt and stuff, and he was like, "Man, where you from?" You know, I never met him or talked to him or anything, and he's like, "Where you from?" And I'm like, "From Houston," and he's like, "No, I'm saying, what's your bang," and I'm like, "Nah, I don't bang nothing."

The guy asks him about his bags, and Karlo says he's been kicked out and was heading to the park, and the guy invites Karlo to stay with him:

He's like,"Well, you could stay in my house if you want. I got an extra room." And I'm like, "Man, I appreciate it," and he let me inside his house. And we was going to the same school, too, so we would go to school together in the morning, and I would hang out with him at lunch. He helped me a lot ... With him, it wasn't always just about gangs, you know. He gave me advice, like, "Man, why you stop playing baseball?" You know, like, "Why don't you try harder in school?" "Why won't you get a job," You know, like, "Don't mess with these drugs." That's why I appreciate him, you know? Because he brought me from nothing to where I am right now.

So, yeah. When parents and teachers and society at large aren't doing what they're supposed to, and someone comes along like that--I'd join a gang, too, in that situation.

The good news is that only around 10 percent of kids who join gangs stay in them for more than three years. All the young people in this video have left gangs and are doing good things with their lives right now.


( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 9th, 2016 12:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, people need family, and kids know it. Also, how dangerous adults are.

I'm so glad of the good news you brought at the end.
Dec. 9th, 2016 02:24 pm (UTC)
I'm about to expose my extreme ignorance of gangs, but I wonder if they toned the violence way down (like, no more drive-by shootings; boxing matches instead, or competitive games of sport-of-choice) and ... well, giving up illegal means of making money would probably ruin them, financially, but like... they're giving unity, a sense of family, protection, shared purpose--all those can be good things, and no one else is doing it much.
Dec. 9th, 2016 03:29 pm (UTC)
Violence is relative.

I think it may have been in Black Earth that I saw it suggested-- with citation of a study-- that US Black urban neighbourhoods in the US are often de facto without official law enforcement. I had not thought of that, was as soon as I read it it was clearly true. So indeed gangs function as a substitute state, right down to doing social welfare work.
Dec. 9th, 2016 03:59 pm (UTC)
That's right... and just like there are more-positive and less-positive nation-states out there...

When Karlo talked about the gang leader inviting him home and sitting with him at lunch and advising him to study in school and not to give up baseball--even just typing that makes my eyes prick, because those are all good things. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in
Dec. 9th, 2016 04:34 pm (UTC)
...and they are useful things, to any organization*. So in fact efficient gang leaders recruit skilled lieutenants.

* Yes, of course organizations frequently forgo those advantages in order to exercise what economists call "a taste for discrimination, or for nepotism, or....

Edited at 2016-12-09 04:34 pm (UTC)
Dec. 9th, 2016 02:31 pm (UTC)
Yep. When the authorities who are supposed to keep you safe don't, you find safety and belonging where you can.
Dec. 9th, 2016 02:52 pm (UTC)
Dec. 9th, 2016 02:32 pm (UTC)
I do wonder about the effect of lack of parental guidance although some of us seem to get by without and without going down the wrong road.

I'm convinced education AFTER school days was a big thing in my case.
Dec. 9th, 2016 02:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, that was another statistic the video had: of kids who had all the risk factors, only half end up drawn to gangs, and of those, only a smaller portion actually do join.

People are so various. How we handle things and what we need--different.

*SO* glad that things looked up for you. I know it was rough going.
Dec. 9th, 2016 03:48 pm (UTC)
When I worked as a substitute teacher for a local school district deep in gang territory, I met a lot of wonderful kids that were involved in gangs. WONDERFUL kids. Not thugs or hoodlums. They were nice kids.

Some of the parents were involved in gangs, too.

I had a bad run in with the mom of on student I had to sit in the hall for disrupting (understatement) class. She was involved with a female gang.

But, the guys used to tell me they'd protect me when I was walking to the store in the dark (because I had no car and my husband was a lazy lout). They watched out for me because I helped their kids in school.

Kinda makes one stop and think.
Dec. 9th, 2016 03:55 pm (UTC)
It really does.
Dec. 9th, 2016 04:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you for working as a teacher, btw. As the stories above show, every caring teacher can help a lot.
Dec. 9th, 2016 04:02 pm (UTC)
Dec. 9th, 2016 04:01 pm (UTC)
Ditto what browngirl said!
Dec. 9th, 2016 04:12 pm (UTC)
That's really interesting, thanks for sharing!
Dec. 9th, 2016 05:07 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome!
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 9th, 2016 05:06 pm (UTC)
I was too--both the teacher who called the police on a ten-year-old, and the teachers who made those remarks to Iris. What the hell.

And Karlo--he had me in tears. But yeah--he's doing well now. I hope his sister is okay too.
Dec. 10th, 2016 02:46 pm (UTC)
Man. I understood intellectually a number of the factors that contributed to gang formation, but that's a whole different ballgame from reading firsthand accounts. How completely heartbreaking.

What amaebi says about black neighborhoods being functionally without police protection rings sadly true, in my experience. I've read many a story of people calling from poorer neighborhoods and dispatch downgrading their calls in priority, or claiming there were no officers available. Given the Chicago police force's track record, I know I'd hesitate to call them on a non-white individual if I didn't feel it was a life-or-death situation.

I hope you're right about some gangs not being as violent as others; it's absolutely true that they fill a need. Unfortunately, gang violence is a very real issue in this city (and in my neighborhood); from the outside, all we see is the shootings and drug deals. I wish we had a better window into day-to-day life for these kids. But given that most of them are scraping by to survive, I can't imagine they'd have much time or interest in (say) starting a blog.
Dec. 10th, 2016 06:18 pm (UTC)
From what I've heard, Chicago does sound like it's got more hardcore gang violence than you find around here. But things can change--always *are* changing. I guess we always try to push for them to change in a good direction (...though it's not always easy to know how to do that)

Dec. 10th, 2016 06:24 pm (UTC)
I suspect a good start would be to change the narrative. Part of the problem with gangs is that their social isolation is self-reinforcing; greater society sees them as hoodlums and good-for-nothings and treats them as such, so they adapt to fill that role (viz. the girl who was told she'd never amount to anything by her teacher, fer chrissakes). Getting stories like these out is a good first step. Anything that helps people understand why kids join gangs, and the socioeconomic factors that contribute to them; anything that builds compassion and understanding. It's not easy, and it's not a solution, but it's a start.
Dec. 11th, 2016 02:37 am (UTC)
Dec. 10th, 2016 09:50 pm (UTC)
Hard to read. So sad.
Dec. 11th, 2016 02:39 am (UTC)
Yeah. Made me want to hug them all--not that hugs are a cure-all, but.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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