Gangs -- society's fault?
9/10/2001 12:00:00 AM - Larry Elder
"Society pushes you back into the same pile of s--- you came out of." Chino, a "hardened gang member," offered this excuse as his rationale for joining a gang.
Gang violence is up, says a chilling new Time magazine article on Los Angeles gangs. The article shows pictures of young, tattooed gang members kickin' it -- frolicking, laughing, roughhousing and just having a swell time.
What's the thrill? Well, veteran gang member Chino says, "After a while I really wanted to see myself hit someone. That is how intense it became in my relationship with my gun. So I walked up to some guys and shot them. It was a real rush."
Los Angeles, according to county authorities, contains over 100,000 gang members. This excludes some 100,000 gang members behind bars in California, homeboys who get released back on the streets at a clip of 3,000 per month. Police call these newly released gang members "spoons," as in those who stir up trouble. Most gang members find life on the streets short-lived, with many sooner or later returning to prison.
So why join a gang? Camaraderie, protection, thrills, peer pressure. But most likely, gang members seek structure. Many come from families without fathers, fathers who abandon their children and their children's mother. This deprives the child from learning life's essentials: values, work ethic, ability to cooperate, observation of adult interaction, watching adults handle disputes responsibly, watching adults get up and dutifully go to work.
Enter the gang. It provides family, structure, rules, regulations and boundaries. But dang that downside -- prison or death. No 401K, no pension or profit-sharing plan, no home, no investment property. Imagine watching your child grow up as you rot behind bars, having committed yet another stupid offense. One ex-gang member told me that he blamed "the white man for putting him and his family in the projects." So he and his brother formed a gang to lash out and defend themselves against that element of society.
A question for gang members: What part of "society" pushed you into gang violence? The white man? J. Edgar Hoover? Jesse Helms? The Republican Party? The Boy Scouts? Who's the oppressor? Chino, the gang member featured in the Time magazine article, says, "It's hard to change. Society pushes you back into the same pile of s--- you came out of." So, once born in the "ghetto" or "barrio" or "wrong side of the tracks," abandon all hope. Really?
I recently received this letter from an ex-gang-member:
"Why join a gang? I was in a gang between the ages of 15 and 27. And yeah I can understand how you would pity a gang member's lifestyle, it's a loser's lifestyle. Like you said, you either end up dead or in prison. The sad part is gang members who have kids who grow up in the same lifestyle. It's pathetic.
I got out, after I got sick of the near misses on my life, the near misses at getting busted. I was at a point where I was always carrying heat, and that's no way to live. I got out of the lifestyle around the same time I got out of drugs, I wanted a life. I still have weapons, and I think that's why my ex-homies didn't bother me when I dropped out. I did get death threats, but I put out the word I was packing a 12-gauge sawed-off, and they left me alone.
Yes, my dad was absentee. My mom was always working, never home. So I got into trouble, but I wised up. I got a job I been at for 16 years, I own my own home, but I still got tattoos and I still get mad-dogged by gang members, mostly young punks out to impress, and I'm 44 now. I still get harassed by cops. I get looks by people that seem to be afraid or intimidated by me. I heard hearsay at work just tonight that I look like a hoodlum and like I just got out of prison.
So you see, some of us are smart enough to get out and be productive members of society. But, to be honest, Larry, I think because of the tattoos, and my history, it will eventually catch up with me. You know the ol' saying, live by the sword, die by the sword. I will either get shot or shoot a rival in self-defense, and then my life will be over. Everything I worked hard for will be lost. I can feel it coming. Kinda sucks. -- "George in Chino"
Chino from Time magazine, George from Chino, California, says, "It's not too late. Grow up."