Raising gangs from the ground up

I threw some pencils in my bag and swung it over my shoulder. Mom was already at work. Dad hasn’t been home for days now, but I know he’ll be back. I stepped out onto the cement while Andrew, my neighbor, glanced at me. It’s his first day of kindergarten. We only have to make it four blocks over.

My backpack is heavier than usual, thanks to Dad. He knew I was on my own this year and was not going to let me leave without a glock to back me up. I don’t disagree, which is why I couldn’t abandon Andrew. Not like my older brothers had done to me.

I repeated what I said to Andrew the night before, “Keep your head down, hands in your pockets and don’t respond to anyone”. It’s the same routine that I had kept for 14 years.

When I was younger, probably fourth grade, I used to play ball with Andrew’s older brother, Daniel. He was quiet, but he had a temper. We didn’t talk much, wasn’t much to talk about. We were raised next to each other, if you could say that. Most days we were on our own.

His daddy got into trouble with the cops and couldn't find a steady job. He was a stern man- never smiling. I haven’t seen him since he went crazy on Daniel’s mom. I guess they got to arguing about money and he left.

Daniel didn’t show up at the courts much after that. He started hanging around some older kids who weren’t in school anymore. There were always different guys coming to his house- in with cash, out with packets of white powder.

One night Daniel’s mom came knocking at our door. She asked if Daniel was over here. For some reason, I think she already knew the answer. They found him a couple blocks over the next day.

I wish I could say there was an investigation, but around here it wouldn’t end. It’s chalked up to a gang shooting. Motive? Walking on the wrong side of the street. Selling drugs to the wrong people. Revenge for the murder of another gang member.

We simply can’t put ourselves through heartbreak every time, nobody can. I don’t have the mental capacity to hope for this situation to get better, after being let down endlessly. It becomes a way of life, but more a living hell.

In many urban American cities, there’s an unavoidable gang population. The common stereotype suggests that gang members join for a status. However, our communities need to view these groups with concern and not a stiff upper lip.

Histories of abuse, growing up in poverty, lack of success in school or family involvement are all major factors that contribute to the thousands of gang members in the United States today. Many of those affected by these unfortunate circumstances never receive an upbringing that offers them a chance for success.

Gangs act as a surrogate family for people who have been abused or abandoned in their youth. Anything from drug abuse to financial insecurity can lead to these circumstances. When guardians are unable or unwilling to protect their child from the dangers of the outside world, failure becomes a lifelong expectation.

Illustration by Kathryn Campbell

Multiple studies were done to research the connection between child maltreatment and gang involvement. In a report by Gerri I. Washington of Clark Atlanta University, questionnaires were handed out to two county jails and one halfway house to survey for gang affiliation. They were asked to answer questions about physical, sexual and emotional abuse, childhood neglect, drug use in the household and abandonment up until age 18.

Washington found an overwhelming majority of inmates recognized themselves as gang members whom experienced severe neglect as a child, mainly due to drug or alcohol abuse. Others experience some form of loss, including parental divorce, incarceration or death.

America’s gang problem would be greatly reduced if attacked from the ground up. Legislation should be passed enacting programs targeting at-risk youth. The rising prison population requires a large budget, but with crime reduced, money could be funneled elsewhere.

Too often are the psychological causes of gang involvement overlooked. If resources are provided with dedication and a strong legislative backing, there would be a fighting chance for the next generation to live without suffering at the hands of gang violence.


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